Decolonize ALL The Things

The UNsettling reflections of a Decolonial Scientist in a Constant State of Rage

Black Feminism: A Short Intro

March 3, 2014
Shay-Akil

slide-6So below is a short introduction into what Black Feminism is, why it is needed, & then a little reading list of some books I have found profoundly helpful.  Liberation politics should not be divided nor should it be on a quest for liberation while it stifles the voices of other oppressed groups.  Black feminism is a core component of our struggle against oppression & domination & we need to remember that this is not a Black woman’s issue.  Black feminism is for everybody, its empowering & liberating.  Thus, it is important for us to understand what Black feminism is instead of us sneering at what we don’t understand.  Black feminism shakes the status quo at its core & it empowers you to be dangerous beyond measure because it has this r/EVOLutionary idea that racism, classism, & sexism do not happen in vacuums & we should consider the voice of all who are oppressed.

Below is a short quick partial history of Black feminism in settler colonial USA.  Note that Black feminist work started long before this, and in many ways just as Black resistance started as soon as the first African was kidnapped & enslaved to serve capitalism, so did Black feminist resistance begin.


1960s…

  • …”The black woman had gotten out of hand. She was too strong, too hard, too evil, too castrating. She got all of the jobs, all the everything. The Black man never had a chance. No wonder he wanted a White woman. He needed a rest. The Black woman should be more submissive &, above all, keep her big, Black mouth shut.” – Michelle Wallace in Black Macho & the Myth of the Superwoman
  • “I am saying, among other things, that for perhaps the last fifty years there has been a growing distrust, even hatred between black men and black women.  It has been nursed along not only by racism on the part of whites but also by an almost deliberate ignorance on the part of blacks about the sexual politics of their experience in this country.” – Michelle Wallace in Black Macho & the Myth of the Superwoman
  • “Black men have had no greater part than black women in perpetuating the ignorance with which they view one another.  The black man, however, particularly since the Black Movement, has been in the position to define the black woman.  He is the one who tells her whether or not she is a woman and what it is to be a woman.  And therefore, whether he wishes to or not, he determines her destiny as well as his own.” – Michelle Wallace in Black Macho & the Myth of the Superwoman
  • During these movements Black men fully embraced patriarchy as part of their Americanization.  This changed much of the relationships & discourse between Black men & Black women.  Black men began to cry that they were victims of Black matriarchy, they also began to push the ideal of racism being more important than fighting sexism.  One of the components of Black male privilege is to NOT have to choose between your gender/sex & race.

What is Black Feminism?

womanism definition

  • Black feminism argues that sexism, class oppression, & racism are bound together & relate to one another via intersectionality.  Many components of Black feminism emerged from Alice Walker’s idea of womanism, she stated that Black women experience a different & more intense form of oppression than that of White women.
  • An analysis of oppression that considers the intersecting nature of race and gender was pioneered by black feminist organizations of the 1970s.
  • Dr. Patricia Hill-Collins stated that Black feminism includes “women who theorize the experiences and ideas shared by ordinary black women that provide a unique angle of vision on self, community, and society” in her book Black Feminist Thought (1991).
  • Black feminist organizations emerged in the 1970s & faced many struggles with White feminists as well as Black nationalist organizations.  Black feminists fought to prove their authenticity to Black women & to show them that feminism is not only for White women, fight misogynist Black nationalists, & fight for solidarity with other feminists.
  • “Intersectional paradigms view race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and age, among others, as mutually constructing systems of power.  Because these systems permeate all social relations, untangling their effects in any given situation or for any given population remains difficult.” – Dr. Patricia Hill-Collins, Black Sexual Politics

Who needs feminism?

  • Everybody!  We must not forget that everyone is suffering to some extent from class oppression, sexism, & even racism to some extent.  While some may not be oppressed by these systems, they do suffer.  Even that White supremacist raicts cishetpatriarchal rich capitalist man is suffering because he unfortunately is missing core parts of his humanity by desensitizing himself through the use of systems of domination.  And let’s be real he’s missing out on how awesome women, POCs, LGBTQIAs*, & Pan-Africanists really are.

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Why is feminism relevant to our struggle?

  • “Deeming race to be more important than gender or as more valid than sexuality can comprise the social justice core of a progressive Black sexual politics.” – Dr. Patricia Hill-Collins, Black Sexual Politics
  • “Intersectional paradigms view race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and age, among others, as mutually constructing systems of power.  Because these systems permeate all social relations, untangling their effects in any given situation or for any given population remains difficult.” – Dr. Patricia Hill-Collins, Black Sexual Politics
  • “…the struggle to end sexist oppression that focuses on destroying the cultural basis for such domination strengthens other liberation struggles. Individuals who fight for the eradication of sexism without struggles to end racism or classism undermine their own efforts. Individuals who fight for the eradication of racism or classism while supporting sexist oppression are helping to maintain the cultural basis of all forms of group oppression.” – bell hooks, Feminist Theory From Margin To Center
  • “But I also recognize that bringing about social change needs serious conversations & action strategies between African Americans and all individuals, organizations, & social groups engaged in a variety of social justice initiatives.” – Dr. Patricia Hill-Collins, Black Sexual Politics
  • “All efforts at self-transformation challenge us to engage in on-going, critical self-examination and reflection about feminist practice, and about how we live in the world. This individual commitment, when coupled with engagement in collective discussion, provides a space for critical feedback which strengthens our efforts to change and make ourselves anew.” – bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black
  • “Women’s fate is bound up with that of an exploited male. However, this solidarity must not blind us in looking at the specific situation faced by womenfolk in our society. It is true that the woman worker and simple man are exploited economically, but the worker wife is also condemned further to silence by her worker husband. This is the same method used by men to dominate other men! The idea was crafted that certain men, by virtue of their family origin and birth, or by ‘divine rights’, were superior to others.” – Thomas Sankara, Women’s Liberation & the African Freedom Struggle
  • “Inequality can be done away with only by establishing a new society, where men and women will enjoy equal rights, resulting from an upheaval in the means of production and in all social relations. Thus, the status of women will improve only with the elimination of the system that exploits them…”– Thomas Sankara, Women’s Liberation & the African Freedom Struggle

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Some of the Leading ladies of Black Feminist Thought:

  • Ana Julia Cooper
  • Sojourner Truth
  • Alice Walker
  • Dr. Patricia Hill-Collins
  • Audre Lorde
  • Angela Davis
  • Sojourner Truth
  • bell hooks
  • Assata Shakur
  • Toni Morrison
  • Zora Neale Hurston
  • Dr. Alondra Nelson
  • Toni Cade Bambara

…& some of their supporting brothers:

  • Kwame Ture/Stokely Carmichael
  • Thomas Sankara
  • James Baldwin
  • Dr. Mark Anthony-Neal
  • David Ikard

Check Your Privilege:

  • “It is necessary to remember, as we think critically about domination, that we all have the capacity to act in ways that oppress, dominate, wound (whether or not that power is institutionalized). It is necessary to remember that it is first the potential oppressor within that we must resist – the potential victim within that we must rescue – otherwise we cannot hope for an end to domination, for liberation.” – bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black
  • We can NOT fight capitalism without fighting patriarchy & racism & vice versa.  All of these systems require destruction & a struggle without anti-capitalist, anti-classist, anti-racist, & anti-sexism imperatives will ALWAYS fail.

Black Feminism Reading List:

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose by Alice Walker

Black Macho & the Myth of the Superwoman  by Michelle Wallace

Black Sexual Politics by Dr. Patricia Hill-Collins

Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and The Politics of Empowerment by Dr. Patricia Hill-Collins

When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde

The Black Woman: An Anthology by Toni Cade Bambara

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks

Feminism Is For Everybody by bell hooks

Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black by bell hooks

Ain’t I A Woman?: Black Women & Feminism by bell hooks

Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought by Beverly Guy-Sheftall & Johnnetta Betsch Cole

The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, & Love by bell hooks

Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America by Dr. Shorter-Gooden & Charisse Jones

Women’s Liberation & the African Freedom Struggle by Thomas Sankara

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