Black women are having a moment. And it's about damn time.
For a good part of my early life, black women were invisible to me. Occasionally I would see famous singers like Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, or Aretha Franklin, but I never heard their stories. That all seems to have changed in the past decades, as black women have emerged into the forefront of society in a fascinating turn of events where I can see them everywhere. The controversy over Disney hiring a black actress to play the Little Mermaid is just the next in a line of important incongruencies that challenge our views of race and its place in society.
Before I go any further, I dispute that the term "black women" is an accurate one for this group of people, whose skin tone ranges anywhere from tan to brown to dark brown. "African-American" seems to be the more politically correct term, but most of these Americans are far-removed from Africa, and they deserve a better term for what they are. I'll leave it up to them to come up with one, but I respect them no matter what the label.
Let's review some of the different ways in which black women have emerged recently.
- Katanji Brown Jackson was made the first ever black woman Supreme Court justice by President Biden, fulfilling a campaign pledge.
-Kamala Harris is the first female vice-president with both African and Asian heritage.
- Even my mayor- Tishaura Jones, was recently elected as the first black female mayor of St. Louis.
- Popular culture has seen the emergence of black actresses into roles that had previously been exclusively white. Fictional characters can be any race, but these changes have caused an uproar.
Harry Potter on Broadway includes a black Hermione in its cast.
Star Trek has a black female captain at the center of its new Discovery series
Zendaya plays Spiderman's girlfriend Mary Jane in the Marvel series.
Kyla Stone played the first black Anastasia on Broadway and the first black Elle Woods in Legally Blonde at the Muny.
In the new Broadway production of 1776, the lead role of John Adams will be played by a black woman, and the entire cast will consist of women and non-binary actors.
And of course there's Halle Bailey as black Ariel.
We were already used to female black performers like Lizzo and Megan Thee Stallion dominating the pop music scene amongst youngsters. Sure, Simone Biles became the GOAT in gymnastics and the Williams sisters dominated tennis. But cute little red-headed Ariel, the half-girl, half-fish? C'mon!
If you're a white man like me, your first instinct is to feel uncomfortable with these changes. If you're an entitled white man like Jordan Peterson or Tucker Carlson, your next instinct is to complain loudly about how you're being persecuted. (Even though white men still control just about everything.) But if you're aware of history of race and gender relationships in the US for the past 300 years, your next instinct is to think "Good for them- about damn time!"
We all have a default setting at birth that greatly determines how hard our lives will be. If you were born as I was- white, male and straight, you got a pass on many challenges. Going to good schools didn't hurt either. But for those who were born black and female, they started near the bottom and had to put up with things that most of us can barely imagine. Even though a small number of stars are breaking through today, it doesn't change the fact that racism and sexism still hold back the vast majority of black women.
Women make 83 cents on the dollar for the same work that men make. But black women only make about 64 cents on the dollar vs white, non-Hispanic men. The date of September 21st has been set aside as Black Women's Equal Pay Day. That date is significant because black women have to work an extra 264 days (to Sept 21) in order to match the pay that white men got for working the entire previous year.
Black women have to put up with twin curses of discrimination. Being female, they have to worry about sexual abuse and not being taken seriously. Being black, they have to worry about job, education, and housing discrimination, and shouldering much of the burden of taking care of a household and children in single-parent homes. My burden in life as a white man is nothing compared to some of what I've heard from black women about their stories. To emerge from that kind of abuse and still have faith in mankind is inspiring.
We owe so much to black women, (and all women while we're at it). They've done a lot of the thankless, invisible jobs throughout history and gotten very little credit. They are the ones most responsible for the defeat of Donald Trump in 2020, as their turnout flipped the Senate and brought down the most crooked, incompetent president in our history. Had that not happened, we'd be looking at a very different country today.
I know it's not fair to lump millions of people together in one simple category. In addition to being black and female, people in this groups are as diverse and complex as in any other group. And as history moves forward, things will only get more complicated. The 2020 census showed that those reporting mixed racial heritage more than tripled to over 10% of Americans. Racial purity and identity at some point in the future may not even be a big deal anymore.
But until then, I turn today to celebrate sisters. I hope that the recent emergence of new role models trickles down to young black girls (and boys), and helps us all wash out the stain of racial hatred and bigotry that's held us back for centuries.