“The history of American feminism has been primarily a narrative about the heroic deeds of white women.” –Beverly Guy-Sheftall
This morning I woke up and on my way to work checked my Facebook account. On this day, instead of my usual newsfeed popping up, I was greeted with the following image and message from Facebook:
I sat in silence for a moment, shaking my head in disbelief. There was something deeply unsettling about a Black woman in the graphic because on August 26th, 1920, women as a whole did not achieve the right to vote in the United States…white women did. Despite the fact that Black women were an active and integral part of the Women’s Suffrage Movement (and subsequent feminist movements), Black women were excluded from the political gains they fought for when ‘women‘ received the right to vote. It wasn’t until the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that Black women (and men) got the right to vote alongside their white counterparts. Frustratingly (yet unsurprisingly because whiteness is still considered the norm in America), August 20th is still regarded as “Women’s Equality Day”, and images like the one used by Facebook are being circulated today in misguided attempts to celebrate a whitewashed history.
To continue to celebrate August 20th as “Women’s Equality Day” is to continue to erase the historical realities of the Women’s Suffrage Movement as a space of anti-Black oppression. It is to continue to center white women in our definitions, celebrations and understandings of womanhood, while conveniently forgetting that white women were (and are still) just as complicit in the oppression of Black people as white men. It is to paint a false reality of womanhood as being a unifying force greater than the dividing forces of racism and white supremacy. It is to conveniently forget that womanhood is not something that we as Black woman have even had access to (Sojourner Truth after all did famously ask, “Ain’t I A Woman?”)
To be both Black and woman is to be erased out of Black history and women’s history despite having been an integral part of both. It is to exist fully as both Black and woman only when convenient for others, and realizing that it is almost never convenient for others.
To be both Black and woman and celebrate Women’s Equality Day is to be asked to swallow the history of your Blackness in favor of a whitewashed remembering of the unifying power of womanhood. It is to be asked to share in the celebration of a winning a fight you had to step back into the ring to finish for yourself 4 decades later.
It is to be reminded that today, like any day, we as Black women have never had the experience of only being Black or woman, but the blessing of both and the challenge of existing fully in both while living under a white supremacist patriarchal system that is too quick to forget and/or revise its own history.