The labor that Black women contribute to the world and to movements for Black liberation is often condensed to supporting roles, or erased altogether.
NPR just ran a story about GiveDirectly, an organization that has been based in Africa since 2008 and gives money directly to those in “extreme poverty.” Now, they are coming to Texas, which will be “the first time they have tried this model in the U.S. and, for now, probably the only time. After [Texas], they plan on turning their focus back to their projects in East Africa.”
Here’s the thing: a Black woman already organized direct giving efforts in and around Houston immediately following hurricane Harvey and raised over $30k in the first 24 hours, all of which went directly to Black women. Her name is Dr. Roni Dean-Burren and she was not mentioned in NPR’s story. Dean-Burren and several others reached out to the reporter of the story to notify them of their oversight, but none have received a response. This scenario is not uncommon because, too often, Black women’s work goes overlooked in favor of others.
You may know her as the Texas Textbook mom who took on McGraw-Hill two years ago when her son informed her of the dishonest way that their history textbook portrayed the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Since then, she has kept busy as an educator, activist, and mother raising free Black children and fiercely advocating for Black women.
“I was enlightened by the death of Korryn Gaines,” Dean-Burren says. “Her murder by the Baltimore Police Department was met with such vitriol—from white people and from Black men alike. That left me feeling tons of acrimony, but it also helped me to focus my work, thoughts, and time into supporting Black women.”
Dean-Burren continues to share with her audience about her project and what she calls “radical giving.” Her brainchild, which began as “Support Black Women HOU” has now expanded to include affected parts of Florida following hurricane Irma, and will continue as relief efforts are needed.
“[W]hen the storm hit, Black women were at the top of my mind—as I think they always are at this point in my life. When I thought about who would be suffering the most, I thought about the people whose identities sit at an intersection. I knew immediately that I wanted to support Black women in this effort, because I know the burden we carry and that our strength is often used against us. All of that was swirling through my head when I started this initiative.”
Again, far too often, the work that Black women do goes overlooked, and oftentimes credit for our work is given to men. This is true of DeRay McKesson riding on the coattails of Black Lives Matter. Even Shaun King has been accused of unfairly taking credit for intellectual labor that Black women performed. Reina Gossett, a Black trans woman, did the extensive research for Netflix recent Marsha P. Johnson documentary, but her idea was stolen from her and the man who stole it attempted to bury the evidence.
This is a pattern in the lives of Black women that the likes of Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hammer, and Mae Mallory could tell you about. Black women’s labor at the forefront of movement work does not begin with people like Alicia Garza and Bree Newsome. We have always been here, always making a way out of no way. Yet, we are continually overshadowed by others.
Leslie Mac of Safety Pin Box, a subscription-based service that give reparations directly to Black women, insists that Dean-Burren’s work has “changed the game” and wants to make sure that she is recognized for that.
“Moving forward, there will be a measurement of direct impact that didn’t really exist here before. I know it’s a benchmark that I will personally use. With Roni’s direct giving efforts, there is no middle man. There is no need to track what percentage of funds went directly to survivors, because with this, it is one hundred percent. These women are getting actual cash money resources to get what they need following the disaster, to feed and clothe themselves and their kids, to pay for gas to get to work, and to fill in the gaps between FEMA and other orgs.”
Poor people, especially poor Black women, are nearly always-already seen as inherently financially irresponsible. Meanwhile, organizations like Red Cross and FEMA that do not trust the poor to be able to make responsible choices with post-disaster resources are, ironically, not trustworthy themselves. At the core of Dean-Burren’s model is a simple concept: trust Black women.
What we also need to remember is that, between the racial wealth gap and the gender wage gap, Black women typically do not have the same kind of safety net that their white counterparts might have. What Dean-Burren has done is essentially level the playing field so that Black women might have the same chance to recover from the damage as those around them.
“So much of Black women’s innovation comes from knowing that we all we got,” Mac believes. “We have to make a way for ourselves because we know that people who are willing to step up for us are few and far between.”
The labor that Black women contribute to the world and to movements for Black liberation is often condensed to supporting roles, or erased altogether. Oftentimes, the only people keeping alive the stories of incredible Black women are other Black women. In the midst of NPR’s story, which asks whether or not a direct giving model can even work in this part of the world, I felt it imperative to acknowledge that a Black woman has already proven that it absolutely can.