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Saying “no” can come with some backlash, especially as a Black woman. When people expect you to say “yes”, purely based on their perception of you, there’s not much else you can do except stand in your power. Standing firm in a response can mean the difference between suffering and self-liberation— or in the case of Rosa Parks, the liberation of an entire people.
However, before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin (in March) and Mary Louise Smith (in October) who also said “no” months before the bus boycott began on December 5, 1955. Combined, their “no’s” became a yes — a catalyst for change in the lives of Black and white people throughout America and the rest of the world.
Rosa Parks did not become a hero when she refused to give up her seat for a white man on a segregated bus. She’d long been an activist calling out the mistreatment of Black people with plans to one day hold racist white people accountable in a real way. In 1943, she became the branch secretary for the NAACP where she committed her life to increasing awareness around sexual violence, desegregation, voter registration and other causes that we’re still amplifying today. Parks was complex, like many of us, seeing value in the works and writings of both Dr. King & Malcolm X. Her resistance continues to speak for itself – pre and post boycott. And, it’s because of her strength, her fearlessness in saying “no” that we, too, can say and accept “no”.
United States Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris shared in a Q&A response video that because of her background, she’s learned to eat “no’s” for breakfast. As comfortable as we need to be in saying them, that’s also how comfy we need to be in accepting them. Doors will open and close in every area of our lives, but it’s timing that determines when saying or accepting “no” can have a major impact on our lives and the lives of others. It doesn’t take away from our power to know what we need and want and to stand behind that in how we respond to ourselves and others. It actually boosts our ability to advocate for ourselves more often than not – no matter the situation.
It took almost a year for the U.S. Supreme Court to determine that segregated bus seating was “unconstitutional” with the boycott ending shortly thereafter. Parks was then recognized as the “mother of the civil rights movement” also bringing even more prominence to Dr. King’s name following his involvement in her freedom. From December 5, 1955 to December 20, 1956, Black people and allies protested the mistreatment of Black people on buses, in workplaces and in public. Standing against discrimination made Parks a hero and her Black womanhood was certainly a determining factor in her strength and resilience.
It’s probable that had Parks never said “no”, Harris could not have become the next Vice President of the United States and the first Black woman to do so. Like Parks, Harris too is complex. Her politics and decision-making have, at times, been detrimental to Black men and therefore Black communities. Yet, with progress comes the upholding of responsibility so it’s now on us to make sure that Parks “no” and all of the no’s said and received by the pioneers of the civil rights movement don’t lose their meaning.
We must now stand in our own power, say our yeses and our nos in order to guarantee that Black people, people of color, LGBT, differently abled, mature and other marginalized groups have the same rights as the non-marginalized.