When Alex Yarde looks into his daughter’s eyes, he sees the strength, intelligence and good heart of her grandmother and the Black women who came before her.
When I read the story of Ms. Antoinette Tuff, the school bookkeeper who talked an armed man out of opening fire on hundreds of elementary students and staff, I immediately thought about Harriet Tubman. A person with the astounding courage and self-sacrifice to face down an armed man with nothing more than compassion and a deep faith is the kind of person that I imagine Ms.Tubman was. The actions of both of these incredible women allowed an exodus of sorts for others to come to freedom and safety, and demonstrate a spine of steel and a heart of gold.
I guess this is why I was so personally hurt by Russell Simmons’ ill-advised YouTube comedy video which desecrated the memory of Ms. Tubman. Being raised by a heroic Black woman will do that to you. Black women as a whole are too often sold short in the media. This is not as it should be, because historically Black women have always made a mark on their communities and the world.
When the story of an armed man entering a school in Georgia first broke this week, many sites didn’t even feature Ms. Tuff at all. Many mainstream media outlets didn’t show her face in the stories—instead all you saw were the shooter or the police officers. I couldn’t help but wonder why. In my opinion, Black women are often depicted in the media negatively or are simply invisible. Tuff isn’t a twerked-out video vixen, welfare mom, hood rat, “sassy” Black woman or any other stereotype. She is also not a piece of furniture or an afterthought meant to toil and support the agendas of others in silence. Ms. Tuff was no victim, and she should be seen for what she is—a heroic woman who, despite fear of being killed, calmly tried to do what she could to save all the human beings around her. No one died that day at that school—because of her.
When I look in my daughter’s eyes I see hints of the strength and intelligence and bottomless good heart of her paternal grandmother. She is well served in that regard. My mother was the second of thirteen children born into poverty on a tiny Caribbean Island. After helping raise her younger siblings and supporting the family financially (working as many women of color do for little pay and less thanks), she put herself through nursing school. She fell in love and married my dad.
Eventually, she emigrated to the US and became a head nurse of a Pediatric Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at one of New York’s best hospitals. While creating this successful career, she raised two kids who wanted for nothing and put us through school. As my little girl grows into womanhood, she will need every ounce of the qualities I see in Black women—but who don’t make the papers—in order to thrive in a society that mightily attempts to either pigeonhole or silence women that look like her.
So I celebrate Ms. Tuff, Ms. Tubman, my mother and my daughter—all hard working Black women, because I know that the qualities they possess are not the exception that some would have us believe. I want my daughter to see more images, stories and depictions of heroic women that look like Ms. Tuff. These women need to be celebrated in more than one news cycle as a bulwark against the negative stereotypes that are most prevalent in our society about women of color in general, and Black women and girls in particular.
These women demand a paradigm shift that is long overdue.