Black Women Talk Systemic Racism and Injustice in 12 Powerful TEDWomen Talks

This post originally appeared on Pat Mitchell’s blog. It has been republished with permission.

I share this post as a white woman of privilege.

Ten years ago, I used my access and privilege to suggest to the TED organization that they curate a TED conference of TEDTalks by women. The outcome was TEDWomen which I have been privileged to curate and host for nine years. Women from many different professions, perspectives and places of origin have generously shared their ideas over those years, and TED has shared them with the world on

In this time of deep listening and important learning, I wanted to share with you just a few of those talks from TEDWomen conferences that have informed my thinking and live in my heart. For me, these talks illuminate the tragic consequences of systemic and pervasive racism.

And while these talks were given before the most recent murders of Black women and men and the righteous rage and uprisings of the Black Lives Matter Movement, they are powerful reminders of the ways racial inequality manifests and devastates.

Of course, ending white privilege and white supremacy will take more than compelling talks, but listening, learning and taking up individual responsibilities for the urgent and necessary actions is a start.

Let’s begin with an interview with the Founders of Black Lives Matter which happened live at TEDWomen 2016:

“I grew up in a neighborhood that was heavily policed. I witnessed my brothers and my siblings continuously stopped and frisked by law enforcement. I remember my home being raided. And one of my questions as a child was, why? Why us? Black Lives Matter offers answers to the why. It offers a new vision for young Black girls around the world that we deserve to be fought for, that we deserve to call on local governments to show up for us. ” 

Patrisse Cullors

“When we think about how we address problems in this country, we often start from a place of trickle-down justice. So using white folks as the control we say, well, if we make things better for white folks then everybody else is going to get free. But actually it doesn’t work that way. We have to address problems at the root, and when you deal with what’s happening in Black communities, it creates an effervescence, right? So a bubble up rather than a trickle down.”

Alicia Garza

“We need to acknowledge that different people contribute different strengths, and that in order for our entire team to flourish, we have to allow them to share and allow them to shine.”

Opal Tometi

“We have to stop treating leaders like superheroes. We are ordinary people attempting to do extraordinary things, and so we need to be supported in that way.”

— Alicia Garza

“Police violence against Black women is very real. The level of violence that Black women face is such that it’s not surprising that some of them do not survive their encounters with police. Black girls as young as seven, great grandmothers as old as 95 have been killed by the police. …Why don’t we know these stories? Why is it that their lost lives don’t generate the same amount of media attention and communal outcry as the lost lives of their fallen brothers? It’s time for a change.”

Kimberlé Crenshaw

“I’ve spent the past few years traveling the country, researching and writing a book. My conclusion? Racism leads to bad policymaking. It’s making our economy worse. And not just in ways that disadvantage people of color. It turns out it’s not a zero sum. Racism is bad for white people, too.”

Heather McGhee

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”I’m going to take a minute to speak to my people. We cannot wait for somebody else to get it right. Let us remember what we are capable of, all that we have built with blood, sweat and dreams, all the cogs that keep turning and the people kept afloat because of our backbreaking work. Let us remember that we are magic.”

Mia Birdsong

“We’re living through a crisis in which Black girls are being disproportionately pushed away from schools — not because of an imminent threat they pose to the safety of a school, but because they’re often experiencing schools as locations for punishment and marginalization. …

Black girls are seven times more likely than their white counterparts to experience one or more out-of-school suspensions and they’re nearly three times more likely than their white and Latinx counterparts to be referred to the juvenile court.”

Monique W. Morris

“Comfort is overrated. Because being quiet is comfortable. Keeping things the way they’ve been is comfortable. And all comfort has done is maintain the status quo. So we’ve got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable by speaking these hard truths when they’re necessary.”

Luvvie Ajayi

“When we talk about the needs of women, we have to consider the other identities we inhabit. We are not just women. We are people with different bodies, gender expressions, faiths, sexualities, class backgrounds, abilities and so much more. We need to take into account these differences and how they affect us, as much as we account for what we have in common. Without this kind of inclusion, our feminism is nothing.”

Roxane Gay

“Today, I want to talk to you more about the political nature of time, for if time had a race, it would be white. White people own time. …

Time has a history, and so do Black people. But we treat time as though it is timeless, as though it has always been this way, as though it doesn’t have a political history bound up with the plunder of indigenous lands, the genocide of indigenous people and the stealing of Africans from their homeland.”

Brittney Cooper

“I knew the girls needed a way to connect with their fathers. …

16 inmates and 18 girls were invited. The girls were dressed in their Sunday best, and the fathers traded in their yellow and blue jumpsuits for shirts and ties. They hugged. They shared a full catered meal of chicken and fish. They laughed together. It was beautiful. … Even the guards cried.”

Angela Patton

“The Great Migration: It was the outpouring of six million African Americans from the Jim Crow South to the cities of the North and West, from the time of World War I until the 1970s. It stands out because this was the first time in American history that American citizens had to flee the land of their birth just to be recognized as the citizens that they had always been. No other group of Americans has had to act like immigrants in order to be recognized as citizens.”

Isabel Wilkerson

“If you’ve ever been displaced, then you know the agony of losing a place that held your story. And if you haven’t experienced this, then I’m going to ask you to try and imagine your way into it right now. Think about what it would be like to find your favorite local spot, a place where you often went and hung out with the old-timers or your friends, had vanished. And then you get home, and you find a letter from your landlord, saying that your rent’s been doubled. The choice to stay — it’s not yours to make. You no longer belong in your home.”

Liz Ogbu

“God runs a full employment economy, and that if you just follow the need, you will never lack for a purpose in life, and that has been so for me. …

We have put our future and our children’s future and safety at risk in a world that is still too much governed by violence. We must end that. We must stop investing in war and start investing in the young and in peace, and we are really so far away from doing that. 

And I don’t want my grandchildren to have to fight these battles all over again, and so I get more radical. The older I get, the more radical I get, because there are just some things that we as adults have to do for the next generations. …How can you be one of the biggest economies in the world and you let 13.2 million children go live in poverty, and you let children go homeless when you’ve got the means to do it?”

Marian Wright Edelman


Pat Mitchell is the editorial director of TEDWomen. Throughout her career as a journalist, Emmy-winning producer and pioneering executive, she has focused on sharing women’s stories. She is chair of the Sundance Institute Board, the chair emerita of the Women’s Media Center board, and a trustee of the VDAY movement, the Skoll Foundation and The Woodruff Arts Center. She is an advisor to Participant Media and served as a congressional appointment to the American Museum of Women’s History Advisory Council.