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Black Women in the Labor Movement Have Long Defended American Workers


Black leaders, activists, and organizers formed the backbone of the U.S. labor movement. Even when the forces of structural racism and segregation sought to stifle their contributions, their resolve to fight for workers’ rights alongside the cause of civil rights remained unshakable. Black women, in particular, have played an enormous role in the movement’s legacy and development.

The Washerwomen of Jackson formed Mississippi’s first labor union in 1866. Lucy Parsons, the anarchist firebrand, cofounded three influential radical unions in 20th-century Chicago. More recently, United Auto Workers (UAW) organizer Sanchioni Butler battled Nissan in a years-long campaign to organize Southern auto-plant workers. Along with so many others, these Black women have long been the bedrock of a workers’ rights movement that has often tried to shut them out.

Prior to desegregation, many white-led unions refused to admit Black members of any gender, and Black women faced the intersectional double bind of gender bias and racial discrimination. When faced with a locked union hall door, however, many Black women labor leaders decided to take matters into their own hands and formed their own organizations within the industries in which they had the highest numbers and therefore held the most power.

In 1866, a group of newly emancipated Black women working as laundresses in Jackson, Mississippi, formed the state’s first labor union by sending a resolution to the mayor, informing him that they would henceforth be charging a “uniform rate” for their labor. Two decades later, in Atlanta, 98% of Black working women in the city were employed as domestic workers, and those who worked long, back-breaking hours as laundresses organized the Atlanta Washerwomen’s Strike, demanding fixed wages. Their numbers grew from 20 to 3,000 people, and they also invited white laundresses to join them in a show of interracial solidarity that was nearly unheard of at the time.

The examples of Southern Black women organizers continue with leaders including Sylvia Woods, a New Orleans–born laundry worker–turned–union activist who in Chicago participated in one of first sit-down strikes of the Depression era; Rosina Tucker, who helped organize the first AFL-CIO–recognized Black labor union and helped organize laundry workers, domestic workers, and hotel and restaurant workers, jobs that at the time were primarily held by Black women; and Dorothy Lee Bolden.

Bolden, who started working in domestic service at the age of 9 and founded the National Domestic Workers Union of America in 1968, was involved in the fight for labor and civil rights, and her organizing work within an often exploited industry made a huge impact on the lives of domestic workers, both in Atlanta and far beyond the city limits. Bolden is now hailed as an Atlanta labor icon, and, according to the Georgia State University library website, at its height, the union she founded “claimed to represent 30,000 people and played a part in fundamentally changing the treatment of domestic workers under U.S. labor law.”

Their legacies continue through modern union organizers, including the UAW’s Sanchioni Butler, Communications Workers of America’s (CWA) Sandra Joyce Bellamy, and UNITE HERE’s Wilna Destin.

Butler, Bellamy, and Destin are all profiled alongside 24 other Black women labor leaders in the 2015 project And Still I Rise: Black Women Labor Leaders’ Voices, Power and Promise, which was part of the Black Worker Initiative, from the Institute for Policy Studies. “We know that they are, and have always been, ‘the miner’s canary’ for workers in America. Black women have experienced for decades many of the economic and social ills now faced by others. Therefore, it stands to logic that making black women whole raises the floor for all women—likely, for all workers,” consultant Kimberly Freeman Brown and Marc Bayard, director of the Institute for Policy Studies’ Black Worker Initiative, write in the project’s introduction.



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I Got a HydraFacial and It Totally Changed My Skin


A few months ago, I met a friend for dinner. “Your skin looks amazing,” I said, leaning closer. It looked radiant and freakishly smooth, like that of J.Lo at two months old.

“I got the HydraFacial,” she replied.

I was sold on the spot. What also intrigued me was that it doesn’t hurt. My pain threshold is lower than the Mariana Trench. (I whined for a full half hour after getting the flu shot.) You’re not going to find me signing up for a fractionated laser session anytime soon, which is why a treatment that could deliver results without me breaking into a cold sweat has obvious appeal. Where do I sign up?

For those unfamiliar, the HydraFacial is essentially a peel, microdermabrasion, and hydrating mask in one. But unlike the facials an aesthetician would usually perform by hand, it’s done using a medical-grade device that pulls debris out of your pores, while also moisturizing and exfoliating. (You’ve probably heard of some variations of it called a “pore vacuum.”)

It can treat just about any skin condition, which is ideal as I’ve been feuding with a forehead breakout for months now. “What I love about HydraFacial is how customizable it is to each patient’s unique skin concerns,” says Deanne Robinson, M.D., the co-founder and president of Modern Dermatology in Westport, Connecticut, and member of The Women’s Dermatologic Society. “It’s a great treatment for all ages and skin types, from oily, acne-prone teenagers to more mature skin battling fine lines and pigmentation problems.” The only exceptions to this are an active rash, sunburn, or rosacea flare-up, she notes.

“Every patient benefits because it’s not only using targeted serums to help with hydration and breakouts and pores, but it’s also doing a vortex fusion of exfoliation and sucking out the dead skin,” says Graceanne Svendsen, the senior aesthetician at New York’s Shafer Plastic Surgery & Laser Center. She finds the treatment especially valuable during the change between seasons as well as before weddings, since it’s like giving your skin a hard reset.

There’s nothing spa-like about the experience, so don’t expect to hear Enya or fall asleep on the bed. Instead, the HydraFacial device is a huge machine with various attachments that whirr and suck and spin. First, Svendsen cleansed my skin twice, because the foundation I’ve been wearing is apparently comedogenic (meaning it clogs pores). The first was a foamy cleanser, which she then followed with a vitamin C enzyme mask. “The enzymes open up your pores to help release the makeup so I can get your makeup off, and the hydration is going to keep it from over-drying your skin,” she told me. (Yes, I have switched foundations since.)

Once my skin was clean for what must have been the first time since birth, Svendsen embarked on the hydro-dermabrasion portion of the treatment—which is, essentially, hydration plus the microdermabrasion-style exfoliation. “It spins serums out [of the device] and drags in dead skin,” she says. The first is what she calls a “deep pore-cleansing step,” in which she used a small wand to sort of scrape my skin—going lightly over problem areas. Then she buffered back over everywhere with a serum.

The next step is a gentle acid peel, with 7.5% glycolic acid and 2.5% salicylic acid. As a glycolic acid stan, I was delighted to feel the familiar tingle.

Afterward, Svendsen used the device to do extractions. Unlike the medieval torture of typical extractions, the HydraFacial method uses the wand, but with a new attachment, to suction gunk out of your pores. It felt so good; I wish I could hold it over every single one of my zits like a face vacuum. This suctioning action is multifaceted: It not only removes grime, but also boost circulation and stimulates the lymph system, which removes toxins from your face.



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