Today, we celebrate and remember Rosa Parks on what would have been her 103rd birthday. Rosa Parks is known as the “mother of the Civil Rights Movement” and we are forever grateful for all her work towards freedom and justice. However, before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin.
Claudette Colvin was one of several women to refuse to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, AL prior to Rosa Parks. On March 2, 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin refused to move stating, “I paid my fare and it’s my constitutional right.” In an interview she recalls, “I remember they dragged me off the bus because I refused to walk. They handcuffed me and took me to an adult jail.” At the time, Claudette Colvin was 15 years old. She explains, “I just couldn’t move. History had me glued to the seat.”
Claudette Colvin was charged with assault and battery, disorderly conduct and defying the segregation law.
It’s important to understand how mush of a sacrifice Claudette Colvin’s actions actually were. Her parents felt that she put their family in danger, so much so that her father stayed up that entire night with a shotgun fully loaded, fearful that the KKK would come to their home. She also lost friends, with their parents saying she was “crazy” and an “extremist.”
Claudette Colvin wanted to continue her fight in the courts, unlike others that had refused to give up their seat. However, even after she sought out a lawyer, the black community leaders preferred to wait on taking legal action. Claudette Colvin had not had any civil rights training and, soon after the arrest, she became pregnant and had a child out of wedlock. She believes they felt she did not fit the image.
However, a year later, federal lawsuit Browder v. Gaylewas filed, which included Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith, and ultimately ended segregation on public transportation in Alabama.
Today, we remember Claudette Colvin for her courage and sacrifice. While there are some names that quickly come to mind when we think of the Civil Rights Movement, it is important to remember that there were thousands of foot soldiers who played major roles in the movement. We may not know all their names, but we are forever indebted to them.
Today, many Black women make the decision
to continue their education at institutions
of higher learning. Whether attending a historically black college or university (HBCU) or a predominately white institution (PWI), countless black women are succeeding, and sprinkling #BlackGirlMagic all around campus. But who did this first?
Mary Jane Patterson was the first Black women to receive a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree. She received her degree from Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio in 1862.
While it is not certain, it is believed that Mary Jane Patterson was born into slavery in Raleigh, NC in 1840, moving to Oberlin as a teenager. She completed college preparatory courses at Oberlin College in 1857. But when it was time for her to attend college, Mary Jane Patterson chose not to enroll in the college’s two-year program for women and enrolled in the “gentlemen’s course,” which was a four-year program. She graduated with her B.A. degree with high honors in 1862.
At the age of 22, Mary Jane Patterson moved to Philadelphia, PA. There, she was a teacher at the Institute for Colored Youth for five years. In 1869, she moved to Washington, D.C. and taught at the new Preparatory High School for Colored Youth, the first public high school in Washington D.C.
In 1871, Mary Jane Patterson became the principal of the school until she resigned in 1884. Under her leadership, the school developed a prestigious reputation.
Mary Jane Patterson was also active in women’s rights and assisted in founding the Colored Women’s League of Washington, D.C.
Today, we remember Mary Jane Patterson for paving the way for black women (and people) in higher education, even in a time when slavery still existed and women were extremely marginalized. We thank her for being an early demonstration of black girl magic.
A native of Danville, Virginia, Wendell Scott began racing in 1947 at local area tracks. From 1961-1973, he competed in NASCAR’s premiere series, becoming the first Black person to win a NASCAR premiere series event on Dec. 1, 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida. In his 13 year career, Wendell Scott made 495 starts, ranking 37th on the all-time list.
While NASCAR credits him with winning one premiere series event, Wendell Scott’s son, Frank Scott, shared the impact of racism on his father’s winning record. “I can remember him racing in Jacksonville, and he beat them all, but they wouldn’t drop the checkered flag. And then when they did, they had my father in third place. One of the main reasons that they gave was there was a white beauty queen, and they always kissed the driver.” Wendall Scott was also banned from racing at certain speedways, and even received death threats when he planned to race in Atlanta, GA.
Frank Scott shared, “Daddy said, ‘Look, if I leave in a pine box, that’s what I gotta do. But I’m gonna race.'”
Wendell Scott’s career ended when he could no longer afford to race and no one would support him financially. Frank Scott explained, “Where other drivers that we were competing against had major sponsorships, providing them engineers, as many cars as they needed, he did everything that he did out of his own pocket.”
Today, we remember Wendell Scott for bravely pioneering in NASCAR racing, and being excellent, despite the discrimination and racism that tried to keep him from succeeding. We celebrate his achievements and are thankful that his legacy is now (finally) recognized in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Some know about “Bloody Sunday,” a voting rights march that began in Selma, AL and ended in violence. However, few know about Jimmie Lee Jackson, an activist whose death was the catalyst for the march in Selma, which lead to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Jimmie Lee Jackson was a young man from Alabama who tried to register to vote numerous times but was denied due to the color of his skin. On February 18, 1965, when Jimmie was 26, he, his mother Viola Jackson, and his 82 year old grandfather Cager Lee, participated in a protest in Marion, AL. Protesters were attacked by state troopers and Jimmie and his grandfather sought refuge in a restaurant, Mack’s Cafe. In the cafe, Jimmie’s mother was being attacked by two state troopers. Jimmie went to her rescue, was thrown by a state trooper into a cigarette machine, and shot twice in the stomach by state trooper James Bonard Fowler.
Jimmie was taken to the Good Samaritan hospital in Selma, AL and appeared to be recovering. However, days later, Jimmie died.
The Black community was outraged. Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) organizer James Bevel stated “We will march Jimmie’s body to the state capitol in Montgomery and lie it on the steps so Governor George Wallace can see what he’s done.” While they did not do that, activists did plan a 54 mile march from Selma to Montgomery, AL on Sunday March 7, 1965, four days after Jimmie’s funeral. However, activists were met with violence at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, in what is know known as “Bloody Sunday.”
In 2007, James Bonard Fowler (at the age of 74) was indicted for the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson. He pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and served five months in prison.
Today, we remember Jimmie Lee Jackson, whose life was taken seeking justice. Many do not know his name or his story but his life and death played a major role in Black people gaining the right to vote in America.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was indeed a great leader of the Civil Rights Movement and activist for social change. He is more than deserving of a holiday and should definitely be commemorated. However, America has often remembered Dr. King in a diluted way. In school, many of us learned about a passive Dr. King, that chose love and non-violence and just like that, the country followed. Now, we’re all equal.
So if you find yourself saying that activists of today “need to be more like Dr. King,” please realize that we are striving to do just that. We continue to challenge, protest, and call out injustice, despite how many tell us we’re wrong, hate us, or use violence against us, just like they did Dr. King.
Today, let’s remember Dr. King for the revolutionary he truly was. Here’s 5 quotes to help us do that:
“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”-Martin Luther King, Jr., Why I am Opposed to the War in Vietnam (1967)
“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”-Martin Luther King, Jr., The Other America (1968)
“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” -Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here? (1967)
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn. The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans.”-Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here? (1967)’
“Non-violent protest must now mature to a new level to correspond to heightened black impatience and stiffened white resistance. The higher level is mass civil disobedience. It is a concept well known in our struggle for justice. There must be more than a statement to the larger society—there must be a force that interrupts its functioning at some key point.”-Martin Luther King, Jr., Worldview Introduction (1972)
I was in a wedding and in need of a neutral nail polish. I came across your Miracle Gel color, Birthday Suit. I was initially drawn to it because it was just what I was looking for, but when I read the name of the color, I was taken aback. I thought it was interesting that someone would choose this name, even though everyone’s “birthday suit” is not that color. Birthday Suit is not the color of my “birthday suit.”
I am a program coordinator for multicultural education at a university. As we teach our students about diversity and inclusion, and strive to develop their multicultural competence, we often talk about microaggressions. Naming this polish Birthday Suit is a microaggression.
Psychologist and Columbia professor, Derald Wing Sue, Ph.D., defines microaggressions as “everyday slights, indignities, put downs, and insults that people of color, women, LGBT populations, or those who are marginalized experience in their day to day interactions with people.” Microaggressions are often perpetrated by members of dominant groups and done so unconsciously, without negative intention or ill will. Microaggressions can (amongst multiple effects) make the dominate group seem “normal” while making anyone outside of that seem abnormal or as the “other.” Well, that is how I felt when I read the name Birthday Suit. I thought to myself, surely, they know this is NOT the color of all of their consumer’s birthday suits. It was frustrating and disappointing, but not shocking, because unfortunately, I have been dealing with this type of subtle racism my entire life.
The cosmetic and fashion industries are infamous for using “nude” to describe colors similar to Birthday Suit; so much so that some people think of “nude” as a color, without actually realizing that it is the nude color of a dominant group, white people. For decades, despite its discriminatory nature, brands and companies continue to use “nude” to describe their products (shout out to Nubian Skin for countering this and providing women of color with “a different kind of nude”). It is even more disturbing to know that until just two months ago (thanks to the Nude Awakening Campaign), Merriam-Webster defined the word nude as, “having the color of a white person’s skin.” So you see, there is already an issue here. That is why it is so disappointing and frustrating to see a color named Birthday Suit in 2015. Instead of fixing this issue that has long existed, Birthday Suit reinforces the problem AND diminishes another commonly used term (as done with nude), that everyone could once relate to, to now only describe the color of white people’s skin.
I understand that your company may not have intended to make me feel excluded or offended. That is often the case with microaggressions. However, I do not want this to be an instance where you explain how this was not your intention and we move on. Why? Because this is not just about nail polish; it is about addressing a type of bias that happens every single day that many are unaware of or ignore. It is important that we as a society start acknowledging the reality of microaggressions and their effects, and do something about it. This is a chance to do something; our chance to do something.
While we do not experience as much broad, overt racism as we once did, there is still subtle racism (often in the form of microaggressions) that can do just as much (if not more) harm. In today’s day and age, most people consider themselves to be “good people” who are well intended, fair, and do not discriminate. However, this situation is a prime example of how good people can be unaware of their bias, act in a discriminatory manner, and hurt people of color. People think we ended racism when we stopped overt racism (slavery, Jim Crow laws, etc.) but that was only a part of the battle. We will not see race relations improve again until we become aware of and acknowledge the subtle biases possessed within our hearts and minds; the subtle biases that still cause discrimination.
I ask that you use this as a teachable moment and educate your organization on microaggressions through diversity trainings. I also ask that you change the name of the Birthday Suit color. And finally, I ask that your organization launch a campaign going against the idea of “nude” or “birthday suit” being one skin tone and leading the way for change in the cosmetic and fashion industries. I am more than willing to continue this conversation and be a part of these solutions. Please let me know how I can help. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you for your time.
This meme (left) really bothers me. It bothers me because it perpetuates the stereotypes of black women being too independent, angry, having a bad attitude, undesirable, less than, etc. These stereotypes continue to be perpetuated by white and black people (the meme was brought to my attention from being shared by black men), and I am frustrated to specifically see black men degrade black women in this way.
It frustrates me because people who perpetuate these stereotypes give little consideration to what could make black women be perceived as “angry,” or lead them to take on this “strong and independent” mentality. They do not consider how black female slaves often had their husbands and children torn from them (sometimes an enslaved man or woman pleaded with an owner to purchase his or her spouse to avoid separation), forcing a level of independence and emotional impact. They do not consider how to this day, black men are incarcerated at 6 times the rate of white men and serve exponentially longer sentences, again forcing a level of independence and emotional impact. They do not consider how in America, black women have a net worth of $100, having an unemployment rate that unlike most other demographic groups, continues to rise, and a wage gap that even a college education cannot bridge. They do not consider how society continues to remind people that black women are not beautiful, setting beauty standards and norms that are the exact opposite of black women’s natural being (light skin better than dark, straight hair better than curly, thin body better than curves…and when curves are accepted, they are sexualized as if that is all a curvaceous woman is good for). They do not consider how common attributes of black women’s personalities and culture are often deemed as “unladylike” and wrong (expressing your opinion, being “loud”), leading some men to actually believe that black women are indeed undesirable. Hopefully you can see that many aspects of our society have contributed to this perception of black women as angry, too independent, and too opinionated.
It’s unbelievable that if a black woman falls short of overcoming all of these societal obstacles that she faces, if she so happens to fall victim to this oppression, then she is blamed for being angry, having a bad attitude, and not knowing how to accept having a man. It’s so ironic that black women are expected to be strong enough to thrive in a society where they are disadvantaged all around, but are then chastised for being “strong and independent.”
Is this meme supposed to “help” black women stop having an attitude and stop being (too) strong and independent? If so,
it’s counterproductive because all it does is make black women actually angry, and rightfully so. If black women see black men share this meme openly, all it does is make black women defensive, and possibly feel the need to be more independent, because we are being generalized, our character is being attacked, and we are being portrayed as less than women of other races.
How are we as black women supposed to take this? This meme lets us know that we can add (some) black men to our list of obstacles because instead of advocating for us against these stereotypes and ideas of black women, instead of fighting against the systems and oppression that contribute to these stereotypes and ideas of black women, instead of loving us through any emotional or mental impacts and insecurities that we have because of these stereotypes and ideas of black women, black men will now join in on keeping us down.
We are in a movement for black lives right now. We’re trying to make the world believe that black lives really do matter– and not only in regard to police brutality. The movement is about gaining freedom and equality from ALL systems and beliefs that disadvantage, target, omit, and oppress black people, and this is one of them.
Even in this movement, we see black women being disadvantaged and left out. That’s why some have taken additional steps past “black lives matter” to say black WOMEN’S lives matter, and use hashtags like #SayHerName. It’s so unfortunate to see this omission because many black women are on the front line advocating and fighting for black men against police brutality. It is so sad that black women can’t get that same support from black men, even with something as simple as not spreading social media memes that degrade us.
This shows a need to redefine masculinity (with a new definition that includes a range of human emotion, is more flexible than dichotomous) because men’s quest to fulfill this societal norm is hindering (black) women. So, while I do not agree with the perception of black women that this meme portrays, I am acknowledging the potential roots of the perception, with the hope that if we are aware of these social constructs, we can learn to love each other through them, instead of using them to put each other down.
No doubt, there are probably black women that display some of these stereotypical characteristics, just like there are women of any other race that probably show these traits. But maybe she is showing them for a reason. It’s problematic that some black men are choosing to stereotype black women and write them off as undesirable partners instead of considering why she may act this way, or more importantly, their possible role in why she is acting that way (specifically on a one-on-one basis, in a romantic relationship). I guess it’s a lot easier to criticize the black woman based on the negative perception she’s been given by society than to look at yourself and ask what you may be doing to yield that type of response from her.
There is a thin line between a black women not putting up with a man’s crap and being angry, (too) strong, and (too) independent. Just because a black woman does not say “yes” to everything you want or doing everything your way does not make her “angry.” It just means she expects (and will not settle) to be treated as the queen she is.
“Both the Democratic and Republican National Committees have agreed to give their blessing to a presidential town hall set up by activists in the Black Lives Matter movement. But organizers within the network have said that gesture isn’t enough. They want the parties to devote one of their official — and more high-profile — debates to racial justice issues.”
On October 22, 2015, Aleidra Allen was featured on a HuffPost Live segment. She shared perspectives on the discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement during presidential debates, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) promoting a Black Lives Matter town hall meeting, and the recent burning of churches in St. Louis, MO. Check it out below (Aleidra speaks at minutes 6:41, 14:27, and 20:37)!
From HuffPost Live website: With the Democratic National Committee agreeing to promote a presidential town hall hosted by the Black Lives Matter movement, we discuss how candidates should approach the social justice campaign and how much it will affect the upcoming election.
Julia Craven@CurlyCrayy (Washington, DC) HuffPost Politics Reporter
Elle Hearns@SoulFreeDreams (New York , NY) Central Region Coordinator, GetEQUAL; Strategic Partner, Black Lives Matter
Aleidra Allen@klassy_lei (St. Louis , MO) Student Involvement Center, Saint Louis University
Martese Johnson @martesejohnson_ (Charlottesville, VA) Activist
On Sunday June 21, 2015, #GoHomeDeray top-trended Twitter nationally for at least 14 hours. The hashtag included tweets directed at Deray McKesson, an activist who became well known after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. You may recognize him from one of his more popular CNN interviews that took place in Baltimore, MD after the death of Freddie Gray. Since last August, Deray has been present in various cities to seek justice in incidents where racism is speculated. The tweets were largely from Deray adversaries who bluntly shared their opposition to his presence in Charleston, SC.
Those participating in the trending topic appear to believe that Deray and/or his views promoted the “riots,” looting, and other unrest that has occurred in response to various incidents across the country. They feel that Charleston is coping with its grief with unity and forgiveness, and that Deray’s presence is not needed or wanted.
This blog is not necessarily to defend Deray, but more so to discuss the repetition of history, disconnect, and irony demonstrated by #GoHomeDeray. It will also discuss how unity and protest can coexist.
Unfortunately, it is not new for black people confronting racism to be told to “go home” by white people who prefer they just leave it alone. Black people were often told to “go home” when they called out racism and injustice, and advocated for their rights during the Civil Rights Movement. Even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was told to “go home” in the Mason City Globe-Gazette in September 1965. While this is not the first time for this “go home” rhetoric, this may be the first time we’ve seen it done via social media. #GoHomeDeray makes us wonder how far we’ve actually come.
Additionally, #GoHomeDeray demonstrates that there are still people who do not understand black’s people’s plight and the issues being raised. The “riots” and looting that people do not want to see were not caused by Deray. They were caused by feelings of helplessness and pain; feelings that our society perpetuates (and has long perpetuated) through seemingly small and systematic forms of racism. Of course, I am not condoning this behavior. I am not saying that it is the right response. But in the words of Deray McKesson, “you don’t have to condone it to understand it.” If we want to see the “riots” and looting stop, let’s address the root of the issue so that people will not feel so helpless, like they have nothing to lose. Instead of telling people to “go home” let’s work to address the actual cause and alleviate the racial bias that yields this unwanted reaction.
Many of the trending tweets expressed that there is unity and forgiveness in Charleston so they do not need Deray to be there. The unity and forgiveness is indeed positive and necessary. However, it does not negate the need to address the racism that caused this massacre in Charleston. It is amazing and beautiful to see the families of the 9 victims choose forgiveness despite this life changing tragedy. But if we allow that forgiveness to prevent us from addressing the racist root of this crime, we will have let those 9 lives be taken in vain and we are bound to see something like this happen again. For too long, this country has been trying to overcome racism in this polite, politically correct, “kumbaya” way. Well, there is nothing polite, politically correct, or “kumbaya” about racism so until we address this thing directly, and stop being afraid to talk about it, we will be as effective as an umbrella in a hurricane. Policies still need to change. Systems still need to change. Hearts and minds still need to change. So activism is still necessary.
Lastly, #GoHomeDeray is ironic. There is a contradiction in emphasizing unity and forgiveness while also excluding people from being a part of it. Shouldn’t we want to invite people into that unity? What benefit is it to make such a positive experience “invitation only?” It seems like we would want even those who have responded in less favorable ways to be there, so that we could model a more ideal way. Making unity only for a certain group or type of people is actually the opposite of unity– it’s divisive. #GoHomeDeray took away from what seemed to be a first step in coming together and caused people to question the authenticity of the “unity” in Charleston, reiterating the lack of unity in this country.
Both unity and protest (defined as “something said or done that shows disagreement with or disapproval of something,” Merriam-Webster) can happen. We can unite to support the families and Charleston as they grieve an event in our nation’s history that will never be forgotten. And we can protest the racism, culture, and systems that affirm mentalities like that of Dylan Roof. They can coexist, and their coexistence can be beneficial. Just maybe, unity will cause understanding of the experience of Black people in the United States, which causes understanding of the need for change and protest, which motivates people to join the protest, which then brings us back to unity.
9 people have been killed. We should be doing everything in our power to ensure that they do not die in vain; that change and progress comes from their sacrifice and that of their families. #GoHomeDeray isn’t doing that.