Celebrating Black Women's History in April 2020 and for 365 Days Per Year
It may seem confusing at first to learn that April was declared "Black Women's History Month"-I mean we just finished celebrating Women's History Month which has long been acknowledged in March since March 8 was designated as International Women's Day. Some might ask, "Isn't it divisive to set aside a separate month to tell the stories of Black women-famous and anonymous-whose actions often changed the course of history?" Could this be considered "scholarly segregation?" I might reply that a painful truth of the Suffrage and Feminist Movements is that they were-and are-plagued by racism as was and is the larger culture in which these fights for equal rights took place. I remember very well the many times arguments broke out at meetings and festivals etc. regarding the make up of the "second wave feminist movement"-that we were "warriors" in a mostly white, middle class "struggle."
I am no expert on this issue-not via my personal experiences since I took my first steps into the feminist movement in the 1970's or via any extensive scholarly research into the Suffrage Movement and Race. I do think there's a brutally honest "conversation" we've never had about this part of the fight for women's rights throughout our history up to this very minute. Given that this is the 100th year anniversary of women finally winning the right to vote, I intend to share columns, articles and other types of work by those who DO have expertise about this profoundly important issue. I invite all of you to do the same; that conversation must start sometime-why not now? <Jeanne>
"The suffragist heroes Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony seized control of the feminist narrative of the 19th century. Their influential history of the movement still governs popular understanding of the struggle for women’s rights and will no doubt serve as a touchstone for commemorations that will unfold across the United States around the centennial of the 19th Amendment in 2020...
"...That narrative, in the six-volume “History of Women’s Suffrage,” betrays more than a hint of vanity when it credits the Stanton-Anthony cohort with starting a movement that actually had diverse origins and many mothers. Its worst offenses may be that it rendered nearly invisible the black women who labored in the suffragist vineyard and that it looked away from the racism that tightened its grip on the fight for the women’s vote in the years after the Civil War..."( Brent Staples)
"Black Women’s History Month is about unifying the community by promoting visibility, education, empowerment, contribution and achievement which positively impacts communities across the globe." (Facebook Page for Black Women's History Month)

 April Has Been International Black Women’s History Month, and It’s About Time We Celebrate It Right

The difference between February and March is Womanism.

Photo by Clarke Sanders on Unsplash

Ina society rampant with racism and sexism, it can feel as if the only people in our corner are other Black women. One woman certainly holding it down in the ring, is Sha Battle. As a tech consultant and entrepreneur, Battle often felt the diverse contributions of Black women weren’t well represented in education. (After all, did you know the first home security system was invented by a Black woman?) So, the native Georgian created a movement to recognize April as International Black Women’s History Month.

Conveniently following Black and Women’s History Month, Battle found a way to uplift and support the achievements of Black and minority women of the diaspora-especially those not traditionally taught in schools. In April 2016, the Atlanta resident created history and received a commendation that Black Women’s History Month will be recognized by the city of Atlanta.


Note: While the proclamation from the Atlanta City Council is an official declaration that April will be celebrated as Black Women’s History Month in the city of Atlanta, the commendation from the Governor honors the celebration of April as Black Women’s History Month.

Battle felt Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March weren’t enough to commemorate the contributions of Black women- and honestly? Points were made. We need to recognize International Black Women’s History Month in our classrooms, offices, churches, and digital spaces nationwide because Black women experience combined marginalization simultaneously. In the same manner that the experiences of Black people are distinct from those of people of color, the marginalization of Black women cannot be generalized within the Black community or mainstream “white” feminism. This intersectionality can be explained with many terms: misogynoir, womanism, even triple consciousness. But the core idea behind it can be best exemplified through Alice Walker, who coined the term “womanism”:

“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender”- Alice Walker

Black women never have the privilege of separating their race from their gender. So, why are we recognizing their achievements through a single identity, despite twice as many obstacles?

Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

Because of this, Black women’s sacrifices, struggles, and everything in between deserve to be recognized with a consideration to the combined marginalized experience. But before we “all months matter” this, let’s take a moment to put this all into perspective. Simply put, womanism distinguishes itself from feminism through inclusivity and diversity. Western feminist movements are often whitewashed when they’re brought into mainstream conversations. This is why, though western feminism’s three waves have been an essential movement for women’s rights, it has only recently begun to address and advocate more inclusively for Black and queer women-another pillar of womanism.

Okay, so why do we need it? Let’s take a look at some Black women that had to fight two birds with one body.

Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

Ella Baker, “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” was instrumental in founding the SNCC, the NAACP, and recruiting other inspiring Black women-like Rosa Parks-to join the movement. Despite this, she continually clashed with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other male ministers’ controlling and authoritative attitudes towards her.

“It’s a strange thing about men… if they haven’t ever had a woman say no to them, they don’t know what to do sometimes.” — Ella Baker

Similarly, Ida B. Wells-Barnett is known as an influential anti-lynching advocate. However she was not only a racial activist, but a suffragette. In 1913, Wells and sixty other Black women attended the first suffrage parade in Washington D.C. hosted by the National American Woman Suffrage Association to only be told — as women of color — to march in the back. She refused, arguing: “Either I go with you or not at all…I am doing it for the future benefit of my whole race.” She left with the quickness, only to return to march with her own delegation, exemplifying the wisdom of another trailblazing Black woman:

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”- Shirley Chisholm

Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

Speaking of which, the Hulu series “Mrs. America” shows how Chisholm exposed the need for intersectional feminism. As the first Black woman to run for president, and first Black congresswoman, she was an experienced, “unbossed” candidate for the presidency. She was a founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Women’s Caucus.Yet, she was never able to consolidate support from women and minorities-because she was a Black woman. Instead, the Black Congressional Caucus and other national Black organizations endorsed her male opponent.

Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. du Bois and Booker T. Washington make up the “Big Three” for practically every middle school African American History Month project. (Name a better trio, I’ll wait.) A name less taught: Pauline E. Hopkins. Hopkins is a pioneer who voiced the nuances of the Black experience as editor for the prominent Colored American Magazine in the 19th century. Hopkins, Du Bois and Booker T. Washington heavily interacted with each other in political debates surrounding racism and social progression.

source: Amazon

While du Bois and Washington had opposing approaches towards the advancement of Black people, Hopkins was majorly influenced by Du Bois. She used her widely popular magazine to express her opinion and recognize Washington’s efforts, though she criticized his method. In 1904, the magazine was purchased by William H. Dupree, however, it was later discovered that the “real” owner of the magazine was Booker T. Washington. In taking over the magazine, Hopkins’s editorial criticism was silenced by Washington and this led to her departure.

But all that’s back in the past, surely, we have learned from then, right?

Because the civil rights and suffrage movements were ongoing in the same time period, Black women felt pressured to choose a side to fight for. Our contributions are already so narrowly taught but by viewing our history through a single lens, we are erasing the experience even further. Particularly in the Black community, this stems from an all too common belief that Black women must put gender aside to focus on racial equality. This is a coded way of elevating Black men without regarding the distinct oppression of Black women. Today, Black women don’t have to choose a side. Amazing sisters like Sha Battle come in every profession, shade, and class. Thus, we need to have a month that gives a proper shout out to their continued accomplishments and success. By just discussing Black Women’s History Month’s feasibility, we can help it gain recognition and learn about other Black women of the diaspora not mentioned in this piece.

So, back to International Black Women’s History Month — how would that even happen?

It’s honestly hard to say. If we live in a society where Black women can’t even be praised on Instagram without white women feeling left out, how plausible is having an entire month dedicated to them? At the end of the day, we are reminded that being Black and being a woman means being part of both and yet neither communities at the same time. In this case, it’s almost ironically fitting that there is no national recognition of Black women’s contributions because International Black Women’s History Month already embodies the Black woman’s experience; her myriad of unrecognized contributions create a debt that is never paid in full. (But maybe, #IBWHM is a start.) After all, if the Mississippi state governor can declare April as “Confederate Heritage Month,” wean make room for the Black women who have birthed this nation with a bridge on their back.