A New York Times article I read, today, motivated me to post this blog about Blues Women, the first civil rights workers.
Brent Staples wrote, Francis Harper “vexed white women reformers by accusing them “of being directly complicit in the oppression of blacks,” and by demanding that they rid themselves of racism.”
In my book, I discuss how “Black singers in the United States of America emerged from Spirituals and Blues to develop Jazz. Their free-spirited songs delivered messages of liberation, signaling to Africans in America that they could be free.”
Besides being effective entertainers, “Blues women provided the primary means of healing of the human spirit with their musical dalliance that we can forever be delighted with and grateful for. The paper concludes that Blues women Mamie Smith, Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, Ida Cox, Alberta Hunter, Bessie Smith, Josephine Baker, Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Eartha Kitt, and Miriam Makeba were the first civil rights workers because their lives and songs symbolized liberty in its rawest form by tapping into the human spirit.” [Available here]
In light of the advances women have made in the male-dominated music industry, the opportunities for black women musicians are fewer and farther between. White women enjoy far more opportunities in music than do black women, who were the mothers of the blues that is the foundation for all American music.
“Harper believed deeply in interracial collaboration but committed to it on the condition that white women treat black women as equals.” However, even now, in 2019, a black woman’s $5 is $100 for a white woman. Economic equity among and between black and white women has never happened in the USA nor can we ever expect it to happen when black women who are well-educated and who have years of experience cannot work in most corporations or the academy.
Although women musicians continue to be marginalized in the $27.5 billion male-dominated music industry, white women still out-earn black women and continue to proliferate even in genres that were nurtured by black women, namely, blues and jazz. There is nothing that black women have done or do that white women do not copy, package, and commercialize, most times with no mention of the black women they learned from.
The rub is that black male musicians tend to support white women musicians more than they will support black women musicians. This phenomenon has left many black women instrumentalists and composers out in the cold. Few people are willing to discuss this problem, therefore, the inequity of this situation continues on ad infinitum.
In colleges and universities, black women musicians are not engaged at the teaching level. Therefore, few role models exist for young black girls who want a music career. They follow the lead of white men and women who teach music but, rarely, if at all, have the soul quality of black musicians. The inability to earn as teachers and performers places black women in a position, under the poverty line, unless they have another career path, which stymies their time and ability to practice and hone their musical muscles.
Staples reported that “Fannie Barrier Williams, a member of the black elite who had a profound impact on Chicago during more than three decades of civic and political activism[,] . . . . bluntly reminded white women that racism in their ranks represented a prime obstacle for black women, writing ‘that the exclusion of colored women and girls from nearly all places of employment is due mostly to the meanness of American women.'”
In actuality, very little has changed. White women continue to dominate the employment rolls. Black women are rarely seen waitressing, as airline stewardesses, on corporate boards, or as professors in the academy.
In fall 2016, of the 1.5 million faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, 53 percent were full time and 47 percent were part-time. Faculty included professors, associate professors, assistant professors, instructors, lecturers, assisting professors, adjunct professors, and interim professors.
Of all full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions in fall 2016, 41 percent were White males; 35 percent were White females; 6 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander males; 4 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander females; 3 percent each were Black males, Black females, and Hispanic males; and 2 percent were Hispanic females.1 Those who were American Indian/Alaska Native and those who were of Two or more races each made up 1 percent or less of full-time faculty in these institutions.
The racial, ethnic, and sex distribution of faculty varied by academic rank. For example, among full-time professors, [82% were white] 55 percent were White males, 27 percent were White females, 7 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander males, and 3 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander females. Black males, Black females, and Hispanic males each accounted for 2 percent of full-time professors. [Source]
The chart below shows the low percentage of black faculty in the nation’s highest-ranked universities in 2007. Although that was 12 years ago, very little has changed. Consider this: Comparing Black Faculty to the Black Population in a Particular State – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill leads all flagship state universities in the total number of black faculty as well as the percentage of all faculty who are black. But when one considers the fact that more than 21 percent of the population of the state of North Carolina is black, an African-American faculty of a mere 5.9 percent is not an extraordinary accomplishment.
The chart below shows that Blacks are 12 and 13 percent of the USA population, yet, their representation as professors of higher education is far below the equity line when compared to Asians and Hispanics. Consequently, the Legion of Black Collegians has demanded an increase in the percentage of black faculty and staff members campuswide to 10 percent by this academic year, according to Flaherty (2017) [Source].