One of the most significant takeaways from present-day race conversations is the role that women play in the dialogue, says MU History Assistant Professor Dr. Keona Ervin.
Ervin is the author of “Gateway to Equality: Black Women and the Struggle for Economic Justice in St. Louis.” She recently joined MU graduate Tiana Glass with The Green Duck Lounge playwright Michelle Tyrene Johnson at KBIA studios for a conversation on the impact of female voices in the movements for racial equality.
“There’s this tradition of understanding racial injustice through the lens of men’s experiences,” Ervin said. "What's neat about what's going on today is this kind of recognition of women's political leadership in racial justice movements. That's significant when we think about past movements and how women have often been kind of sidelined in particular ways."
Their studio conversation was the third in a podcast series as part of The Green Duck Lounge project, at the center of which is Johnson’s play that parallels the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s with #BlackLivesMatter and activism today. The #BlackLivesMatter movement was co-founded by three black female activists and gained momentum in the wake of the 2014 police shooting of teen-ager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Ervin also participated as a panelist for a Green Duck Lounge post-production TalkBack, a 30-minute conversation that took place each night. Ervin said she hopes people leave the production with an appreciation for the history of racial injustice and activism.
"You get a sense of how enduring the problem of racial oppression is and how it lives on and is remade and refashioned to new contexts, but is there,” Ervin said. “History gives us that, and the play really shows that.”
Johnson believes that while completely eradicating racism may not be possible, fighting racial oppression is essential.
“Eliminating racism is like eliminating people who consider blue their favorite color,” Johnson said. “You can't really get inside of people's heads, but you can dismantle racist institutions, policies, and legislation."
Glass, the owner of Black Honeybee Cosmetics, is from Ferguson, Missouri. She said a police shooting years ago that killed her uncle left her unable to conceptualize the impact of the shooting on her family, until the protests arising in Ferguson helped her give voice to her experience. She said she believes there are steps that white people can take to better understand the obstacles that African Americans face.
“For [white students] to confront these types of injustice that we face, I think it means they have to give up something - whether that’s the comfortability or their privilege or their advantages, they have to give it up,” Glass said. She said this is part of the difficulty behind conversations about race.
Ervin said while there is still progress to be made, she is proud of the African-American women who historically have spoken up about racial injustice.
“These women are speaking from the particularity of their own experience,” she said. “Along with that, their stories become useful to a broad array of people. They’re speaking about their right as black women to have access to decent paying jobs and to live in decent neighborhoods and so forth, and that became central to forming a really broad and general understanding of what justice really meant.”
To learn more about The Green Duck Lounge project, hear full-length podcasts. and engage in community discussions, see www.greenduckproject.com