The Black woman: highly politicized, yet still marginalized in U.S.
In America, the black woman stands at the precipice of marginalization. Living in a white-dominated patriarchal society, she is seen as the antithesis of importance. Not only is she a minority, she belongs to the seemingly “lesser” sex within the minority. Yet somehow, by strokes of strength and force, black women have historically found a way, or made one. When black men gained the right to vote with the passage of the 15th Amendment, black women were asked to wait their turn. In this instance, they may have done so, but never completely abandoning their fight for equality. Decades later, when white women lobbied for the right to vote, they asked their minority counterparts to once again sit down and wait their turn. Groups of white women felt incorporating black women into the fight would diminish their cause. Many white women went so far as to form their own meeting groups, barring black women from entering. Regardless, black women pressed forward and earned the right to vote along with white women with the passage of the 19th Amendment.
Presently, black women enter and graduate college at higher rates than black men. But when the notion is discussed, it’s examined from the male perspective, questioning how and why we are losing our black men, rather than praising black women for braving some of the same societal pressures and struggles black men face. Black women are more empowered and capable than black men in terms of local political change and social movements, a phenomenon that is largely ignored. Their efforts often go unnoticed because black women are not considered to be group of people who should be politically motivated. White men run society, and their female counterparts, while they may be women, still have their race. Black men, while they may be a minority, still have their gender.
As a result, the black male is seen as a political animal. He is a victim of an inherently flawed system of incarceration. He is someone who has the odds stacked against him, but also receives accolades after he’s pushed back against bureaucracy. He’s someone who still holds an idealized sense of power, as society places him above his female counterpart. The black woman in American society is rarely seen as a political animal, yet her entire being is politicized. When it comes to lawmaking and policy change on a national scale, the black woman is seemingly absent. Only one black woman has ever been elected to the United States Senate. Only four new black women representatives have been elected to serve in the upcoming 114th Congress, one of whom is Bonnie Watson Coleman, a New Jersey Democrat. Yet still pushing through an unpleasantly stained glass ceiling this past Election Day, Watson Coleman became the first black woman to represent the state of New Jersey in Congress. Despite her near absence from politics, at least on a national level, the black woman is constantly politicized.
Her hair is political because it stands on end, growing up and out of her head. Her body is political because her hips are too wide and her lips are too full. Her mannerism is political because she speaks her mind, refusing to sit down when she is told to do so. Black women in American society are picked apart and scrutinized under a set of standards that should never have been applied to them, and when they step outside of these constraints, black women are perpetually told to fall back into a position of subordination.
A euphemism often applied to the women who meet at the nexus of racial and gender-based marginalization goes as such: She is, “a strong black woman who don’t need no man.” Such an expression conjures up images of a head-bobbing, finger-wagging, loud-mouthed black woman — a tired archetype that could not be further from the truth. This euphemism takes the self-motivated spirit and independence that black women portray and turns it into a negative. When black women assert themselves and advocate for something, they are unnecessarily labeled angry black women or are seen as overbearing. Countless black women, myself included, live by the perception that we have to fight for ourselves because if we don’t, no one else will — a mentality that is likely the source of the ridiculous euphemism. But if black women waited around for them, our modern day social standing would be unthinkable. It’s a near impossibility to predict when black women will achieve parity with others on a national political scale, but it is evident that in terms of local politics and in everyday life, the impact of black women, whether mother, sisters, lawyers or educators, is felt. They collectively encourage a class of young black women — inspiring us to circumvent bureaucracy and ensuring we will not be ignored.
Yvanna Saint-Fort is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and political science. Her column, “Three Layers Deep,” runs on alternate Thursdays. Follow her on Twitter @yvannathecritic.
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