Do you remember in grade school celebrating women’s history month, or even history in general? Most of us at some point have participated in some school activity or performance where we had to dress up as a character in American history, right? Who were the women typically chosen for young girls of all races to dress up as? Betsy Ross, Rosie the Riveter, Annie Oakley, Susan B Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Ruth Bader Ginsburg — do you see where I’m going with this? Maybe, just maybe, these activities would include Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, or Pocahontas — but how maybe people of color were realistically included in these “women in history” activities?
Now, many of us grew up in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and '90s, but even today in 2022, young girls in America are taught from a very impressionable age that Women's history is really exclusive to White women, and Black women’s history is to stay in the lane of “Black History Month”. An uncomfortable truth for many to face — but our education system and our society’s view of “women’s history” is indeed profoundly racist at its core.
In her incredibly insightful and powerful book Raising Racists: The Socialization of White Children in the Jim Crow South, Kristina DuRocher outlines this concept using emotional stories from people who experienced the ideology of the Jim Crow South first-hand. Throughout the Jim Crow era, White Protestants upheld a strict social order to keep White male supremacy dominant and maintain segregation.
From a young age, children were taught that their identity and value were dictated by the color of their skin and their religious beliefs exclusively. They were taught that their Black neighbor’s value or lack thereof, was beneath them, and Black people were to be feared and dehumanized. Take a moment and think about that for a second. Children are not born racist. It would seem odd to even label a child as a racist, right? Children grow up seeing the world through rose-colored glasses, seeing everyone as equal, until adults shape their idea of worth and value. Unfortunately, children were, and still are being raised under a set of beliefs that does make them unequivocally racist.
Yet it doesn’t stop with mere race. Kristina DuRocher dives into how White protestants set the standard in the south for race and gender roles, as gender played a huge role in the ‘justifications’ of white supremacy and even the horrific actions of the KKK. The KKK to other whites at the time appeared to be a group of men protecting their women from Black men, as Black men were seen as nothing more than mere animals who cannot control themselves sexually.
This notion that still exists today — walk into any elevator with a white woman and a black man and I can almost guarantee you the woman’s body language will tell you everything you need to know about the perception of Black men in modern society.
Now not only is the idea that Women's history is exclusively white women racist in concept, but it's also racist in application. Would you believe me if I told you that there was a women’s klan? Would you believe me if I told you many of those White Female icons in history who fought for gender equality more than likely played an active role in racism? Are you uncomfortable yet? You should be.
Yes indeed the WKKK was a thing in the 1920s, and could very well be active in some areas of the country today. In her book Women of the Klan, Kathleen M Blee highlights how white women continued to perpetuate racial dominance while championing gender equality — ironic, right?
“By November 1923 thirty-six states had chapters of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan. Throughout 1924 the WKKK continued to grow, accepting girls over sixteen years old and chartering fifty locals a week in 1924. The following year an influential anti-Klan commentator declared that at least three million women had been initiated into the women's Klan. His estimate was no doubt inflated, perhaps by projecting from the recruitment successes of the strong Ohio and Indiana WKKK realms; indeed, modern scholars judge the entire 1920s Klan to have enrolled no more than three to five million members. It is clear, however, that the WKKK attracted a great many women within a short time."
During this time women wanted to participate in the KKK but were not permitted to as it diminished their ‘sacred femininity”, so the WKKK was born as a type of affiliate program that allowed women to assist the men in their goals, with the autonomy to act independently, without men involved. Now, for many progressive white people today, it’s probably an uncomfortable thought, but by the numbers, odds are you have an ancestor who was an active participant in the KKK or WKKK. Remember, this is only 100 years ago, so it could be a grandparent, parent, great grandparent, or any family member in between who has continued to raise their children under the ideology of segregation, racism, and white supremacy.
These stories in Women of the Klan and Raising Racists are not unlike the stories we see unfolding before our eyes in our current society today. We are living in an increasingly hostile society where Black people, and especially Black women, are pushed to the bottom of the totem pole to uphold white supremacy and silence the Black experience.
Now we hear this all the time, “I’m not a racist, and I was not raised in a racist household”. While I surely hope that is true for many, it is unfortunately not the majority for some of these generations. This is not to say that every white person in America is racist, because we know that is not true. However, the White Protestant ideology and the white supremacy belief system has been passed down from generation to generation, and we still as a society celebrate that today instead of questioning and challenging its deeply racist roots.
In my weekly radio show HeartBeat Radio I asked the uncomfortable question that we need to address as a country — are we going back into a segregated society? Given the landscape of the housing market, housing affordability, employment opportunities, education opportunities, and police brutality — did we ever truly leave? It's women’s history month and we continue to celebrate mutually white women, telling the nation and our children that Black women hold no place outside of Black history.
How far have we really progressed if the history we teach itself is segregated?
Look at any company on social media today and I guarantee you will see this parallel — for February, the posts celebrated their black male and female colleagues, highlighting their contributions and masquerading their company as a strong ally to the black community. Fast forward to March, you will most likely see the white women celebrated exclusively. Look at the white women “claiming” ownership to wokeness, when they in fact, are the worst perpetuators of white women only tactics. The fact that we as a society have become so blinded to this segregation is despicable.
Later this month I will be the KeyNote speaker for Women at Amazon. Is corporate America listening to the entire narrative, including the Black narrative, or is that segregated too? For far too long Black women have been silenced, slandered, and separated from the conversations that are required to bring forth systemic change. However, we are seeing a movement arise before us. Black women are standing up together to challenge the narrative, break through the glass ceilings, and dismantle the white supremacy patriarchy plaguing America today. Now the question is, what side of history will you be on?