February is Black History Month and March is Women's History Month. This post by Catherine Engh ties the two together in historical context with links to some amazing but little-known women's stories. Wow. Feel free to add stories of other such women in the comment section.
Janell Hobson, blogger, social critic and professor of women’s studies, spotlights the lives of various fierce black women throughout history this February on Ms. Magazine’s blog. Hobson’s fascinating posts take as subject black female vocalists, vanguards of the second-wave feminist movement, jazz-age expatriates in Paris, fugitive slaves, civil rights organizers and contemporary environmental justice advocates.
Who knew about Sookie, a slave woman who resisted rape by pushing her master into a soapbox filled with boiling water? Or Nannie of the Maroons, a mythic 17th century Jamaican revolutionary who defeated English armies by catching bullets in her buttocks and hurling them back?
“If we ever lose sight of how our past can guide our present and future, as women, as people of color, as the colonized, as the marginalized, then we concede the power of history to others. The many histories without a capital H tell us we don’t have to do so–that indeed, we have always had the power to resist.” —Janell Hobson
In each post, Hobson familiarizes her readers with complex questions of intersectionality and oppression. How can we build an inclusive feminist movement given past rifts between black women and their privileged white counterparts? How can we represent violence against black women’s bodies without reducing them to rape victims or one-dimensional heroic figures (Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks)?
As Hobson tells the stories of these incredible women, she underlines why and how such stories should be told. The BlackHerStories powerfully reclaim the historical agency of women who are situated within an American history marked by racialized and gendered oppression. Hobson says of the ancestral figures that serve as an inspiration to her: “These spirits are churning, and they are still here.” If our understanding of the present is shaped by our understanding of the past—and vice versa—then it is our responsibility to work for knowledge of history that takes into account difference. This series is a good pit stop along that long road.
About Catherine Engh
Catherine Engh is a feminist and an aspiring writer particularly interested in the ways that girls and women are represented in fiction and television. She wrote this piece for 9 Ways—it's a great example of No Excuses Power Tool # 1: Know Your History. Catherine also likes to do as much yoga as is possible—perhaps she'll write about that next.