8 Badass Black Women You Should Be Talking About

I am the strangest combination of heartbroken and irate, that I, a white woman, must share the stories of great black women across our nation, because our media fails to do so every single day. I am indescribably frustrated that our newspapers, and magazines, and history books all fail to adequately highlight and honor the acts of courage, and intelligence, and perseverance of women of color everywhere.  I am also disappointed in myself that I felt an obligation to write an article in celebration of a history, a black history, that should be celebrated year round, rather than being confined to the boundaries of a solitary month. Despite these feelings, I will use my privilege for good, and write anyway.

I want to start by reminding you all that black women have been achieving, dreaming, and succeeding for centuries. But rarely, if ever, do they get the attention they so rightfully deserve. For example, some names and faces you may not recognize from your history textbooks include (but are, sadly, not limited to) Amelia Boynton Robinson, the first black woman to ever run for Congress in Alabama, who also worked to organize the 1965 Selma March.  Or Dorothy Height, a civil rights activist “who's considered the ‘unsung heroine’ of the Civil Rights Movement (Bustle). Yet another untold story is the legacy of Jane Bolin, the nation’s first black female judge. Or even Fannie Lou Hamer who vehemently spoke out against voter discrimination even after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed. Don’t forget, that it was a black woman who led the trans movement to the success we know today (Marsha P. Johnson, for those of you who don’t know her name, but probably should.)

And while we do have the household names of Rosa Parks and Harriett Tubman tucked in between the pages of our history chapters, more than often not, we’ve strategically crossed out stories of color, or hidden them behind the narratives of white historical figures that were hardly deserving of fame, nor praise. Ever wonder why Christopher Columbus, a white man responsible for the mass genocide of indigenous peoples, graces the covers of history pamphlets and PowerPoint presentations, while Marsha P. Johnson, the LGBTQ activist and humanitarian, is a name some of us are just learning now, for the first time.

But who’s to blame? Is it the whitewashed pages of magazines that wrongfully conform to Eurocentric standards of beauty, and plaster their front pages with white models only? Is it the textbooks that downplay the brutalities of slavery, and portray segregation as that which served the common good of humanity? Is it the television shows that continue to star white actors and actresses, while black bodies are banished to the roles of sidekicks and “the token black friend.” Is there are a larger force behind it all? A man behind the curtain? Is it God? Or is it the harsh reality that slavery and segregation are not distant memories, and that anti-integration voices are still among us. The same people that chanted the n-word at black students attending white schools are still in political leadership. The people who scoffed at black strangers using “white” water fountains, could be your congressmen or your religious leaders. They could even be your own grandparents. So it’s no wonder that we don’t hear these names of women of color. Because these discriminatory leaders of politics, and publications, and movie directors, are closer in time to racial segregation and systemic racism than we would ever want to acknowledge.

And when black stories actually are featured, there’s always a list of conditions, and buts, and ifs. You see, when we do mention people of color in the media, or the news, or in our history, we make sure that these Black figures are tidy, uncontroversial, consumable, and inspiring stories that white people can happily consume, without feeling even a tinge of racial guilt. Black stories are commodified, and placed in suffocating, sugarcoated shells. Martin Luther King, a name we all know and love, was a man who was branded as a symbol of peaceful protest. A man advertised as a force of unity, a product of white hands that wanted to paint integration as a lighthearted coming together, rather than a radical stance against white violence and white discrimination. Dr. King was wrapped in rosy colored historical wrapping paper, and delivered to white students who would be convinced by their white instructors that slavery was just a giant misunderstanding, in an effort to absolve white bodies of their mistakes, their crimes, and their brutality. And there’s no space for these people of color to complain about these constraints. You should be grateful you’re getting any press or attention at all, they say. Be happy you’re even mentioned, they seem to imply.

But I won’t accept that. These women of color deserve all the accolades and glitter confetti in the world. So, with that, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, 8 badass black women you should be talking about, over the racist, homophobic, classist white men, the media usually devotes its energies to.

1. Jahana Hayes

Connecticut’s first ever black woman elected to Congress. Not to mention, she was also awarded Teacher of the Year earlier in 2016. 

 

2. Ashanti Johnson, Ph. D.

Chemical Oceanographer/Geochemist who was "awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring by President Barack Obama in recognition of her work bridging professional development activities for underrepresented minorities" (Black Enterprise

3. Treena Livingston Arinzeh, Ph. D.

 

Not only was she the "first to demonstrate, in 2003, that scientists can implant donor stem cells derived from the bone marrow of adults to form functional, viable bone tissue," (Black Enterprise) but Arinzeh also works as an activist with her Project Seeds program, to increase African American representation in STEM fields

4. Shirley Chisholm

The first Black woman elected to Congress over 50 years ago 

5. Juliana Stratton

The first African-American woman elected to serve as Lieutenant Governor in Illinois.

6.  Andrea Stewart-Cousins 

The first African American to ever lead the New York Senate

7. Beverly Bond 

She created the nonprofit organization "Black Girls Rock!" with the goal of "building the self-esteem of young women of color by offering mentorship and enrichment through arts programs" (For Harriett)

8. Majora Carter

She "received a MacArthur "genius grant" for creating green-collar job training and placement in urban areas" (For Harriett), in hopes of "revitalizing" her impoverished neighborhood. 

 

In our polarizing political climate of microaggressions, and hate, and police brutality, and the mass incarceration of black individuals, we must realize that we are not beyond racism. Naming these names, and showing these faces, and acknowledging that we have never heard these stories before, is proof that black body is exploited. It is not glorified. It not is not honored. It is ignored. It is victimized. It is erased. Racism isn’t just slavery, or segregated water fountains, or racial slurs screamed in hate. Racism is deliberately featuring exclusively white stories, and prioritizing the accomplishments of white bodies, over those of black bodies. Racism is the American education system that silenced the stories of men and women of color, and chose to highlight white oppressors instead. Racism is questioning the validity and the need of Black History Month in our yearly calendars, because “there’s no white history month,” as if every month for the entirety of our recordable history hasn’t been an unofficial White History Month celebration. Remember these names. Remember these faces. And do what you can to reverse the effects of a system, of an education, of a media, that so wrongfully disguised history as a white-only strand of success.

 

Photo Source: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,