Monday, February 2, 2009

Black Women's Herstory: February Birthdays and Beyond

Rosa Parks, by Bill Farnsworth, from the book, Heroes for Civil Rights, by David A. Adler.

Since late last year I've been contemplated how to put together a series of posts throughout this month, honoring great Black women.

This was my preliminary list of several African American women. I'll note here that I tried to avoid using Wikipedia, as it has a poor reputation when it comes to keeping accurate information up about some feminists, but alas, it proved helpful.

February Birthdays:
4th: Rosa Parks
9th: Alice Walker (See also: here.)
11th: Florynce Kennedy
15th: Claudia Jones
18th: Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison
21st: Barbara Jordan
29th: Augusta Fells Savage

After doing more research I was so fortunate to find this amazing page which is from one of the blogs on my blogroll, Diary of An Anxious Black Woman. There you will find information about some of the women listed above.

This is her introduction, from one year ago yesterday:


Friday, February 1, 2008

Black History Month: My Black "Herstory" Focus

Today is the first of February, thus beginning what is recognized as "Black History Month," the shortest month of the year. While on my blog, I do black history month every month, I thought I would nonetheless highlight different individuals in history, with a feminist twist. I remember a few Black History months back how angered I was when A&E, for example, once promised to highlight black historical figures in their Biography series for the month of February; as it turned out, they only highlighted one black historical figure each week (and not for the entire month as promised - and don't tell me you can't find 20 black historical figures, if this were based on a M-F schedule, to highlight just for one month!), and the only woman they included in the mix was Sally Hemings, whom they admitted they didn't really know much about because there weren't enough historical records to document her life story; her life story, as it turned out, was only tied to the number of children she may have had with President Thomas Jefferson, which is why she was remembered in the first place!

I was so angry at the way black women's history in particular was marginalized and erased (and don't get me started with other channels, like History, for example - although TCM once surprised me one fine Black History Month when they highlighted various silent films by Oscar Micheaux) that I would like to use my blog to focus on some worthwhile black women from whom we have so much to learn.

Last month, I already highlighted the historic turn presented by Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president of the United States (this is worth remembering when we vote on Super Tuesday for a "history-making" candidate). However, my next post (perhaps later today) will highlight the life of my absolute favorite black female historical figure ever (wonder if you can guess who she is?). And, yes, I will prove that each day I can find some worthy black female historical figure to write about. That is the challenge I present before you.



When I think about these and so many other great Black women, I think of the term: "righteous outrage". When I think of an outrageous woman, I think of Flo Kennedy, so I'll close here with a classic image of her. This image inspires me to keep on giving the dominant culture the finger. -- Julian



Anonymous said...

Eh, I think you should read this:

It pretty much sums up the way that I feel about women's history month, people gushing over the accomplishments of a Hilary Clinton, and other establishment expressions of solidarity-through-tokenism.

Julian Real said...

Hi Valerie.

I completely agree with Renee @ Womanist Musings on many things, and this is one of them, which is to say I also agree with you. There's no question that "Black [or any other people's] History Month" is a pro-white heteromale supremacist tactic of tossing crumbs to the marginalised, or pretending that any people's history/herstory can be sufficiently appreciated within 28 or 29 days a year. (The joke has always been: of course white Amerikkka chose the shortest month to "honor" African Americans.) "Black History Month" as I experience it, isn't even THAT. It's "African American Heterosexual Men Being Misremembered Month"--with African American women being even more misremembered, especially lesbian women, or gay men as such. The media is white male supremacist and capitalist and heterosexist to the core, as is the Academy here. I have zero-to-no faith that this country's elites will voluntarily or willingly do anything significant to change the power structures that maintain racist or sexist oppression, within and beyond these shores.

Regarding this statement by Renee:
"[...]I believe that [conversation] is the best approach to breaking down the walls that continue to divide us from one another."

I respectfully and strongly disagree with that statement. In my perhaps very warped view, conversation will not likely do much to substantively alter power relations, though of course it is always important to dialogue. I don't think conversation is harmful, as long as it doesn't perpetuate the notion that sexism, racism, capitalism, heterosexism, or genocide will end primarily because of it.

In this view, power elites need to be removed by any and all means necessary, systems must be dismantled and structures destroyed, while other ways of being and doing sustainable community are allowed to come back or are created anew. Then we can REALLY talk with one another, on egalitarian ground, the actual soil of which is also nurtured and honored. (Endgame, volumes 1 and 2, by Derrick Jensen, describe this perspective and process much better than I can here. And he needs some help when it comes to adequately analysing and describing the foundations of sexual violence and heterosexism. And I plan to dialogue with him and recommend he read several books written by women, white and of color.

I also feel that Diary of An Anxious Black Woman's post was moving and honoring of the women she chose to put on her blog in February 2008. I am very appreciative to her for doing so and there's no contradiction for me in stating that.

Also, it's not for a whiteboy like me to criticise any Black woman about how she relates to Black [or Women's] History Month in the U.S. I'm waiting (and have worked) for Columbus Day and Thanksgiving to be regarded as horrific for celebrating genocide. And for the misogynist atrocities of our past presidents to be named and dishonored as such--shame and disgrace on any government that would call such occasions "holy-days". ("Holy" to a white male supremacist sky-god who hates the Earth and its human and nonhuman inhabitants, perhaps.)

So, to be clear, I'm not a fan of "months" for honoring an oppressed people this country's dominant classes don't really give a CRAP about, except to exploit and further marginalise, invisibilise, stereotype, and scapegoat in a multitude of inhumane ways.

This doesn't mean, though, that I can't appreciate Black women being honored in various ways, throughout the year, inside and outside of the U.S., including at Diary of An Anxious Black Woman's blog.

My particular post honors African American women born in February. Last year I was doing a search on when various women were born, and was struck my how many of my role models were born in February, and decided to create a post about that. I also wondered to myself if those women's birthdays had anything at all to do with choosing February as "Black History Month" and seriously doubted that was the case. I did wonder about the effect of putting up such a post, given what February also is. One thing it isn't, at least, is Women's History Month, which (I agree with you) also tokenises women, and particularly marginalises U.S. women of color. (Same old, same old.) And I thank you for your feedback, and for the link to Renee's powerful writing.