By M.A. Rahman
Published: March 13th, 2019
The 2018–2019 Visiting Endowed Chair of Women’s and Gender Studies (WGST) at Brooklyn College and Visiting Associate Professor in History, Dr. Robyn Spencer indicated her intentions as Chair of WGST to establish a focus on the reexamination of the history and list of contributions black women have made for various social struggles.
Accomplishing this, Dr. Spencer has enlisted a few invited professors as lecturers to discuss this topic via the “Challenging Erasures: Re-inscribing Black Women’s History in New York” lecture series. Dr. Spencer has also written a new book: “The Revolution Has Come: Black Power, Gender, and the Black Panther Party in Oakland” which chronicles the strifes endured by members of the Black Panther Party, particularly women.
“You lose a lot when all you know about the Civil Rights movement is Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks,” Dr. Spencer said, adding, “You also get a narrow vision of the people you do learn about, people forget that Rosa Parks was involved in chronicling sexual violence against black women in the 1940s.”
By occasion this includes the lack of remembrance for the victims of unjust rules of the time, typically colored women so often forgotten of in these conversations like Eleanor Bumpurs or Claudette Colvin.
“You cannot tell me Rosa Parks was the first women to be arrested for not giving up her seat off a bus,” Professor Barbara Ransby said at one of the WGST lectures at the BC Student Center, making reference to the case of Claudette Colvin, a precursor of Parks that was looked over by civil rights leaders as she was pregnant from a married man at the time of her arrested.
Dr. Ransby, a historian, writer, and longtime political activist, spoke under the “Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the 21st Century” lecture. In it, she placed an emphasis on identifying some of the predicaments that Dr. Spencer agrees has stymied the conversation/ acknowledgment of certain individuals over others.
Dr. Ransby identified what she called “respectability politics” which is a kind of privileged behavior exuded by those well-off at the time for their own ends, which otherwise come to the detriment of those persons, typically of color not so well in circumstances. Bill Cosby and Barack Obama were two such names she identified that fell under such a category.
“It easy to point now at the now disgraced Cosby, but when he was famous he was telling other black folks to pull their pants up, stop giving their children unusual names and perhaps then we might stop feeling disheveled,” Dr. Ransby said, later adding that Obama had made less ‘civil’ reformers feel ostracized.
“Overall my goal is really to encourage young people, this is a dire time in the news, it can feel like a time of disempowerment,” Dr. Spencer said referencing the ongoing conversation concerning contemporary movements like Black Live Matter, adding “We want to show them [activists] precedent, that there is possibility looking in the past and they can see how people dealt with the issues then, take from that and learn from it.”