We all move forward when we recognize how resilient and striking the women around us are.
For me, “recognize” is the most important word in this quote. Black women, especially, have been resilient and striking since day one, but there has been a constant and vicious effort to erase or discredit us. Watching the events of last week unfold with Tamika Mallory, Lupita Nyong’o and Tarana Burke’s “me too” movement, one can see change is slowly happening.
The recognition from those who are male or non-Black is important for all of us to move forward. Last week, Puffy (better known as Sean “Diddy” Combs) said he was going on a “phone fast” but within 24 hours he was back online advocating for civil rights activist, Tamika Mallory, who was kicked off of her American Airlines (AA) flight and despite her efforts, none of the airlines representatives reached out to her.
The music mogul spends hundreds of thousands of dollars with AA and knows the value of his influence. Eventually, the airline did reach out to Mallory. Did Puffy single-handedly have AA call Mallory? No, not at all. What he did do, however, was reach a broader audience that may not have known who Mallory was or the incident that transpired. Puffy also encouraged others to share their AA horror stories via his channel, Revolt TV. People came forward. He added to the dialogue to create change in professional practices which included the hashtag #IStandWithTamika. Combs could have just promoted his new French Vanilla Ciroc and called it a day, real talk. Instead he talked his talk and walked his walk of Black excellence. Salute to Puff, but don’t forget!: Mallory spoke up first and then Puffy listened.
In the AA situation, it was easy for Mallory to step forward. Stepping forward in other situations can be extremely traumatic when there is a feeling of vulnerability, wondering who will believe you or whether you will be shamed. When Alyssa Milano used the hashtag #metoo to speak out against sexual harassment from film producer, Harvey Weinstein, she didn’t know “me too” was a movement that was started 10 years ago by activist Tarana Burke.
Burke thought her life work (25 years and counting) was about to be co-opted, like most things Black. Can you blame her? However, after being educated about the movement and its’ creator, Alyssa Milano gave credit and supported Burke. Milano didn’t take the typical route of Columbusing the term that has been used to help so many survivors of sexual assault and harassment. Burke was recognized and respected and now we know who she is, the work that she has done and is part of the much needed conversation.
Of all the women (over 50) who joined the conversation to speak out against Weinstein, Lupita Nyong’o was the only Black woman and the only one that he tried to discredit. Weinstein thought that by discrediting Nyong’o he could create an innocence for himself. There is only one problem: Sorry, we don’t believe you, you need more people!
Erasing. Silencing. Marginalizing. Discrediting. Dismissing. Omitting. Commodifying. Sexualizing. For centuries, Black women are seen as labor and sexual objects (notice I didn’t say beings) and if they do not fit at least one of these categories, they are dismissed. With the use of social media and learning beyond what is a “proper education”* the margin in which we are placed is being pushed to the center. Our Lives. Our Stories. Our Intelligence. Our Bodies. Our Histories. Our Meanings. Our Work. Our Cultures. Our Languages. Our Spaces. Are valid. We are here. Most importantly, in order for all of us to move forward, when it comes to Black women: you better recognize!
*This is dog-whistling for colonial education which excludes or minimizes Black leaders, heroes, founders and looks at Blackness and Black identities as a deficit. Someone else put me on to this, but I don’t remember who. My bad.