The Importance of Recognizing Pioneering Figures on Injustice-Related Topics

An image of bell hooks from 2014. Alex Lozupone (Tduk), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some time ago, my family was at a bookstore that was clearly leftist politically. I could tell that because there were lots of books on LGBTQ+ themes, racial justice, and feminism, to name a few.

And yet, the bookstore felt lacking. Namely, it was lacking in works from pioneering figures on LGBTQ+ issues, on feminism, on racial justice, etc. There was no Audre Lorde, no bell hooks (bell hooks on the shelves would’ve been timely as I visited this bookstore just a couple of weeks after her death), no Angela Davis, and so on. (By the way, if these names are unfamiliar to you, I definitely encourage you to learn more about all three of them.)

This was, of course, unfortunate to me. But, at the same time, this bookstore made me think about whether I, too, don’t give the pioneering figures on injustice-related topics the credit or attention they warrant. And the bookstore made me think about other instances when said figures don’t get the recognition or attention they deserve. It made me think of the #MeToo movement, when people often didn’t (and, in some cases, still don’t) give due credit to how foundational Tarana Burke, who started using “metoo” over a decade before it trended on Twitter for many of the same reasons that people used the hashtag on social media,[1] really was. It made me think of all the talk about Critical Race Theory, little of which ever acknowledges the work of those who were pioneering on the issue (regardless of whether one agrees with Critical Race Theory). And it makes me think of all the things I’ve read about intersectionality—a big topic in many social justice circles (read more about intersectionality in this blog post I wrote on the topic)—that do not even mention pioneering figures on the subject, such as Kimberlé Crenshaw.

Keeping my mind at least somewhat on the disappointing bookstore I was at, what I am saying here is that, as underwhelming as the bookstore may’ve been, it’s far from existing in a bubble. Many of us, myself included, also struggle with giving pioneering figures on various issues of injustice the attention they deserve. If anything, the bookstore is only a microcosm of this larger issue.

But why should I, and we, care about giving such figures the recognition that they deserve?

Simply put, we should care because, in many cases, what some of us may find ourselves reading, writing, and researching on today is the result of what those before us wrote and spoke about. Even if we happen to come up with new ideas, the inspiration for them comes from somewhere, and it seems only appropriate that we recognize where they come from and give credit to the origins of said ideas.

So, in order to try and avoid being like that bookstore, I, and we, should really try to redouble our efforts to acknowledge and give credit to the foreparents behind many of the injustices some of us may find ourselves talking about. In some cases, if not many of them, I don’t think it’s a deliberate ignoring of people (though I could be wrong). But that is why the effort needs to be made to deliberately recognize, acknowledge, and appreciate those like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Angela Davis, and many others.


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