Recommended Reading for Black History Month and Women’s History Month?
I’m conflicted about allocating issues to certain months of the year, African-Americans get February while women get March (I have no doubt that every month has it’s topic). On the one hand, it leads to greater awareness. Drop into many classrooms in February and there are posters up of Martin Luther King, Jr or Fredrick Douglass. I haven’t seen women get quite as much visual coverage in March, but at least we get a month that’s three days longer. It is important to highlight the contributions people have made in very oppressive systems and at great cost to themselves. I think what bothers me a bit is how routine it feels. Every February we remember the contributions of blacks and then in March we think about women, I wonder if it enhances a division. I wonder if it is time to do it better. Don’t get me wrong, we need to compensate for the dominance of white-male-Western-history, we don’t live in a world where everyone has the same starting line and all is equal, but can we improve on what we’ve built so far?
I came across Sojourner’s speech during Black History Month, it reminded me that there are still people who suffer solely because of their ethnicity or gender. Sojourner Truth was born a slave. She had nine or ten older siblings that she only knew from her mother’s memories, they had all been sold before she was born. She was sold multiple times, “walked” away from slavery (she felt running away was wrong, walking away after satisfying her obligations was permitted) and eventually was emancipated. She became a traveling preacher and spoke on a variety of topics: emancipation, women’s rights, temperance, Christianity. Her most famous speech was delivered at a Women’s Rights Conference in Akron, Ohio in 1851:
Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” Speech
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.
I don’t care what month it is, this speech is worth reading any time of the year.