By: LaTreshia A. Hamilton, J.D.*
Photo Credit: Fajar Hassan/ Koncept Kit Kreative Marketing
“The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
In 1962, minister and human rights activist, Malcolm X, uttered these poignant and profound words. Today, fifty-six years later, his words still rang true. Despite Michelle Obama having served eight years in the White House as America’s first African American First Lady, despite Black women being the most educated demographic in the United States, and despite the Harvard Law Review electing its first Black woman president, Black women continue to be devalued and underappreciated for the fruits and labor in which they have brought forth and continue to bring forth in America.
Malcolm X’s statements serve as a painful reminder of the history of Black women in America. For centuries, Black women have been oppressed, locked out, and barred from enjoying the same privileges as their non-Black counterparts—and at times—their male counterparts. Whether it be the maltreatment endured during slavery, the disenfranchisement experienced during the Jim Crow era, the disparities that exist today with the gender wage gap, or the objectification of the Black woman’s body in hip-hop lyrics and rap videos, Black women have constantly been on the receiving end of some of the worst treatment in society. Yet, they persist and carry on, because they have been taught and conditioned to persevere no matter the circumstance.
Black women have been conditioned by society to believe that the kinkiness of their hair, the melanin in their skin, the fullness of their lips, and the curves in their waists are unattractive and undesirable traits. Likewise, Black women have been led to believe that they are “imposters” when they seek higher education and are often labeled the “Angry Black Woman” when they show any sign of emotion or discontentment. Yet, it has been the Black woman who has cultivated society and been its backbone.
However, two women from Houston, Texas have decided to change the negative and disparaging narrative that has far too often been associated with African American women. Kandice Webber, a registered nurse and Black Lives Matter activist, and Nisha Randle, a PR specialist and co-founder of Houston Rising, organized the Houston Black Women’s March. When asked why there was a need for such a march, Ms. Webber said, “I was looking for a way to center and celebrate the voices and concerns of Black women. Like many Black feminists, I felt excluded from the mainstream Women’s March and have grown tired of seeing the work done by Black women go unnoticed and unrecognized.”
Indeed, history has proven that the concerns and issues of Black women have not always been at the forefront of the mainstream movements. On March 3, 1913, the Women’s Suffrage Parade was held in Washington, D.C. The event was scheduled one day prior to President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration to “march in a spirit of protest against the present political organization of society, from which women are excluded.” Organized by activist Alice Paul in support of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote, the parade was geared toward suffrage for White women and not Black women or Black men. Paul quietly discouraged Blacks from participating in the parade, going as far as saying, “As far as I can see, we must have a white procession, or a Negro procession, or no procession at all.” Despite the fact that the right to vote was no less important to Black women than it was to Black men and White women, African American women were told to march at the back of the parade with a Black procession. Still, the twenty-two founders of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. marched, becoming the only African American women’s organization to participate.
Thus, despite the many obstacles and challenges that Black women have faced and continue to face, the Women’s Movement has not always been welcoming or accommodating of the Black woman’s struggle, her voice, or her plight.
During her 1972 bid for President of the United States, U.S. Representative Shirley Chisholm (NY-12), the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first Black woman to run for president for a major political party, stated: “Of my two handicaps, being female put many more obstacles in my path than being Black.” To some, it may seem odd that Congresswoman Chisholm would refer to her gender and her race as “handicaps,” which may have indicated that she had an impediment or obstacle of some sort. However, it is not uncommon for Black women to view themselves through a double conscious lens, because for so long, Black women have been taught and led to believe that their gender and race determines their standing in society.
Pointedly, Congresswoman Chisholm noted that being a woman and being Black both present their fair share of obstacles, but it is her gender that posed the most barriers in her life. Yet, in terms of the Women’s Movement and the different Waves of Feminism, Black women have often been deemed an afterthought. It is as if the Black woman’s experience in America does not equate to or is less important than the experiences of her non-Black counterparts. Moreover, it is equally interesting that society socializes us to believe that “one size fits all” in regard to women. However, no one woman is the same. They all have different experiences and struggles. Especially, Black women. They are not monolithic, and their struggle should not be treated as such. Yet, many believe that the mainstream movements do just that.
On Saturday, March 3, 2018, exactly one hundred and five years after the Women’s Suffrage Parade, nearly two thousand Black women, men, and children gathered at Emancipation Park to commemorate the first annual March for Black Women—which many have already deemed the start of a movement and a revolution for women of color. The March for Black Women was born out of the need for Black women to celebrate their womaness, their blackness, and their progress. Surprisingly, there were many non-Black allies in attendance who came to show their support and stand in solidarity with Black women as they embarked on their new revolution.
When asked what her goals were for the Black Women’s March, Ms. Randle said, “I want to highlight the underrepresentation of black women in leadership roles in the political, economic, and social institutions in this country. Black women, more so than other women, are socialized to believe that there is a finite number of us who can succeed. As a result, we are taught that other Black women are our competition. It’s important to us that we erase that narrative and we become our sisters’ number one fan.”
At the start of the rally, Ms. Webber informed the crowd, “If you are standing in front of a Black woman, you are standing in the way!” Indeed, it was both a bold and an assertive statement. Yet and still, it was true. March 3, 2018 was a day set aside for Black women. They had traveled too far and overcame too much for anyone to stand in their way, both literally and figuratively.
During the rally, there were various organizations and vendors with displays and information tables set up. To name a few, L. Sarah DeMerchant and Delilah Agho-Otoghile registered attendees to vote on behalf of Battleground Texas, a Political Action Committee founded with the goal of making Texas a swing state; representatives from Planned Parenthood passed out flyers and preventative measures; Germaine Tanner, a family law attorney and Judicial Candidate for the 311th District Court, her 10-year-old daughter, and LaTreshia Hamilton handed out information and stickers for the “Good Ol’ Girls’ Club” on behalf of Annie’s List, an organization aimed at recruiting, training, supporting, and electing progressive women to office in Texas; vendors from Melanin Monroe Boutique sold fashion merchandise; and representatives from ROADwomen, Texas Organizing Project, and the Harris County Democratic Party were also in attendance.
Black women were networking, taking selfies, catching up with old friends, and having sister-girl moments. Women expressed themselves through their hairstyles, clothing, and signs and posters. For a moment, it was as if every Black woman in attendance was already acquainted and were just catching up like old times. However, the only thing that most of the women had in common was the common bond they shared—their blackness and their womaness. To see all of the different shades, shapes, and sizes of Black women scattered across Emancipation Park was truly a sight to see! It was beautiful. It was healing.
During her speech, Congresswoman Jackson Lee urged Black women to learn their history. She insisted that Black women must know where they came from, if they are to know where they are going. She also stressed the importance of the younger generation of women and the more seasoned generation of women coming together to form a mentor-mentee relationship. Representative Thierry encouraged Black women to be proud of the achievements and strides that they have made and are continuing to make. She informed the crowd about the various health conditions plaguing women within the Black community, such as maternal mortality, which is a cause that she has fiercely championed in the Texas Legislature.
Other notable guests included: State Representative Senfronia Thompson (HD-141); 61st Civil District Court Judge, Fredericka Phillips; President of the HISD Board of Education, Rhonda Skillern Jones; Ronnisha K. Bowman, Judicial Candidate for Harris County Criminal Court #2; LaShawn A. Williams, Judicial Candidate for Harris County Civil Court #3; Mrs. Gwendolyn J. Brinkley and Ms. Kim Topps, members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.’s Alpha Kappa Omega Graduate Chapter; and several members of the Houston Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Following the rally, the Black Women’s March ensued. Hundreds of women marched through the streets of Third Ward holding signs and banners and chanting, “Black Women Matter,” “Trust Black Women,” and “Pay Black Women,” among many other chants and sayings. Men and women driving in their cars and walking along the streets stopped in awe of the sea of Black women parading down Alabama St. As the protesters became louder, people began to come out of their homes and record and take pictures of the revolution taking place outside of their front doors. Black women stood on their front steps crying and raising clinched fists in the air as a sign of solidarity. Although they had missed the rally, they got the message.
Finally, the March culminated on the campus of Texas Southern University (TSU) on the steps of the Robert J. Terry Library, where Congresswoman Barbara Jordan’s papers and effects are housed. When everything was said and done, Ms. Webber was brought to tears. She had finally reached the end of a long day’s journey. Naturally, her only response was to have an emotional, cathartic release. Black women had arrived!
Ms. Webber, Fran Watson, and Congresswoman Jackson Lee provided closing remarks. Then, Ms. Lauren Butler, a local artist, presented Ms. Janice Peyton, the Librarian, and Dr. Carla Brailey, a professor in TSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Behavioral Sciences, with an original portrait of Congresswoman Barbara Jordan to be displayed with the rest of the late Congresswoman’s archives. Both Ms. Peyton and Dr. Brailey accepted the portrait and shared words of gratitude on behalf of TSU.
On March 3, 2018, Black women in Houston decreed and declared that the next shift, the next change, and the next movement in America will come by and through the Black woman. At such a time as this, Black women are being elected to the United States Senate, elected to serve as mayors in cities such as Atlanta and New Orleans, running for governor in Georgia, becoming Olympic gold medalists, being promoted to principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre, and finally being recognized for their contributions to NASA and to the medical community. Black women are on the rise, and America is going to see it, feel it, hear about it, read about it, and witness it. Because this time, the revolution will be televised.
*Ms. Hamilton is a Judicial Law Clerk for the 61st Civil District Court in Harris County, Texas, and a Master of Global Affairs graduate student at Rice University.
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