It was in 1920 when the 19th Amendment was passed giving women the right to vote. It was the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which enacted by the 89th Congress (1965) which prohibited racial discrimination in voting. Meaning, I as a black woman, and my mothers before me, where not able to vote in any realm of politics until 1965. My own mother was 15 at the time of the passing of the Voting Rights Act.
What is often lost in this collective history is the recollection of the experiences of and given by black women. So much of our cultural history and make up is dedicated to keeping secrets, running interference, and to carry those that cannot fend, walk and speak for themselves. This is the taught power of black women. The benefit of our strength and talents are always needed…yet to the exclusion of the distinction of race.
We have had the Ain’t I A Woman shouted from pulpits, lecterns and with fists on kitchen tables with the same hands that have made meals and tended to the duties of life they provide–despite their ache for help. None more apparent than in the life of the history of women’s suffrage. The patron saints of this movement being Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. There is one woman, two women, whom are often forgotten: Ida B. Wells Barnett and Mary Ann Shadd Cary House, remembered as Mary Shadd. It was the deft of Ida’s pen that granted her room into the forefront of recording the black experience, especially in the American South. It was the brilliance of Mary Shadd and her law degree from Howard University (age 60, 1 of 2 black women practicing law in the nation at that time) which armed the American Suffragist movement, testifying before Congress on behalf of suffrage , working with these architects as it were of feminism, giving legal basis for women to have the right to vote.
Ida B. Wells Barnett records in her writings that while marching for women’s suffrage, she was asked to march in back of the other white women that were attending at particular rally Susan B. Anthony had organized. There were southern white women whom thought her place was, and should be beneath them. Ms. Anthony is recorded to have She come and take Ida B. Wells Barnett in front with her to march because she would not have participated otherwise.
In the case of Ms. Shadd, little is mentioned of her and her impact towards women’s suffrage, despite her dying 27 years before this amendment was ratified to the Constitution. Such is our lot, our weight and our wait as black women: we show up, we fight, we work and we make it better.
However, one fact remains to be true despite all that is dressed as progress:
I am only seen as benefit when it is beneficial.
My talents, skills, brilliance and ability is only granted its full power when the established power feels there will be strength in numbers. My body is only seen as useful when it is used to protect the very freedoms to be stripped from me. Yet, like my foremothers we swallow these bitter truths, and fruits from the ground of hope we till. We take care of the messes, clean up the glass…and wait. We wait.
Now, we are tired of waiting.
We remember the tears and prayers of our grandmothers whom declared us free at the only wielded weapon they had on hand: faith. We remember being told what we were not, are not and may never become by a world that was satisfied with our copy, our doppelgangers. We remember our fathers and how they poured into the world, to come and home to their wives to be replenished. We remember how it felt to have he world around you hate you and steal from you with the same hand.
We remember and we are tired of waiting.
In this “Women’s March” to be held in cities around the nation and perhaps the globe in coming days, we see the same problem that Ida and Mary had: I am beneficial only if I am deemed beneficial. My sex matters more than my experiences my race offers because solidarity is better than justice. We have white women whom have organized these events without taking into account the experiences of women of color. These same women are intimated, resentful and afraid to embrace the facets of womanhood that are indeed unpalatable because it is the desire of those that organize to remain comfortable.
Their comfort is our oppression.
Solange Knowles song “Seat At The Table” is not an anthem, it is a war cry. It is time we as black women indeed embrace the experience of other women and demand reciprocity! We repeat as our mothers do “Ain’t I a Woman?” “Am I not good enough?” “Am I worthy of my own freedom?” “Can I not self-determine my own destiny?”
“Is my black the disqualification to my womanhood?”
It is, it was, our hands that planted the trees, to be cut down like our sons would be.
It was our hands that formed and fashioned the frame of the legs of sturdy oak and maple, just like my grandmothers did to be “pretty” and no darker than a brown paper bag.
It was our deft fingers that had sown and hemmed tablecloths, linen napkins and wedding dresses, just as we were to be fitted with our own burial shrouds of every dream and wish we as women had taken and beaten from us–and from those ashes we strive to make it all beautiful. You see, we are the table–every leg, every design, every etch is us. The table was made from us-only to exclude us. This time, this dispensation is no different. It is no different.
There are allies that see our power, our spirit and our lives and treasure them–just as we do. And there will be a time where they cannot speak for us–will not speak for us. As the Lord instructed, even if we do not praise the Creator, even the rocks will cry out as a testimony. I need no such reminder. I will be like Ida and not be allowed to have my sex be more powerful than my race. I will be like Mary and continue to speak truth to power–power must understand that there will never be a time where truth is not needed or present. We have made the table of our tears and flesh–we will sit if only because our forebearers have chosen to be the timber by which we were and are forged.
The time for waiting–is over.