Just the other day in my AP US History class, my teacher scrawled on the chalkboard the words "PROGRESSIVE AMENDMENTS" in really tall letters. Among the four, he underlined the 19th Amendment -- the one that granted women suffrage, or the right to vote -- with a flourish as he whirled around to face my class.
"In just three years," he announced, "there will be a flood of articles and news about the historic hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Women have only been voting for one hundred years -- can you believe it?"
I still can't believe it. As a sixteen-year-old, my life has been short in comparison to the decades and centuries of history of the country that I live in. America has been a country for 239 years and the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, which means that its development has only been in practice for less than half of my country's history.
However, when we talk about the road that lead to the ratification of one of the most historic amendments to the Constitution, we usually only talk about Susan B. Anthony, the main face and force of the fight for women's suffrage, and on occasion, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was a key member of the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, and wrote the Declaration of Sentiments, which included the radical statement that "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal." We don't talk about how forty-two years prior to the 19th Amendment, an identical amendment was proposed in Congress and shot down. We don't talk about the jailing and force-feeding of women's rights activists such as Alice Paul, or the creation of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, which had some women among its members. We don't talk about how divisive the entire road to women's suffrage was, and how even now, we are still divided on it, even between women.
Although the 19th Amendment declared that women had the right to vote, that declaration only referred to white American women who were citizens. Native Americans didn't become citizens until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 was passed . Asian Americans didn't become citizens until 1943; for Asian Indians, it wasn't until 1946, and for Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans, it wasn't until 1952. Although African American women were technically granted the right to vote under this amendment, many Southern states tried to dissuade African Americans to vote during segregation by implementing literacy tests and other legal barriers. It wasn't until the 1965 Voting Rights Act that prohibited racial discrimination in voting that African Americans were able to vote. It wasn't until the 1975 addition to the Voting Rights Act that stated that "language minorities," including Mexican Americans of Texas and California, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Alaskans, Hawaiians and others, were able to vote as well.
Most people understand the 19th Amendment as the amendment to grant everyone in the United States equal voting rights. What most people don't understand is that equality has never been linear when comparing the white majority to the minorities of this country. As mentioned previously, the right to vote for minorities followed fifty-five years after white women were allowed to vote. Injustice and inequality still exists today, in the form of racist comments and stereotypes being perpetuated through the media, through the framework of the way we receive our news, and through continued perpetuation of hate.
As the month of March, National Women's Month, has arrived upon us, this is a reminder for every person, man or woman, out there that this is also a month of inclusivity. National Women's Month is a month set aside to celebrate the history of women and the women of history, but that means all women, regardless of race, sexuality, religion, or any other factors that would cause one to be scorned. Just as last month was Black History Month during February, we had to be reminded of the fact that a month set aside to recognize the exceptional history of African-Americans did not take away the recognition of any other group. African-Americans were simply celebrated more starkly because as a very commonly discriminated against minority, this was a time for them to shine and be seen positively, and for stereotypes and racist perceptions to help be broken.
Whenever I see white women online claim to be feminists, only to turn around to lash out at or dampen the celebration of women of color, or claim that transgender women aren't "real women," I roll my eyes. Whenever a white woman is cast for a role portraying a woman of color, I cringe inwardly. Whenever I see a positivity post written for transgender women or women of color with the comment "all women" (followed by a smiley face), I want to sigh in disappointment. Every month, but especially during National Women's Month, a month designated to celebrate all women, an elitist view of white women being "different" or "better" in any sense does not belong. As we celebrate a unity of women, the goal is to celebrate a unity of people, of all different races, sexualities, religions, and backgrounds. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that;" we must learn to love, and we must learn to extend that love to everyone around us. Only then can we call the battle for equality won.
Stephanie Tom is a high school student who lives in New York. She's an editor for her school newspaper, and an assistant editor for her school literary magazine. She has previously won a Gold Key from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for her poetry, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Dear Damsels, Hypertrophic Literary and elsewhere.