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Black Women: From Object to Human

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Black women are the wielders of truth and the bearers of life. Centuries of their narratives have given birth to an appreciation for freedom and to the multitude of opportunities at the hands of African Americans today. They possess a unique intuitive quality that informs their brilliant analyses of society and culture. The intellectual energy felt when black women tap into this intuitive quality is both striking and gentle. Black women are diverse -- they are fancy, they are simple, they are lesbian, they are heterosexual, they are progressive, they are conservative, they are country, and they are northern; they have straight hair, kinky hair, fake hair, real hair, dark skin, light skin, thick and skinny bodies; they are CEOs, scholars, doctors, plumbers, bus drivers, pilots, clergy, singers, artists, and authors. They are the wielders of truth and the bearers of life. Black women are extraordinary.  

But somehow this understanding of black women has been drowned in the Crisco oil used to fry chicken. Their regality is erased and replaced with obligatory domesticity and/or hypersexuality: they are reduced to being either Aunt Jemimah or Beyonce. Not only do these constructions of black women ignore their diversity and diminish their dignity, but they also neglect their humanity. Many men and white communities alike struggle to listen to, take seriously, and respect the very women who have invested in the wealth of this nation with the cracks in their hands and the sweat on their foreheads. For far too long we have objectified them, we have ignored them, and we have demonized them; they have been our puppets, our animals, our experiments and our sex toys. Black femininity has been -- and still is -- wholly devalued.  

This is apparent in the difficulty people experience in using the word "woman" rather than the word "female." This is apparent in music where every black woman's name is either "Bad," "Bitch," or a frustrating combination of the two. This is apparent in the racist and sexist strain of collegiate scholarship that seeks to eliminate black women from scholarly text. Ask yourself: do you know Rosa Parks? No, I mean the real Rosa Parks? How about Maria Stewart? Have you even heard of bell hooks? How about Cheryl Clarke or Barbara Smith? What's up with the eerie silence that's prompted by the words "Audre" & "Lorde"? Say it with me: Combahee (Comb-Ba-He) River Collective. Got it? Or maybe we should talk about Johnnetta B. Cole? Does that ring a bell? The fact that people will read this paragraph with completely blank minds should be a serious cause for concern.

This is not said in order to point fingers at anyone -- I'd be a fool and a hypocrite to even suggest that I'm deeply familiar with every black woman intellectual or that, when it comes to black women's experiences, I'm somehow omniscient. This is noted in order to highlight the systemic problem that exists. My sistas are continually being stripped of their bodily autonomy, the respect they deserve and their seat at the table. They are expected to construct and re-construct their lives around the superficial desires of their male counterparts and the insensitive impositions of white communities. And, it all boils down to the absurd refusal to believe that black women are human and that the value of their humanity is not degraded by virtue of the fact that they have been born both female and black. They are here; they are "doing their work"; and, they are changing the world.

I do not write this article as a "Renaissance Man" of Morehouse. I write this as a man lucky enough to go to a school that is in such close proximity to the intellectual energy of the women of Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University. I write this as a man inspired by the resilience of Sista-Gods like Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker and Toni Morrison. I write this as a side-kick and friend to sister-scholar-activists who could talk circles around me any day about Politics, Math, English or Philosophy. I write this as the best friend of a woman whose swagger and charisma puts my pimp card to shame. I write this as a student of Dr. Beverley Guy-Shefthall's feminist theory class. And, most of all, I write this as the son, grandson, godson, nephew and cousin of phenomenal black women. You inspire me to be a better person. You are the wielders of truth and the bearers of life. You are extraordinary.