After this week’s discussion, I’d like to take this time to vent about the consistent and highly systematic exclusion of black women from all aspects of mainstream society. From the earliest times in American history to the present day, this has always been true. With few exceptions, the thoughts, achievements, and overall presence of black women in the United States have been not just ignored, but thoroughly rejected. And on the rare occasion that a black woman’s story is brought up, the topic is quickly dropped in order to move on to what white America believes are more pressing matters.
The “Mrs. Dred Scott” article was a real shock to me. I had never even heard of Harriet Scott before reading this. Now it came as no surprise of course that none of my high school history courses mentioned her. But having taken several Africana courses at Hamilton, I expected that I would have at least heard her name, especially considering that the Dred Scott case is one that probably gets brought up under some context in just about every Africana course. I’m sure none of my professors excluded her intentionally, but I think this point really says a lot about the invisibility of the black woman, and the wrongfulness with which she is made invisible, as she is more than likely an equally important part of any story we can tell about a black man.
On the case itself, I was disgusted at the decision made by the lawyers who represented Dred Scott. The article made an excellent argument that Harriet Scott had the better case to sue for freedom. Not only did she travel and live in free states such as Pennsylvania in which her age of twenty-eight years was the legal age for freedom in that state, but she was never given to serve Dr. Emerson in the first place. And on top of those things, she had two young girls whom she was trying to protect by suing for her freedom. When Harriet and her husband sued for freedom, it was decided that their cases were so similar that only one would move forward, and the verdict on that case would be applied to the other. So if both husband and wife were suing for freedom, why not move forward with whichever case has the better chance of winning? What should have been an obvious decision became complicated when the lawyers got hung up on the fact that Harriet Scott was a woman. A woman with a stronger case and a family to protect, but still a woman. Essentially, they dismissed her case, lost Dred Scott’s and potentially cost the two their freedom. This entire case makes me even less trusting of the legal system than I already was. Lawyers are supposed to care only for the best interest of their clients, but if they can make decisions such as this one that are based upon racism and sexism, how can anyone be sure that their lawyer won’t throw the case because of a personal prejudice?
The newspaper article that we read at the beginning of class provides a very contemporary example of the disregard that we show to black women. After introducing the black woman who the article was about, the writer takes a huge turn less than halfway through and introduces a white man whose scandal is only partly related to the story. He is the sole focus for the rest of the article, and the author makes no attempt to return to the woman who was allegedly the focus of his writing. The author was so blatantly dismissive of the black woman, Laraque-Arena, who was named in the subtitle of the article itself, that he may as well have transitioned half way through by saying, “Well, now that I’ve finished Laraque-Arena’s obligatory introduction, let’s move on to more important things…”
Black women are not just barred from mainstream society, but they face exclusion from the academic world as well. Just today I watched a documentary about the history of race in American sports. All the big names from Jack Johnson to Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali were brought up. And for fifty five minutes, I learned about the black men who were pioneers during the early years of racial integration in American sports. The last five minutes of the documentary discussed black women. In that amount of time, there is obviously not a lot that can be said. I didn’t hear a single name of a black female athlete mentioned, which gives the impression that there were none worth mentioning. This rushed and shallow discussion of black women just seemed like a sad attempt made by the director to save some face.
Time and time again, American society seems that it cannot stand to put the spotlight on a black woman. Instead, the spotlight flashes briefly over her, just enough to acknowledge her presence, the announcer mutters a brief description of her story, and then the focus shifts to some other topic, deemed far more important. Thus, just as quickly as the thoughts or accomplishments of a black woman are made known, they disappear, and her story is stashed away somewhere far from the public’s eye.
Fortunately, we have classes such as this one. I’m happy to learn every week about the untold experiences of black women, and I enjoy that it causes me to challenge what I learn in my other classes.