A Letter to Black Women
This article was first published at Citizen SHE United, and advocacy group in Louisiana that is building an aligned base of Black Women who inform, advocate for and enact a collective policy agenda to address the needs of Black Women across the state.
In Citizen SHE United’s first Letter To Black Women of 2020, Danielle Wright, Division Director of Navigate NOLA, pens a poignant love letter, honoring all the ways in which Black Women, bravely and mostly without acknowledgment, lead and serve the masses toward our collective liberation.
All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave
– But Some of Us are Brave (1982)
My love letter to black women seeks to elevate and celebrate the unique bravery endemic to African-American women carrying out abolitionist work daily. This work often goes unacknowledged by society at large and even goes unacknowledged by us, the black women doing the transformational work of disrupting systemic racism. This work often goes unacknowledged because intersectional erasures leave us without a lens to understand the depth of our contributions not just to black women and to black people, but to society at large.
Black women are standing on the shoulders of ancestral giants who have paved the way and also hard wired our DNA (epigenetics) to create a legacy of bravery through paradigm-shifting acts of social justice. What is particularly unique about the bravery that black women have exhibited across time has been this theme of forward-thinking or foresightedness as the impetus behind performing acts of bravery.
In her famous 1850 speech, “Aint I A Woman, “ Sojourner Truth challenged white women suffragists around the politics of respectability of that era and suggested that such privileges associated within these politics of respectability, shaped by the Victorian Era, should be extended to women of color. She also challenged a movement that excluded enslaved black women from the fight for equality of all women. She had the vision for what academic scholars refer to as black feminist theory and intersectionality. It was because of her foresight, she began laying the groundwork for educator and feminist scholar Anna Julia Cooper’s scholarship in her 1892 book entitled, “A Voice from the South,” in which she so eloquently articulated the challenges that existed for women of color at the intersection of race, class, and gender during that time. As we reflect on the contemporary challenges that exist for women of color today, Anna Julia Cooper’s work is still very relevant. Her work has inspired many of our contemporary feminist scholars such as Kimberle Crenshaw, Melissa Harris-Perry, Patricia Hill Collins, Beverly Guy Sheftall, and Monique Morris.
The colored woman of to-day occupies, one may say, a unique position in this country. In a period of itself transitional and unsettled, her status seems one of the least ascertainable and definitive of all the forces which make for our civilization. She is confronted by both a woman question and a race problem and is as yet an unknown or unacknowledged factor in both…May she see her opportunity and vindicate her high prerogative
–Anna Julia Cooper, 1892
There are countless examples of black women recognizing their opportunity and vindicating their high prerogative throughout history. In the 1800s a black woman named Lily Ann Granderson established a “midnight” school for slaves in Natchez, Mississippi. The school operated from 11 pm to 2 am. She operated during this time because Mississippi law prohibited the literacy of slaves and they were at risk of facing severe punishment. Granderson educated hundreds of slaves at her school. Today, black women continue to disrupt inequities in public education as teachers, school social workers, advocates, educational administrators and professionals working in educational policy.
In the 1964 Democratic Convention, Fannie Lou Hamer testified before the Credentials Committee about her efforts to exercise her right to the benefits of full citizenship through voting, and the many challenges that she faced doing so in the deep south area of Mississippi. Today, black women have emerged as a collective powerhouse in the U.S. electorate.
In 1991, Anita Hill testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee about the sexual harassment that she experienced while working for Clarence Thomas, she paved the way for today’s Me Too Movement. She was the original voice of the voiceless as it relates to the seriousness of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence against women.
Black women continue to instinctively create space for their own healing while simultaneously breaking down barriers to create space for themselves and other marginalized groups. We participate in such acts and observe other black women performing these acts and acknowledge them as ordinary because we have normalized such extraordinary bravery. We do this by showing up each day to corporate workplaces where we are the most underrepresented group, educating students of color in an inequitable public education system, addressing the exacerbated vulnerability of people of color as mental health professionals, serving as elected officials despite the fact that we remain underrepresented in state and local politics and bringing children into the world knowing that we are three to four times more likely to die than our white counterparts during childbirth. We continue to face a wage gap even larger than women overall. Despite all of this, we are leading the nation in labor force participation, burgeoning entrepreneurship, and voter participation. All of what we contribute to the world is revolutionary and an act of abolitionism, whether we are referring to the African enslaved women who built the original levee system in New Orleans or the black women who are consumed with the day to day struggles of meeting their basic needs and the needs of their families, it is all incredibly revolutionary.
Collectively, these brave and revolutionary acts are performed because we have the vision and foresight to understand what these acts mean for future generations to come. Sending all the love that the universe has to offer to black women. May our strength flow on forever…
About Danielle Wright
Danielle Wright currently serves as the Division Director of Navigate Nola and is responsible for the oversight of the development and implementation of the 7 social-emotional and community wellness programs that fall under the Navigate Nola Division.
Danielle Wright is a social worker and public health practitioner. She is a graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, GA.
Danielle has a Doctorate Degree in Social Work from Tulane University. She also holds master’s degrees in both Social Work and Public Health from Tulane University. She is certified both in Infant Mental Health (IMH) and Disaster Mental Health (DMH). She gained IMH certification through a one-year-long Infant Mental Health fellowship with the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC) Department of Child Psychiatry Harris Infant Mental Health Center. She has served as an adjunct clinical field faculty member at Tulane University’s School of Social Work.
Danielle has worked across various clinical mental health and public health settings such as LSU’s Behavioral Sciences Center, The City of New Orleans Health Department, Jefferson Parish Human Service Authority and The Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies and Communities In Schools.
Danielle is committed to making a difference in her community and enriching the lives of the New Orleans citizenry. She is a member of several volunteer service organizations such as the Links Inc., Crescent City Chapter and African-American Women of Purpose and Power.
“Letter to Black Women” is brought to you weekly by Citizen SHE United. For more information visit www.citizensheunited.com.