“To Black Women”
An excerpt from “Invisible Women? A Black Woman’s Response to Don Imus Most Recent Sexist-Racist Remarks” By April R. Silver (April 9, 2007). Revised June 2009
When she reached adulthood, an enslaved African from long ago – Isabella Baumfree – changed her name. We know her now as Sojourner Truth. When Harriet Tubman fully grasped an understanding of the world in which she lived, she began to map out her own survival and that of her family larger community.
Both women, and others like them, were keenly aware of their unique skills, talents, and missions in life. They granted themselves permission to think, organize, speak, and lead. The weight of racism and sexism was ever present for them, but it did not immobile them. When they weren’t invited to help solve or speak about the problems of the day, they crashed the party. They did not wait for any common man or any leader to encourage them to stand up for their right to be free and live well. Tubman, for example, was one of the first social entrepreneurs in our ancestral line. She owned 27 acres of land in upstate New York. She acquired it and other properties so that she could establish safe havens for her family and her community. Truth and Tubman are sacred models of woman leadership, a legacy of power that is our ancestral inheritance.
Though from over a hundred years ago, the examples are relevant today. But we need not dig so far in time to be encouraged and ignited. Fast forward to the 20th and 21st centuries. We have modern models of leadership that range from Camille Yarbrough and Sonia Sanchez to Fannie Lou Hamer and Shirley Chisholm, to countless others. And there are millions of unrecognized Black women who have made a hard decision to combat hate, whenever it emerges.
Ignorance can be combated in various ways. If you are a writer, write on our behalf. Let some of your stories be about helping us heal from this often loveless world. If you are a performer, then dance with us, sing about us…more. If you are an organizer, then embed fairness amongst men and women in everything that you do. And if you are without a means to support yourself at any given time, or without a loving partner to ease the burdens of the day, keep pushing anyway. Never mind about finding fault, “find another way,” as my mother says. In every single aspect of our lives, we must be self-permitted to tell the truth about our lives and stories that shape them. Somebody, quite naturally, is going to be offended in the process. Invariably, someone is going to tell us how wrong we are for focusing on our lives and our stories. But we get to tell the truth regardless of who is offended or is made uncomfortable.
And I strongly believe that we should partner with Black men and anyone else who stands in support of our truth-telling. The battle for the respect of Black women, however, is ours to lead.