Attaining equality has always been the reason for many movements, conflicts and victories in The United States of America. There have been wars and protest leading up to the amount of equality existing today in terms of race, gender, voting rights, freedom, opportunities.... etcetera. Race and gender equality have been the hardest to fully achieve because there is still prejudice against colored people and females. In terms of race, people of color are discriminated against while gender equality favors males more than females. This makes one wonder where women of color are placed among all this, since their color and gender causes them twice the discrimination. In order for this article to be better understood, women of color will be regarded as black women which will consist only of Africans that willingly or unwillingly came to United States of America and their descent. The purpose of this is not to leave out any group but to respect the desires of nationalities who would rather not be regarded as an African descent or black or African-American. Black women have come a long way since the happenings of slavery and before; nevertheless, there are still notions that black women face more oppression by race and gender today (21st century). This article will answer the question of whether or not that notion is true. In order to better answer this question, the way black women were treated and represented before, during and after slavery will be evaluated and thereby, justify the extent of truth to the oppression of black women today.
Several books published to address the influence of slavery in Africa emphasize the early traditions in Africa. Thereby, giving an insight to how black women were regarded in parts of Africa before the Missionaries, Consuls, Economic and educational projects… slavery occurred. In a book by Chinua Achebe, "Things Fall Apart," he addresses the impact colonization had on Igbo tribe in Nigeria West Africa socially, politically, and religiously. In the process Achebe also wrote about how the men in authority treated their wives and daughters. The main character in the book is a man named Okonkwo who is a leader and warrior in his community. Whenever he got angry at any of his wives he punished them like he would punish his children. According to the book, Okonkwo’s got furious when his youngest wife once forgot to feed her children before going to make her hair. At her arrival back home, “He beat her very heavily” (Achebe 29). Another example of this was a man called Uzowulu who was reported to have “beat his wife until she miscarried” (Achebe 91). Furthermore, Okonkwo always commended his perfect daughter Ezinma who was after his heart and did her best to see him happy. Nevertheless “He never stopped regretting that she Ezinma was a girl” (Achebe 172). Through out to book, mothers and wives experience domestic abuse while daughters grew up not being enough because of their gender. More so, in "Things Fall Apart," an elder Uchendu spoke on the qualities of women or mothers when Okonkwo couldn’t be comforted after being banished from his father’s Kinsmen. He gave a speech supporting the idea that “mother is supreme” (Achebe 133). Their beliefs of how women should be viewed and how they are actually treated their women is an irony. Some of the women at this time were not blind to this maltreatment and they did their best to be treated better. According to a book by Elenore Smith Bowen, "Return to Laughter," a book about an anthropologist's experience in West Africa, a woman called Ava and her fellow wives had a very strong bond and together they would punish their husband if he hits them. In the book Bowen wrote “If Ava’s husband raised his voice to any one of his wives, all of them refused to cook for him” (Bowen 128). Few women in their own little way did their best to stand against the oppression in their home and community. With these books examples, one can draw the conclusion that in early Africa, the traditions did not often favor females. The occurrence of slavery did not favor black females either.
Slavery only made things worse for black women. From trying to earn the respect of their husbands they were faced with the challenge of being respected sexually, physically and emotionally by everyone. An article titled "The Slave Experience" mentioned a major difference between slave men and women. It quotes, “the slave owner's exploitation of the black woman's sexuality was one of the most significant factors differentiating the experience of slavery for males and females.” Black women were used and viewed as sexual objects all through slavery, hence, their worth was further diminished. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe further shows how black women were exploited during slavery. In this book Stowe described the lives of slave mothers and women with the purpose of using it to appease to the hearts of people for slavery in the 19th century. According to "Uncle Tom’s Cabin," black women suffered through being sold in New Orleans, which was the biggest market where women were sold to those who desire “mistresses.” In addition to that was watching their children and husband been taken from them for good. Aunt Chloe (Uncle Tom’s Wife) worked extra hard with hope that she could be able to buy her husband back, but in the end all she got back was his remains. Another black woman, Prue, was bought and used to produce children that were sold by her white masters. Even 15 year old girl, Emmeline, was not spared, she was separated from her mother and sold to a man called Legree who used her to please his sexual desires whenever he wanted. Black women were degraded to lowest level possible during slavery. Black women who were considered “free” during slavery were not spared from the oppression either. In the book "Two Women" by Henry Bucher, the lives of two different “free” black women, Anyentyuwe and Ekakise, were compared. Anyentyuwe, who dedicated most of her life to the missionary school, was maltreated so much that “she told the missionaries that she considered herself in slavery” (Bucher 16). Similar to Ekakise, who was a “free” woman but was brutally abused physically by her husband for choosing to leave their polygamous home. “He fastened her uplifted hands to the wall; heated a machete in the fire and then beat her back with the flat of the blade till the skin was blistered.” (Bucher 62). Free or not, during slavery, black women went from “frying pan to fire.” Every other group, white men, white women, black men, needed a scapegoat they could oppress and somehow black women were qualified because they were female and black. During slavery, there were groups of women who took matters into their hands and tried to say enough. Women like Sethe in the book Beloved by Toni Morrison, who escaped from slavery with her children only to find that the fugitive slave law gave her master the right to take them back. Before the master got to her, Sethe attempted to kill her children and herself. The Slave Experience gave a short overview of life in Africa and during slavery for black women. It reads, “In Africa, woman's primary social role was that of mother. In slavery, this aspect of African womanhood was debased. Whereas childbirth in Africa was a rite of passage for women that earned them increased respect, within the American plantation system that developed by the mid-eighteenth century, it was an economic advantage for the master, who multiplied his labor force through slave pregnancy.” Civilization in Africa brought about slavery which only made life more unbearable for black women. Throughout history many black women have fought hard to bring the world to see black women as equals. The article "Women Who Made a Difference" gave a detailed information about these great women “Women like Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan, whose political journeys were doubly challenged by both racial and gender discrimination. Writers like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Maya Angelou, whose powerful words about the black experience would become permanently etched in our national conscience, forever reminding us that we are a nation of one people. Performing artists like Marian Anderson and Lena Horne, whose victories in the face of unjust segregation only intensified their impact on our culture. And, of course, Rosa Parks, whose single act of defiance and courage on a Montgomery bus continues to stand as a testament to the righteousness of the civil rights movement and the dignity of all people of this nation.” As a result of these great efforts made by women, today (21st century) slavery and racial segregation is illegal, but what does that mean for black women and how they are perceived?
Black women have made their way to schools, the music, acting and writing industry, the Olympics, the media, etc. Indeed there are more black women of success than ever; nevertheless, compared to other gender and races, black women are still under-represented. An article titled "The Unfinished Agenda" still drew the same conclusion, “Like black men, black women live in neighborhoods far from employment opportunities and with low-performing schools. Like white women, black women experience occupational segregation, a gender wage gap and the challenge of balancing family and work. We are discriminated against because we are black. We are discriminated against because we are women. We are discriminated against because we are both.” Along with being challenged in academics, jobs and homes, black women are also prejudiced against socially and physically. The beauty standards set today for women encourage the idea of women been prettier the lighter they are. Allowing for comments like “she would be prettier if she was white or lighter.” The article "Beauty Whitewashed" words “The mainstream beauty ideal is almost exclusively white, making it all the more unattainable for women of color.” Black women do not meet the beauty standards because they are neither white nor do they have the natural qualities of a white woman. This idea is also acknowledged by young children in the 21st century; Hence, why when children under 10 years of age were asked what doll was prettier between a white one and black one they all chose the white one. Furthermore, black mothers are still unjustly separated from ‘their children’, except they are not taken and sold, they are gunned down, abused, and beaten up by people who can get away with it. "Their children" being both black males and black females. The focus is so much on black men being endangered, society ignores women like Sandra Bland who was beaten to death in a jail cell, Joelle Schofield who was gunned down in Chicago for protesting, Tarana Burke who was sexually assaulted by a police officer while her little girl was in the car… and a few listed in Identities Mic. To add some fuel to the burning fire, there has been a great increase in the abuse of women. According to Domestic Abuse Statistics “Every nine seconds in the United States of America a woman is assaulted or beaten. Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family.” This is the reality for black women in the 21st century. These stories highlight the truth about how black women are perceived today.
The answer of whether or not black women still face twice the oppression after civilization and slavery is clear, but society would rather they focus on the few of millions of black women that have it better. Society chooses to shine the light on the success of women like, Beyoncé, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie, Lupita Nyongo …etcetera; thereby, turning a blind eye to the oppression present. The main difference between the 21st century and slavery for black women is that they cannot be legally bought and sold today. The racial, gender, political, economic and social bondage still remains. There is truth to the old black feminist adage that states “All of the women are white and all blacks are men.”