Decolonize ALL The Things

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

D.A.T.T. Freedom School Week 5 Summary – Black Feminism

August 11, 2015
Shay-Akil

Liberation Circle & Reading Summaries from D.A.T.T. Freedom School

Summer 2015 – Week 5

Black Feminism

The Storify for this topic’s Liberation Circle tweet chat can be found HERE.

Summary of “Black Feminist Thought” by Patricia Hill-Collins – Chapter 1 “The Politics of Black Feminist Thought”, Chapter 2 “Distinguishing Features of Black Feminist Thought”, & Chapter 10 “U.S. Black Feminism in Transnational Context”

Dr. Collins opens up the first chapter of Black Feminist Thought with the words of Maria W. Stewart in 1831 challenging the notions of white patriarchy limiting the greatness & brilliance of Black women by delegating them to gendered tasks based on hegemonic femininity.

“How long shall the fair daughters of Africa be compelled to bury their minds and talents beneath a load of iron pots and kettles?”  – Maria W. Stewart, 1831

“Maria Stewart challenged African-American women to reject the negative images of Black womanhood so prominent in her times, pointing out that race, gender, and class oppression were the fundamental causes of Black women’s poverty. In an 1833 speech she proclaimed, “Like King Solomon, who put neither nail nor hammer to the temple, yet received the praise; so also have the white Americans gained themselves a name . . . while in reality we have been their principal foundation and support.” Stewart objected to the injustice of this situation: “We have pursued the shadow, they have obtained the substance; we have performed the labor, they have received the profits;we have planted the vines, they have eaten the fruits of them” (Richardson 1987, 59). Maria Stewart was not content to point out the source of Black women’s oppression. She urged Black women to forge self-definitions of self-reliance and independence. “It is useless for us any longer to sit with our hands folded, reproaching the whites; for that will never elevate us,” she exhorted. “Possess the spirit of independence. . . . Possess the spirit of men, bold and enterprising, fearless and undaunted” (p. 53). To Stewart, the power of self-definition was essential, for Black women’s survival was at stake. “Sue for your rights and privileges. Know the reason you cannot attain them.Weary them with your importunities. You can but die if you make the attempt; and we shall certainly die if you do not” (p. 38).” – “Black Feminist Thought” by Patricia Hill-Collins, p. 1

As you can see here, Black feminism did not begin as an offshoot of waves of white feminism in the US.  Like that of all Black resistance, Black Feminism began when the first African was stolen from the continent of Africa for enslavement to colonize the Americas.  And the suppression of the intellectual works & thoughts of Black women is no mistake.

“The shadow obscuring this complex Black women’s intellectual tradition is neither accidental nor benign. Suppressing the knowledge produced by any oppressed group makes it easier for dominant groups to rule because the seeming absence of dissent suggests that subordinate groups willingly collaborate in their own victimization (Scott 1985). Maintaining the invisibility of Black women and our ideas not only in the United States, but in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, Europe, and other places where Black women now live, has been critical in maintaining social inequalities.”  – “Black Feminist Thought” by Patricia Hill-Collins, p. 3

In this chapter Collins points out the legacy of Black feminist intellectual history as well as the experiences of Black women in the US that shapes critical Black feminist theory.  Here we can see that slowly over time the intellectual work of Black women began to get a bit more attention in the contemporary but not without struggle against white patriarchy as well as the masculinist biases of Black social and political thought.

BFT - PHC excerpt p22

Black feminist thought challenges the contradictions in the US by pointing to how Black women, other women of color, and LGBTQ* peoples are excluded in what is considered a “democratic” nation.  But there are many different ways in which Black feminists challenge oppression in the US.  There are diverse responses to many of the key themes that construct Black feminist thought:

“Since standpoints refer to group knowledge, recurring patterns of differential treatment such as these suggest that certain themes will characterize U.S. Black women’s group knowledge or standpoint. For example, one core theme concerns multifaceted legacies of struggle, especially in response to forms of violence that accompany intersecting oppressions.” – Patricia Hill Collins in Black Feminist Thought (p.26)

Some of the themes of Black feminist thought include analysis of the devaluation of the labor of Black women as workers as well as in the home and their relationship to Black men.  Black women as mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, friends, grandmothers, community leaders, intellectuals, political thinkers, healers, etc..  Another important theme in Black feminist thought is sexuality.

“Sexuality signals another important factor that influences African-American women’s varying responses to common challenges. Black lesbians have identified heterosexism as a form of oppression and the issues they face living in homophobic communities as shaping their interpretations of everyday events (Shockley 1974; Lorde 1982, 1984; Clarke et al. 1983; Barbara Smith 1983, 1998;Williams 1997).” – Patricia Hill Collins in Black Feminist Thought (p.27)

What these many themes and the diverse ways of responding to these issues reveals is that there is no homogeneous Back woman’s standpoint. The diasporic nature of Black people as well as African women on the continent of Africa points to any notion of essentialism, normal, or standard type is completely false.  A collective standpoint of Black women does exist, heavily influenced by the nature of how power has influenced the political, cultural, economic, social, and historical experiences of women of African descent around the world.  This situates Black women within a transnational context that acknowledges the connected histories and experiences of women of African descent through slavery, colonialism, imperialism, and migration (p.222).

– This summary was written by Shay Ture (@Pundit_Academic)

Summary of “Black Macho & The Myth of the Superwoman” by Michelle Wallace – Chapter 1

In this chapter Michele Wallace reviews the relationships between Black men and Black women during the Civil Rights Movement.  Much of what Wallace discusses in regards to Black women doing just as much work but not getting the credit they deserved or even fair treatment from fellow Black men is the result of the intersections of white supremacy & patriarchy.  Wallace discussed how Black women were no longer preferred as fit partners for Black men during the Civil Rights Movement and into the Black Power Movement.  Wallace points out that much of this had to do with how white gender norms influenced the relations between Black men & Black women as well as how their experiences under white supremacy were painted in a way that constructed the Black man as the ultimate victim.  Many Black male intellectuals who wrote about the horrors of slavery depicted the Black man as the one who suffered from chattel slavery.  The idea was that the Black man truly suffered because white supremacy did not provide him with the true ability to take his place at the head of the house.  Enslaved Black women were described as having gotten ahead because they ‘only’ had to be ‘breeders of children’ and hence got the benefit of being the ‘gratifiers of white plantation owners’ carnal desires’ (Roberts Staples, “The Myth of the Impotent Black Male“, Contemporary Black Thought: The Best from the Black Scholar, ed. Robert Chrisman & Nathan Hare New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1973).  One of the key components of colonization of Black people in the US is assimilation into white patriarchy, a key component to cultural & social genocide.  As the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power Movement progressed so did Black patriarchy.  White supremacist racist conceptions of gender influenced how Black men and Black women interacted.  And eventually the Moynihan Report came out; effectively giving voice to the frustrations of Black patriarchs.  Along with the conceptions of the impact of slavery on Black men (pitting them as the ultimate victims, pitied by all).  Hence the Black man was not the victim of white men, instead he was the victim of Black women who didn’t know their place:

  • …”Everybody wanted to cut Daniel Moynihan’s heart out and feed it to the dogs, but he did have a point after all. The black woman had gotten out of hand. She was too strong, too hard, too evil, too castrating. She got all the jobs, all the everything. The black man had never had a chance. No wonder he wanted a white woman. He needed a rest. The black woman should be more submissive and, above all, keep her big, black mouth shut.” – Michelle Wallace in Black Macho & the Myth of the Superwoman (p. 11)
  • “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
  • “Now that freedom, equality, rights, wealth, power were assumed to be on their way, she had to understand that manhood was essential to revolution-unquestioned, unchallenged, unfettered manhood. Could you imagine Che Guevara with breasts? Mao with a vagina? She was just going to have to get out of the way. She had had her day. Womanhood was not
    essential to revolution. Or so everyone thought by the end of the 196os.” – Michelle Wallace in Black Macho & the Myth of the Superwoman (p. 13)
  • “Perhaps more to the point, there has been from slavery until the Civil Rights Movement a thin but continuous line of black women who have prodded their sisters to self-improvement. These women were of the opinion that being a woman did not exempt one from responsibility. Just like a man, a woman had to struggle to deliver the race from bondage and uplift it. In their time a woman’s interest in herself was not automatically interpreted as hostile to men and their progress, at least not by black people. Day to day these women, like most women, devoted their energies to their husbands and children. When they found time, they worked on reforms in education, medicine, housing, and their communities through their organizations and churches. Little did they know that one day their activities would be used as proof that the black woman has never known her place and has mightily battled the black man for his male prerogative as head of the household. The American black woman is haunted by the mythology that surrounds the American black man. It is a mythology based upon the real persecution of black men: castrated black men hanging by their necks from trees; the carcasses of black men floating face down in the Mississippi; black men with their bleeding genitals jammed between their teeth; black men shining shoes; black men being turned down for jobs time and time again; black men watching helplessly as their women go to work to support the family; black men behind bars, persecuted by prison guards and police; jobless black men on street corners, with needles in their arms, with wine bottles in their hip pockets; black men being pushed out in front to catch the enemy’s bullets in every American war since the Revolution of 1776-these ghosts, rendered all the more gruesome by their increasing absence of detail, are crouched in the black woman’s brain. Every time she starts to wonder about her own misery, to think about reconstructing her life, to shake off her devotion and feeling of responsibility to everyone but herself, the ghosts pounce. She is stopped cold. The ghosts talk to her. “You crippled the black man. You worked against him. You betrayed him. You laughed at him. You scorned him. You and the white, man. Not only does the black woman continue to see the black man historically as a cripple, she refuses to take seriously the various ways he’s been able to assert his manhood and capabilities in recent years.” – Michelle Wallace in Black Macho & the Myth of the Superwoman (p. 15-16)
  • “In addition, many blacks, male and female, were underfed, overworked, and physically abused. Yet somehow the story goes that the black man suffered a very special and particularly debilitating kind of denigration because, as a slave, he was not permitted to fulfill his traditional role as a man, that is as head of his family, sole provider and protector.” – Michelle Wallace in Black Macho & the Myth of the Superwoman (p. 17)
  • “There was more to the protest and furor of the sixties and seventies than an attempt to correct the concrete problems of black people. The real key was the carrot the white man had held just beyond the black man’s nose for many generations, that imaginary resolution of all the black man’s woes and discontent, something called manhood. It was the pursuit of manhood that stirred the collective imagination of the masses of blacks in this country and led them to almost turn America upside down.” – Michelle Wallace in Black Macho & the Myth of the Superwoman (p. 33)

Wallace’s chapter reveals that much of what we have seen as just raced is also very much gendered.  The intersections of white supremacy & cishetpatriarchy reveal that much of what is considered white and Black (racially) is gendered and sexualized in very particular ways.  This is where we see Hegemonic masculinity & Hegemonic femininity come to the forefront (see Patricia Hill-Collins’ “Black Sexual Politics” excerpt here).

  • “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

From the 1970 essay “On the Issue of Roles” by Toni Cade Bambara:

“It seems to me you find your Self in destroying illusions, smashing myths, laundering the head of whitewash, being responsible to some truth, to the struggle. That entails at the very least cracking through the veneer of this sick society’s definition of ‘masculine’ & ‘feminine.’ … I am beginning to see that the usual notions of sexual differentiation in roles is an obstacle to political consciousness, that the way those terms are generally defined and acted upon in this part of the world is a hindrance to full development.”

What Toni Cade Bambara was highlighting is: cishetpatriarchy notions of gender harms Black people.  This society’s notions of what qualifies as masculine & feminine within a biological reductionist (everything is reduced to being only biological) binary was only created for domination & when Black people participate in cishetpatriarchy, we hinder our struggles against white supremacy.  Due to the fact that white supremacist racism and cishetpatriarchy intersect, participation in one of those systems of hegemony also involves participation in the other and both of those help serve the goal of providing the bottom line of generating capitalist profits through the dehumanization & ‘othering’ of those who are not cishet or white.

– This summary was written by Shay Ture (@Pundit_Academic)

Summary of “Sister Outsider” by Audre Lorde – The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House

In Audre Lorde’s groundbreaking work Sister Outsider (1984), she explains the epistemology underpinning her theory that The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House. As a preamble to this summary, please note the setting in which this significant and timeless presentation occurred. In 1979, Audre Lorde, a black, lesbian feminist was asked to speak at the second annual sexuality and gender conference in New York. During her speech, Lorde illuminates the intersections between feminism and “race, sexuality, class, and age” (p 110)—although it’s incumbent to bear in mind that the intersections are not limited to these types of oppressions as they represent only a partial list. In this chapter, Lorde suggests that removing intersections from the deconstruction of feminism “weakens any feminist discussion of the personal and political”—a two pronged manifestation of patriarchy.

 

Lorde issued two major, albeit interconnected, challenges at the nucleus of her argument. First she asked that reformist feminists became more radical in their praxis. And second, she sought to raise consciousness among feminists by practices of exclusion, absence, and invisibility homogenized the perception and overall landscape of feminist theory.

 

For example, she asserted that, “it is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without explaining our many differences, and without significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians” (p. 110). By representing herself as an “other” woman, Lorde connected the political with the personal indictment of the conference for singularly having her speak on behalf of multiple communities, rather than providing a critical mass of intersectional perspectives. Lorde begrudges, rightfully so, her singular positions as the only black, lesbian feminist at the Sexuality Conference in New York. On page 111, She notes that racism, sexism, homophobia cannot be unspooled because they are politically entwined by the same operating system—White Supremacist cis-heteropatriarchy. A powerful examination of feminism, she decrees, also requires examination of heterosexuality and all intermittent forms of power. Adding, that the divisive “fruits of the same patriarchy” (p. 111) divide white and black, gay and straight, rich and poor, women. White feminism, therefore, must also recognize its place as an interdependent and interloping agent on behalf of White Supremacy that can secure its hierarchy based on societal privilege.

 

Although Lorde focused her speech specifically on feminism, the use of political dynamics that balkanize notions of “feminism”, her inclusion of the uses of power has major relevance to a range of human liberation rhetoric echoed by our previous summaries. By using what Lorde referred to as the “master’s tools” to protest arbitrary co-option by white feminists, liberals ironically reproduce tools of domination, but also become “masters” undistinguishable from those habituated in that role. Thus, Lorde wanted to transform the uses of power by changing what Ture called the “Dialectic of Liberation” (Stokely Speaks, 1965). Not reproduce them in the process of resisting them. Lorde opines that real power is finding shared experiences to expose shared oppression among feminists (but again, this concept isn’t limited to categorized women as victims). Shared victimhood is what Andrea Smith also devised as the mutualistic ethos that will advance against the three pillars of white supremacy and Heteropatriarchy, as “it is this real connection which is so feared by a patriarchal world”, Lorde writes (p. 111). “Interdependency” is the exponent of collective action and anchors the premise that “passive” rather than “active” liberation tactics must follow comments at its intersections. Advocating the mere “tolerance of differences is the grossest reformism” which we often find in education circles by elitist to intend to reduce suspension rates of Black students, rather than eradicate the venal conditions (zero-tolerance, implicit bias training, etc.) that give rise to the school to prison pandemic. In other words, patriarchy—much like White Supremacy—must be understood as consequential for all, before it incites action by all.

 

Nonetheless, it’s paramount to retain nuance in resistance. Meaning, equality of understanding in feminist theory must aspire towards an equity in praxis. Lorde describes mutualism as what Derrick Bell framed in converged interests, but she does distinguish between mutualism and equalism—as white women still enjoy the privileges of Whiteness without sharing those rewards with Black feminists. Moreover, to commodify feminism in the media with aesthetics branding, is to create vestiges of White Supremacy that make it an “acceptable definition of women” (p. 112)—as shaped by White Supremacy Heteropatriarchal modalities. Lorde distills this interception of Black feminist spaces as an attack from “racist feminism” (p. 112-113)—that disbands from Women of Color, poor women, and colludes with a common threat. This “divide and conquer” technique must be reimagined in order to create a more equitable definition of feminism. That definition of must be textured and multi-dimensional, and not limited in scope by [pre-determined] Eurocolonial cispatriarchal capitalistic norms for women. Rather than pleading to the conscience of White feminists, Lorde (much like Ture) warned against those inside the circle of the oppressed: “to look in the mirror and see whose face” they represent. Lorde’s speech considered the implications of tools that liberate only a subset of feminists while extending sanctions to others. Those tools must be defined by the oppressed, in order to free themselves of vestiges from the oppressor.

 

 – This summary was written by Arash Daneshzadeh (@A_Daneshzadeh)

Summary of “Africa: homophobia is a legacy of colonialism” by Val Kalende

In this piece on the guardian, Kalende reviews the colonial history of homophobia, contextualizing homophobia on the African continent as well as among the African Diaspora.  As we saw from week 4’s reading of Oyewumi, binary gender under cishetpatriarchy came with colonialism and did not exist in pre-colonial African societies.  The social and political institutionalization of homophobia on the African continent came via European colonization.

“It is also important to stress that so-called sodomy laws would not have impacted African sexual politics without the influence of Christianity. Christianity was used to whitewash African culture as primitive and to demonise traditional interpretations of African intimacies. The bible became the credo of African morality, disordering African sexuality to missionary positions of heteronormativity (ie. the idea that heterosexuality is the only ‘natural’ sexual orientation).” – Val Kalende

Kalende’s piece points to the reality that cishetpatriarchy & homophobia were parts of the colonial process of social and cultural genocide that was needed in order to take over African nations as well as create divides.

– This summary was written by Shay Ture (@Pundit_Academic)

Further Reading:

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

Assata by Assata Shakur

Also check out “#BlkWomenSyllabus: Here Are 25 Must Reads for the Empowered Black Woman

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Creating Healthy Masculinities | Decolonize ALL The Things

  2. Pingback: Announcing The “Creating Healthy Masculinities” Project | Decolonize ALL The Things

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