We hope you enjoyed celebrating Women’s History Month with us, with Black women and revolutionaries at the forefront.
We are excited to discuss Black Women Radicals for Black Lives Matter Boston, but we’d be remiss if we didn't address the critical framework, Afropessimism. In our last message we addressed police budgets and accountability. Now we want to share a lens from which to understand racialized capitalism and colonialism. Created by writers and visionaries Saidiya Hartman and Frank B. Wilderson III, Afropessimism is the ongoing effects of racism, colonialism and enslavement as it refers to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade on our culture today. There is an assumption that Black people and non-Black people have a shared value and commonality that allows for us to understand the experience of the lived embodied reality of another person.
In a world of difference, there is human universality. As Shylock pleads in Merchant of Venice:
If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
Afropessimism is best understood as a structure for thinking; it seeks to elevate the current analysis of systemic racism to understand the true and lived experience of human beings. For example, we must understand that Black death is systemic. In understanding this, we can begin to deconstruct and overcome the way we are violent towards each other. As we’ve shared before, slavery is not over - it has merely mutated and shapeshifted into incarceration, displacement, microaggressions, gerrymandering, gentrification, a caste system and the list goes on. We live in a society in which there is an insidious and reproducing projection of fear, of and onto Black people. At any moment, Black people can die. In order for true progress to be achieved, we must recognize that Blackness has never been considered human. The world projects that Blackness is not synonymous to human life.
An unparalleled account of Blackness, radical in conception, remarkably poignant, and with soaring flights of lyrical prose, Afropessimism reverberates with wisdom and painful clarity in the fractured world we inhabit (Norton Books). In popularizing the framework of Afropessimism we can begin to thoroughly and fully critically examine the realities of Black lives in our country. Understanding critical theories like Afropessimism can help us comprehend the Black experience. This sustained anti-relation gives rise to abolitionist solutions with which BLM Boston unites.
Black Women Radicals
In our society, we have a strange and misguided fear of “radicalism”. There is nothing inherently wrong with a radical mindset; it means to not adhere to the norm, which in our capitalist world means a white, able-bodied, straight patriarchal culture. Where we should applaud such insight and bravery, for Black people, especially women, we condemn with the harshest of criticism and at times violence.
Our focus on radical Black women for Women's History Month afforded a deep look into some of the women who have made an indelible mark on our lives and the world around us. The study of these women in our society offers a road map on how to engage both the scholarship and activism of past and current Movements. They often dare to resist oppression and home in on people-centered remedies like mutual aid, health and youth programs, and radical abolitionist politics. For our society to reach its potential, we need more of these women involved. For example, Harriet Tubman is lauded for having never lost a passenger on the dangerous quest for freedom. The Black Panther Party had over 65 Programs implemented to serve the Black community, including Women’s Studies. The Aba Women (in Nigeria) organized against colonial rule to fight taxation and oppression in the Marketplace.
Women are so often held to impossible standards and put into a box, where they are expected to be small and a patriarchal view of femininity, meek or docile; however, this is not how women have historically, and still, showed up. Many radical Black Women were extremely self aware and ahead of the times. For example, both Patricia Hill Collins and Alice Walker were pioneers in theory. In her work, Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins defines “particular forms of intersecting oppressions, for example; intersections of race and gender, or of sexuality and nation” (Collins, 2000). We must note that these systems can overlap with one another as well as create a large web of injustice. Alice Walker created the term ‘womanist’ in her 1982 publication In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose. Womanism is a form of “feminism that emphasizes women's natural contribution to society”. This distinction is critical, since the term “feminism” for some is a term that is only associated with white women, particularly those of means.
Kerner Report and the Moynihan Report
History is the light to the future. After the assassinations of leaders such as Malik el-Shabazz Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers protests and riots ensued. In the mid-1960s, Lyndon B. Johnson constituted the Kerner Commission to identify,
“the genesis of the violent 1967 riots that killed 43 in Detroit and 26 in Newark… many Americans blamed the riots on outside agitators or young black men, who represented the largest and most visible group of rioters. But, in March 1968, the Kerner Commission turned those assumptions upside-down, declaring white racism—not black anger—turned the key that unlocked urban American turmoil.”
Unexpectedly the Kerner Report did just that, revealing that the riots and the degree of violence in the communities were a direct result of poverty and state sanctioned murder with impunity. The report further unveiled that there are indeed two America’s: one Black, one white (Jalil Muntaqim). The Kerner Report offered insights that both rivaled the Moynihan Report and gave more accurate and thoughtful perspectives on the Black family. Among many things, the Kerner Report found that poverty and institutional racism were driving inner-city violence in contrast to the Moynihan Report which can be described as assigning blame to Black family dynamics. The Moynihan Report further discusses Black Women’s role in the family unit, and uses white middle-class families as the standard to be measured against. Determinations were made without properly analyzing the differences in access, government interventions and economic differences. How can this be true when we live in a world in which Black people can die at any time and often do so with impunity. When we don’t recognize their humanity?
The Washington Post revealed there was a recent revisiting of the Moynihan Report in 2009; the revisiting still lacks the understanding that Black families and white family units cannot be compared using the same standards? This begs the question of why are we so bent on legitimizing the Moynihan Report as opposed to looking at the Kerner Report?
This confirmation bias in the Moynihan Report can be seen in the fervent attempts to substantiate its claims irrespective of how absurd. For example, Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and a director of its Center on Children and Families, wrote a chapter titled “Moynihan Was Right: Now What?” in a 2009 book about the original study. He said in an interview with The Washington Post that the findings in the new report indicate that “even as African Americans clearly enjoy more opportunity today and that the black middle class has grown, the challenges that undermine sustained and widespread economic prosperity remain stubborn. Chief among those challenges, Haskins said, is the disproportionate share of black children living in single-parent homes”. He said the problems will remain and possibly worsen until the numbers of children in Black, Hispanic and white families living in two-parent homes increase (Washington Post).
In blaming Black matriarchal structures for the adversities Black people face today, racism gets a free pass.
In the original Moynihan Report, it states how the “dependence on the mother's income undermines the position of the father and deprives the children of the kind of attention, particularly in school matters, which is now a standard feature of middle-class upbringing (The Atlantic). The idea that women emasculate and undermine men by taking care of and providing for their families and working hard at their jobs is inherently misogynist. It also holds up the idea of the white housewife, an idea that thrives only in a patriarchal world. Further the Moynihan Report undermines the root causes of this despire perpetuated by the racialized wealth gap, mass-incarceration and housing discrimination to name some.
In contrast, The Kerner Report: the National Advisory Commission on on Civil Disorders, “[draws] together decades of scholarship showing the widespread and ingrained nature of racism, The Kerner Report provided an important set of arguments about what the nation needs to do to achieve racial justice, one that is familiar in today’s climate” (Princeton Press).
The Moynihan Report, which is unfortunately more highly popularized and looked to over the more accurate Kerner Report, has caused more harm to Black people than good. Filled with contradictions, dog-whistles and vagueness,
“conservatives found in the [Moynihan] report a convenient rationalization for inequality; they argued that only racial self-help could produce the necessary changes in family structure. Some even used the report to reinforce racist stereotypes about loose family morality among African Americans" (The Atlantic).
In victimizing Black women and matriarchal family units, society becomes distracted by the ingrained racism and discrimination in our culture.
Read more about the failure of our society to uplift The Kerner Report, via The Smithsonian.
Black women are stand alone power house structures that we should continue to follow and study throughout history. Callie House founded the MRB&PA in 1897, which was a major movement that fought for both reparations and pension for formerly enslaved people. A leading member of the Black Panther Party for 14 years, human rights activist, poet, educator, and former political prisoner, Ericka Huggins has been advocating for humanity for 30 years. Founded in 1977 by Professor Wangari Maathai, the Green Belt Movement (GBM) has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya. Anne Marie Coriolan was as an avid feminist and helped change the law in Haiti so that rape became a punishable offense as opposed to a "crime of passion". Jazzie Collins was a powerful and passionate transgender activist in San Francisco who advocated for the rights of seniors, people with disabilities, POC and queer people. Ella Baker’s and Fannie Lou Hamer’s egalitarian models, still provide examples on organizing today. Thenjiwe Lesabe’s strategy for the people paved the way towards independence during the Zimbabwe War.
The range of Radical Black women’s contributions to the movement is unmatched and endless. No one had to teach Black women feminism; we always embraced and defined it. Black women have been subjected to so much oppression and yet, we always rise. We rise with the spirit of our humanity and this will not cease.