FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Silencing of Black Women: the Relevance of Ella Baker

The world needs to remember Ella Baker. December 13 marks both her birth and transition date. She was born December 13, 1903, and she went to be with the ancestors on December 13, 1986, at the age of 83. She was a tireless advocate for human rights and worked alongside well-known figures like W.E.B. Du Bois and A. Phillip Randolph while serving as a mentor to the likes of Diane Nash and Rosa Parks. She worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She was revered in her time, but few have heard of her today. This is partly because she worked mostly behind the scenes as an organizer. She said of herself:

“You didn’t see me on television; you didn’t see news stories about me. The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come. My theory is, strong people don’t need strong leaders.”

The often overlooked and underappreciated work of Ella Baker speaks to the silencing behaviors experienced by women of color. The Black Panther Party and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee were mostly comprised of or developed by black women, but history remembers the men who situated themselves as figureheads. This impulse to silence black women continues today—especially in light of the recent Hotlzclaw trial. Black women were targeted by this Oklahoma City police officer because he knew that their history of sex work and membership in a marginalized community would keep their stories from being taken seriously by those in authority—and he was right. Sitting in the courtroom listening to the questions asked of the women, it became clear that the victims of the assault were just as much on trial as Holtzclaw. Further, the fact that he was found guilty of only 18 of the counts indicates that the women were, in fact, not believed. Yes, he received a recommended sentence of over 200 years, but the truth remains that the jury still did not believe some of the women.

No, justice was not served—despite Holtzclaw’s self-pitying tears. Therefore, amid the celebrations, we should never lose sight of the fact that his plan partially worked. He knew poor black women would be viewed skeptically—and they were. If we are to empower people silenced by white supremacy, we must be intentional about doing the hard work of organizing.

Baker often said “the movement made Martin, and not Martin the movement.” These were radical statements about Martin Luther King, but Baker understood the importance of grassroots activism. For her, it was important to highlight the fact that true power lies in organizing oppressed people for action. She undermined expectations surrounding female performance while being ridiculed for her vocal and direct demeanor. Later, women in the Black Panther Party directly cited Baker as an inspiration and began to immolate her tenacity, passion for serving, and drive to bring intersectionality to the fight for equality. Commenting on the need to be intersectional in the fight against oppression, Baker said:

“Even if segregation is gone, we will still need to be free; we will still have to see that everyone has a job. Even if we can all vote, but if people are still hungry, we will not be free…”

She understood clearly that to fight oppression, one must fight all systems—not just one.

Most movements striving to counter the attacks toward black bodies have focused on the needs of those who are cis-gender. We must push the revolution/fight forward. To fight for black men, black women, and black bodies means to also fight against systems that harm black trans, gay, and bisexual members of our community. Too long there has been a deep conservatism in many black folks surrounding LGBT members of the community. If we are to fight for black liberation, we must fight for all people to be liberated. To this end we must address a concerning development in the wake of the verdict in Oklahoma City.

After the Hotlzclaw trial, those who were outraged voiced a desire for him to be sexually assaulted in prison. Imagine that. Many used the conviction of a man who committed sexual assault as an excuse to make jokes about sexual assault in prison.

When people hope that he is raped or referred to his expression of emotion as being a “pussy”- the message being sent is not only negative for survivors of gender based violence but also fuels homophobia. The underlying assumption is that the ultimate punishment for any man is to have sex with another male. Further, these comments uphold patriarchal systems that encourage men to perform in arbitrary ways to prove masculinity. Holtzclaw must be accountable for his actions, but we must take care to not promulgate homophobia as we celebrate this moment of justice.

We need to remember Ella Baker. Our efforts should always be informed by those who laid the foundation and as we continue to mobilize for equity, we must remember, as Ella showed us, that the equity for which we fight must be inclusive, expansive, and always challenging the status quo.

 

Lawrence Ware is an Oklahoma State University Division of Institutional Diversity Fellow. He teaches in OSU’s philosophy department and is the Diversity Coordinator for its Ethics Center. A frequent contributor to the publication The Democratic Left and contributing editor of: The Religious Left, he has also been a commentator on race and politics for the Huffington Post Live, NPR’s Talk of the Nation, and PRI’s Flashpoint. Contact: law.writes@gmail.com LaVonya Bennett is an Administrator in Residence Life, a division of Student Affairs, and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oklahoma. She serves as a Directorate member with the Coalition for Women’s Identities through the American College Personnel Association. She can be reached at: Lavonyabennett@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
September 18, 2019
Kenneth Surin
An Excellent Study Of The Manufactured Labour “Antisemitism Crisis”
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Crown Prince Plans to Make Us Forget About the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi Before the US Election
W. T. Whitney
Political Struggle and Fixing Cuba’s Economy
Ron Jacobs
Support the Climate Strike, Not a Military Strike
John Kendall Hawkins
Slouching Toward “Bethlehem”
Ted Rall
Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted
William Astore
The Ultra-Costly, Underwhelming F-35 Fighter
Dave Lindorff
Why on Earth Would the US Go to War with Iran over an Attack on Saudi Oil Refineries?
Binoy Kampmark
Doctored Admissions: the University Admissions Scandal as a Global Problem
Jeremy Corbyn
Creating a Society of Hope and Inclusion: Speech to the TUC
Zhivko Illeieff
Why You Should Care About #ShutDownDC and the Global Climate Strike  
Catherine Tumber
Land Without Bread: the Green New Deal Forsakes America’s Countryside
Liam Kennedy
Boris Johnson: Elitist Defender of Britain’s Big Banks
September 17, 2019
Mario Barrera
The Southern Strategy and Donald Trump
Robert Jensen
The Danger of Inspiration in a Time of Ecological Crisis
Dean Baker
Health Care: Premiums and Taxes
Dave Lindorff
Recalling the Hundreds of Thousands of Civilian Victims of America’s Endless ‘War on Terror’
Binoy Kampmark
Oiling for War: The Houthi Attack on Abqaiq
Susie Day
You Say You Want a Revolution: a Prison Letter to Yoko Ono
Rich Gibson
Seize Solidarity House
Laura Flanders
From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing’s Glass House
Don Fitz
What is Energy Denial?
Dan Bacher
Governor Newsom Says He Will Veto Bill Blocking Trump Rollback of Endangered Fish Species Protections
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Time to Stop Pretending and Start Over
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Inside the Syrian Peace Talks
Elliot Sperber
Mickey Mouse Networks
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
Nyla Ali Khan
Spectacles of the Demolition of the Babri Masjid in Uttar Pradesh and the Revocation of the Autonomous Status of Kashmir
Stansfield Smith
Celebrating 50 Years of Venceremos Brigade solidarity with the Cuban Revolution
Tim Butterworth
Socialism Made America Great
Nick Licata
Profiles in Courage: the Tories Have It, the Republicans Don’t
Abel Prieto
Cubanness and Cuban Identity: the Importance of Fernando Ortiz
Robert Koehler
Altruists of the World Unite!
Mel Gurtov
Farewell, John Bolton
Weekend Edition
September 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Age of Constitutional Coups
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Realignment of the American Left
Anthony DiMaggio
Teaching the “War on Terror”: Lessons for Contemporary Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: They Are the Walrus
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail