Monday, March 28, 2011

A Women’s History Moment

The current fight against the demeaning, hyper-sexual images of black women’s bodies; the negative, stereo-typical depiction of black women as bitter, evil and angry; the belief black women are extra-human with their strong, fat, black selves; the trope/meme that black women do not require – indeed do not recognize/understand/possess and deeper, vulnerable, fragile emotional self is a part of our continuing journey to full personhood/humanity.

From ‘things’ to be owned, sold, traded, assaulted and killed to ungrateful, materialistic, de-feminized ‘other’ black women have consistently had to work to wrest control of her self, her ‘bodily integrity’, her psychological being from those who benefit from degrading and de-humanizing her.

‘At the Dark End of the Street' ( by Danielle McGuire takes a look at the history of violence against black women and the institutions designed to distort, suppress and deny the violence directed at black women. In examining the permissive atmosphere of violence against black women in the early part of the last century, the book details how black women were denied the inherent protections of femininity. Viewed as ‘other’ or not feminine or not human, violence against was widely regarded as the woman’s fault.

The book details the courageous steps black women took to speak out about the crimes committed against them. As well as the organization of women to document and bring awareness to the on-going campaign of terror black women endured during the years prior to what is now called the civil rights era.

‘At the Dark End of the Street’ documents how black women were not ‘led’ by black men in the early days of the civil rights movement, but were equal partners in the movement and in some cases de facto leaders. The book also observes how history subsequently pushed these black women; bravely protesting against the terrorism and sexualized brutality of Jim Crow America – the spark helping to ignite the nascent civil rights movement; into the background of one of the most important chapters in American history and the history of the civil rights movement.

The ‘hook’ if you will, is Rosa Parks. Far from the media generated image of the humble, God-fearing black women too tired to give up her seat to some white man on a public bus in Alabama, Mrs. Parks was a field secretary for the NAACP and was also one of the top field investigators who worked tirelessly for justice for black women victims of sexual violence. Mrs. Parks may have been the perfect symbol of virtuous, middle-class black femininity used by the NAACP to press their cause in the media, but Mrs. Parks was also radical in her pursuit of justice for the victims of sexualized racial violence during the 1940s and 1950s. The book turns the spotlight on such women as Mrs. JoAnn Robinson, the organizer of what became the Montgomery Bus Boycott and tells the story of Mrs. Recy Taylor, a woman, who despite all the threats against her and her family; told the truth about the heinous crime perpetrated against her and helped shape the world we live in today.

This book is like looking in a rearview mirror. We see where we have come from and we use this information to navigate our way further down the road.

Black women have history too. Happy Women’s History Month!!!


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