Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): Ain’t I A Woman?
Women’s Rights Convention, Old Stone Church (since demolished), Akron, Ohio
“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.”
Nia Wilson was savagely murdered while waiting with her sister to catch a train at Bart Station in Oakland, California. The news of her death spread throughout social media. I learned of her murder through Shaun King’s (@shaunking) Instagram long before I heard about it on any major news platform. (Thank you to Shaun King for spotlighting Black news and for helping to keep us informed about things we wouldn’t otherwise know about).
The buzz of her death eventually made it to national headlines, but that was also due to the fact that Nia’s story wasn’t just being talked about in Black circles, but in white circles as well. White celebrities like Anne Hathaway and Sophia Bush, who have sizable platforms and influence, talked about the horror of this occurrence. Anne Hathaway singled out her white counterparts and called on them to acknowledge their white privilege and to serve as allies against the inhumane treatment against Black people. Her statement was surprising yet greatly appreciated by those in the Black community.
You see, Black death is rarely acknowledged by those outside of the Black community. Our murders, our tragedies, our targeted crimes go unacknowledged and un-announced. Our problems are seen as our own, and our fight against injustice is our fight to face alone. Rarely do people from other communities wish to get involved and offer their voice or their support. So when Anne Hathaway made her comment, it was a pleasant surprise because most white people in her position would remain silent and unbothered. Many in her position usually are unaware that such things are happening — hell, many people regardless of their position are unaware of these happenings because Black stories are usually not newsworthy unless we are the criminals.
Despite Nia’s story gaining traction and despite her murderer being caught, as a Black woman I felt sad, scared, and emotionally exhausted. Hers was another Black life taken at the hands of some evil, deranged white man and the world was slow to respond. Had the Black community not expressed our anger, who knows if this story would’ve received any spotlight. Our collective Black cries resounded once again belting out the name of our fallen sistah. And again, I was exhausted — tired of consistently mourning.
Like a lot of Black people, I needed a break. I needed to disconnect from the experience for a little while. But the same questions kept popping into my head:
What has really changed since Sojourner Truth gave her speech at the Women’s Rights Convention in 1851? When will Black women finally be identified by the full weight of their humanity? When will Black Women be a prize worth fighting for in the eyes of the global community?
The truth is that, in spite of the Me Too movement, the protection of Black women is still not being advocated for with the same force. Both nationally and globally, White femininity and Black femininity are viewed and treated very differently. White femininity is more protected and is treated as something to be revered, and Black femininity is simply not. Black women were often seen by white women as something to define themselves against, and to set themselves apart with higher regard.
Black femininity has not always been associated with womanhood. In the eyes of some, we are not provided the luxury of being viewed as a full woman. This justifies others treating Black women poorly, because in order to treat another human being poorly, you have to see them as something separate from you — as different, as non-human. That’s why when Black women are raped or beaten or kidnapped or killed it is not responded to with the same level of urgency, or treated as serious an offense as it would be if we were white. It’s as if people believe that our bodies were somehow made to handle such brutality — as if we are at fault for our misfortunes — as if we are empty shells that can be tampered with because our shells house nothing valuable … nothing worth saving.
Well I am not an empty shell. I am a human being. I am a woman. My mere existence means that I am valuable. The lives of Nia Wilson and the lives of all of my sistahs, both in the U.S. and globally, have value. Life itself started in Africa, therefore, to denounce Black women is to denounce the power and the ancestry that begot the rest of humanity. It is time to acknowledge and respect the divine force that is the Black woman.
So, even though I am tired of shouting the fallen names of my sistahs, I will not stop. I know that there will be times where, for my own sanity, I will have to disconnect from the consistent outpouring of sad news. However, I will always return and take my rightful place as my sister’s keeper and call out their names hoping to shake the world awake and into action. However, if the world continues to slumber, at least I know their names will resound within Black communities. And our collective bellow will reach heaven where the names of our sistahs will finally rest amongst the brilliance of the stars.
Top, L-R: Dr. Sherilyn Gordon-Burroughs, Samyah Copeland, Rashanda Franklin, Kendra Moore, Quanta Nashall Chandler, Shaquenda Walker and mother Deborah Walker, Latonya Robinson Moore. Bottom L-R: Alicia Trotter, Latina Herring, Gale Verner, Shanice Williams. (photos from Ebony Magazine)
Photos from left, clockwise: Angelica Wysinger, Angelia Mangum, Ke-Erica D. Bolden, Antquonette Hale, Tjhisha Ball, and Korie Hodges. (photos from HandsUpUnited)