Discussion About Economic Self-Empowerment of African-American Women – Kicking Off Black History Month

The Mary McLeod Bethune Club kicked off Black History Month with a discussion by Dr. Evelyn Phillips about African American women who overcame racist and sexist oppression, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to build economic vitality in the African American community out of the beauty products industry.

Professor Evelyn Phillips, PhD., is Co-Director of the Center for Africana Studies at Central Connecticut State University and is a professor of anthropology at the University.

At the February 3, 2018 event at the New Britain Public Library, Dr. Phillips, discussed how African Americans, particularly, African American women, have been made to feel negative body image about themselves in American society, and how women building a beauty industry in the African American community was empowering.

“When we think about beauty culture,” said Dr. Phillips, “it is an intersection of gender, race and ethnicity. Ethnicity, because it is creating a solidarity, in terms of culture. Race, because it is a resistance against the way that people are identifying ourselves. And gender because they were in a female body, in terms of what that means in this culture.”

Dr. Phillips discussed three pioneers of the Black beauty culture:

  • Annie Malone, who started the Poro company
  • C.J. Walker
  • Sara Spencer Washington, who founded Apex

Professor Phillips pointed out that the businesses that these women built helped to improve economic prospects for African Americans by allowing dollars to circulate within the African American community. This came both from African Americans purchasing from African American owned businesses and from successful African American business people investing money back into the community.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Club hosted the event to help begin Black History Month, with the theme, “Uplifting and Uniting Our Women to Speak up and Speak Out To Make A Difference. When they go low, we go high.”