Nearly 40 years ago, Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman to serve in congress and the first woman to seek the Democratic presidential nomination, delivered a speech titled "Black Women in Contemporary America."
This week, in a similar speech delivered at the National Press Club, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge suggested that not much has changed since 1974.
"One day we're too Black, the next day we're not Black enough. One day we're too aggressive, the next day we're too passive," she said. "One day we're too successful, which of course makes us too single, and the next day we're too poor and promiscuous. The list goes on and on."
It is a narrative, Fudge added, that African-American women have fought against for decades, but as Chisholm once said, "You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas."
Speaking up and using their voices, Fudge implored, is not just an imperative — it also works.
"The times when Black women have been successful in confronting and overcoming the structural and institutional sexism and racism that persists in our society have been when we are thoughtful and strategic about speaking up. It's when we've done what it takes to introduce and implement our ideas and our plans to make things better," she said.
Staying silent or on the sidelines is not a luxury African-American women have ever been able to afford.
"Back when Shirley gave her speech, she noted that while white women were fighting for access to cocktail lounges used by Wall Street bankers or for the right to be called Ms. versus Mrs., Black women were fighting for mere survival in a society that continually relegated us, our children, brothers and husbands, to second-class citizen status," she said. "I argue that in many ways we still are."
Fudge cited the key provision of the Voting Rights Act the Supreme Court struck down in June, attacks on affirmative action and tragedies such as the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and other Black children as just a few of the reasons African-American women must stand up and be heard.
"Our economic, civil and constitutional rights are being challenged and, frankly, they are being lost," Fudge lamented.
The Ohio lawmaker urged women to get and stay involved in what's going on in their communities and to especially be aware of decisions that can affect their lives being made at various levels of local government.
"Like Shirley said, give everything we have in ourselves to give, in terms of helping to make the future better for our little boys and our little girls, and to not leave it up to chance or to anybody else," Fudge said. "At present, our country needs women's idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else."
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(Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)