Every year for Black Herstory Month, I try to move between past and present in ways that honor both our forgotten or erased foremothers and celebrate a new generation of young black women currently making critical changes to our world. While I do embrace the very basic definition of history as something in the past, I do tend to be a little anthropological about how far in the past, “the past”, has to be for these purposes.
When we, N. Americans as a nation, discuss Black her/history, I think we often shrink it down to key figures in moments that ultimately celebrate dominant narratives. In other words, instead of highlighting the long term struggles of groups across time, we pinpoint leaders and events that tend to highlight what a good country the U.S. is for abolishing slavery or embracing civil rights or making millionaires at of illiterate former slaves, etc. And even women’s history is guilty of this dominant construction of the past in which black women working on traditional women’s rights issues are highlighted over those who are thinking intersectionally about them or whom the movement abandoned for causes that expressly abused or otherized black women and their rights. The exception to this rule is often the canonization of a handful of fiery speakers who came in direct conflict with society from a place of extreme rage, Turner, Malcolm, Sojourner, etc. And I would argue that while most of these people came through the rage of daily dehumanization to use the power of what they learned to change the world, the narratives surrounding them often stop and start at the moment they are raging, reinforcing dominant stereotypes about who black people are and how they communicate. You can see the same day in the spikes this blog gets on the rare occasion I lose my temper on the blog rather than the years of writing that address women’s issues from an analytical and historical framework.
People committed to an alternative vision of black history, that celebrates lesser known or un-canonized (to make up a word) people often continue other intersectional exclusions. So that black history events, calenders, posters, etc. tend to only include cis able-bodied men with a few (usually 2 or 3) cis able bodied black women. Though they include lesbian, gay, and bi-sexual women, often these identities are absent from the narratives as well, either because the people writing them do not know or because they are intentionally erasing these aspects of key figures identities. And with all of the women available to choose from in black history, this means that we end up with important and powerful women who changed the face of civil rights lumped in with Oprah (whose import only goes so far before we start talking abt car giveaways and failed colonial fantasy schools).
Participating in BHM then is less about conforming to compartmentalization that permanently otherizes black his/her/story but rather takes a moment in time when people who would otherwise not consider us are doing so and uses it to educate about the women and girls, critical moments, unsung movements, collective action, and ongoing needs of black women and girls that are otherwise ignored even in February. For me, as long as black women and black women’s history is largely absent from daily discourse, refusing to take hold of this moment and shape it in the hands of black women for the interests and advancement of knowledge about us is a mistake. Silences surrounding our herstories will ultimately be filled not by us but by those who claim we are always tangential without our corrective voices. Worse we lose our collective power to not only celebrate groundbreaking black women everyone already knows about but also to insert the names, voices, and moments that so many do not. For me, BHM is critical intervention that occurs in a concentrated form to bolster existing year-long commitments to address women of color not a capitulation to the idea that all of black history can be & should be addressed in the shortest month of the year.
Last year’s posts have been some of the most linked to and read pieces on the blog. Some of the posts and images have been permanently linked into library, grade school and middle school, resource pages and used by community groups and higher ed. For me, that traffic proves the essential longing for black herstories and the power we have as bloggers to impact critical educational reform with the power of words.
While I still have not settled on overall theme for this year’s BHM series, one thing I want to draw attention to this year is the stories of black women and girls across the globe that captivated or inspired us in N. America as women of color and feminists alike (and yes, I include woc in “feminists”). So you will note this year that there are more African diasporic women in the month line up than last year. However, this month was traditionally called African-American History for a reason, 1) as a corrective to our absence from N. American history and 2) to ensure the centering of black voices from N. America when so many intellectuals and texts were focused on talking about black people elsewhere while continuing to vilify us. So, however I construct the month’s post these issues will always be at the forefront.
Finally, I have committed to being a part of Bianca’s grassroots project to ensure the representation of more Afra-Latinas during black history month, as an intervention into the dominant construction of Latinos as outside of blackness by both African Americans and Latinos and the national level discourse that perpetuates the idea of Latinos as always and forever undocumented immigrants outside of the nation and its history.
In true grassroots fashion, Bianca’s Latinegras project opens the doors for community participation in creating an Afr@-Latin@ timeline during this month. The effort combines posts by: Bianca at Latino Sexuality, Latinegro at Inside My Head , Chronicles of the American Pupusa, and me here at Like a Whisper with a LatiNegr@s Tumblr page that anyone can contribute posts, images, quotes, video, etc. to by submitting something. I want to strongly suggest that readers here help ensure that women, queer (LGBTQI, all of them), and differently-abled people make it into the final tumblr project.
For my contribution to this project, I will be integrating Afra-Latinas into the overall posts planned for this month and marking them out in the text as Latinegras Project Posts.
The goal of the project in Bi’s words is:
“As the formal US focus on Black History Month (February 1-28/9) is upon us we seek to celebrate all of the peoples who have influence and history via the African Diasporas. Expanding the inclusively of Black History Month is a goal for several of us, self-identified LatiNeg@s, Afro-Latinos and Afro-Caribeños. As people who recognize and claim the African heritage and history, we have often been excluded from US History, whether it be Black history or Latino history (Septermber 15-October 15). Join us in honoring and recognizing LatiNegr@s this year during Black and Latino History Month. We are Black, Latino and from the Caribbean. We REPRESENT!”
Other Projects of Interest
Finally, I encourage you all to check out Alexis’ Broken Beautiful Press for podcasts on black feminists throughout this month and to check the comment section for what others are doing to participate/intervene in Black herstory month. If you are working on a project for this month on your blog, website, or other social media please let us know.
- Panthers listening to the Bobby Seale trial (only the man w/ the can is identified in the photo archives stressing my pt abt erasure while still intervening in able-bodied history)/ unattributed