More than 60 years ago, Malcolm X was quoted saying, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
And in 2022, his words still ring true.
As Black women, we often find ourselves in situations where we are forced to hold our identities and lived experiences at the intersections of oppression and marginalization. We tend to live — depending on where we as individuals plot on the axis of privilege — from the perspective of our places of dis-privilege.
Recently, I took part in the second annual Defend Black Women March co-founded by Trinice McNally and Dr. Jaimee Swift. This march was distinct because it sought to weave together the struggles of Black women across the diaspora by centering Black women from Latin America and the Caribbean. While we have been included in the continuous fight for civil rights since the 20th century, we are rarely, if ever, the focal point for the necessity of protection or defense. We serve as the supporting cast of characters, and our struggles and safety are not enough on their own for other communities to show up in solidarity.
Yet, it will always hold true that if America can’t count on anything, it can bet the bank that Black women will show up in the spirit of solidarity to nurture, heal, educate and advocate for those who are disenfranchised.
The most recent example of this can be seen in Professor Khiara Bridges’s presence at a Senate hearing about abortion access. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, attempted to use his moment to erase the trans community from the narrative of reproductive justice. Bridges, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, refused to let him get away with it, ultimately calling him out on the Senate floor.
“So, I want to recognize that your line of questioning is transphobic,” said Professor Bridges in response to a comment by Senator Hawley. “And it opens up trans people to violence.”
Through Professor Bridges’ allyship, we bore witness to a complete language breakthrough in how she challenged these powerful cishet (predominantly white) men — on Capitol Hill, no less — on the violence of their words.
At that moment, when Trans and gender expansive birthing people needed somebody to call out this violence and erasure, it comes as no surprise to me that a Black woman like Professor Bridges stepped up.
Expectedly many will think, “But does it always have to fall on Black women?” On this, I challenge us to reframe the question and shift the narrative by paying particular attention to all of the Black women who have provided examples of how to listen, acknowledge the harms being caused, apologize and make amends. They taught us how to show up for our siblings, our comrades and those who are disproportionately impacted by harmful rhetoric, policies and agendas designed to attack and reduce our rights to exist as full, autonomous and worthy human beings.
As a Cis Black Lesbian, I know all too well what it feels like to carry the burden and labor that too often falls on the shoulders of others like me. To be clear, I don’t think it should; perhaps, in a perfect world, it wouldn’t. And yet, I don’t know that I subscribe to the argument or belief that there is anyone more qualified than Black women to lead. Because in every moment of our nation’s history, we can find a Black woman who selflessly paved the way.
Where would we be if Ida B. Wells hadn’t taken up space within the white-washed suffrage movement to ensure Black women weren’t completely left behind? Or if Mamie Till hadn’t been tenacious enough to call out the heinous practices of Southern racism through the malicious murder of her adolescent son, which polarized the nation and spawned the 1960s Civil Rights Movement? Or if society had listened to Anita Hill when she courageously sounded the alarm on Justice Clarence Thomas’s character or lack thereof?
Life for these three women has been no crystal stair. They experienced hurdles, setbacks and barriers, yet continued to persevere in defense of Black women specifically and the Black community in its entirety. From a 40,000-foot view, I wouldn’t fault them if they grew weary or faint of heart. But by grace they did not, and I’m forever grateful for that. They showed me the importance of staying in the fight because I genuinely believe that if America wasn’t so afraid of the power that is Black women, it wouldn’t work so hard to hold us back.
This Black August, as we commemorate the struggles for liberation for Black people across the diaspora, I hope society doesn’t forget to turn its gaze towards Black women. With the Defend Black Women March ever present in my mind, my biggest takeaway has been that Black women will not only show up for each other but everyone else too. And in the words of Lizzo, “it’s about damn time” that everyone else starts showing up for us.