Laurie and Debbie say:
We’re coming in at the very end of an inspiring project, #HerDreamDeferred, sponsored by the African-American Policy Foundation and a host of other social justice organizations.
Black women have long mobilized against the multiple forms of discrimination they have faced in the pursuit of better lives for themselves, their families, and the well being of their communities. Black women’s activism has been marked by their high levels of civic engagement, robust voting participation, and their leadership of racial justice movements. Black women have led campaigns against lynching, segregation, voter suppression and state violence. They have also been at the forefront of movements against sexual violence, sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination in the workforce, and have led efforts to expand the contours of reproductive freedom and political representation. Yet even as Black women’s advocacy continues to reflect commitments to an inclusive vision of racial and gender justice, many of the specific challenges that Black women face are relegated to the margins of racial justice campaigns.
Acknowledging the centrality of Black women to our history and social fabric while recognizing the uniquely gendered and racialized challenges they face is critical if we are to build movements that are fully inclusive and successful.
One of the movers and shakers behind this project, which finishes tomorrow (April 3) with a radio interview on the topic of “Are Racism and Patriarchy Making Us Sick? Black Women, Societal Inequity and Health Disparities,” is Kimberlé Crenshaw. In an interview with Carla Murphy at Colorlines, Crenshaw calls the lack of information about Black girls and women an “information desert.” She says:
The fact of the matter is that our communities are made up of the life chances of men and women. Many of the circumstances that we’ve come to accept as justifying an exclusive focus on men and boys are in fact directly related to the social-economic challenges facing their mothers—and those [in turn] are directly related to some of the challenges facing girls. …
We shouldn’t back into this idea of racial justice by thinking that programs that go to boys will somehow solve the most critical problems and we can allow girls to receive trickle-down impact. Trickle-down racial justice doesn’t work anymore than trickle-down economics….
As long as people believe that black women and girls are doing fine—which they will as long as black women and girls are excluded from public dialogue—then the call for inclusion will be heard by some as a call to exclude or marginalize the boys. We just have to fight back and say that’s a silly argument. We’re the last people that should be endorsing a zero-sum mentality for social justice.
These are important truths, rarely spoken and even more rarely heard. Whether or not black women and girls are “doing fine,” is difficult to find out, because of the information desert. What’s more, nothing about “black women and girls” is universally or even stereotypically true; looking at real black women and girls is the only way to find out what’s happening across a broad spectrum.
Crenshaw and her colleagues view #HerDreamDeferred as a way to start a conversation that desperately needs to be started. When asked what they hope to accomplish, she says:
We hope to raise awareness about the social and economic status of black women and its relation to the well-being of the black community as a whole. And we’re starting with the assumption that there is a desire to lift up members of our community who need attention, and that the real issue is that people are just not aware of it. So this is a beginning.
This assumption is at least as important as the crucial conversation about black women and girls. You can go months in America without ever hearing anyone say that we believe, or assume, or even hope that people care about each other, that there’s a social desire to address this kind of problem, that anyone in the country (except for a few “bleeding hearts”) gives a damn about anyone outside of their own families.
You will hear a hundred news stories about how people hurt each other before you read one about how people work together. If you Google “Detroit water liens deferred,” you will not find this story anywhere, even though it was a national outpouring of phone calls and emails, supporting strong local action, that won this temporary victory. Heartwarming news is “dog finds family,” or “girl selling lemonade gives money to charity.” The big, life-changing ways in which people pitch in every day to make things in their school, or their neighborhood, or their church, or their friend network more fair are kept under the radar. Because we never hear about them, we don’t believe in them. And because we don’t believe in them, we often don’t act in accordance with our impulses to be part of a movement towards fairness. (And, just to be clear, black women and girls have been in the forefront of so many efforts to make things more fair for everyone.)
In fact, that’s what Kimberlé Crenshaw and #HerDreamDeferred are doing right now.