Celebrating black history month

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Celebrating black history month

Recognizing the work and influence of black lives and black thought on shaping the gender landscape.

by Gender News staff on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 - 11:07am

Where race and gender meet, there emerges challenge, triumph, leadership, and change. While often overlooked, black women continue to be at the forefront of progress and social innovation, from their role in past movements for civil rights and women’s rights, to their current representation in business, advocacy, politics, research, STEM fields, literature, and many other sectors. In honor of Black History Month, we’ve compiled Gender News articles and other works that share the voices of black women to highlight their stories, challenges and contributions.

At the Intersections

Intersectionality is a concept that explores how different forms of oppression interact with each other in society. Stanford's Shelley Correll, Paula M. L. Moya, and Ina Coleman spoke about the intersection of race and gender at an event with the Feminist Majority Foundation in 2013. From literary works to motherhood, they touched on a variety of topics and issues facing women as a whole and women of color specifically. When you increase awareness of the nuances that accompany social intersections, the tools and strategies developed to empower women can reach greater numbers than ever before.

Women Key In Shaping Black Panther Party

Although popular depictions of the Black Panther Party conjure images of male dominance and machoism, women played an instrumental role in the organization and the black power movement as a whole. Clayman Institute postdoctoral fellow Ashley Farmer’s research reveals that women used visual representations such as art and photography to not only generally empower their community, but to specifically highlight women as leaders and heroes in the movement for equal rights. 

The Continued Dehumanization of Blacks

Stanford Associated Professor of Psychology Jennifer Eberhardt shared with the Clayman Institute her research on how racial bias which dehumanizes black people continues to exist even today. The brain produces psychological filters that rely on existing social constructs to deal with daily overload of sensory information, resulting in bias. For example, her research findings showed that people regularly associate "blackness" with animalistic behavior. These associations can have a real impact on the social and political climate.  

Being an Agent for Change

As the 2014 Jing Lyman Series lecturer, renowned historian Paula Giddings talked about a class of people often overlooked in history as agents for change: black women. Dr. Giddings corrected the popular misconception that feminism started with white women in Seneca Falls. She revealed that the women’s movement had racially diverse beginnings and incorporated alliances that crossed gender and race lines. According to Giddings, black women played a primary role in forging alliances and growing the feminist movement.

How to Overcome Our Biases? Walk Boldly Toward Them

In the wake of the death of Mike Brown and countless other unarmed black men, diversity advocate Verna Meyers challenges people to confront their biases in a timely Ted Talk. First, she asks that we get out of denial and exchange our pursuit of being “good” people for being "real" people. Second, she says we should “move toward black men instead of away from them.” Lastly, she encourages us to speak up against racism, even to people we know. Confronting our biases not only positively impacts black men and women, but improves our society as a whole.

Stereotypes May Help Black Women Succeed

In a 2011 talk at Stanford University, Columbia Business School professor Katherine Phillips discussed her research on how stereotypes can help black women in the workplace. Generally speaking, traits such as demureness and a nurturing attitude are commonly expected of women but not seen as leadership traits, while assertiveness and confidence are valued as leadership traits but women face the double standard where too much confidence can backfire. However, because black women are stereotyped as possessing dominant personalities, Phillips explores how this stereotype can sometimes give black women an advantage over their white female counterparts in the workplace. 

Color Blind or Color Brave?

Instead of being “color blind”, we should be “color brave” and confront race in an honest manner so that people of all backgrounds are included and empowered to pursue their dreams.

Businesswoman Mellody Hobson gave an inspiring Ted Talk on race and the concept of "color blindness". Hobson pointed out that race is an uncomfortable topic in America, given the country’s history. The idea that Barack Obama’s election ushered in a “post-racial society” gives us refuge from that discomfort, but the truth is that race still affects us today. Hobson says that instead of being “color blind”, we should be “color brave” and confront race in an honest manner so that people of all backgrounds are included and empowered to pursue their dreams.

Growing Pursuit of STEM Fields Among Black Women

Research shows that young black girls are more likely to be raised with the confidence to pursue any field at an early age, making them more immune to the stereotypes they’re exposed to in adolescence and beyond, and also increases their likelihood of pursuing male-dominated STEM fields.