How it Started
The event which gave birth to “International Women’s Day” happened on March 8, 1908.
Fifteen thousand women marched through the streets of Manhattan, demanding the right to vote, but also demanding rights as working women. They were demanding shorter hours, better pay, and the right to join a union.
Knowing this history, it’s clear that International Women’s Day is, and always has been, centered around European immigrant women in New York at the beginning of the 20th century.
There is no mention of the countless enslaved African women who labored without pay in New York and across the United States of America during this time. There is no mention of the enslaved African women whose labor enriched white people in Central, North, South America, and Europe.
The contributions of Black women have been largely eliminated from the story of the women’s movement.
What it Means
When I found myself sitting down to write about International Women’s Day this year, and instead found myself replaying this history, it ultimately led me to wonder when we would finally have International Black Women’s Day.
In 1989, American law professor, Kimberlé Crenshaw, coined the term “intersectional feminism”. Intersectional feminism offers a lens through which we can better understand one another and strive towards a more just future for all. Kimberlé Crenshaw explained Intersectional feminism as, “a prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other,” in a 2018 interview with Time magazine.
Crenshaw’s work was rooted in Critical Race Theory – the belief that the structure of law and society are intrinsically racist – and she saw the failure to recognize the intersection of race and sex as part of that structure.
Race + Gender
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Choose to Challenge”. They assert that a challenged world is an alert world, and from challenge comes change.
They ask the question, how will you help forge a gender-equal world? But as Black women, we know this issue of equality is not only an issue of gender but of race.
“We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality, or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.”– Kimberlé Crenshaw
Where Do We Go From Here?
First and foremost it’s time to center the conversation around Black women.
In Brazil, Valdecir Nascimento, a prominent women’s rights activist, says that “The dialogue to advance black women’s rights should put them in the center.”
For 40 years, Nascimento has been fighting for equal rights, “Black women from Brazil have never stopped fighting,” she says, noting that black women were part of the feminist movement, the black movement, and other progressive movements. “We don’t want others to speak for black feminists—neither white feminists nor black men. It’s necessary for young black women to take on this fight. We are the solution (sic), not the problem,” she says.
Excuse Me, I’m Speaking
Centering the conversation around the voices of Black women is critical. In 2021, we saw it happen in real-time during the Vice-Presidential Debates. Kamala Harris, her smile big and wide, espoused the very idea of centering herself by reclaiming her time during the critical debate. She did not allow herself to be spoken over, interrupted, or interpreted.
But not every Black woman has access to a national stage, or a microphone, or a white cis male debate opponent. So how we do center the “everyday” voice to make sure it’s heard? We start with International Black Women’s Day, and we give the microphone to every Black woman out there. To tell her truth, to clap back at her aggressors, and to center herself in this very important conversation.
The work of IWD is important. But it’s only part of the story. It’s time to rewrite the past, the present, and the future to include the historically important stories of Black women. We rob ourselves and each other of our rich history and our path forward by demanding anything less.
By creating an International Black Women’s Day, we would give every Black woman the microphone, the stage, and the audience so that she too can start to repair the “thousand cuts” of racial and gender inequality.