by Etecia Brown
#BlackLivesMatter has become more than just a hashtag. It has become a movement sweeping across the world, and for many, a lifestyle change. However, for corporate media and some politicians it is just a buzz word. Nonetheless, the movement’s gained international attention because of individuals in the streets and on social media capturing state violence live on video and facilitating conversations and organizing around what Black liberation looks like. Black Lives Matter is a critique of state power and systemic inequality. In the mass media there has been a primary focus on police brutality and the experiences Black men have with police violence. But, Black womyn—like Sandra Bland, Jessica Williams, Yuvette Henderson, Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Jones, Tanisha Anderson, Shelly Frey, Kathryn Johnston, and others—have also been killed, and assaulted by the police and continue to be threatened by state sanctioned violence in the exact ways Black men are. The womyn who created the hashtag, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza, called for a movement that is intersectional and centers the narrative of Black people who have been historically marginalized in Black liberation movements-those who are Black and undocumented, disabled, formally incarcerated, Black queer and trans folks, womyn. This movement aims to be inclusive of ALL Black lives and upholds that, "Black Lives Matter" does not only mean cisgender mens lives matter, or "respectable" Black lives, but all, regardless of privilege or status. Today you see a conscious resistance to the mistakes of civil rights movements in the past by way of young activist primarily led by queer folk and womyn organizing intentionally in their communities to address racism in a way that also addresses sexism and classism. There is no hierarchy of who should receive rights and equity. The awareness of intersectionality is not a new phenomenon; when you take a look at womyn across the generations we have held close to our hearts acting on behalf of what is best for our families and community as a whole.
Historically, movements for racial justice have used men as a measure for equality. The first wave of the feminist movement was birthed out of abolitionist groups. Abolitionists such as Frederick Douglas and Sojourner Truth were working with White feminist leaders advocating for the equal rights of womyn. Envisioning an inclusionary movement, Frederick Douglas and Sojourner Truth soon broke off from these White feminist groups because of their racist framework and lack of support for Black equal rights. Abolitionists at the time argued that the Black womyn's plight was not because she was a womyn, but rather because she was Black. During slavery womyn were systematically raped, tortured, and had no governance over their reproduction freedom. Black womyn were forced to be "milk maids" and care for babies other than their own. Yet, these Black womyn still found a way to facilitate strong family ties and pass down ancient wisdoms and cultural traditions. Black womyn were always working, we were always having to defend ourselves and our children, we were always playing an active leadership role in the Black family but with the establishment of slavery came the objectification of the Black womyn. The Black womyn came to be seen as a sexual object or tool for reproduction. Black men began to see womyn as the object of White men's affection, as if Black womyn had gained some sort of privilege while Black men were being emasculated. Is there a distinction to be made about the experiences of suffering the Black womyn has endured? This country has defined the gender roles that every individual is supposed to subscribe to. These roles are defined in the interest of White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant wealthy males who are in control of this country. We have adapted and conformed to these prescribed roles since the times of slavery. Creating gender roles was another way to divide and conquer and inflict yet another form of oppression on the Black body. The narrative of Black female suffragettes such as, Sojourner Truth, Margaretta Forten, Harriet Forten Purvis, and Mary Ann Shad Cary was the basis for the Black womynist movement in the 1970's. The Black Womynist movement as defined by leaders such as: Audre Lorde, Bell Hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Alice Walker, The Combahee River Collective, and Third World Women's Alliance (U.S.) expanded the converstion of equal rights, unpacking this dichotomy between the Black man and Black womyn and begun to look at the system which created the divide. Black womynist called for gender neutrality, in which all Black experiences are valid and important in the effort to fight for Black Liberation. Audre Lorde said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Black queer womyn were some of the major leaders of the Black Womynist movement of the 1970's organizing for racial justice with the understanding that all systems of oppression work together to keep Black folk disenfranchised. Angela Davis defined radical as "grasping something at the root". In order to combat racism, the systems that uphold racism (capitalism, heterosexism, patriarchy, classism, ableism, etc.) must be dismantled using an intersectional approach. What is more intersectional than Spirit? In my understanding of the Black womyn being god-the first creator, mothering the earth, it is important for me to understand when and how the Black womyn went from being worshipped and revered to being subjugated and condemned.
Throughout academia the traditions of goddess worship has been seen as the “other” of male god worship. In studying theology you notice the very male lens from which these religious stories are retold. This otherness has been the framework for western feminism. “Feminism” however doesn't fit the mold of Black womyn. Black womyn, in ancient times, were the only womyn in the world who were born free. All of Africa in ancient times was matriarchal. This is why in spite of the pain and hardship the Black womyn has endured her spirit is so strong and her purpose so determined. Much later, after colonial invasions, especially after the indigenous religions of Africa from Kemet (Egypt) and Kush (Sudan) to West Africa were confiscated and corrupted into a patriarchal doctrine, both African men and womyn began to adopt and spread the culture of patriarchy in Africa. Religion was an integral part of the plot to seize Africa’s riches and her people. Once the womyn is controlled and deemed powerless the people’s power soon goes with it. There is no way that any ancient structures and kingdoms could have been resurrected with this kind of suppressive philosophy. Womyn create a balanced world. Our energy is in sync with the moon. To empower the womyn is to have cosmic devotion-a responsibility to the flourishing of humankind. Matriarchy is not the opposite of patriarchy. In matriarchy women do not control and subjugate men. Rather, matriarchy is based on balance between the masculine and feminine. In nature mother is the teacher, she is the first god, source of sustenance. I like to reference the ancient world because it seems as though there was a better understanding of the law of love during these times. Many religious books agree that humans should spread love and take care. In ancient Kemetic art womyn were depicted putting their arm around mens' shoulders. Moreover, in Kemet when a man was being promoted in society he was given a womyn's wig to show his high status. Gender fluidity was common throughout ancient Africa and can still be seen in tribes today. Ancient wisdom teaches us that in each of us there is sacred masculine and or sacred feminine. Feminine consciousness corresponds to the right hemisphere of the brain and the left side of the body. In ancient Kemetic art left hands suggest giving. Whereas, masculine consciousness corresponds to the left side of the brain and the right side of the body. In ancient Kemetic art the right hand suggests taking. Patriarchy focuses on history, linear time, dogma rationality, waking reality, and science. Matriarchy focuses on eternity, cycles of time, ritual, magic, altered states, and art. When you have matriarchy, you witness communities flourishing.
When Black womyn search for their history it is not to seperate or oppose themselves to Black men. We are trying to resurrect the ancient ways of being- womyn were the backbone of civilizations ensuring social welfare for their people. In this search for our history we are also discovering who we are and the honor that comes with it. Black men need to know this history and understand it well. Black men too honored the divine mother before it was broken away from them. In afrocentric research it is difficult to find this history about the Black womyn. On social media many men often claim to be socially “conscious” and deep but they perpetuate misogyny and homophobia, an indicator that they are still blinded by the western dominative mystique. Most of our dominating conversations about social justice are still at the reclamation stage. As we are in this stage of discovery we must put this knowledge in the correct historical perspective. We are still at a stage where we are trying to prove or affirm that King Tut and Nefriti were Black. In our quest to go deeper and rebuild a society that is truly liberating, we need to understand what happened during this ancient period that made us vulnerable to the people that ultimately invaded seized and enslaved us. This concept of "goddess" is a western feminist concept. It's a generic attribution to divine principles that have been embodied in our great matriarchs. These matriarchs have been symbolized in images and what has been taught are goddess. But to you, Black womyn, they are not abstract figures they are your biological mothers. These "goddesses" were not the object of anyone, they were the subject, but because of the history of invasions men commissioned that these images be recreated as their own. We recall and worship this feminine presence in our lives when we are in tune with our higher self. The womyn involved in Black Lives Matter are not concerned about representing Black folk in a “respectable" way or bending the truth to fit a particular demand. This current movement for Black liberation is centered on community strength and relies on the love of the people for the people as opposed to one single established voice. Look around you. You will see Black womyn creating space for their people to consciously shape a community around them, where these intersectional beliefs and practices can be expressed, protected, and guided by the sacred divine principals.
But Some of Us Are Brave: A History of Black Feminism in the United States. Retrieved from:http://www.mit.edu/~thistle/v9/9.01/6blackf.html
Ellen Carol DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848-1869 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978), 62.
La Rue, L. The Black Movement and Women's Liberation, Black Women's Manifesto. The Black Scholar, Vol. I. May, 1970. p.42 http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/wlm/blkmanif/
Nell Irvin Painter, “Voices of Suffrage: Sojourner Truth, Frances Watkins Harper and the Struggle for Woman Suffrage” in Jean H. Baker, ed., Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 50.