I joined with several hundred people to celebrate Black women at the “Ain’t I A Woman” march in Sacramento, California on July 15, 2017. Several hundred Black women and supporters marched at 9:00 AM in 100 degree weather to the State Capital and sat in front of the steps to listen to the amazing Black women speakers at the rally. Among the hundreds of people participating in this first ever event, I was blessed to be present with my daughter, family members, and among other Pagan Black women.Black Women United, a Sacramento based group, organized this march in response to the Women’s march held in January. Adding to the conversation of women’s needs, this march specifically set out to address the often forgotten intersectional needs of Black women throughout history and in today’s current times. Intentionally basing the theme on the infamous Sojourner Truth “Ain’t I a Woman” speech reflected the very necessity that this march attempted to address. While much has changed in America, not much has changed for Black women.
Abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Sojourner Truth was born into slavery and was an example of a strong woman fighting for the rights of Black women. Not only did Truth escape to freedom with her young daughter in 1826, but she also won am 1828 court case to get her son back from the man who owned him.
Truth was one of the first Black women to speak about intersectional issues within feminism and the specific plight of Black women in America. She called out the multiple marginalized positions that Black women carry in a society that has a history of systemic racism and sexism. Her work has become some of the most important within the feminist, especially Black Feminist, movement toward equality.
It was in 1851 that Sojourner Truth made the powerfulAin’t I A Woman Speechat the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio.“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?” It is with that spirit of acknowledgement and need that this march came to manifestation where Black women are taking center stage to declare that they are indeed a woman.
On the Black Women United website it says “The concept of AIAW is a challenge, but also an affirmation. It is not a question, but rather a powerful statement or declaration of our womanhood and demanding all of the respect and acceptance that should come with it.”
Speakers on the stage at the rally spoke one by one about the empowerment needed to survive today’s times and struggles. Some of the esteemed speakers included Dr. Halifu Osumare, Dr. Joy Johnson, Porsche Nicole Kelly, and Elaine Brown. The former leader of the Black Panther Party came onto stage with a powerful message for Black women. She told the crowd “it is time for us to put on our Harriet Tubman hat; it’s time for us to put on our Sojourner Truth hat; our Ida B. Wells Barnett hat; our Mary Jane McLeod Bethune hat; our Rosa Parks hat and our Fannie Lou Hamer hat. It’s time to take the lead. It’s time for our self determination because no one is coming to get us”.
From the moment I heard of this event I knew it was something I needed to attend with my 9 year old girl. Social science research continues to show that instilling a sense of positive racial socialization in our children has proven to be one of the most important elements of healing through the historic racial trauma of our ancestors and our continued challenges in today’s system.
The kind of magic that comes from a intentional, empowering, focused,and energetic event like this was exactly the thing I would want to expose her to, including my own need for Black women empowerment within this hostile world. I purposefully want to combat the messages of euro-centric beauty standards that condition our young Black girls to see themselves as less than beautiful and capable in society by exposing them to the very power of the Black woman.There were other Black Pagan women present at Saturday’s march. There were also other Pagan community members who came to give support as non-black individuals. It was a reaffirming feeling to see other people from the Pagan community being present for such an intimate and much needed moment in the movement of Black liberation.
I reached out to several of the Black Pagan women who also came to the event to discuss their reason for coming and why they felt it was important for them. Here is what they said:
When I heard about the Ain’t I A Woman March, I knew I was going to attend. I was important for me as a Black woman to support other Black women and join them in voicing our concerns. So on July 15th, two other pagan sisters and I made the 100+ trek to Sacramento and it was well worth it.
The speeches and performances were empowering and inspirational. I was glad to be with Black women united together for our upliftment. It was nice to see other races there to support us, but Black Unity was especially gratifying.
I’m was pleased to know the organizers made the march all-inclusive. As a Black pagan I feel were are often invisible. We are invisible to our mostly white pagan counterparts who “don’t see” our color. On the other hand, our spiritual beliefs are not widely accepted by the larger Black community. Many Black pagans have to hide the pagan part of themselves to keep family, friendships, and community ties intact.
I knew some the pagan women who were at the March. It felt good to be there and be our full free selves. I was just thankful to be around other sisters of like mind and spirit. – M.A.
Like many others, I watched incredulously as a man that many native New Yorkers know to be an empty, amoral business tycoon and mediocre reality TV star took the White House. It was no surprise when women came out in droves to protest the Sex Offender-in-Chief the day after the Inauguration.
What did surprise me was that no matter how traumatized by the assent of a serial misogynist, the majority of the women did not include Black women in either the formal planning or the actual event. Accounts of this were reported all over the nation, with the most egregious offenses taking place in Seattle and Portland, where Black women were reported as being excluded from both the planning and the protest.
Even while feeling oppressed, those white women didn’t see oppression rife throughout their own behavior and actions. The stories of non-white women being thrown out of planning meetings and having their concerns ignored, their participation controlled and – in some cases – openly rejected made a big impression on me. I was struck by the irony that the majority of the women represented by this march had actually voted FOR this menace and had marginalized and dismissed the very women who tried to sound the alarm BEFORE the election. It was obvious that their only concerns were how they, as white women, were affected by the new regime.
So it made sense to me when a Black women’s march was planned. It’s a unfortunate fact that, in so many cases, we need our own spaces, and I vowed I would be a part of this historic Black Women’s rally. The 7 hour (one way) drive did nothing to deter us. Wild horses could not have kept me and my daughter away.
What an absolute delight to be among people where I, as a Black woman, didn’t feel the need to “small up myself”. There was no need to argue for my humanity because everyone in attendance needed no convincing. I felt beautiful because no one in attendance would hold the white standard of beauty up as a mirror to my face. I didn’t have to carefully calibrate my speech and my “tone” to avoid upsetting/angering/scaring/offending anyone.
To be in a public space where love for my Blackness and the Blackness of everyone else was openly declared, without having to make excuses or debate was a breath of fresh air. To know that I was in a public space where my Black Girl Magic was appreciated and reciprocated was so delicious. To know that there was absolutely no need to plead the case for my humanity allowed me to relax, to enjoy, to commune with my sisters in an utterly safe space, without explanation or apology.
It was a blessing to spend time with my pagan sisters. As it is, Black witches are rare in my area, and most of my friendships with Black pagans have been cultivated at the annual Pantheacon event. We Black pagans haven’t always found large pagan gatherings to be welcoming, and based on my own experiences at Pantheacon, it was splendid to be in a space where we didn’t have to watch our backs. We could be unapologetically Black.
And nothing could have prepared me for the thrill of meeting an original Black Panther, the esteemed Elaine Brown. I was transfixed by her speech, her beauty, her message, and her legend.
My daughter said it best: it was pure magic to be surrounded by so many beautiful Black women, so many Black people, and the people who love and support us. It was nice that the group was as diverse as it was, but if the truth be told, it could have been entirely Black as far as I’m concerned — that is how such loving and positive energy on a grand scale affected me personally.
It’s my hope that the Black Women’s March becomes an annual event. Because, ain’t I a woman? – Beverley Smith
I also had an opportunity to speak with Jasper James from Activism Articulated about their own motivation to work for the march with Black Women United as a Two-Spirited community member.
The intersectional issues of oppression for Black women continue to exist today and continue to exist within our Pagan community as well. More often than not the Pagan community does not speak to the experiences of Black women and we have to seek outside of our community to find understanding and empowerment that specifically addresses our particular brand of need. It is common that we are lost inside of the euro-centric dynamic of Paganism; it is very much the same as within the feminist movement.
As a Black woman, my work as co-owner of Integrated Communications and PR firm, Activism Articulated, with Black Women United struck a deeply personal chord. BWU’s message of inclusivity was what ignited my desire to assist in bringing this idea of celebrating all Black women to fruition. As we strive to create relevant transformation within Black communities, there is often a divide when it comes to amplifying the voices of those who are the most marginalized within our own community, often due to our connection to religion and the White supremacist/colonialist views that accompany social norms. BWU committed to actively making space and creating a platform that allowed for trans and queer Black voices to be heard.
Additionally, it is so rare that we take the time to put aside the anger and the pain that comes with oppression and this march provided a space to do just that. It was essentially a platform for ALL Black women to honor, celebrate and love one another. We can no longer wait for the oppressor to bring the level of healing that we need to the table. We must take on this responsibility ourselves and the “Ain’t I A Woman” march placed healing and advancement of Black women’s issues at the center of every action. I am so honored for my company to have played a role in supporting this incredible uplifting event. We look forward to supporting BWU in their continuous efforts to uplift Black women while addressing the issues that specifically affect them.
Too often conversations, events, or rituals specifically addressing the needs of Black people are dismissed as political, divisive or “social justice warrior” activities. Yet we know that representation matters and there is something very important about the process of being seen.
The impact of events and activities that engage Black women in empowering moments that reaffirm our individual and collective power is a truly magical endeavor. The ripple effects of these moments of togetherness serve as a much needed reminder that we are not alone in society, and we are not alone as Pagan women.
It is easy to feel isolated in our spiritual community when we are the far and in-between face in the crowd but even in small doses we are pretty darn powerful.
As the new political movement of our lifetimes continues to gain momentum and thrive, there needs to be a space for Black women to be honored, celebrated, and acknowledged. And I am grateful that there will be a space at the table for us Black Pagan women there too.
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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.