We’re at the end of February/beginning of March…. It’s the end of Black History Month and the beginning of Women’s History Month….
There have been some terrific commemorations of African-American fencers. The work of USA Fencing this year on its social feeds and DEIB Resource page, and the video posted by the USFCA, are amazing examples.
We considered reposting our “6 Black Women Fencers You Ought to Know About” from two years ago – it was good work and bears repeating.
At the same time, African-American or Women’s history is more than a month long… and we are dedicated a full-year’s worth of recognition. Something more than “add women and stir” – a term of art from women’s history for when one or two examples of exceptional people are added to the narrative to "expand" it, instead of changing the narrative itself. Kind of like having one female national coach at a time – each deserving of recognition – but not restructuring the system that makes it hard to become a female national coach in the first place and where having just one seems like a big damn deal.
There have been changes which show progress: Black History Month and Women’s History Month have become part of our national culture.
At the same time, these shifts mark the difficulty: Women’s History Week itself was a hard-fought battle to get in 1982 – and then became Women’s History Month in 1987. Black History Week started in 1926... Black History Month, first celebrated in 1970, was only Congressionally-recognized in 1986; the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was designated in 1983, but only became observed by all 50 states in 2000. The incremental change pace shown here hints at an underlying issue.
And that is our point: There is a system at work. One that needs still more noticing, more conversation, and more adjustment.
Back in the day, when it was Women’s History Week, “Big Three” of race, class, and gender shaped the discussion. And then these were applied to determining the stages of making it better (see Peggy Macintosh’s “Interactive Phases of Curricular Re-Vision.” ) Understanding people’s experiences were siloed to each of the Big Three, however.
Now youth and scholars are discussing Intersectionality – and really aiming for defining how the interaction of the Big Three are experienced by those affected. To do this ultimately means reshaping how we see the world – what it is, how it works, and for whom – and how the world works.
This approach means wrangling with the “W” in WFencing. Is it women? Is it worldwide? Or something even bigger…like “We”....
As in, how do We advance the sport of fencing, so it is inclusive to so many groups of people who seem otherwise left out?
How do We reshape the expectations of coaching, so that more than technical training is the norm. What about emotional care? What about culturally-appropriate conversations? What about taking time to be with family?
How do We support the referee cadre so that their workplace conditions do not include abuse of any form, by any one?
How do We encourage young people to be in a sport together, where they compete but also respect and support each other, as they are?
How do We continue the shout-outs and recognize the remarkable achievements of folks that don’t fit the stereotype of what fencing is…
And then blast that stereotype to cinders so We create a better definition that includes all the lived experiences of fencers?
Where are We in all of this?
Author Cathleen Coyle Randall, M.A., Ed.M., A.L.M., is Chair of the WFencing, Inc. Board, Leadership Team member and Coach at Forge Fencing Academy & Club, and a former history teacher, among other things.