Ain’t I a Woman? Or am I just Black?

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“Ain’t I a Woman” -Sojourner Truth. Source: izquotes.com

The recent events that have plagued the Black community have only highlighted the continued struggles for equity and justice.  Even more important, Black men’s support for Ray Rice only highlights the continued desire to vow loyalty to the race without regard to the lived experiences of Black women.   As bell hooks articulates, no other group in America has had their identity socialized out of existence as have black women.  Mrs. Palmer-Rice is yet another example of this.  Black women fight to the death for Black men (literally sometimes).  We march. We protest. We cry. We put our houses up. But when we need the favor returned, we are abandoned.  Sadly, this isn’t anything new.  Since Blacks have organized for progress, this has been the common theme.

Take yourself back to 1869.  At the annual convention of the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), Frederick Douglass argued that issues pertaining to race were more salient than gender.  Douglass felt that incorporating Black women into the “Negro” debate would reduce the chances of securing the ballot for Black men.  His argument was rather compelling as he outlined the inhumane and atrocious conditions that pervaded the life of Black men – both free and slave.  However, his stance would create an imbalance leading to the continual domination of the Black male over the Black woman.

Prior to Douglass’ oration, Sojourner Truth in 1851 argued on behalf of Black women and poor women who were marginalized by the suffragist movement.  In her now famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman” Truth articulated her position as a Black woman who had never been able to enjoy and take advantage of the benefits associated with womanhood – White womanhood.  Further, Truth empathetically stated that as long as Black women were enslaved, they would always be denied access to full motherhood (afforded to White women), never be protected from exploitation, and not be able to take advantage of feminine qualities.  We had to accept perpetual rape at the hands of our master’s (and other men), accept forced pregnancy, endure separation from our children, whippings, beatings, lynching’s, etc.

The attempts to document the lives of enslaved women are by no means meant to diminish the atrocities that our Black men endured, but to shed light on the double oppression that inflicted the lives of Black enslaved women.  Enslaved women who articulated their realities were ahead of their time in that they realized the duality of their condition.  This intersectional approach continues to be the standpoint from which Black women exist.

Kimberle Crenshaw explains the importance of applying the intersectional approach in understanding the lives of women of color.  She discusses that because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.  Similarly, Patricia Hill Collins states that oppressions cannot simply be reduced to one – either/or – but that they work simultaneously in producing and reproducing injustices.  So only looking at race in discussing Black women ignores the sexism that we experience and only discussing sex ignores the racism that Black women encounter.

The Civil Rights Movement proved to be a repeat of propelling the race (and hoping that justice would trickle down to the women).  Black women are often portrayed as being on the periphery of social movements with little recognition of them as leaders.  But being bound by the structural context of interlocking systems of oppression (racism, sexism, classism, and sometimes heterosexism), Black females remain invisible.  So when our issues do emerge, no one has a clue how to address them so they get ignored as something else, or we get blamed.

Black women have had to continuously express where their loyalties lie – either with the fight against racism or sexism.  Our fight is with both.  We need allies to stand with us and condemn our perpetual state as victims of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, etc.  I am disgusted hearing that Ray Rice is the latest victim of racial oppression.  No he’s not! How dare you degrade the memory of our Mike Browns and Eric Garners by comparing their plights? If any comparisons should be made, it should be with Janay.  We ignore the racialized and sexualized nature of Black women’s victimization.  #NoMoreJanay

Kishonna L. Gray, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
School of Justice Studies
Eastern Kentucky University

2 Comments

  1. As a Black man i hear you loud and clear, But here is the thing , AMERICA DEALS WITH BLACK WOMEN. AMERICA HATES AND WANTS TO DESTROY, JAIL AND KILL OFF BLACK BOYS AND MEN. We blacks in USA have come on with a 50-50 middle ground, Ok a black man breaks a law or does something against a woman or someone, We have this mentality of ok we WILL PUNISH HI INSIDE THE BLACK COMMUNITY, We will take care of it because we KNOW if AMERIKKKA the whites deal with that black boy or man its extra punishment and hell, TRUST ME sistas, America doesnt need help or 101 on punishing black boys and men they are great at it, America is the Michael Jordan of destroying black males. In turn i do agree that black men and boys should be nice to black girls and women. Totally agree with you there.

    My point #2 is WHY ARE WE BLACK MEN THE FACE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE? TOns of men do it, TONS of WHite men, asian men, SPanish men, I watched a video of an Asian man kicking his wife in the face 4 times pulled her by her hair on the ground into the room to beat her up more, DV IS RACELESS AND COLORLESS AND CULTURELESS. It needs to end and education will help education of boys, girls, men and women. THe end, stay blessed.

  2. i appreciate your comments. a few things. it often gets ignored the disparate treatment that black women receive at the hands of the criminal justice system, legal outcomes, etc. black women are treated just as harshly. my intent was not to pit us against each other. my point was for us to help each other and work together.
    if you see my previous blog post you can see how hard i work for black men. i will fight to the death for my men. but when women need black men, we are often left by ourselves, this ray rice case highlighted that.
    and yes domestic violence permeates all cultures. i totally agree with you that the face of domestic violence has been a black one. but the victim of domestic violence is also never a black woman.
    my point with this article was a response to black men who supported ray rice. many people said the punishment was too harsh, and mrs rice is being paraded around to support her abuser. she needs support.
    so i totally agree with all your points. and you say you hear me, but are you listening? you seem very defensive and that concerns me.
    feel free to email me personally. we can discuss further. kishonnagray@gmail.com

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