Centering Women in the Global #BlackLivesMatter Movement

Solicited by the OAH Committee on the Status of Women in the Historical Profession. Endorsed by Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600–2000

Type: Paper Session


Since its founding by three Black women in 2013 following the acquittal of Travon Martin’s murderer, #BlackLivesMatter has developed into a global movement to fight anti-blackness. While remembering the murders of Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tamir Rice, Eric Gray, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and countless others, police brutality against Black bodies, in particular, has become a focal point of the organization. In 2020, the murder of George Floyd sparked protests across the United States, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand, etc., calling for an end to police brutality, but also drawing attention to worldwide concerns of anti-Black racism and support for #BlackLivesMatter. #BlackLivesMatter has a multi-ethnic, global framework that heavily relies on the labor of women. This panel then seeks to explore and expose some of that work. The panel centers the work of Indigenous and Black women, Black women in Germany, and the work of a Caribbean scholar-activist historian within the #BlackLivesMatter movement to highlight how women continue to mold global movements of racial and social justice. Tiffany Florvil and Katrina Phillips provide historical connections to present day protests, while Tyesha Maddox will discuss her own blending of scholarship with activism.

Papers Presented

Tracing 20th-Century Black Activism in Germany

From Anton Wilhelm Amo’s critique of Descartes in the 18th century to Martin Dibobe’s petition for equal rights for African subjects in the 20th century and to May Ayim’s activism that catalyzed a movement in the late 20th century, Black German activist-intellectuals, along with others of African descent such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Audre Lorde, have long confronted the issues of rights, equality, and citizenship in Germany. Using their voices, they have written dissertations, petitions, letters, and books and delivered readings and speeches to compel the German government and its citizens to recognize their discriminatory practices, the afterlives of colonialism, and systemic racism. In doing so, these individuals have shown how combating injustice and inequality required multi-pronged approaches in the country. This paper argues that Black Germans have consistently demanded that theirs and others’ humanity deserved recognition, protection, and space in a majority-white nation. Examining the activism of Dibobe, Ayim, and others across the 20th century, I demonstrate how the current Black Lives Matter movement has had previous expressions in Germany. These earlier forms of Black activism involved multiple people, networks, connections, and cultural productions that all contributed to similar causes. Highlighting these efforts reveals how they reimagined possibilities for resistance, power, and identity.

Presented By
Tiffany Nicole Florvil, University of New Mexico

Strength and Solidarity: The Role of Black and Native Women in Historical and Contemporary Activism

In the summer of 2020, Native women gathered at the now-infamous Minneapolis intersection of Chicago and 38th the week after Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd. The women were jingle dress dancers, and they had come to hold a healing ceremony in a show of solidarity with the growing Black Lives Matter protests. Police brutality has historically disproportionately affected underrepresented populations across the nation, including American Indians and African-Americans, and the drum groups and dancers who came to the intersection recognized their shared history. This paper contextualizes the rise of the American Indian Movement and the Black Power movement in the 1960s, drawing connections to contemporary Native activism and Black Lives Matter. This paper pays particular attention to the role of women in these movements, arguing that the actions of Black and Native women activists in Minneapolis and across the country underscores a long history of resistance and resilience.

Presented By
Katrina Phillips, Macalester College

“This is Not a Riot!”: Intertwining Scholarship with Activism

2020 has brought about unprecedented global events that will forever change the course of history. On May 25th, George Floyd, an unarmed Black man was murdered by the Minneapolis police; crying that he could not breathe as a white officer kneeled on his neck for almost 9 minutes. Following Floyd’s murder, demonstrations spread from Minneapolis to New York as Black Americans became increasingly disillusioned by the deaths of unarmed Black men and women while in police custody. Furthermore, we are in the midst of a global health pandemic that has disproportionately devastated the Black community; claiming the lives of Black people at alarming rates. For many Black academics there has always been a propensity to blend our scholarship with activism. In this paper, I will discuss the creation of my “This is Not a Riot!” website, which serves as a comprehensive resource guide to the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

Presented By
Tyesha Maddox, Fordham University

Historicizing Afro-Asian Solidarities: Black Lives Matter, the Model Minority Myth, and Cross-Racial Coalitions

George Floyd’s murder by a white policeman sparked massive protests against systemic racism, motivating many Asian Americans to support the Black Lives Matter movement. With Donald Trump touting Covid-19 as the “China virus” and inducing an exponential rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, Asian American individuals and organizations have united, sometimes uneasily, with African Americans in the fight against racial injustice. They continue to address anti-blackness within Asian American communities, and recognize how historical oppression against Asian Americans has been clouded by the model minority myth. During the Cold War, government officials and the media constructed this model minority stereotype, depicting Asian Americans as politically silent, hard-working, and economically successful, and pitted them against vocal African Americans who demanded institutional change. In the late 1960s, activists in the Asian American Movement recognized this divisive tactic and strongly aligned with the Black Power movement. This paper historically contextualizes contemporary Afro-Asian solidarities during the era of Black Lives Matter, examining a longer trajectory of alliance and conflict between African Americans and Asian Americans, and analyzing evolving challenges and stakes of Afro-Asian solidarities.

Presented By
Cynthia Marasigan, Binghamton University, State University of New York

Session Participants

Chair: Cherisse Jones-Branch, Arkansas State University

Presenter: Tiffany Nicole Florvil, University of New Mexico

Presenter: Tyesha Maddox, Fordham University

Presenter: Cynthia Marasigan, Binghamton University, State University of New York

Presenter: Katrina Phillips, Macalester College