Is She A Hero?
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This week marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. A milestone to be celebrated, certainly, until we unpack what “women” meant at the time.
Women was purposely white. Not a single Black woman was invited to Seneca Falls in 1848. The National Women’s Party claimed that Black women’s disenfranchisement was a race issue and not a woman’s issue. The suffrage movement was marred in racism, with our (once) beloved hero Elizabeth Cady Stanton standing on a moral high ground that rested upon the oppression of Black women.
To quote Stanton: “We educated, virtuous white women are more worthy of the vote.” And “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”
The suffrage movement redefined life for white women, and Stanton got what she wanted: existence in a society in which educated white women inched closer to having the same rights as white men. She was racist and actively used her power to ensure that Black women wouldn’t have the same rights as her. She certainly succeeded.
Black women were not granted the right to vote until 1965. Nineteen fucking sixty-five. That wasn’t that long ago…
And we wonder why there’s so much distrust of white feminists.
Appealing to the values of white men has always worked for white women. By disenfranchising Black women and men during the suffrage movement, white women signaled to white men that they were more alike than different. White women knew that their power was bound in their whiteness, and they wielded that tool yesterday just as they do today. We see it in politics, in business, and in our daily social interactions.
Yet we (read: white women) still idolize these women, refusing to release our pride for past accomplishments that have served us dearly. Unwilling to acknowledge that some of our heroes aren’t worthy of our reverence. Fearful of what this all means for us and everything we’ve built on top of this foundation.
So how will I honor the Black, Brown, and Indigenous women who fought for their right to vote and honor the first Black woman ever to receive the nomination for Vice President of the United States? I will stop maintaining a narrative that is false. I will educate younger women on the real history of this country and white women’s rise to power. I ensure that my vote is counted this year. I will vote for candidates who advance ALL women, not just white women. Now is not the time to rest, white women, it’s time to resist.
PC: Courtesy of NBC Boston; From left: Ida B. Wells, Dorothy Height, Mary McCleod Bethune and Fannie Lou Hamer