In 2020, The former First lady of the United States speaks about her incidents being a black lady.
In a news article Michelle Obama talks about her experience with racism as the first lady by today.com, Michelle shares her story of how she was left unseen and invisible by whites even after being in such a powerful position.
Michelle is the first African American woman to become the First lady of the United States of America.
Such incidents explain how the blacks in the USA still face racial discrimination. Especially black women in the United States have been the victim of racial and gender oppression. But what is behind the mindsets of whites? why black women?
To answer these questions, we must understand black women’s history in the United States and the history of racial and gender discrimination in the United States.
The History of American Slavery
The slave history of the United States goes back to the 17th century when 20-30 African slaves were bought to Comfort Point, Virginia by the Europeans.
Africans who were taken to America were the prisoners of wars, poor members of the society who wanted money and were traded to pay their debts.
Although English colonists in Virginia did not invent slavery, and the shift from a few bound African laborer to a legalized system of full-fledged chattel slavery took decades, 1619 marks the start of race-based bondage, which defined the African American experience.
Slavery and the Condition of Black Women
Exploring black women’s history can be very painful. Black women were treated barbarically. They were the Victims of Sexual Assault and mistreatment that could not be understood by the other groups of the society.
The first problem that we encounter with the black women’s past is that they were enslaved. First African women were bought as slaves, then these enslaved women were sold at the lowest price.
After selling off, these black enslaved women were taken to white mistresses’ houses where they did all the domestic work like cleaning, cooking, cutting grass, taking care of the households, and so on.
These women were also expected to nurse children of the whites and breastfeed them as a daily part of their chores, even at the expense of their children.
Although it was black women’s unique ability to carry out all the work given to them, they were still treated harshly. The black women suffered sexual assaults by their lords.
Harriet Jacobs, an African American women’s activist narrates her story of being sexually assaulted by her lord and being reminded at every turn that she belonged to him as a property. It was haunting for her to even step out to take some fresh air.
There are hundreds of black women’s stories where they were defined as legal property and had no consent of their own. Black women were expected to bear children so that these children could be sold in the future.
Virginia’s famous Partus Sequitur Ventrum, a legal law concerning that the birth of the child would be recognized with the mother’s status and not the father.
This gave an upper hand to the White men to rape black women, impregnate them, slave the children born, and could even sell them. There was systemic racism in every sphere of their lives.
A Black Women’s History of the United States
A black women’s history of the United States is a nominee for outstanding literary work, written by two award-winning historians Diana Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross, who offer insights into the racial discrimination and gender oppression in early American History. Both are professors in the history department of the University of Texas at Austin and Emory University respectively.
About the Authors
Diana Ramey Berry
Diana Ramey Berry is an American historian and black women’s activist. Berry pursued her masters in African American Studies. Apart from her book A black women’s history in the United States, two more books have been written by her, The price of their pound of flesh and Swing the sickle for the Harvest is ripe centering Black women’s stories.
Kali Nicole Gross
Another well-established Historian and author of three famous literary works – Colored Amazons, Hannah Marry Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso and the award nominee book- A Black Women’s History of the United States. Her work centers around black women’s lives in America and their History.
About the Book
The two groundbreaking historians had done deep research into the black history of the United States. Their book was nominated for the 2021 NAACP image award by the national association for the advancement of color people and a nonfiction honorable mention for the American Historians Darlene Clark Hine award.
Darlene Clark Hine award is named after another award-winning historian Darlene Clark, who was awarded The National Humanities Medal in 2013 by President Barack Obama. The Darlene Clark award is given every year by the Organization of American Historians for the best book in African American women’s history.
The book by Ramey berry and kali Nicole offers us a vibrant and empowering history that emphasizes the stories of African American women that shaped their whole lives fighting for justice.
Stories of African American Women
The book starts with a woman called Nannie who was a daughter of a formerly enslaved woman and a black nationalist. She grew her seeing the hardships her mother went in to provide for her family.
Nannie talks about black womanhood describing that they should strive for womanhood and be able to look into any man’s face and tell the noble character of a black woman and black womanhood.
The first chapter deals with a story of a woman named Isabel de Olvera, a mulatto is a free woman who wants to go out on world exploration. She gets herself “an affidavit” from the court and 3 witnesses that she was a free black woman and is a part of an exploration group.
The second chapter explains the stories of Africans who were enslaved and were bought in the wooden ships, in congestion.
The black women were stripped naked and packed together in an unventilated dark place for months. Episodes of dizziness, vomiting, and dehydration were very common.
After landing in America, these women were enslaved and exploited in every way possible. They were raped, tortured, and used as an object for experiments.
Most of them were kept as indentured laborers under contracts. They were given assurance of the termination of the contract if they work well. But they ended up working more. Other times, these women were a continuous source of sexual pleasure to their lord.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the freedom History of the United States is because of the rich and dynamic history of struggle and contribution of black women.
Black women seeking collective freedom dreams were a part of America’s revolutionary war. They served the country’s freedom, sometimes to gain their freedom and escape slavery.
The groundbreaking historians also talk about the stories of black women marrying white men to escape from slavery and become empowered. These women sometimes became slave owners leading to the betrayal of the people of their communities.
On the other hand, other African American women who became slave owners, slowly allowed and helped other women to gain their freedom.
The book is an award nominee for outstanding literary because it not only showcases black women’s lives in all their fraught complexities but also these courageous women challenged racial and gender oppression, fought for their freedom and WON.
Berry and Kali Nicole have given us an exceptionally diverse introduction to the voices and historical representation of black women in American society.
The two award-winning Historians seek to illuminate greater possibilities of freedom within their communities such as black women’s voices for religious leaders, queer women, Black children, and political leaders.
Martin Luther King Jr
Martin Luther King Jr is the face of the courageous and complex voices of African Americans. A baptized American politician was inspired by the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolence.
He participated in and lead many rallies and marches for Labor Rights, Voting Rights, and Civil Rights. He stood by black women and continued resistance against racism to realize true justice for all.
Martin Luther King Jr created a groundbreaking new history when his efforts lead to the introduction and passing of 3 acts in the US parliament –
In 1963, the march of Washington for jobs and freedom amassed 300,000 people in the rally where Martin gave his famous speech I have a dream in front of the Lincoln memorial.
He also won many prizes including the Nobel peace prize, the presidential medal of freedom, and a congressional gold medal. He was assassinated in 1968.
The movement was also supported by other famous activists like Rosa Parks to Combat struggles centering on black women’s stories.
The term Black Feminism is used for the global struggle of black women and their fight against the most profound injustices done based on their color and sex.
Black Feminism grew mainly in the third wave of feminism as a result of the failure of the second wave.
The second wave mainly focused on reproductive rights, and social and economic rights like Equal pay for Equal work, domestic violence, marital rape, and education.
The second wave of feminism tried to bring universalism and sisterhood, and all women under one umbrella.
The third wave of feminism came against the second wave of feminism. The third-wave feminists believed that feminism can’t be bought under one umbrella because women suffer differently in different societies.
Feminism till the 20th century was all about the problems of white women. The New wave has bought more diversity of women from different societies like black women, queer women, Asian women, and Islamic women.
Black feminism includes all black women’s voices and their sufferings.
The Problems of Black feminists centers around the racial discrimination of these women in society. Sexual assault and molestation of black women because of their race and historical representation.
The stories of black women are the experiences of these women subjected to white supremacy and patriarchy.
Some of the well-known black feminists are Sojourner Truth, Harriet Jacobs, Harriet Tubman, Margaret garner, and Rosa Parks.
Most Influential African American women
There are some of the most influential names in the black women history of in the United States Of America who set the groundbreaking new history.
Isabella Baumfree, also known as Sojourner Truth was a slave born who later fought her way out of it. She was the first among the African American women to challenge the traditional accounts of racism and patriarchy.
She is famous for her speech “ain’t I a woman?“, where she narrates of all her 13 children being sold as slaves. She was the first woman to talk about abolition and women’s rights.
Born in 1813, Harriet Jacobs was an African American abolitionist and feminist who was the victim of sexual assault, but lucky enough to be sold and bought just to be legally free by a lady.
In her autobiography- Incidents in the life of a slave girl, she describes her life in constant danger of being captured. After her freedom, Jacob was actively participating in the abolitionist movement and feminist movement.
Harriet Tubman was a slave by birth. As a child, she suffered from sleeping spells because of an accident, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise for her. Her condition led her to rejection from the business of slavery. But in later life, she feared separation from her family when her husband’s owner tried to sell her off.
But she managed to escape from slavery, even made around 13 missions to rescue the rest of her family and friends, around 700 slaves from their masters by 1863.
Margaret Garner was a victim of slavery. She killed her two-year-old daughter to save her from slavery and even managed to escape herself rather than living the life of an enslaved.
That incident is famously called “slave escape“. It is known to be one of the coldest night incidents in the history of America.
A black American refused to give up her seat for a white man on a bus when seats were racially segregated. An African American and civil rights activist is also known as “The first lady of civil rights” later lead to the Montgomery bus boycott as a result of her arrest. Rosa with Martin Luther King was the leading activist in the civil rights movement in the United States.
Status of Black Women in the United States
According to a report published by the Institute for women’s policy research, Black Women are underrepresented in government institutions and posts. (Source: IWPR Report)
- They hold only 3.5% of seats in the Legislature and no seats in the US Senate.
- More than 60% of African American women are in the workforce of which 28% are in a service occupation.
- Black Women are also claimed to be the sole breadwinner of the family or earn at least 40% of household income.
- Black women in United States are 4 times more likely to be prisoned than white women And 2.5 times more likely to be murdered than whites.
- There are more evidence of psychological abuse and emotional abuse to black women than all women races in general.
- Black women are also victim of racial as well as gender wage gap when they share the highest labor participation.
- Between 2014-2017, the Mortality Rate for African American were 41.7 deaths per 100,000 birth as compared to white women which are 12 deaths per 100,000 (Source: CDC pregnancy mortality surveillance system).
What needs to be done?
In exploring black women’s history and their suffering, it is important to look into the core problems that they face in day-to-day life.
The first thing that needs to be done is Acceptance. We need to love and accept humans regardless of what they are and who they are. Discriminating against someone based on race or sex is neither ethical nor sensible as nobody chooses to become what they are. We all are merely accidents by birth.
Secondly, Keeping black women’s mental health a priority. They suffer continuous emotional mental abuse and insecurities. There needs to be more inclusive mental health talk with some exclusive topics related to black women’s traumas.
Equal pay for equal work, not just for whites but blacks too. Not just for men but for women too. It becomes Important to empower African American women financially. Regardless of class, ethnicity, and gender, Every labor should be treated equally.
Non Objectification of black women and their bodies – Protecting black mothers and daughters according to rightful and equal law and respecting them equally as other women. Many African American women face the incidents of sexual assaults by white men where it is easy for these men to escape from the court proceeding just because of their race.
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