2020 is finally coming to a close, and we can’t say we’re sad to see it go. What started out as the beginning of a new decade and the “year of perfect vision” (remember that joke?) turned into an unprecedented year of sickness, death, and isolation.
Throughout 2020, jokes and memes abounded about how we were living through a literal apocalypse — and some days, it definitely felt like the world was coming to an end. But the reality is, the world didn’t end — it was just the end of the world as we knew it.
If that reality seems scary, we don’t blame you. Change — especially the unwanted kind — is hard. But change is also a part of life. History is marked by change — wars are waged, governments fall, leaders are elected and removed, plagues devastate communities. And throughout it all, people adapted.
And no one has been forced to adapt more than women have. And when the added layer of being a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, person of color) woman is thrown into the mix, the challenges that one faces simply multiply.
Luckily, we can look to history for examples of BIPOC womxn who didn’t let “the end of the world” phase their success. Because (let’s be honest) history is littered with world-ending events. And still, we rise.
Here’s a list of 8 BIPOC Womxn who didn’t let the end of the world phase their success.
Leona Vicario was one of the most instrumental figures in the Mexican War of Independence. Not only did she finance much of the rebellion’s efforts, but she also worked as both a messenger and an informant. While the world was crumbling around her, this heiress used her wealth to liberate the Mexican people from Spanish rule’s tyranny. In Mexico, she was given the name of “Distinguished and Beloved Mother of the Homeland.”
Dandara dos Palmares
Dandara dos Palmares was an Afro-Brazilian warrior adept at combat, hunting, agriculture, and woodworking. She famously fought against the further enslavement of Black Brazilians by the Dutch. She lived in Palmares, a community of escaped black slaves in Brazil. After being captured by the Dutch, Dandara killed herself instead of being sent back to slavery. Considering that slavery is a fate worse than death, in the end, Dandara was the champion. Today, she is widely recognized as an Afro-Brazilian symbol of the struggle against white colonialism.
Malala Yousafzai is probably the prime example of someone who faced the end of the world and still found a way to triumph. Targeted for speaking in support of girls’ education, Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban on her way home from school in Pakistan. Malala fought for her life and survived, and due to her courage, she became the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Prize at the age of 17. She continues to be a champion for girls’ education and human rights.
You may know Isabelle Allende as the Chilean-American author of classic novels like The House of Spirits and City of the Beasts, but you may not know the hurdles in her personal life she had to face in order to become successful. When a coup overthrew the Chilean government in 1973, Allende (who herself was from a politically influential family) found herself the target of death threats and assassination attempts. She was forced to flee to Venezuela, where she was exiled for 13 years before permanently moving to California. Allende has said that fleeing Chile and fearing for her life “liberated” her and made her into the legendary Latinx author we know today.
Sarah Thocmentony Winnemucca
You may have never heard of Sarah Thocmentony Winnemucca, but that’s simply because history is written mainly by powerful white men — neither classes which Winnemucca belonged to. A member of the Indigenous Northern Paiute tribe, she was an author, an activist, and an educator in different moments of her life. When her mother and several other members of her family were slain by US cavalry in 1865, she decided to dedicate her life to educating white Americans on the plight of Native Americans. She lobbied for Indigenous rights in Congress and published a memoir that detailed her experiences as well as the experiences of the Northern Paiute people.
Stormé DeLarverie may be known as “the Rosa Parks of the gay community,” but she isn’t well known outside of queer circles. Born to a white father and a Black mother, DeLarverie is widely attributed to “throwing the first punch” at the Stonewall riots, effectively becoming the spark that lit the Gay Liberation movement’s fuse. Equal parts a bodyguard, an activist, and a drag king, this androgynous icon considered herself a “guardian” of the lesbians of New York City. In the face of violent and pervasive homophobia, DeLarverie had the courage to be herself and stand up for what was important to her.
Josephine Baker is primarily remembered as a dancer and entertainer, but she wore many hats throughout her life — both literally and figuratively. Originally born in St. Louis, Missouri, Baker moved to Paris, where she felt more comfortable living as a liberated Black woman. When World War II broke out, Baker used her status as a beloved performer and her connections to gather counter-intelligence information against the Nazis. At a time when most people felt the world was coming to an end, Baker courageously kept moving forward. She was eventually awarded France’s prestigious Croix de Guerre by Charles de Gaulle for her contributions to the war effort.
Unfortunately (and whether we want to admit it or not), we are currently facing a different type of armageddon: the environmental crisis of human-induced climate change. In 2014, Afro-Colombian environmental activist Francia Márquez prevented illegal miners from mining gold in her beloved Ovejas River in La Toma. In Colombia, illegal gold mining contributes to deforestation, water poisoning, and Black and Indigenous peoples’ displacement. Márquez led an 80-woman march from the Cauca Mountains to Bogota — 350 miles. Her determination got her a meeting with the Colombian government, which halted the illegal mining in La Toma. For her efforts, she was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018.