By Albert Zhang
On Friday evening, students gathered in Cubberley Auditorium to attend a panel discussion about the unique challenges faced by black women in society. The panel, titled “Black Women’s Liberation,” consisted of former Black Panther Elaine Brown and Ferguson organizer Ashley Yates and was moderated by Stanford doctoral alumnus Jakeya Caruthers.
The event was sponsored by the Black Community Services Center, the Women’s Community Center, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research and the Stanford Speakers Bureau.
The panel was organized as part of a larger series of events highlighting the month of February as Black Liberation Month at Stanford. According to organizer Dan Brown ’18, this tradition started in the 1980s, a time of protest and resistance throughout the country.
“In the 80s, we decided to rebirth February as Black Liberation Month [as opposed to Black History Month] … to talk about problems faced by our community and to highlight people working to change the future,” Dan Brown said.
This year Black Liberation Month began on January 15th, the birthday of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. Dan Brown explained that the community felt a need for more engagement with issues through discussions and event programming.
“It’s already a problem that Black History Month is the shortest month of the year. We felt like there was enough motivation from students here on campus to be able to sustain Black Liberation Month for more than one calendar month,” Dan Brown said.
During the event, Ashley Yates spoke about her experiences in Ferguson, organizing the citizens’ movement protesting Michael Brown’s death.
“I decided to take to the street with others. At the time, we were not all activists — we were all just concerned citizens, residents of St. Louis who were tired and fed up,” Yates said. “In the year since then, I really learned not only the importance of historical context, but also the importance of lifting up black women who are doing this work right now.”
Elaine Brown recalled her experiences in the Black Panther Party and commented on class issues.
“I’ve been asked often whether I feel more oppressed as a black person, woman or poor person, and my response generally is that this must be somebody who has never been hungry,” Elaine Brown said. “Being an oppressed person, I don’t distinguish between being a black person or a woman or anything else, but being poor is a real hardship more than almost everything else.”
During the subsequent question and answer session with the public, Elaine Brown emphasized the importance of solidarity between disadvantaged groups and said that white people are most effective in creating change when they organize their own communities instead of attempting to impact the politics of black people, referencing the case of Dylann Roof as an instance in which outreach to disadvantaged whites would have made a positive impact.
“If you care about the oppression of all people, then you will understand that you have the greatest duty in the world to get the white community to begin to undo some of the racism that is there, and not try to worry about what’s going on in the black community,” she said, in response to a white woman asking about the best way for her to help disadvantaged black people in her community.
Looking forward, Dan Brown hopes that the discussion helps energize students to continue their activism, while raising their consciousness about issues outside of Stanford.
“We’re hoping that the audience leave with inspiration to challenge assumptions, to think critically about the world and the people in it and to come away with a heightened appreciation for black women,” said Dan Brown.
Contact Albert Zhang at albertzh ‘at’ stanford.edu.