As we enter traditional halls of power in increasing numbers, black women in Donald Trump’s America have been put on notice: Be quiet, do not challenge or question authority, and don’t dare to speak up and defend yourself against an injustice.
The notice is especially clear for black women who have stepped into positions of power. Just ask U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Maxine Waters of California, or journalist April Ryan. If you speak out strongly against the Trump administration’s racist policies, question White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders’ truthfulness or wear a Muslim hijab as you work in Congress, expect to receive attacks.
It also happens all the time in our interactions with police. In January, instead of receiving detention for a nonviolent classroom infraction, Chicago teen Dnigma Howard was pushed and dragged by police down school steps, then tased. Instead of receiving an apology after the video showing the police infraction went viral in April, prosecutors charged Dnigma with two felonies; the charges were dropped after her parents hired lawyers who argued that she was defending herself against the police.
And sadly, we all know too well – now from her own point of view – what happened to Sandra Bland when she dared question the rationale behind the Texas traffic stop that ended in her arrest and death.
Our nation’s history shows us that society keeps black women under a microscope, picking and monitoring their every move, from black women being used for breeding slaves to tennis officials’ contentious relationship with Serena Williams. Trump’s presidency has unleashed racism so dangerous that many black women fear for our safety, whether driving in our cars or speaking truth to power on the floor of Congress.
Yet history also shows how vital black women have been to the creation of America’s quilt of safety and justice that extends to all when we stand firm in the face of societal challenges, whether we are shining light on the horrors of lynching or calling for welfare rights. From Harriet Tubman strategizing during slavery to Ida B. Wells chronicling our path forward in the early 20th century, we showed the country how to change unjust systems.
Today, black women continue to blaze new trails. Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams is using her national popularity to bring more attention to voter suppression in communities of color, and will likely be a voice we hear more frequently as the 2020 presidential campaign progresses.
And local leaders are doing extraordinary work to strengthen communities. People like Laura Martin, who is leading efforts in Nevada to fight for social and environmental justice, Shanae’ Holman of Topeka, Kansas, who is organizing faith communities to push for affordable housing and Jennifer Wells, who is working to rebuild the collective power of everyday West Virginians to resist corporate greed-driven poverty and political corruption.
They are among the vast numbers of black women who are changing the material conditions of the most marginalized in our country in the face of resistance that often results in our own pain and suffering. Programs like Standing in Our Power, Black Women’s Blueprint, and the Community Change’s Power 50 help black women break the old models of sacrificing everything for communities.
Beyond these resilience-building programs, we call on those who believe in an America where everyone can thrive to make more space and provide better resources for supporting the leadership of black women. Our progress as a country depends on it.
Trish Tchume is the director of leadership development at Community Change, a national nonprofit organization that works to build the power of communities of color. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by the Tribune News Service.