First, let’s set the table.
Yes, I am that person that interjects with white women whenever someone mentions that it’s been 100 years since women gained the ability to vote. And if I don’t interject, I’m definitely thinking it. That might cause some folks to roll their eyes, but that doesn’t make my clarification any less true. We can celebrate an achievement while also pointing out how that same achievement fell well short of enfranchising the diverse range of women that lived in America in 1920.
History is a funny thing, isn’t it? Especially in this country. Instead of learning from it, we stubbornly choose to sand down its rough edges in order to draw our collective gaze to the loveliest smoothed over parts, completely avoiding the dry rot underneath that just keeps spreading. Maybe it’s because human beings are the kinds of creatures that crave rich narratives with beginnings, middles, and (happy) ends. Sweeping tales of heroes and heroines, all white, with the occasional person of color in a supporting role. The movement for women’s suffrage is no different.
Growing up, the story I learned about women’s long fought battle for what would become the 19th Amendment was fully housed in towering white champions like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. My small eyes scanned pictures of women in flowing white dresses and sashes, marching and demanding equal access to the ballot box, not a Black or brown person among them. No one mentioned Black women, who absolutely did not get the right to vote, despite their contributions to the movement. No one mentioned indigenous or Asian women either, who weren’t even allowed to be U.S. citizens at the time. Latinas were also left completely out of this victory for all women, as we’re taught to celebrate it today. This was a movement powered by white women, my history books assured me, without ever explicitly stating it. But you’ll be a woman one day, and so this was your victory too. Cool, right? I didn’t question this narrative, because what kid does? We ingest what we’re fed, until we’re old enough to realize that some crucial ingredients have been left out of the stew.
Throughout the month of August, folks have been talking about the 19th Amendment, leaning heavily into the Stanton-Anthony…