Black History Month: A Woman’s Perspective

Originally posted: February 15, 2010

Last week I hosted a dialogues on Black History Month with a few people and decided to have another but this time shift the focus to Black women. Just to preface this, the post isn’t intended to be even more divisive than we already are and dividing the Black people further into Black men versus Black women. It is merely another perspective that should be heard. Enjoy.

Introductions:

Robin M. Thomas, 26 year old resident of Cleveland, Ohio. Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Polished Cleveland Magazine.

My name is Morgan Malone. I am a dually enrolled high school and college student in Virginia.

I am Marva (screen name: Marvalus) and I blog (somewhat intermittently).

Jaci, 23, Birmingham, AL

My name is Christina, and I am an International Relations major at Boston University.

Which are you first, a woman or an African-American? Why?

Robin | I consider myself a woman first because I think more of my identity is based on my gender than my race. If I were a white woman, some of my experiences and tastes might be different, but I think I’d pretty much be ME. If I were a black man, I think I’d be radically different.

Marva | I’ve long considered myself a woman first, then Black. It wasn’t until the 2008 election that my eyes were opened and I realized that I am Black first. I remember having a conversation with a few of my girlfriends (of diverse races and nationalities) and most of them were on Team Clinton, while I was Team Obama. The argument for a majority of the night was whether the loyalty should be to race or sex…I choose race. There is a sisterhood that you cannot deny when you choose to be on the side of gender first; but history and loyalty to the people trumps that in a heartbeat.

Morgan | Before anything I am a woman because as a woman in general, we have to fight harder for the respect of our counterparts no matter the race.  For hundreds of years, though minorities were treated as inferior, women’s rights were always put second.  African-American men had the right to vote before women of any race.  Even if the color of my skin changed, as a woman I would still be viewed as inferior.

Jaci | This is a tough one for me seeing as how I’ve naturally been both my whole life.  However, because of my educational background I’d say I’m African-American first because that’s what’s looked at first. When you’re in class or at school or even walking down the street you’re always gonna be Black before you’re female & that’s what people look at & address first.

Christina | Though I’m both grateful and proud of the progress that women have made, especially in this country, I feel that I am and will always be more closely tied to the struggles of African-Americans than of women. This is most likely because I feel that to be Black on America is still more challenging than being female in America.

In the civil rights movement, Black male issues were often put ahead of Black women issues. Do you think this sense of non-cooperative effort still persists today?

Robin | I see a power struggle between black men and women that makes creating a unified front very difficult. Though the concept of the “New Working Woman” isn’t necessarily “new,” it’s had a serious effect on gender roles. It may take a few generations before people completely adjust to the idea of a power structure where men and women are equals.

Marva | Black women are supposed to be strong…they are supposed to overcome and be the rock of the family. Any issues Black women face automatically pale in comparison to Black male issues, because we are not supposed to have any issues and our concerns sit on the backburner.

Christina | Yes. I feel that our society has always sought to solve male issues and simply hope that many women issues will be resolved on their own. In some instances, this is true. While the number of Black men in prison is at an all time high, in contrast, the number of Black women in college is continually increasing. However, the fact that Black women are making so much progress is no reason to put their issues on the back burner.
If you were in charge of a Black History Month academic program, who are the one or two women you would want to educate people on

Robin | I’d probably focus on the women who are making tomorrow’s history today. Simply because when children hear “history,” they tend to think “old” and they don’t see it as relevant to their lives. I’m partial to publishing so I’d probably focus on women likeSusan L. Taylor and Amy DuBois Barnett who became the first black editor-in-chief of a mainstream magazine when she took over at Teen People Magazine.

Morgan | Well being that my future aspirations lie with the medical field, I’d probably educate people on Ann Moore, inventor of the oxygen carrier, a backpack that carries oxygen for those who need it.  I’d also educate people on Patricia Bath M.D. inventor of the instrument to remove cataracts from the eyes. Both deserve more recognition for their contributions.

Marva | My immediate reaction to the academic program was Oprah Winfrey andGwendolyn Brooks. But seriously, how much more can we possibly know about Oprah? So being a lover of the written word, I would choose Zora Neale Hurston. I have found that writers often lead lives worthy of stories themselves, so I would love to delve into the background of these two women to see what I could uncover.

Jaci | Myrlie Evers because of her dedication to the cause even after Medgar was gone. And the next one is tough because there are so many to choose from… I am actually gonna pick Miss Jane Pittman.   Fictional or not I’ll say that her story shows fortitude & grace.

Christina | Coretta Scott King – Many people fail to realize the how much Coretta Scott King contributed to Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights’ movement. Even after his death, Mrs. King worked to prolong his efforts and to make sure his message was not lost. Had it not been for her encouraging Dr. King to take on a more public role, he may have not been as influential as he was.

Readers, are you Black first or a woman? Do you think we have a cooperative environment now? Who are some important women to you?