Black Women in Space, Time, and Place

Written by: Solana Pasqual

Trigger Warning: Racism, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault, Rape

“We have still to recognize that being a woman is, in fact, not extractable from the context in which one is a woman—that is, race, class, time, and place.” [1]

I was initially very hesitant to speak on the experiences of Black women due to a fear of co-option and appropriation, of experiences. Only a Black woman has the right to dictate the fear, and joy, of living as a Black woman. However, as an ally, I believe that it is not the job of Black women to educate us on how to be better. Black women have been speaking out on injustice for centuries, and most of the world has turned a deaf ear in favour of comfort. Comfort maintains the normalization of violence against Black women. I am implicating myself in this, even as an immigrant woman of colour.

The summer of 2020 was a social awakening for me, and during this turmoil, I also found hope in the unprecedented show of strength, courage, resilience, and kindness from people around the world. I am proud to be a friend, family member, and witness to these acts. While the initial reactions to the Black Lives Matter Movement 2020 have simmered down, I wanted to keep the momentum going by highlighting Black women in America who paved the way for us today.

Tarana Burke

Did you know that the #MeToo movement was created by a Black woman?

Tarana Burke create Just Be Inc. in 2007, in response to a thirteen-year-old girl who had confided her experience with sexual abuse to Burke [2]. Burke committed herself to being present and supportive of individuals who had been sexually abused [3]. She titled her movement “Me Too” [4].

In 2017, Me Too became a hashtag spurred by white actress Alyssa Milano when accusations of sexual assault and harassment were made towards Harvey Weinstein [5]. Burke stated that when she first saw Milano’s tweet: “I felt a sense of dread, because something that was part of my life’s work was going to be co-opted and taken from me and used for a purpose that I hadn’t originally intended” [6]. Milano has since publicly credited Burke for building the foundation of the #MeToo movement, and Burke received this in good grace [7]. Burke commented that in spite of a great lack of intersectionality across different movements, the focus must be the amplification of the voices of the survivors. “I think it is selfish for me to try to frame Me Too as something that I own […] It is bigger than me and bigger than Alyssa Milano. Neither one of us should be centered in this work” [8].

Burke’s work, and her interactions with Milano, draws to a deeper understanding that as allies, we have the responsibility to both credit Black women for their work, while continuing it. There is space for everyone to put in the work while not co-opting the initial creation, and main goals, of the movement.

Pictured: Tarana Burke. Taken from: Biography. (2018, March 1). Tarana Burke Biography. https://www.biography.com/activist/tarana-burke

Rosa Parks & Recy Taylor

Did you know that before, during, and after the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycotts, Rosa Parks was an anti-rape activist? Did you know that the men who raped Recy Taylor threatened to kill her if she spoke on her sexual assault… and she did so anyway?

The narrative that Parks was simply tired, and did not have the energy to walk to the back of the bus is wrong. The only thing Parks was tired of was giving in to the systemic racism present in America. Not well known to the world outside of 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, Montgomery’s bus operators were infamous for bullying, brutalizing, assaulting, and murdering Black people who refused to operate under the racist order of Jim Crowe [9]. Rosa Parks stated, in 1956, that the women who walked to work for 381 days did not do so because of her, but because she “was not the only person who had been mistreated and humiliated,” and because “other women had gone through similarly shameful experiences, worse than mine” [10].

One of the women Parks was talking about was Recy Taylor. On September 3, 1944, twenty-four-year-old Taylor had been walking home after church, and was forced into a car by seven white men. They blindfolded her, gang-raped her, and threatened to kill her if she reported them [11]. She did anyways. The case found its way to Parks, who launched the Committee for Equal Justice for the Rights of Mrs. Recy Taylor.

Two all-white, all-male grand juries refused to bring charges against the seven white men who raped Taylor [12].The world moved on and Taylor’s case was soon forgotten for other injustices committed against black women. However, her courage and bravery will never be forgotten.

Taylor and Parks reflect present injustices within the judicial and criminal justice systems in the United States. Despite race, women and girls are often subject to great humiliation and trauma when demanding justice for sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. Race compounds these issues.

Pictured: Recy Taylor. Taken from: VERVE Team. (2018, June 11). The Rape of Recy Taylor. Medium. https://medium.com/verve-up/the-rape-of-recy-taylor-c21d6d9d14b9
Pictured: Rosa Parks. Taken from: Wikipedia. (2020). Rosa Parks. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosa_Parks

Anita Hill

Did you know that Joe Biden, the 46th president of the United States, slandered and humiliated Anita Hill when she spoke of her harassment by Clarence Thomas?

On October 11, 1991, Professor Hill stood before the Senate Judiciary Committee to detail the harassment perpetrated by Thomas while he was her supervisor of two years at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [13]. Her public bravery was met with questions like: “are you a scorned woman?” and “do you have a martyr complex?” [14]

When Hill spoke out about how she was treated by Thomas, her identity as a Black woman speaking against a Black man running for a seat on the Supreme Court, became a point of discomfort for her. As activist Elliot stated: “having to constantly weigh the effects of racism against your own safety or your community’s safety puts abused BIPOC people in an impossible situation” [15]. Hill risked perpetuating social stereotypes on the character of all Black men when she spoke out against Thomas because society views non-white individuals as character references for entire cultures. When white people commit sexual assault and harassment, it is a crime. When non-white people do so, it is a crime committed by a non-white person. This crime is then used to explain the perceived violence of non-white communities, and contributes to the use of racist stereotypes and behaviors.

Hill represents daily struggles when gender and race intersect. To be a visible minority is to be a figurehead for that culture’s reputation. To be a woman is to be a visible representation of gendered stereotypes. When both identities intersect, it is often a struggle between individuality and justice, and race and dismantling stereotypes.

Pictured: Anita Hill. Taken from: Wikipedia. (2020). Anita Hill. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anita_Hill

Major Griffin-Gracy

Did you know that Major Griffin-Gracy has been a trans rights activist for over forty years, including during the 1969 Stonewall Riots?

Griffin-Gracy is a survivor of Attica State Prison, and a former sex worker, and a leader in human rights activism. She is known as “Mama” to many of “her girls:” non-white, trans women who have encountered, survived, and are healing from police brutality, and incarceration in men’s prisons. In 2005, Griffin-Gracy joined Trans Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project and eventually became executive director [16]. She is currently creating and building her own organization: House of GG’s, a safe space and family for the transgender community [17]. Griffin-Gracy wants to create an environment in order to help young girls on the street by teaching them how to negotiate with police, and which steps to take if arrested.

Griffin-Gracy has been an activist for over forty years, and in order to keep a consistent fight, she stated: “We have a right to be angry, but you have to be angry in degrees. You use your anger to come up with ways to dismantle the bullshit that is oppressing you in the first place. There has to be a way to manage this so you accomplish the goals you set out for yourself. It’s not an easy thing, but you must nurture, take care of, and look out for yourself too. If you don’t take the time to heal your wounds and soothe your ills, you cannot be of any benefit to anybody else.”

And she has a message to white individuals and all allies: “Miss Major is not your token.”

Pictured: Major Griffin-Gracy. Taken from: Wikipedia. (2020). Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Major_Griffin-Gracy

“They’re still killing us, they’re still throwing us underneath the jails, but there are people that are not a part of our community who are bitching about the injustices that they are doing to us. That’s a major step.” -Miss Major

If we learn anything from the four women highlighted above, it is that Black women have been largely alone in their fight for equality, bodily autonomy, and social justice for far too long. I chose to highlight just four out of an inexhaustible list of Black women who have fought for and  paved paths that have ultimately benefited us. We need to keep exploring this list, adding to it, and sharing it so that Black women no longer have to worry about their work being co-opted by white people with good intentions yet inherent biases. So that Black women, no longer have to worry about being defined only by one aspect of their lives, choosing between speaking out and holding their harassers accountable and supporting their community against racist attitudes. So that, they no longer have to be alone in their fight for better lives.

I am ashamed to say that I had only heard about Rosa Parks as the woman who started the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycotts and not as the woman who created committees for black women seeking justice against their rapists. I am ashamed to say that I did not even know about Tarana Burke although I am a strong supporter of the #MeToo movement, and I thought that supporting current transgender rights was the same as understanding and supporting the activists who made trans gender rights advocacy a trend on social media. We need to understand that our privilege creates blinders that allow us to protest, spread awareness, participate in Instagram petitions, and start conversations because Black women started these movements. They did it under threats of personal harm, death, or professional and social degradation. They did it because Black women matter.

We have the responsibility to demand justice for Black women during the #MeToo movement as they have for us. We have the responsibility to protect Black women as they have us. We have the responsibility to say their names: Monika Diamond, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Dominique “Rem’mie”, Riah Milton, and countless other transgender individuals who have been killed for being transgender individuals. We have the responsibility to care, and to act on that care. 


[1] Hobbes, A. (2018, October 10). One Year of #MeToo: The Legacy of Black Women’s Testimonies. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/personal-history/one-year-of-metoo-the-legacy-of-black-womens-testimonies

[2] Garcia, S. E. (2017, October 20). The Woman Who Created #MeToo Long Before Hashtags. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/20/us/me-too-movement-tarana-burke.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] McGuire, D. (2015, December 1). More Than A Seat On The Bus. We’re History. http://werehistory.org/rosa-parks/

[10] Ibid.

[11] Mattimore, R. (2017, December 8). Before the Bus, Rosa Parks Was a Sexual Assault Investigator. History. https://www.history.com/news/before-the-bus-rosa-parks-was-a-sexual-assault-investigator

[12] Chan, S. (2017, December 29). Recy Taylor, Who Fought for Justice After a 1944 Rape, Dies at 97. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/29/obituaries/recy-taylor-alabama-rape-victim-dead.html?login=smartlock&auth=login-smartlock

[13] Schult, E. (2018, September 27). WE STILL BELIEVE ANITA HILL: LESSONS OF THE BACKLASH. Socialist Worker. https://socialistworker.org/2018/09/27/we-still-believe-anita-hill-lessons-of-the-backlash

[14] Ibid.

[15] Elliott, A. (2017, November 17). We need to talk about the cost of calling out abuse within marginalized communities. CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/arts/we-need-to-talk-about-the-cost-of-calling-out-abuse-within-marginalized-communities-1.4407893

[16] Our Mission. (n.d.). TGI Justice. Retrieved on February 24, 2021, from http://www.tgijp.org/about-us.html

[17] About. (2021). House of GG. Retrieved on February 24, 2021, from https://houseofgg.org/about/


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