Women’s Work Still Needed | March 21, 2021 Message from Dr. Dorsey Blake
“My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed. I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.”
― Adrienne Rich
Anguish is often on the threshold of my heart seeking entrance into that place where the altar of my soul lives. The increase in violence against the Asian American Pacific Islander communities wears on me, sapping spirit and energy. I was especially appalled by the recent murders of the Asian American women and others in Atlanta. I keep commiserating with myself on the deep sense of loss of a national sense of responsibility for the crimes. When will we mature enough to place the general welfare and security of our people above the profits of gun makers, their lobbyists, and congressional representatives? When will be become civilized?
While pondering these questions and feeling some sense of impotence, I remembered that this is Women’s History Month. And, while the questions are still profound for me, I celebrate those who throughout the years have struggled to make this nation what it has the potential to become – a Beloved Community. The words of the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness express a moral commitment to this idea. The nation has never fully embodied Beloved Community. Yet, every generation, every year, every day has experienced someone who has beheld the possibility and modeled it in their living. Most are unheralded, their contributions not celebrated. But, sometimes their work is recognized and revalorized.
Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas in her informative and powerful book, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, lifts up an extraordinary woman many of us may not know, Mary Church Terrell. In an article published in 1906 entitled: "What It Means to Be Colored in the Capital of the United States." Dr. Douglas states that after reciting numerous Jim Crow indignities she faced in the nation’s capital as a “colored woman”, Terrell stated “surely nowhere in the world do oppression and persecution based solely on the color of the skin appear more hateful and hideous than in the capital of the United States, because the chasm between the principles upon which this Government was founded, in which it still professes to believe, and those which are daily practiced under the protection of the flag, yawn so wide and deep. . . . The greatest hypocrisy of it all is that the citadel of its “democracy,” Washington, DC, is one of the worse betrayers of democracy itself.
Artist M. C. Richards states: “From the seed grows a root, then a sprout; from the sprout, seedling leaves; from the leaves, the stem; around the stem, the branches; at the top, the flower… We cannot say that the seed causes the growth, nor that the soil does. We can say that the potentialities for growth lie within the seed, and mysterious life forces, which, when properly fostered, take on certain forms.”
A few years earlier in 1901, Ida B. Wells had stated: No other nation, civilized or savage, burns its criminals; only under the Stars and Stripes is the human holocaust possible…. Why is mob murder permitted by a Christian nation . . . [lynching] is . . . a blight upon our nation, mocking our laws and disgracing our Christianity.
Prior to Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell, there was Mary Ann Shadd Cary who in 1880 organized the Colored Women’s Progressive Association with the goal of asserting equal rights for women, including that of suffrage.
“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” ― Dorothy Day
Paula Giddings writes in When and Where I Enter:
An indomitable belief in the continuing progress of each succeeding generation was, like a brightly colored thread, woven throughout the record of our experience. This, of course, is a very American notion. But for black women—many of whom, like myself, are inscribed with the image of a great-great-grandmother who, though born a slave, was able, when the time came, to turn a raised head toward freedom; or of a grandmother who trekked north and, with savings from domestic work, sent my mother to college—this belief was an extraordinary article of faith. Surely it was at the heart of the economic, social, and political convictions that drove the women’s and black rights movements of the sixties and seventies.
We continue to celebrate Women’s History Month. It is important for us to celebrate the contributions women have made and continue to make to our collective journey in the universe. It is also a time to recognize the patriarchal system that has worked against women throughout his-story. This is one of the reasons that Judy Chicago painted “The Dinner Party.” Its focus was to end the exclusion of women from history. The dinner table is a triangle with thirteen settings on each side representing equalitarianism. The number thirteen also reminds the viewer that thirteen were present at the Last Supper, all men according to the” his-story” version. One side had settings for women from Prehistory to the Roman Empire, another from the beginnings of Christianity to the Reformation, and another featured women from the American Revolution to the Women’s Revolution. The names of another 999 women are inscribed in gold on the white tile floor below the triangular table. Although very western in its orientation, it is an icon of American feminist art. Making a bold statement about omission and exclusion.
Dr. Benton reminded us two weeks ago of International Women’s Day established by the United Nations. This is a day when we hopefully think about the status and condition of women around the world, so many still denied access to jobs that men have.
While we pause to reflect on the progress that has been achieved, it is even more critical to reflect on what is yet to be achieved to alleviate the continued oppression of women. There is no nation where gender equality exists. And still, one in three women is a victim of gender-based violence. The recent murders of Asian American women in Atlanta graphically depict this reality.
Let us tap into the resilience that speaks to the power inherent in each of us to transcend the violence and oppression, to seek our higher selves. I give thanks for the film: Hidden Figures that reveals narratives of three brilliant Black women mathematicians who played critical roles in perfecting the launch and landing of astronaut John Glenn restoring the nation’s confidence in Space travel.
We may be able to re-access some of the strength of character if we return to our American journey with an “altered” consciousness, a sacred, truth seeking consciousness. Dorothy Day clearly defines the agenda we are called to incarnate:
What we would like to do is change the world—make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute—the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words—we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend.”