“When we speak of feminism in this country,” says Angela Davis, “there almost always is the tendency to assume that this is something that was created by white women.”
A longtime activist, abolitionist, scholar, and an international symbol of resistance, Angela Davis challenges us to embrace the intersectionality of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. For decades, she has shed a light on the ways in which mainstream feminism often fails to address the experiences of Black women and reminds us how many of the movement’s achievements, such as women’s right to vote, came about through racist tactics that purposely excluded Black women.
Here are a few must-reads from this iconic educator:
In nearly 245 years, our country has elected 45 men – and zero women – for the highest office in our nation. In light of this, we want to honor a trailblazer who dared to challenge the status quo and paved the way for women in politics – the ‘unbought and unbossed’ Shirley Chisholm.
Nearly 50 years ago, in 1972, Chisholm became the first Black major-party candidate to run for President of the United States and the first woman to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination. In announcing her entry, she said “I am not the candidate for Black America, although I am Black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman and I’m equally proud of that… I am the candidate of the people of America.”
Throughout her quest for the nomination, Chisholm faced unrelenting sexism and racism, was blocked from participating in televised primary debates, struggled with an under-funded campaign, and lacked support from the predominantly male Congressional Black Caucus. Despite all of this, she entered 12 primaries and captured 152 of the delegates’ votes (10% of the total). She always knew it was a long shot but hoped to use her delegates as leverage to negotiate with the winning candidate in favor of the rights of women, Black Americans and Indigenous people. While she did not succeed at this, she did show through her candidacy that “it can be done” and opened the door for other Black and female candidates to run for president.
Born in Brooklyn in 1924 to immigrant parents, Chisholm was also the first Black woman to ever serve in Congress, representing NY’s 12th congressional district for seven terms. As a freshman in Congress, Chisholm said she had “no intention of just sitting quietly and observing” and really meant it – Throughout her tenure, she introduced more than 50 pieces of legislation, strongly opposed the war in Vietnam, fought for the poor, and championed racial and gender equality. Before that, she served in the New York State Legislature, where she worked to extend unemployment benefits to domestic workers.
In 1991, a group of 1,603 Black women placed a full-page ad in The New York Times denouncing a reality that persists to this day: “This country, which has a long legacy of racism and sexism, has never taken the sexual abuse of Black women seriously.” The ad, titled “African American Women In Defense of Ourselves,” was published in support of Anita Hill, a law professor, following the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
Hill had told the FBI, after being approached by the agency, that Thomas had sexually harassed her while they were working at the Department of Education and the EEOC. The Senate Judiciary Committee knew about these allegations but decided to move forward with Thomas’ confirmation process as scheduled. It was only after the FBI report, which included Hill’s testimony, was leaked to the media that the Senate decided to postpone the vote, reopen the hearings, and call Anita Hill to publicly testify.
And so she did. Nearly three decades before the start of the #MeToo movement, standing alone in front of the cameras and an all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary Committee, Anita Hill recounted the many ways in which the Supreme Court nominee had sexually harassed her when he was her supervisor at two government agencies. “It would have been more comfortable to remain silent,” she said towards the end of her testimony. “I took no initiative to inform anyone. But when I was asked by a representative of this committee to report my experience, I felt that I had to tell the truth. I could not keep silent.”
As is the case for many victims of sexual violence, Hill was not only not believed – She was vilified, called delusional and revengeful, and even blamed for her alleged sexual harassment by Thomas.
After extensive debate, the Senate confirmed Thomas to the Supreme Court. But Anita Hill had nonetheless broken the silence – paving the way for thousands of women who have endured abuse at the hands of powerful men to speak out. Following Hill’s testimony, sexual-harassment complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission nearly doubled, and Congress finally passed a law extending the rights of victims of sexual harassment.
Today, Anita Hill remains a leading figure in the fight for women’s rights and against gender-based violence. She is a professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s and Gender Studies at Brandeis University and author of Believing (2021), Reimagining Equality (2011), and Speaking Truth to Power (1998).
What is Reproductive Justice?
It’s “the right to have a child, the right to not have a child, and the right to raise your children,” according to Loretta Ross. “Everyone should have that. It’s not that hard to explain — it’s just hard as hell to achieve.”
An activist, professor, and public intellectual who lived through rape, sterilization abuse, and raised a child born of incest, Ross describes herself as “a model of how to survive and thrive despite the traumas that disproportionately affect low-income women of color.”
For decades, Ross has led the fight for reproductive dignity. She is the founding national coordinator of SisterSong, a reproductive health collective fighting for women of color, and co-founder of the Reproductive Justice movement.
In 1994, Ross and 11 other Black women working in the reproductive health and rights field gathered in Chicago to discuss alternatives to the dominant pro-life/pro-choice binary. The framework failed to address the needs of women of color and poor women. “We knew that abortion advocacy alone inadequately addressed the intersectional oppressions of white supremacy, misogyny, and neoliberalism,” says Ross. From their perspective, true health care for women was not only about choice, but about access, and it needed to include a full range of reproductive health services.
In response to this need, the women developed the concept of Reproductive Justice based on three interconnected human rights:
- The right to have a child under the conditions of one’s choosing;
- The right not to have a child using birth control, abortion, or abstinence; and
- The right to parent children in safe and healthy environments free from violence by individuals or the state.
Despite the cogency of these principles, SisterSong and those advocating for reproductive justice often worked separately from the larger, white-led, mainstream reproductive-rights groups. In 2004, the pro-choice and reproductive justice movements came together in Washington, DC for the March for Women’s Lives. As a national co-director of the march, Ross helped shape a broad agenda that reflected the intersecting challenges women face and that drove the attendance of women of color from across the country.
Since 2014, when a New York Times article on Planned Parenthood’s shift away from the “pro-choice” label forced a reckoning between Planned Parenthood and groups like SisterSong, reproductive justice priorities have gained increasing traction. In 2019, presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Julián Castro publicly embraced the framework.
Today, Ross continues to be an integral figure in the reproductive justice movement. Her books, Reproductive Justice: An Introduction and Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundation, Theory, Practice, Critique, both published in 2017, outline nearly three decades of organizing by women of color and her upcoming book, Calling In the Calling Out Culture: Detoxing Our Movement, will address cancel culture.
For over 50 years, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy has fought tirelessly for freedom and justice for marginalized people, especially for Trans women of color who have survived police brutality and incarceration in men’s jails and prisons.
A formerly incarcerated elder and activist born and raised in the South Side of Chicago, Miss Major was present at the Stonewall Inn the day it was raided in 1969. She joined the ensuing riots and emerged with an unrelenting commitment to supporting her sisters and other trans family members.
Miss Major is also a survivor of Attica State Prison. In the 70s, she met leaders of the recent Attica riots who encouraged her to read, learn about Black history, and develop a political understanding of the world. It was during this time that she developed a radical political stance on issues like abolition and Black liberation.
In the late 1970s, Miss Major moved to California, just as the AIDS epidemic hit, and dedicated herself to organizing fellow Trans women to care for the sick. She worked with multiple organizations and, in 2003, joined the Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project, which advocates for Trans women of color in and outside of prison, before becoming its executive director. Miss Major is also the founder of House of GG, an educational retreat and historical center focused on supporting and nurturing the leadership of Transgender women of color living in the U.S. South.
Over 30 years ago, Kimberlé Crenshaw – Black feminist theorist, professor, legal scholar, and civil rights advocate – coined intersectionality, a term that has now become a critical lens through which overlapping forms of structural oppression such as racism, sexism, and classism are discussed across the U.S. and globally.
Her 1991 essay, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” was a foundational text that shaped how we now understand gender-based violence. It argued that we cannot begin to uncover the root causes of violence against women of color if we don’t grapple with both “the race and gender dimensions.” Crenshaw is one of the most cited legal theorists in history and her work has been especially vital in interrogating how the law handles racial and gender discrimination.
Today, Crenshaw is still actively shaping public discourse and theory around race, gender, violence, and identity. She is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the African-American Policy Forum (AAPF), an organization that helped first develop the national #SayHerName campaign in 2014 to raise awareness about the Black women and girls who have been killed by the police. She also founded Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies
To learn more about Kimberlé Crenshaw’s current work, check out her AAPF virtual event series, Under the Blacklight: The Intersectional Vulnerabilities that COVID Lays Bare, where she gathers a diverse array of writers, activists, civil rights leaders, and more to highlight the inequities that the pandemic has exposed and heightened.
“The work of #MeToo builds on the existing efforts to dismantle systems of oppression that allow sexual violence, patriarchy, racism and sexism to persist,” writes Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo Movement. “We know that this approach will make our society better for everyone, not just survivors, because creating pathways to healing and restoration moves us all closer to a world where everyone knows the peace of living without fear and the joy of living in your full dignity.”
An activist and survivor from the Bronx, Tarana Burke has become a global leader in the fight to end sexual violence. Now, the #MeToo founder is part of a new initiative — called We, As Ourselves — that aims to center the voices and experiences of Black survivors and to create the cultural conditions for Black survivors to be heard and supported.
Learn more about #WeAsOurselves and sign the pledge to tell Black survivors: We see you, we support you, and we are with you in solidarity.
Meet Wagatwe Wanjuki, an award-winning anti-rape activist and feminist theorist.
Wanjuki strives to bring sexual assault prevention to the 21st century through online public education, using an intersectional, survivor-focused, and trauma-informed lens. A survivor of campus sexual assault herself, Wanjuki has worked nonstop since 2009 to improve sexual assault policies at schools and to hold universities accountable for their failures in addressing the needs of survivors. She’s a founder of the anti-rape organization Survivors Eradicating Rape Culture and is a founding co-organizer of Know Your IX’s ED ACT NOW campaign.
Like us, Wanjuki believes that a rape-free world is possible. She uses the Internet to spark conversations, educate, and agitate people into becoming better bystanders, which is why we highly recommend that you follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
A registered nurse, single mother, community organizer, and ordained pastor, Congresswoman Cori Bush is the first Black woman to represent Missouri and the first #BlackLivesMatter activist elected to Congress.
As a survivor of police, sexual, and domestic violence who has at times been unhoused and evicted, Congresswoman Bush centers those hardships in her search for justice for everyday Americans — fighting for gender and reproductive justice, immigrants’ rights, LGBTQ+ equality, and criminal justice reform.
Last year, Rep. Bush spoke to The New York Times about her experiences as a survivor of domestic abuse, particularly of coercive control, for a powerful piece that also features Sanctuary Executive Director Judy Kluger. Click here to read the article and follow Congresswoman Cori Bush on social media.