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Women’s History and the evolution of the Black woman

Portrait of a group of young businesswomen working together in a modern office

by Megan Kirk

Over the course of the next several weeks, we will take our readers on a journey of exploration – one that will uncover the evolution of Black women and all the different roles they have embodied over time. This four-part series, part of the celebration of Women’s History Month, will explore the various, multiple layers that eventually pay homage to the strongest women we know — Black women. While often overlooked, misjudged, marginalized and/or underestimated, this series will finally give them their rightful place, and pay tribute to the person who always has and will continue to save the day.

From the outside looking in, Black women haven’t always been viewed as a source of inspiration. But, from fashion to family, from community to business, Black women have taken center stage. They have come into their own power and own it while continuing to evolve.

Historically, Black women have been the strength and backbone of, not only the community, but many movements and political shifts. Often overlooked and under considered, Black women continually show up and show out in large numbers. With strength in numbers, Black women have always taken a stand in society, no longer accepting the status quo, and demanding a seat at the table.

“That Black woman in today’s society carries much more of that weight due to so many racial differences that we face. We are strength. We are the incubator to today’s society and what we birth, dictates our futures,” says Marcia Shropshire, founder of the Genuine Ladies of Worth Movement, an organization that looks to inspire young Black girls.

During slavery, Black women were tasked with cooking, tending to the homes of masters, nursing their babies as well as the slave owner’s children all alongside their everyday chores. The resilience of Black women and their strong family ties are rooted in servitude. Mammy soon became a popular embodiment for slave women who took honor in being the anchor of home life. However, as Black women’s role and place in society began to evolve, the ideal of Black womanhood also began to shift.

“We’re finally being appreciated for all we bring to the table now. As strong people, from being slaves, obviously we were physically strong and we had to be strong mentally to go through slavery,” says RaShada Bruce. “Not only are we mentally and physically strong, but we’re intellectuals. We’re CEO’s and accountants.”

Bruce, who identifies with some ideals of feminism and is openly pro-Black, believes feminism, in particular when it comes to Black women, is not as simple as one may believe. With several levels of being, Black women have had a different journey, historically.

“Being a woman, being a Black woman when there are so many facets of you; Black feminism looks different than for white women,” Bruce says.

During the women’s suffrage, women fought for the right to vote and play a key part in their town’s political future. While the fight consisted of all women, both Black and white, only white women reaped the benefits of the movement, thus ousting Black women from having a stake in the voting process. Despite laws giving Black women the right to vote, including the 19th amendment which outlawed gender as a basis for voting, race continued to play a major role in not being able to vote.

It wasn’t until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 under President Lyndon B. Johnson that Black people, particularly women, were able to outwardly vote and take part in the democratic process. Now, just over 50 years later, Black women have shaken politics to its core and are no longer just voting, but holding game-changing office positions and pulling other Black women up along the way.

“We are at the seats of tables we never would have been able to sit at before. CEO’s, entrepreneurs, chemists, doctors, etc. Not to mention, in the White House. We shop in the better stores and eat at the finer restaurants while still receiving the side eyes from those that think we don’t deserve to be there,” says Tanisha Pelzer, who works in finance. “We are socialites, world travelers and risk takers. We create what isn’t given to us and demand respect while doing so all while being great mothers, spouses, partners and friends.”

Viewed as the pillar of the family, Black women have always been seen as domestics. In early times, Black women held the home together while the men were put to grueling labor. Continuing the tradition today, Black women are not only the caregivers, but are sometimes the breadwinners as well. The duality of her shows Black women are equipped to handle and hurdle obstacles.

“We are generally the backbone. We figure it out and get it done. We are the caregivers for parents, mothers for children and everything else in between. People often describe us as the strong Black woman which holds us to a standard we do not like to fail at, so we will do anything to not be a failure in that role,” says Pelzer.

Outside the home, Black women endure racial and social challenges that would exhaust the masses. Sometimes seen as angry, aggressive or confrontational, the stereotype of the ‘angry Black woman,’ lives on. While the stereotype is rooted in fear, it is misinterpreted — Black women carry the burdens of ancestors, generations of emotional, physical, sexual and mental abuse and discrimination on the basis of race and gender all while maintaining a smile.

“Black women come with a lot of obstacles that we face. From racial injustice, to being the ultimate bread winner of our homes, I can say throughout all the obstacles that we face we are some of the most resilient women on the planet! We literally take those lemons and make lemonade,” says Shropshire.

As Black women continue to shift the dynamics on truly understanding Black women, their sexuality is another facet being reimagined. No longer apologetic, Black women are taking up space and giving gratitude to their bodies in a way that was previously shunned. No longer choosing the traditional way of life with a husband and children, more and more Black women are diving head first into dating and playing the field. Living outside of sexual stereotypes and limitations, Black women are reclaiming their time in all aspects of modern life.

“I think the main thing that makes Black women proud is our creativity. We create a soulful nature that aligns everything back to inner healing, purpose and that urban drive to pursue our purposes,” says Shropshire.

While this is a sweeping landscape of the historical evolution of Black women, this series will take a deeper dive in all the ways Black women have endured, persevered and transformed over time. In politics, business and personal evolvement, the series will explore Black women’s ongoing contributions and embrace the multifaceted roles Black women have played in America.

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©2019 Atlanta Tribune: The Magazine

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