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    the real work of rosa parks

    Not Just Refusing to Move to the Back of the Bus

    by | Aug 23, 2013

    Black women stand at the intersection of two well-developed ideologies in America, one about women and one about Black people. In 1944, a Black woman organized others in her community to protect and defend Black women and girls against violations of sexual assault in the Jim Crow South. As branch secretary of the Montgomery NAACP, she investigated the acts of rampant sexual violence committed against Black women. She was responsible for collecting testimonies of Black women and girls’ hostile experiences in the workplace, social spaces, and those committed at the dark end of the street.

    rosa-parks-375x250Her name was Rosa Parks.

    For many years, she led local and national coalitions, created national media opportunities, and urged Black women to “speak out” in the struggle against sexual violence. Though her contribution to the progress of Black people is mainly attributed to her refusing to move to the back of the bus, her actual work and its impact on the humanity of Black women and girls in the face of overt sexual violence is not widely discussed.

    The reasons for this oversight can be linked to multiple levels of oppression and omissions that are the foundation of racism in America. However, what we discover when we explore the complete history of this Black woman, is that she was a radical Black feminist organizer long before the politic of today recognized the term. Books, like Danielle L. McGuire’s At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement From Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, highlight a legacy of Rosa Parks that both acknowledges and documents the violent history Black women suffered at the hands of both Black and white men.

    While some may want to dismiss this violence as a thing of the past, the reality is that Black women continue to be victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault in large numbers. In fact, a recent national survey of African Americans’ attitudes toward reproductive health conducted by Belden Russonello Strategists found that 45 percent of African-American women have experienced or know someone who has experienced sexual assault.

    The lengthy battle over the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) tells us that we still have a long way to go before policymakers fully acknowledge this problem. The massive push by the public that finally led to its passage, however, gives us hope that the public wants strong prevention measures in place and assistance to all women along the spectrum of femininity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The passage of VAWA extends federal protection and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and other historically marginalized communities. National organizations like Black Women’s Blueprint, a civil and human rights organization of women and men, use advocacy, education, and healing to address the historical implications and current concerns specific to the sexual assault of women of African descent.

    So as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, let’s hope that we also pay homage to the whole of Rosa Park’s life by doing everything we can, during the next 50 years, to end sexual assault and domestic violence.

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    ###
    Jasmine Burnett

    Jasmine Burnett

    Jasmine Burnett is with the New York Coalition for Reproductive Justice (NYC4RJ).

     

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    • hannah

      Really, I wish it weren’t necessary to categorize crimes according to the characteristics of the victims. One person assaulting another and violating his or her bodily integrity is wrong. But simple assault, which is surely a prelude to aggravated assault and homicide, occasions ambivalence because “discipline” is still considered an authoritarian entitlement. Aren’t school administrators still empowered to employ the paddle, unless parents specifically object? And the police in New York routinely “frisk” pedestrians with the blessing of the Chief. How our youth are supposed to learn that respect for bodily integrity is important, I don’t know.

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