Black Girls Rock The News

Remembering Dr. Dorothy Height

The Akan of West Africa have a proverb that beautifully illustrates the importance of remembering the legendary Dr. Dorothy Height: “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates to “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” Yet, what if you never knew enough to go back in the first place?

As inspiring as Black History Month can be, it is absurd to think that a history as complex and convoluted as that of black people could possibly be relegated to a matter of 28 (or 29) days. In that short amount of time, many a pioneer is overlooked or covered in such a shallow, archaic manner that what was initially intended as celebration and retrospection ultimately becomes inadequate cliché. As a result, the redundant portrayals of these individual’s portrayal’s and their roles in Black History make it understandably difficult for the younger generations to identify with their predecessors.

Well, to all of the young people out there reading this–have you ever  been prematurely judged because of your race? How about your gender? Imagine getting accepted into your dream college, only to be turned away due to an unspoken quota of only two students of your racial background. Now, picture a world with no female DJs, no congresswomen, and no BLACK GIRLS ROCK. As absurd as this imaginary world may seem to you, this was the reality for a young Dr. Dorothy Height, who had been turned away from Barnard College in 1929.

The discrimination that Dr. Height faced from the college would ultimately propel her towards a career in education and social activism. Upon receiving her bachelors (1932) and masters degree (1933) from NYU, Dr. Height set out to ensure that regardless of race, gender, or class, no other person would have to endure the same injustice that she had. Dr. Height would go on to becoming “the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement,” as President Obama has recently declared. In true BLACK GIRLS ROCK! fashion, Dr. Height stood her own as the sole female member of the Big Seven, an activist group that included Martin Luther King Jr., A Phillip Randolph, Whitney Young, and Roy Wilkins. Gender inequality also played a large role in Dr. Height’s activism. At the age of 25, she joined the National Council of Negro Women, an unprecedented organization of which Dr. Height would ultimately become president from 1957 until 1997. For all of the sorors out there, Dr. Dorothy Height was a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta and contributed greatly to the sorority’s legacy by creating leadership training programs and educational services to the community.
In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Height coordinated a great deal of workshops and activist groups, including “Wednesdays in Mississippi,” a  regular meet-up of black and white women from the North and the South, and pig banks, an organization that helped poor rural families raise livestock. American leaders such as President Eisenhower, President Lyndon B. Johnson, President Clinton, and the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt would repeatedly come to Dr. Height for counseling on national matters. Height’s seven decades of fighting for equality and human rights received the highest national honors in 1994 and 2004, when she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, respectively.Of course, the fact that Dr. Dorothy Height worked towards all of her accomplishments in fabulous signature hats, gloves, and pearls makes her all the more fierce in our eyes.
I want to be remembered as someone who used herself and anything she could touch to work for justice and freedom…. I want to be remembered as one who tried. -Dr. Dorothy Height [1]

Last Tuesday, Dr. Dorothy Height passed away at 98 in Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C. The outstanding legacy that she leaves behind should not become another ancient relic, only to be recovered and dusted off every February. No, just as Dr. Height relentlessly struggled for seemingly unattainable rights, people everywhere, particularly black women, ought to follow Dr. Heights lead and begin taking the initiative. Granted, the social and political climate in the US may not seem as dire as during the 60s and 70s, and so making a difference may seem all the more daunting and impossible, given that there is no current movement similar in influence and strength Civil Rights Movement. The key to remaining hopeful lies in baby steps. Why not try the following:

  • Creating and following a book club focused on Africana scholars
  • Volunteering for the social non-profit of your choice
  • Setting up literacy classes with your friends
  • Beginning a Big Brother/Big Sister program at your school
  • Throwing monthly dinners to honor and remember those who fought and died for our rights

As long as you do not forget to look back and learn, you will be able to face the future as fearlessly as Dr. Dorothy Height.

How do you feel about the passing of Dr. Dorothy Height? How has she inspired you to make a difference?

Rihanna Breaks the Silence on Abuse

Rihanna and Chris Brown

In a much anticipated interview last Friday on ABC’s 20/20, Diane Sawyer interviewed pop-star Rihanna about her fight back in February with fellow singer and now ex-boyfriend, Chris Brown. Rihanna alleged that after they left a Grammy party, Chris proceeded to hit and bite her after she repeatedly asked him about a text another woman sent him.

Chris Brown fans immediately uploaded videos onto their Youtube pages with messages of support, many even speculating that Rihanna must have done something to provoke or deserve Chris’s beating. Even after the infamous photo of Rihanna’s bruised and swollen face leaked to the public, fans remained steadfast in their support of Chris Brown. Even after Chris finally admitted to Rihanna’s allegations, fans continued to think what he did was easily forgivable, or even admissible. Even though he committed a felony.
Rihanna’s interview with Diane Sawyer:

Why are we so apathetic about domestic violence?

Domestic violence is a more common problem than many of us would like to admit, and it happens to women of all ages, colors, and socioeconomic statuses (men can also fall victim to domestic abuse, though less frequently). According to the U.S. Surgeon General,

“Domestic violence is considered one of the foremost causes of serious injury to women ages 15 to 44, accounting for about 30 percent of all acute injuries to women seen in emergency departments”[1]

African American women, however, are disproportionately affected by domestic violence, falling victim to abuse at rates up to 35% higher than women of other backgrounds, according to the Surgeon General report.

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Women, and especially women of color, are being abused by their spouses at rates too high for us to continue to ignore or belittle. Rihanna remembers her father “severely” beating her mother on numerous occasions, so much so that she “wasn’t surprised when it happened”. Chris Brown’s mother was also abused by her spouse.

What counts as domestic abuse?

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline,

“Domestic violence can be defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.

Abuse is physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure or wound someone.” [2]

What’s the big deal?

Because most bruises heal eventually, right? The woman must have deserved or provoked a beating, right? Wrong. Domestic abuse comes in many forms, and has many different yet devastating effects on its victims. Rihanna even admitted to Diane Sawyer, “the thing that men don’t realize when they hit a woman…[is] the scar inside.” A Surgeon General report on mental health details the diverse effects of abuse:

“Domestic violence is a serious and startlingly common public health problem with mental health consequences for victims, who are overwhelmingly female, and for children who witness the violence… The mental health consequences of domestic violence include depression, anxiety disorders (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder), suicide, eating disorders, and substance abuse…Children who witness domestic violence may suffer acute and long-term emotional disturbances, including nightmares, depression, learning difficulties, and aggressive behavior. Children also become at risk for subsequent use of violence against their dating partners and wives…” [1]

Domestic Abuse Stops Here

Chris Brown was undoubtedly scarred after repeatedly witnessing his step-father abuse his mother, but it is important for his fans to understand that what he did, no matter what the context, is plain wrong. Period.

Rihanna admitted that although she initially returned to Chris Brown after he hit her, when she realized her decision to continue loving Chris Brown was a selfish choice that could possibly result in a young girl getting killed by an abusive boyfriend, she couldn’t bear to “be held responsible for that,” so she broke up with Chris for good. Realizing what a big impact her life choices make on young women all over the world was a “big time wake-up call” for the singer. Her advice to those who might be in a similar situation: “Don’t react out of love…because love is blind. Step out of the situation and look on in third person, then react”.

What now?

If you or someone you know is experiencing any kind of domestic abuse, please call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) for anonymous and confidential help.

Please remember that abuse is not always physical. Incidents of domestic abuse are overwhelmingly under-reported, oftentimes because an affected woman doesn’t understand that how her partner treats her is considered abuse. Educate yourself and others about domestic abuse and help to end the cycle of violence!

Fight For Your Right To Live Longer

Check-ups may catch a fatal disease early

Turn on the television or radio. Pick up a newspaper or news magazine. Surf the web. Either way, you’re bound to come across a discussion about healthcare coverage in the United States. By now, after the media’s constant barrage of propaganda, most of us are inclined to shake our heads in defeat. Admittedly, the debate has been controlled by specific groups and individuals, primarily those of power, and not necessarily those who are positioned to suffer the most in the event that the current health care system is not overhauled.

As women of color, we tend to prioritize a number of things before our own health, including our families and work. However, when it comes to our health, this Superwoman syndrome hinders us, even hurts us, more than we care to admit. The Kaiser Foundation recently released a new and extremely important study titled “Putting Women’s Health Care Disparities on the Map: Examining Racial and Ethnic Disparities at the State Level.” The study documents the health disparities that exist between women of color and white women.

National average data shows that 27.9 percent of women of color don’t have any health coverage, compared to 12.8 percent of their white counterparts. [1]

Please read more about that study and find out the facts HERE. In her article, writer Nina Jacinto makes many significant observations of the inextricable relationship between gender, race, and healthcare, as well as the importance of taking ethnic and racial differences into consideration when conducting health reports, as opposed to homogenizing the groups. Another article by Jacinto entitled “New Research on Black Women and Breast Cancer” features recent discoveries made about black women’s breast cancer survival rate and offers possible methods of prevention and solutions to this disease. Keep in mind that, as Jacinto wrote, “solutions won’t be effective without fair and equal access to healthcare, breast cancer campaigns that don’t ignore women of color, and better medical and educational resources in low-income communities.”

Although breast cancer is less common among black women than white women, black women are more likely to die from the disease, and to die at a younger age. [2]

Head HERE for the full article. Please share these articles with the women of color in your lives. It may save their’s.

If you need even more incentive to get involved in the health care system debate, online publication The Root has provided us with “10 Reasons African-Americans Should March Washington About Health Care.” The article highlighted women of color’s health in particular a number of times:

5. Breast and cervical cancer. Black women are twice as likely to diefrom cervical cancer as whites and while breast cancer deaths are dropping for whites, black women continue to die at higher rates than anybody else. Why? No preventive care to catch cancer early enough to treat it.

6. Diabetes. America is in the throes of a diabetes epidemic, but it’s raging like nowhere else among blacks, particularly black women, who have a higher rate than any other group. Worse, both black men and women are much more likely to be hospitalized, disabled and killed by diabetes once they have it.

9. STDs. An unprecedented study last year found 48 percent of all black teenage girls tested had a sexually transmitted infection. Damn near half. Which helps explain the HIV data, since untreated STDs facilitate the spread of HIV. [3]

You’re probably asking yourself, “Okay. So now what? What can I do?” Well, writing to your congressional representative would be a great start. No need for an elaborate, stuffy message. Simply expressing your discontent with the current state of the health care system will go a long way. Why not invite your girlfriends over and host a “Girls Write Out” party? You provide the envelopes and stationary, they provide the snacks. If you’re a student, get together a group of like-minded peers and create a health care reform campus organization. Or try screening a documentary covering the topic. Check out this article for inspiration and advice on how to get those started. It may not feel like much at first, but remember–it takes a nation of millions to hold us back.

Stray Bullet Takes Spelman Student Too Soon

Last Thursday, Spelman student Jasmine Lynn was fatally struck by a stray bullet near the campus of Clark Atlanta University. The chest wound Lynn suffered allegedly came from “a group of individuals involved in a physical altercation on Mitchell Street.” [1]

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Originally from Kansas City, Mo., Lynn had just begun her sophomore year at Spelman College with plans on majoring in psychology and majoring in business. An 18-year-old student (name unreleased) from Clark Atlanta was also hit by a stray bullet, suffering injuries to the wrist. Our hearts and prayers go out to Jasmine Lynn and her family. Another all too common instance of a young, black promising life taken too soon.

NYT Hits A Wall with Black Girls Hair

We here at Black Girls Rock! totally understand how, at one point or another, hair has has played a significant role in a black girl’s life. Our complicated relationship to our hair stems back centuries ago to the time of slavery, when our hair texture and skin color served as the main signifiers of our African heritage. Pulitzer Prize-winner Toni Morrison has featured hair as a primary subject in her groundbreaking novels Sula, The Bluest Eye and Tar Baby, along with a number of other black authors concerned with addressing the black female identity.

Today, “sales of home relaxers total $45.6 million (excluding Wal-Mart),” while inner-city Black communities are sprinkled with black hair salons about every two blocks. Hundreds upon thousands of black women have created websites, blogs, and online photo albums critiquing, lamenting, and celebrating their hair, whether it be relaxed, natural, or in transition between both. And, who could forget the long hours they’ve spent getting their hair “did” by either their mother, various family members, a friend, or a stranger? The age-old debate surrounding “good” versus “bad” hair can also be found within this complex legacy.

Recently, comedian Chris Rock has decided to bring this debate to a much larger platform–the silver screen. Puzzled by why his daughter would question the value of her hair, Rock went on a mission to uncover the source of this self-deprecation by creating a documentary aptly-titled “Good Hair,” which won the jury prize at Sundance. Peep the trailer below:

But why did it take a man to bring black womens’ historic struggles with their hair to the forefront?

Well, realizing the amount of buzz Rock’s documentary has been generating, The New York Times promptly featured an article intending to shed light on not only the “good/bad” hair debate, but black hair in general. Judging by the introductory nature of the article, black women were not the target audience. Consequently, the article seems superficial and plain ol’ tired to the same subjects that the author attempts to analyze. We’ve heard all this before! As in most issues that involve both race and gender, the author eventually makes an effort to transcend the racial component of the debate all together:

For many people no matter their race or hair texture, accepting yourself “as you are” is a high bar. The history of beauty is one of dissatisfaction and transformation: brunettes become blondes; white women get their curly hair Japanese-straightened.

Sigh. No. No. No. This is the reason why discussions surrounding black hair always seems to ambiguously trail off without anyone having gotten to the bottom of things. The issue of gender and the role that beauty plays in women’s social identification gets the spotlight because no one either wishes to or even knows how to touch on the centuries-old racism that is inextricably tied to black women’s social identification. Prominent black feminist scholar bell hooks explains this same entanglement in her 1988 article “Straightening My Hair“:

Irrespective of the way individual black women choose to do their hair, it is evident that the extent to which we suffer from racist and sexist oppression and exploitation affects the degree to which we feel capable of both self-love and asserting an autonomous presence that is acceptable and pleasing to ourselves. Individual preferences (whether rooted in self-hate or not) cannot negate the reality that our collective obsession with straightening black hair reflects the psychology of oppression and the impact of racist colonization. Together racism and sexism daily reinforce to all black females via the media, advertizing, etc. that we will not be considered beautiful or desirable if we do not change ourselves, especially our hair. We cannot resist this socialization if we deny that white supremacy informs our efforts to construct self and identity.

Rock on, bell hooks! As hooks’ analysis demonstrates,  seemingly-trivial debates such as “good/bad” hair stem back deeply to much more disastrous roots. So now I dare you, go forth and analyze what black hair means to you (“It’s just hair” will not suffice), remember that anything worth figuring out is, initially, never simple!

What are your thoughts on black hair? Have your own hair story to share with BGR? Thoughts on the NYT article? Feel free to leave comments!

White House Council on Women and Girls Launches Website

On March 11, 2009, President Obamaannounced the inaugural White House Council on Women and Girls. President Obama made the following statement regarding the Council:

“The purpose of this Council is to ensure that American women and girls are treated fairly in all matters of public policy,” said President Obama. “My Administration has already made important progress toward that goal. I am proud that the first bill I signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. But I want to be clear that issues like equal pay, family leave, child care and others are not just women’s issues, they are family issues and economic issues. Our progress in these areas is an important measure of whether we are truly fulfilling the promise of our democracy for all our people. I am confident that Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen will guide the Council wisely as its members address these important issues.”

According to Tchen, the website was specifically launched today, August 26, in honor ofWomen’s Equality Day. If you’re wondering to yourself “Since when was there a Women’s Equality Day?”, don’t worry you’re not blanking on your American History. Women’s Equality Day was actually declared yesterday. Influential women of all backgrounds such as Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, phenomenal poet and founder of the National Association of Colored Women, were commemorated in the president’s press release. In regard to the Council, Tchen states,

“The mission of the White House Council on Women and Girls is to ensure that every part of the federal government takes into account the needs of women and girls in the policies we draft, the programs we create, the legislation we support. Through this site you will be able to meet the member of the Council and the key staff in each agency who are charged with meeting this charge from the President.”

To explore the website further, click here. How effective do you think this Council will be? What requests or questions do you have for the Council members?We’d love to hear what YOU think! Feel free to leave a comment.

Rapper Roxanne Receives the Big Payback

09/02/09 Update: According to Slate.com, this inspirational story is made up. Shanté, real name Lolita Shanté Gooden,  has allegedly never received a Ph. D in psychology from Cornell University, nor did Warner Music have a contractual obligation to pay for Shanté’s education. To find out more information, head HERE. Remember, even though this story is fictitious, doesn’t mean the moral doesn’t hold true!

After dominating the old school hip hop game at the age of 14, rapper pioneer Roxanne Shante decided that one alma matter wasn’t enough. Now, aside from boasting achievements such as “First Queen of Hip Hop” and “member of theJuice Crew,” Shante’s curriculum vitae also reads “Ph.D in psychology” from Cornell.

Shante’s 1984 hit single “Roxanne’s Revenge,” sold an impressive 250,000 copies in her hometown New York City alone. Little did the young star know that she would later get her revenge on Warner Music, her label that stiffed her from much of her hard-earned money. The label actually footed the hefty tuition, although getting them to do so wasn’t easy. Apparently, Warner Music did not want to fulfill their contractual promise to pay for all of the young Roxanne Shante’s future education. Yet, when Shante threatened to go public with the issue, Warner eventually agreed to pay for both Shante’s undergrad and graduate fees.

Shante’s many achievements destroy the notion that rappers are narcissistic  and counterproductive to the black society, while demonstrating that female rappers can definitely hold their own lyrically.

In an article from The New York Daily News Shante states,

“I’m an example that you can be a teenage mom, come from the projects, and be raised by a single parent, and you can still come out of it a doctor.”

Today, Shante runs her own psychology practice in Queens where she implements unconventional methods of therapy, such as freestyling, focusing primarily on African-Americans. Big ups to you, Dr. Roxanne Shante!

Check out some of Roxanne’s videos and songs below:

“Roxanne’s Revenge” (How much does this chick rock?!)

“Lossey’s Rap” Roxanne Shante & Rick James

And the Race is On!

raymonds-wedding7We all know the story: Black women can’t find Black husbands, the divorce rate is astronomical, marriage is for white people, etc. The studies have proven that the Black family infrastructure is failing, and that Black women are sustaining the brunt of that failure. But there’s one woman who is trying to prove the studies wrong: Neenah Pickett.

She is the 43 year-old founder of52weeks2findhim.com, a personal dating site she created to find The One in one year. I read about her in Essence, in which the question was posed: Is this lady desperate or what?

Her idea is actually very smart. Many singles of various ages use the Internet, sites such as eHarmony and Match.com to find mates, so Neenah’s tactics shouldn’t be so surprising. I think the surprising, or perhaps off-putting aspect of her quest is that she’s looking to find THE ONE. As in her soulmate, life partner, right-hand, do-right, ride-or-die man. Could she find Him? Yes, she certainly could (She still has 20-odd weeks). But how likely is it that through self-advertisement, the perfect man will appear? And with such a time-constraint?

Although Neenah is taking the year to find her dream man, she is not operating a la The Bachelorette, i.e., she won’t just pick someone after a year’s time. She also says that if she does not find Mr. Right by December 31, 2009, she will take a 52-week break from dating.

I hope Neenah finds a partner, just as I hope we all find partners when we are ready. But with the world watching, the clock ticking, and the pressure on, she must be operating differently than she would be if she were doing this without a website, or if she were 15 years younger. There has to be some note of desperation in her voice, some feel of it in her step as she goes to meet each new, possibly-The-One man. We all feel this when meeting someone new. But not all of us are in the public spotlight, and not all of us are 43. She is smart to be proactive in finding companionship and love. I just wonder if she’s scared, like many of us are, of living life alone.

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