This blog post was written by Undergraduate Assistant Kayla Thompson.
Continuing with the celebration of Women’s History Month, it has been an honor to commemorate the contributions of courageous women in the American tapestry. Toshiko Kishida, one of the first Japanese feminists, put it beautifully when she said, “History is no longer just a chronicle of kings and statesmen, of people who wielded power, but of ordinary women and men engaged in manifold tasks. Women’s history is an assertion that women have history” (Rosser-Mims et al., 2020, Preface). I have chosen to highlight the works of three influential women – Toni Morrison, Angela Davis, and Amanda Gorman – who, in my perspective, have changed the game for women of color.
To begin, let me introduce these powerhouses. Toni Morrison was a well-respected novelist, essayist, book editor, and college professor. Some of her most famous works include Bluest Eyes, Song of Solomon, and Beloved. Angela Davis is most known for her political activism, fighting for civil rights and other social issues, but she also teaches at the University of California in Santa Cruz. She has penned many great texts on class, feminism, race, and the U.S. prison system. Finally, Amanda Gorman took America’s breath away, reading her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb”, at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. She was the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate, focusing on oppression, feminism, race, and marginalization. These three unbelievable women are the epitome of unstoppable forces that have worked tirelessly towards creating an equitable and just future for us all.
Although Morrison passed away in 2019, she left a lasting legacy. She sought to bridge the gap between white women and black women in the struggle for women’s liberation. Morrison knew racial and class division would only stifle the movement. She wrote, “The willingness of innocent, ignorant, or self-regarding women to dismiss the implications of class prejudice, and to play roles that in concert with the male-defined interests of states, produces and perpetuates reactionary politics—a slow and subtle form of sororicide” (Morrison, 2019, p. 94). Here, we first see the importance of intersectionality when discussing the women’s liberation movement. Morrison points out the need for unity among women instead of allowing “male-invented differences of opinion” to pit women against each other (Morrison, 2019, p. 94). The only way out is for women to change their perspective and seek to be respected as human beings alone, not in relation to men. Morrison’s fight against sexism and racism did not go unnoticed. Her hope for “intelligent compassion for women unlike ourselves” continues to this day (Morrison, 2019, p. 95). Morrison’s relentless fight for the elevation of women to the status of full personhood was her life mission. To her, the women’s liberation movement was about women from all walks of life coming together and demanding more from the outside world that for so long had denied women equal status. Letting Morrison’s words speak for themselves, “Women’s rights is not only an abstraction, a cause; it is also a personal affair. It is not only about us; it is also about me and you. Just the two of us.”
From Morrison to Davis, we have yet another woman who refused to back down, who refused to surrender. Her willingness to be imprisoned to fight for her innocence inspired a movement that highlighted the injustices of the prison industrial complex. Davis continues to shape American history. In 2012, she spoke at the University of Kansas, where she addressed the problems of feminism in relation to capitalist society. “Capitalism depends on the belief that past rights struggles have been resolved, leading to present conditions under which change is no longer necessary… We want to have a nice Hollywood closure to past struggles so that the problems of the past don’t bleed into our current lives” (Smith, 2012, para. 10-12). When Davis spoke, she went for the jugular. She would not allow women, especially women of color, to fall into a false sense of security, thinking the struggle for women’s rights was over. She constantly spoke on the need for feminism to consider not only gender but class and race as well. These intersections all constitute the struggle for women’s rights and need to be considered both independently and in connection with each other. Davis said, “I’ve come to understand that when we talk of feminist epistemologies, we speak precisely about the ability to think, together, about things that do not cohabit the same analytical space” (Smith, 2012, para. 9) Here, Davis hits upon the divisions even among the feminist movement as women struggle to understand the complexities that further complicate moving in the “same” direction. The fight for women’s rights is far from over. It will require an intersectional approach that considers other factors of identity like class and race to make the women’s liberation movement so great, “For strength lies in our differences, not in similarities” (Covey, n.d.).
Last, we end with Gorman, a relatively young champion of women who made her mark presenting her poem at Biden’s Presidential Inauguration earlier this year. At the 2019 Forbes Women’s Summit, Gorman spoke to the power of women and how the future is female. In her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, she said, “We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one” (Forbes, 2021). Here, Gorman inspires hope and excitement for years to come. She also acknowledged in her poem, “The Way Forward”, the barriers in place that make it difficult for all women to have a seat at the table, but still she remains optimistic that we can all make a change, becoming “orbs, beacons, a formidable force” (Forbes, 2021) Gorman exclaimed, “We don’t need an invitation to make a change, In our neighborhoods, our cities, our nations, To reclaim our time, to make the climb” (Forbes, 2021). With her words in mind, the strength and voracity of women will continue to carry us, throughout the 21st century and beyond. No matter the obstacles placed in the path of women, we continue to rise. For all the women who have come before and who have yet to come, the future is exceptionally bright. Women are the future from which the world springs forth. In celebration of Women’s History Month, I quote the eloquent words of Maya Angelou (1978) from her poem, “Still I Rise” – “You may shoot me with your words. You may cut me with your eyes. You may kill me with your hatefulness. But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
Angelou, M. (1978). Still I rise. Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46446/still-i-rise
Forbes, M. (2021, January 22). Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman On Why The Future Is Female (forbes.com)
Morrison, T. (2019). The source of self regard. Penguin Random House, LLC.
Photograph of Amanda Gorman. [Photograph]. Carr, R. (2021, January 20). Getty. Ellen DeGeneres Endorses Amanda Gorman for President | PEOPLE.com
Photograph of Angela Davis. [Photograph] in Lee, J. (2020, January 20). MLK keynote speaker Angela Davis: “What we need now is to generate hope” | The Michigan Daily
Photograph of Toni Morrison. [Photograph] in Vaughn, K. (2019, August 6). Literary giant Toni Morrison passes at 88 | Living It | stlamerican.com
Rosser-Mims, D., McNellis, J. R., Johnson-Bailey, J., & Egan, C. (Eds.) (2020). Pathways into the political arena: The perspectives of global women leaders. Information Age Publishing.
Smith, Z. (2012, April 13). Angela Davis speaks on struggles of feminism. People’s World. Accessed 23 March 2021. Angela Davis speaks on struggles of feminism (peoplesworld.org)