Have you noticed that increasingly folks are talking about the ‘liberation’ of Black people? The term liberation has been used before, including Stokely Carmichael and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s book Toward Black Liberation in 1966, and to describe the women’s movement of the 1960s-70s.
However, we are now seeing it resurface at a powerful moment in time, and I want Bennett College at the forefront. Underneath the larger umbrella of civil rights and social justice, the threads of social mobility, transformation and liberation have been woven through the College’s soon-to-be 150 year history.
While terms like social justice or civil rights do encompass a broader definition, they don’t create the same specificity that ‘liberation,’ and in particular, the idea of Black women’s liberation, can. They don’t provide clarity about the true desired outcome. Afterall, we fight for social justice or civil rights in the name of what desired future state?
This shift in language is subtle but profound to describe the desired freedom from societal bias and discrimination we all seek. I would venture to say we are ultimately fighting for and seeking liberation.
The idea of liberation suggests action, hope and undoing. So what would that action, hope and undoing look like for Black women?
The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s initiated change for women around the world, but it didn’t encompass what Black women experience on a day-to-day basis. We need to talk about what it would mean to be liberated from deliberate and micro displays of racism and sexism.
Which reminds me of the phrase “Jane Crow” coined by civil rights activist, powerhouse attorney and Black feminist icon, Pauli Murray. She used it to bring attention to the discrimination she experienced by being both Black and a woman in the 1940s. Because yes there was Jim Crow, but what about Jane Crow? We continue to fight for liberation at that intersection of race and gender today.
What liberation should look like…
- Economic freedom to build not just your own wealth but intergenerational wealth,
- Options to have the career path and quality of life you desire,
- Mental and physical health so you can care for yourself and others, and continue to fight the good fight.But here’s the catch…
It’s much harder to seek these freedoms when you’re not free from discrimination. You can’t get to a fully liberated state if you’re not liberated yourself.
And that’s why I wanted to introduce the idea of liberation beyond the broader civil rights approach. We have to individually and collectively seek liberation of, for and with Black women now more than ever.
Even as the president of a college, I continue to experience discrimination based on both race and gender. Oh yes, Jane Crow is alive and well.
Although the number of students in higher education is female-dominated (62% of HBCU students are women), men still hold a majority of the leadership roles. For example, only about 1 in 4 HBCU presidents are women, which is an increase in the past decade and is much higher than the approximately 1 in 20 Black women leading predominantly white institutions. There is still work to be done.
Ultimately to me, liberation is to excel without boundaries. To have unlimited choice. To be unconstrained. To be socially and economically mobile.
Bennett College is the perfect place to lead this discussion about Black women’s liberation. Look no further than our students and alumnae who exemplify those ideals. Moreover, Bennett College is ranked as the #1 national liberal arts college for social mobility by global education ranking authority U.S. News & World Report.
Bennett Belles have been and continue to be at the forefront of liberation. And that’s why I’m so proud to have Tamara Winfrey-Harris, author and liberation coach, join us on campus this semester as our LiberateHer in Residence.
If you haven’t caught Tamara yet, she hosted several live virtual events throughout February and March, and she will be joining us in-person for a full week from April 24-30.
The timing of her visit is significant because it aligns with Bennett College’s Charter Day. On April 29, 1873, formerly enslaved Black people chartered this very school to provide a pathway to education and liberation for generations to come.
So I invite you to participate and engage during Tamara’s week on campus. She will be hosting discussions, sessions, activities and more to continue illuminating the path.
As I said earlier, the idea of liberation isn’t new, but I want to revive it — with your help.
Yours in the struggle,
Suzanne Elise Walsh, JD
What does liberation mean to you? Share your freedom statement here.
More details of Tamara’s visit to be released mid-April.