Black feminism

Black feminism holds that the experience of black women give rise to a particular understanding of their position in relation to sexism, class oppression, and racism.[1][2] The experience of being a black woman, it maintains, cannot be grasped in terms of being black or of being a woman, but must be elucidated via intersectionality, a term coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Crenshaw argued that each concept—being black, being female—should be considered independently while understanding that intersecting identities compound upon and reinforce one another.[3][4]

A black feminist lens in the United States was first employed by black women to make sense of how white supremacy and patriarchy interacted to inform the particular experiences of enslaved black women. Black activists and intellectuals formed organizations such as the National Association of Coloured Women (NACW) and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).[5] Black feminism rose to prominence in the 1960s, as the civil rights movement excluded women from leadership positions, and the mainstream feminist movement largely focused its agenda on issues that predominately impacted middle-class white women. From the 1970s to 1980s, black feminists formed groups that addressed the role of black women in black nationalism, gay liberation, and second-wave feminism. In the 1990s, the Anita Hill controversy brought black feminism into the mainstream. Black feminist theories reached a wider audience in the 2010s, as a result of social-media advocacy.[6]

Proponents of black feminism argue that black women are positioned within structures of power in fundamentally different ways than white women. In recent years, the distinction of black feminism has birthed the tag "white feminist", used to criticize feminists who do not acknowledge issues of intersectionality.[7] Critics of black feminism argue that divisions along the lines of race or gender weaken the strength of the overall feminist movement or anti-racist movements.[8]

Among the notions that evolved out of the black feminist movement are Alice Walker's womanism, and historical revisionism with an increased focus on black women.[9][10][page needed] Angela Davis, bell hooks, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, and Patricia Hill Collins have emerged as leading academics on black feminism, whereas black celebrities, notably Beyoncé, have encouraged mainstream discussion of black feminism.[11][12]

Early history[edit]

19th century[edit]

Black feminism has been around since the time of slavery. If defined as a way that black women have sought to understand their position within systems of oppression then this is exemplified in Sojourner Truth's famous speech, "Ain't I a Woman?", which was delivered in 1851 at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio. Truth addressed how the issues being discussed at the convention were issues that primarily impacted white women.[13] Some feminists that were exhibiting major attempts for change at the turn of the century were Ida B. Wells, a politically driven activist, and Zora Neale Hurston, a prolific writer of African American culture. Ida B. Wells became famous after she fought to find the truth about the lynching of black men.[14] One of Zora Neale Hurston's most notable contributions was her depiction of a strong female lead in her works in the form of Janie Crawford from her novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God", which altered the public's perception on black women at the time.[15] The book A Voice from the South (1892) by Anna Julia Cooper has been credited as one of the first pieces of literature that expresses a black feminist perspective.[5] Several other texts have been published since that have expressed the evolution of these ideas; one of the keystone pieces within the modern black feminist movement being Women, Race, and Class (1981) written by activist and cultural critic, Angela Davis.[16] Kimberlé Crenshaw, a prominent feminist law theorist, gave the idea the name intersectionality in 1986–1987 as part of her work in anti-discrimination law, as part of describing the effects of compound discrimination against black women.[17]

Post-slavery period – 1920s[edit]

In the post slavery period, black female intellectuals including Sojourner Truth, Anna Julia Cooper, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, set in motion the principles that would become the basis for black feminism.[18] Activists, such as Harper, proposed "some of the most important questions of race, gender, and the work of Reconstruction in the nineteenth century", a very bold action for a black woman at the time.[19] These intellectuals accomplished things that were unheard of for black women, such as giving public lectures, fighting for suffrage, and aiding those in need of help following reconstruction. Suffrage was early evidence of schisms between white and black feminism. According to Harper, white women needed suffrage for education; however, "black women need the vote, not as a form of education, but as a form of protection".[19] Even though feminism as a movement was at a rise in this point in time, black women were often left behind and disregarded by the white feminists of this revolution. This, however, did not stop the black feminists, who would eventually create a separate path for themselves fighting for the cause. Out of this, the National Association of Colored Women (NACP), the Nation Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the National Association of Wage Earners was born.[20]

1920s to 1960[edit]

Although many wave metaphors of feminist and Civil Rights activism leave out the few decades after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, this was a particularly important moment in the development of black feminist activism.[19] During this period, a few radical black female activists joined the Communist party or focused on union activism. Although they did not all identify as feminists, their theorizing included important works that are the foundation for theories of intersectionality—integrating race, gender, and class. In 1940, for example, Esther V. Cooper (married name Esther Cooper Jackson), for example, wrote a M.A. thesis called "The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism."[21] And in 1949 Claudia Jones wrote "An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman."[22]

Other feminist activism and organizing happened around different cases of racial and sexual violence. For example, Esther Cooper and Rosa Parks organized to help Recy Taylor. In 1944, Taylor was the victim of a gang rape; Parks and Cooper attempted to bring the culprits to justice.[23] Black feminist activists focused on other similar cases, such as the 1949 arrest of and then death sentence issued to Rosa Lee Ingram, a victim of sexual violence. Defenders of Ingram included the famous black feminist Mary Church Terrell, who was an octogenarian at the time.[24]

Later history[edit]

1960s and 1970s[edit]

Civil rights movement[edit]

In the second half of the 20th century, black feminism as a political and social movement grew out of black women's feelings of discontent with both the civil rights movement and the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s. One of the foundational texts of black feminism is "An Argument for Black Women's Liberation as a Revolutionary Force", authored by Mary Ann Weathers and published in February 1969 in Cell 16's radical feminist magazine No More Fun and Games: A Journal of Female Liberation.[25] Weathers states her belief that "women's liberation should be considered as a strategy for an eventual tie-up with the entire revolutionary movement consisting of women, men, and children", but she posits that "[w]e women must start this thing rolling" because

All women suffer oppression, even white women, particularly poor white women, and especially Indian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Oriental and Black American women whose oppression is tripled by any of the above-mentioned. But we do have females' oppression in common. This means that we can begin to talk to other women with this common factor and start building links with them and thereby build and transform the revolutionary force we are now beginning to amass.[25]

Not only did the civil rights movement primarily focus on the oppression of black men, but many black women faced severe sexism within civil rights groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.[26] Within the movement, men dominated the powerful positions. Black feminists did not want the movement to be the struggle for black men's rights; they wanted black women's rights to be incorporated too.[27] Black women felt they needed to have their own movement because the complaints of white feminists differed from their own and favored white women.[28]

Between 1960–1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was highly active, and focused on achieving social justice through peaceful tactics. The SNCC was founded by Ella Baker. Baker was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC). When Baker served as Martin Luther King Jr.’s SCLC executive secretary, she was exposed to the hierarchical structure of the organization. Baker was tired of the sexism found within both the NAACP and the SCLC, so she wanted to start her own organization that had an emphasis on an egalitarian structure and that allowed women to be a part of the movement and voice their needs.[26] In 1964 at a SNNC retreat in Waveland, Mississippi, the members discussed the role of women and addressed sexism that occurred within the group.[29] A group of women in the SNCC (who were later identified as white allies Mary King and Casey Hayden) openly challenged the way women were treated when they issued the "SNCC Position Paper (Women in the Movement)".[30] The paper listed 11 events in which women were treated as subordinate to men. According to the paper, women in SNCC did not have a chance to become the face of the organization, the top leaders, because they were assigned to clerical and housekeeping duties, whereas men were involved in decision-making.[31]

When Stokely Carmichael was elected chair of the SNCC, he reoriented the path of the organization towards Black Power.[32] Thus, white women lost their influence and power in SNCC; Mary King and Casey Hayden left to become active in pursuing equality for women.[33] While it is often argued that black women in the SNCC were significantly subjugated during the Carmichael era, Carmichael appointed several women to posts as project directors during his tenure as chair. By the latter half of the 1960s, more women were in charge of SNCC projects than during the first half.[34] Despite these improvements, the SNCC's leadership positions were occupied by men during the entirety of its existence.[35]

Angela Davis speaking at the University of Alberta on March 28, 2006

This combination of the raised fist of black power, and the astrological symbol for Venus, denotes an intersection of ideals of the two groups. Ideals were shared, such as a "critique on racial capitalism, starting with slavery". Despite this, Black feminism had reasons to become independent of Black Nationalism. Black feminism had been cast "as a negotiation of the sexism and masculinist (and sometimes heterosexism) of Black Nationalism".[36][37]

Despite often initiating protests, organizing and fundraising events, communicating to the community, and formulating strategies, women in positions of leadership remain to be overlooked by many historians covering the Civil Rights Movement.[38] Many events, such as the Montgomery bus boycott were made successful due to the women that distributed information. During the Montgomery bus boycott, 35,000 leaflets were mimeographed and handed out after Rosa Parks’ arrest. Georgia Gilmore, after being fired from her job as a cook and black-listed from other jobs in Montgomery due to her contributions to the Montgomery bus boycott, organized the Club From Nowhere, a group that cooked and baked in the 1950s to fund the Montgomery bus boycott.[39]

Second-wave feminism[edit]

The second-wave feminist movement emerged in the 1960s, led by Betty Friedan. Some black women felt alienated by the main planks of the second-wave feminist movement, which largely advocated for women's right to work outside the home and expansion of reproductive rights. For example, earning the power to work outside the home was not seen as an accomplishment by black women since many black women had to work both inside and outside the home for generations due to poverty.[40] Additionally, Angela Davis wrote that while Afro-American women and white women were subjected to multiple unwilled pregnancies and had to clandestinely abort, Afro-American women were also suffering from compulsory sterilization programs that were not widely included in dialogue about reproductive justice.[41]

Some black feminists who were active in the early second-wave feminism include civil rights lawyer and author Florynce Kennedy, who co-authored one of the first books on abortion, 1971's Abortion Rap; Cellestine Ware, of New York's Stanton-Anthony Brigade; and Patricia Robinson. These women "tried to show the connections between racism and male dominance" in society.[42]

Throughout the 20th century, Black feminism evolved quite differently from mainstream feminism. It retained historical principles, while being influenced by new thinkers such as Alice Walker. Walker created a whole new subject of black feminism, called Womanism, which emphasizes the degree of the oppression black women faced when compared to white women and "addressed the solidarity of humanity".[18] In addition, she stressed the importance of heritage in Black feminism through the medium of literature, exemplified by an interview in 2011.

Fighting against racism and sexism across the white dominated second wave feminist movement and male dominated Black power and Black Arts movement, Black feminist groups of artists like Where We At! Black Women Artists Inc were formed in the early 1970s. The “Where We At” group was formed in 1971 by artists Vivian E. Browne and Faith Ringgold.[43] During the summer of that year the group organized the group organized the first exhibition in history of only Black women artists to refute the American viewing public’s belief that “the Black artist was synonymous with the Black male artist.”[44] In 1972 the group would issue six demands to the Brooklyn Museum that demanded the museum address its sexist and racist hierarchies and blind-eye towards the large community of Black women artists in Brooklyn. The 2017 Brooklyn Museum exhibition “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965–1985” celebrates the work of a large number of Black women artists who were part of the Black Arts and Black Power movements and who created new expressive paradigms which challenged the criteria for inclusion within institutional structures and also would be visible on its own terms to circulate and be accessible and legible to the Black communities that it was created for and also spoke about. Black women artists responded to racism and sexism within the art world and sexism within the Black Arts movement, how these women responded to oppression within formal institutional structures and how they might create new spaces for the appreciation of their work, and how greater amounts of autonomy and self-determination might be gained.[45]

Black lesbian feminism[edit]

Black lesbian feminism is a political identity and movement that incorporates perspectives, experiences, and politics around race, gender, class, and sexual orientation.[46] It was created in response to the exclusion of racial experiences within mainstream, lesbian feminist agenda. Hence, this form of lesbian feminism emphasizes its focus on expanding lesbian feminism to incorporate solidarity.[47]

Black lesbian feminists were often ostracized in mainstream black movements based on their gender and sexual orientation; and, in mainstream feminism, and black lesbian feminists were often excluded in lesbian feminism based on race.[48] During the 1970s, lesbian feminists created their own sector of feminism in reaction to homophobia and lesbian exclusion in the mainstream Second-Wave Feminist agenda. Lesbian feminism created a radical agenda focused on challenging homophobia; finding a place in feminism; and, for some, separatist notions. Additionally, some lesbian feminists were involved in black power movements, and vocalized the need for the inclusion of people of color. However, these perspectives on race and sexuality were not accepted by the mainstream, lesbian feminism; and, black lesbian feminists felt excluded from this movement.[49]

In 1970, a defining moment for black lesbian feminists occurred at the Black Panther’s Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Several black lesbian feminists confronted a group of white, lesbian feminists about their racially, exclusive agenda. Following this event, several groups began to include and organize around black lesbian politics. For example, in 1973 the National Black Feminist Organization was founded and included lesbian agenda.[49] Additionally, in 1975 the Combahee River Collective was founded out of experiences and feelings of sexism in the black power movements and racism in the lesbian feminist movement.[47] The primary focus of this collective was to fight interlocking systems of oppression, raise awareness of these systems, and create a group made up of differences but connected by solidarity.[48] Lastly, in 1978 the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gay Men was founded.[49] In addition to the multiple organizations that focused on black, lesbian feminism, there were many authors that contributed to this movement such as Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Pat Parker, Karen Sims, Rose Mason, Darlene Pagano, Kate Rushin, doris davenport, Cheryl Clarke, Margaret Sloan-Hunter, and a number of others.[50]

1990s[edit]

Black women's voices were continuously marginalized but groups were formed that stood up in the face of oppression. In the early 1990s, AWARE (African Woman's Action for Revolutionary Exchange) was formed in New York by Reena Walker and Laura Peoples after an inspiring plenary session on black women's issues held at the Malcolm X Conference at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) entitled Black Women and Black Liberation: Fighting Oppression and Building Unity.[51]

In 1991, The Malcolm X Conference was held again at BMCC and the theme that year was "Sisters Remember Malcolm X: A Legacy to be Transformed". It featured plenary sessions, "Sexual Harassment: Race, Gender and Power" and was held in a much larger theater that year. Black women were a central focus and not an aside as they were prior. Speakers included Sonia Sanchez, Audre Lorde, Verniece Miller, Reena Walker, Carol Bullard (Asha Bandele) and Vivian Morrison.[52] In 1991, Reena Walker along with the members of AWARE also worked in coalition with AWIDOO (American Women in Defense of Ourselves), formed by Barbara Ransby, to sign a full-page ad in The New York Times to stand in support of Anita Hill.[53]

In 1995, Reena Walker went on to put out the call to various women and organized the group African Americans Against Violence[54] that effectively stopped a parade that a group of reverends led by Al Sharpton were attempting to hold in Harlem for Mike Tyson.[55] The group, including Eve and Kathe Sandler, Nsia Bandele and Indigo Washington, worked tirelessly and successfully stopped the parade from happening, bringing much needed attention to the struggle of black women and sexism and domestic violence.[56] A supporter of Mike Tyson, social worker Bill Jones, exclaimed "The man has paid his debt" (in regards to Tyson's rape conviction), and joined a large group of other Tyson supporters in heckling the African Americans Against Violence group, accusing them of "catering to white radical feminists".[56]

Hip-hop culture[edit]

A particularly imminent medium of oppression for black women in the 1990s was hip-hop music. During that time, there was little effort to express black feminism through the music. The New York hip-hop scene was mainly dominated my men in the 1990s, and most producers were focused on rap superstars Notorious B.I.G. and Sean "Diddy" Combs. Three female emcees can be credited to have expanded black womanhood in music during this time. Lil' Kim who was signed to Biggie Smalls' Junior M.A.F.I.A. Imprint, expressed her message very quickly. She achieved an image of fierce independence and comfort with her body. She defied the presumption in hip-hop that women are there to humble the presence of men. Lil' Kim's outspokenness and unprecedented lyrics were rejected by many people who believed in the traditional sound of hip-hop. Lil' Kim stood behind her words and never apologized for who she is. Faith Evans is another female emcee who broke barriers in the hip-hop world. At just 21 years old she was the first female artist signed to Bad Boy Records. Faith Evans spent more than 20 years in the music business fighting gender discrimination and harassment in an industry where men were the dominate content creators and producers. Mary J. Blige was another artist who became an advocate of women empowerment in hip-hop. She was a legendary singer who influenced the Bad Boy Records label although, she was never signed by them. Together, these women shared a sense of freedom in the music business that allowed them to bring women together across the world. There was a new perspective in the spot light that swung the pendulum in a different direction and gave women in hip-hop a voice.[57]

21st century[edit]

Social media[edit]

The new century has brought about a shift in thinking away from "traditional" feminism. Third-wave feminism claimed the need for more intersectionality in feminist activism and the inclusion of black and other ethnic minority women. Moreover, the advancement of technology fostered the development of a new digital feminism. This online activism involved the use of "Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, and other forms of social media to discuss gender equality and social justice. According to NOW Toronto, the internet created a "call-out" culture, in which sexism or misogyny can be called out and challenged immediately with relative ease.

As an academic response to this shift, many scholars incorporated queer of color critique into their discussions of feminism and queer theory.[58][59] Queer of color critiques seeks an intersectional approach to disidentifying with the larger themes of "racialized heteronormativity and heteropatriarchy" in order to create a more representative and revolutionary critique of social categories.[60][61][62] An example of queer of color critique can be seen in the Combahee River Collective's statement, which addresses the intersectionality of oppressions faced by black lesbians.[63]

The 2010s saw a revitalization of black feminism. As more influential figures began to identify themselves as feminist, social media saw a rise in young black feminists willing to bring racist and sexist situations to light.[64] Brittney Cooper, assistant professor in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, said: "I think Black feminism is in one of the strongest moments it has seen in a while; From Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC, to Laverne Cox on Orange Is the New Black to Beyoncé ... we have prominent Black women [sic] identifying publicly with the term."[65] Social media served as a medium for black feminists to express praise or discontent with organisations' representations of black women. For example, the 2015 and 2016 Victoria's Secret Fashion Shows were commended by Ebony magazine for letting four black models wear their natural hair on the runway. Black feminists on social media showed support for the natural hair movement using the hashtags #melanin and #blackgirlmagic.[66] Alleged instances of the "appropriation" of black culture were commented on. For example, a 2015 Vogue Italia photo shoot involving model Gigi Hadid wearing an afro sparked backlash on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Some users claimed it was problematic and racist to have a non-black model wear an afro and a fake tan to give the appearance of blackness when the fashion magazine could have hired a black model instead.[67] Kearie Daniel wrote that white people wearing certain hairstyles is a particularly touchy subject in black feminism because of the perceived double standard that when white women wear black hairstyles, they are deemed "trendy" or "edgy", while black women are labelled "ghetto" or "unprofessional".[68]

Black feminists also voiced the importance of increasing "representation" of black women in television and movies. According to a 2014 study by the University of Southern California, of the 100 top films of that year "nearly three-quarters of all characters were white," NPR reports, and only 17 of those 100 top movies featured non-white lead or co-lead actors. That number falls further when only looking at non-white women leads, considering only one-third of speaking roles were for women,[69] according to the same study.[70]

Black Lives Matter[edit]

The activist movement Black Lives Matter was initially formed by Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Kahn-Cullors as a hashtag to campaign against racism and police brutality against African Americans in the United States.[71] The movement contributed to a revitalization and re-examining of the black feminist movement.[72] While the deaths of black men played a major part in the Black Lives Matter movement, Rekia Boyd, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson, Shelly Frey, Yvette Smith, Eleanor Bumpurs, Sandra Bland and other women were also killed or assaulted by police officers.[73] While Black Lives Matter has been critiqued for a failure to focus on black women's treatment by the police, it has since been better about incorporating the interlocking systems of oppression that disadvantage black women in particular.[74][75] Activism of black feminists in Black Lives Matter has included protests against political candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and hashtags such as #oscarssowhite, and #sayhername.[76]

Black feminist identity politics and safe spaces[edit]

Black feminist identity politics can be defined as knowing and understanding one's own identity while taking into consideration both personal experience as well as the experiences of those in history to help form a group of like-minded individuals who seek change in the political framework of society.[77] It also can be defined as a rejection of oppressive measures taken against one's group, especially in terms of political injustice.[77]

Black feminist writer Patricia Hill Collins believes that this 'outsider within' seclusion suffered by black women was created through the domestic sphere, where black women were considered separate from the perceived white elite who claimed their dominance over them.[78] They also felt a disconnect between the black men's suffering and oppression.[78] As a result of white feminists excluding black women from their discourse, black feminists expressed their own experiences of marginalization and empowered black consciousness in society.[78] Due to the diverse experiences of black women, it is imperative to Collins to speak for and of personal accounts of black women's oppression.[78]

Identity politics have often implemented race, class, and gender as isolated categories as a means of excluding those who aren't perceived as part of the dominant group.[79] These constructed biases formed from race, class, and gender are what feminist Kimberle Crenshaw believes need to be used, not as a means of degradation, but as a form of empowerment and self-worth.[79] Ignoring these differences only creates more of a divide between social movements and other feminist groups, especially in the case of violence against women where the caliber of violence is correlated with components such as race and class.[79]

Another issue of identity politics is the conflict of group formations and safe spaces for black women.[77] In the 1970s, increased literacy among black women promoted writing and scholarship as an outlet for feminist discourse where they could have their voices heard.[77] As a result, black women sought solace in safe spaces that gave them the freedom to discuss issues of oppression and segregation that ultimately promoted unity as well as a means of achieving social justice.[77]

As the notion of color-blindness advocated for a desegregation in institutions, black women faced new issues of identity politics and looked for a new safe space to express their concerns.[77] This was met with a lot of contention as people saw these black female groups as exclusive and separatist.[77] Dominant groups, especially involved in the political sphere, found these safe spaces threatening because they were away from the public eye and were therefore unable to be regulated by the higher and more powerful political groups.[77]

Despite the growth in feminist discourse regarding black identity politics, some men disagree with the black feminist identity politics movement.[80] Some black novelists, such as Kwame Anthony Appiah, uphold the notion of color-blindness and dismiss identity politics as a proper means of achieving social justice.[80] To him, identity politics is an exclusionary device implemented in black culture and history, like hip hop and jazz, that limit outsider comprehension and access.[80] However, writer Jeffery A. Tucker believes that identity politics serves as a foundation where such color-blindness can finally be achieved in the long run if implemented and understood within society.[80]

Organisations[edit]

Black feminist organizations faced some different challenges to other feminist organization. Firstly, these women had to "prove to other black women that feminism was not only for white women".[81] They also had to demand that white women "share power with them and affirm diversity" and "fight the misogynist tendencies of Black Nationalism".[81]

The short-lived National Black Feminist Organization was founded in 1973 in New York by Margaret Sloan-Hunter and others (The NBFO stopped operating nationally in 1975[82]). This organization of women focused on the interconnectedness of the many prejudices faced by African-American women, such as racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.[83] In 1975, Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, Cheryl L. Clarke, Akasha Gloria Hull, and other female activists tied to the Civil Rights Movement, Black Nationalism or the Black Panther Party established, as an offshoot of the National Black Feminist Organization, the Combahee River Collective, a radical lesbian feminist group. Their founding text referred to important female figures of the abolitionist movement, such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frances E. W. Harper, Ida B. Welles Barnett and Mary Church Terrell, president of the National Association of Colored Women founded in 1896. The Combahee River Collective opposed the practice of lesbian separatism, considering that, in practice, Separatists focused exclusively on sexist oppression and not on other oppressions (race, class, etc.)[84]

The Combahee River Collective was one of the most important black socialist feminist organizations of all time. This group began meeting in Boston in 1974, a time when socialist feminism was thriving in Boston. The name Combahee River Collective was suggested by the founder and African-American lesbian feminist, Barbara Smith, and refers to the campaign led by Harriet Tubman who freed 750 slaves near the Combahee River in South Carolina in 1863. Smith said they wanted the name to mean something to African-American women, and that "it was a way of talking about ourselves being on a continuum of black struggle, of black women's struggle".[85]

The members of this organization consisted of many former members of other political organizations that worked within the civil rights movement, anti-war movement, labor movement, and others. Demita Frazier, co-founder of the Combahee River Collective says these women from other movements found themselves "in conflict with the lack of a feminist analysis and in many cases were left feeling divided against [themselves]."[86] The Combahee River Collective argued in 1974 that the liberation of black women entails freedom for all people, since it would require the end of racism, sexism, and class oppression.[87]

As an organization, they were labeled as troublemakers and many said they were brainwashed by the man hating white feminist, that they didn't have their own mind, and they were just following in the white woman's footsteps.[86] Throughout the 1970s, the Combahee River Collective met weekly to discuss the different issues concerning black feminists. They also held retreats throughout the Northeast from 1977 to 1979 to help "institutionalize black feminism" and develop an "ideological separation from white feminism".[86]

As an organization they founded a local battered women's shelter and worked in partnership with all community activists, women and men, gay and straight playing an active role in the reproductive rights movement.[86] The Combahee River Collective ended their work together in 1980 and is now most widely remembered for developing the Combahee River Collective Statement, a key document in the history of contemporary black feminism and the development of the concepts of identity.[86]

Black feminist literature[edit]

The importance of identity[edit]

Michelle Cliff believes that there is continuity "in the written work of many African American Women, ... you can draw a line from the slave narrative of Linda Brent to Elizabeth Keckley's life, to Their Eyes were Watching God (by Zora Neale Hurston) to Coming of Age in Mississippi (Anne Moody) to Sula (by Toni Morrison), to the Salt Eaters (by Toni Cade Bambara) to Praise Song for the Widow (by Paule Marshall)." Cliff believes that all of these women, through their stories, "Work against the odds to claim the 'I'".[88]

Examples[edit]

  • 1945–1995, Black Internationalist Feminism: Women Writers of the Black Left by Cheryl Higashida[89] looks at black women writers and their contributions to the feminist movement; specifically the black feminist movement. Higashida "illustrates how literature is a crucial lens for studying Black internationalist feminism because these authors were at the forefront of bringing the perspectives and problems of black women to light against their marginalization and silencing." Included in her work are writers such as Rosa Guy, Lorraine Hansberry, Audre Lorde and Maya Angelou.
  • 1970, Black Woman's Manifesto, published by the Third World Women's Alliance, argued for a specificity of oppression against Black women. Co-signed by Gayle Lynch, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Maxine Williams, Frances M Beale and Linda La Rue, the manifesto, opposing both racism and capitalism, stated that "the black woman is demanding a new set of female definitions and a recognition of herself of a citizen, companion and confidant, not a matriarchal villain or a step stool baby-maker. Role integration advocates the complementary recognition of man and woman, not the competitive recognition of same."[90] Additionally, Toni Cade Bambara edited the eclectic volume The Black Woman: An Anthology (1970) which sought to “explore ourselves and set the record straight on the matriarch and the evil Black bitch.” [91] It featured now considered canonical essays, such as Frances Beale's "Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female" and Toni Cade Bambara's "On the Issue of Roles."
  • 1979, Barbara Smith and Lorraine Bethel edited the Autumn 1979 issue of Conditions. Conditions 5 was "the first widely distributed collection of Black feminist writing in the U.S."[92]
  • 1992, Black feminists mobilized "a remarkable national response" to the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas Senate Hearings in 1991, naming their effort African American Women in Defense of Ourselves.[93]
  • 1994, Evelyn Hammonds: “Black (W)holes and The Geometry of Black Female Sexuality”,

Evelyn Hammonds begins her essay by reflecting, as a black lesbian and feminist writer, on the “consistently exclusionary practices of lesbian and gay studies” that produce such problematic paucities as: the presence of writers of color, articles written on black women’s sexuality by black women that complexly examine race in representations of gender, and the visibility of black lesbian experiences (Hammonds, 127). Hammonds articulates how whiteness defines the canonical “categories, identities, and subject positions” of lesbian and gay studies and depends of maintaining and presupposing patterns of black women and black lesbian sexualities’ invisibility and absence (Hammonds, 128). This articulation is directly linked to Hammonds concern about the visibility and audibility of black queer sexualities since if black women’s sexualities are perceived as always invisible or absent then that of lesbian and queer black women and authors must follow as doubly invisible. While white sexuality as the normative sexuality has been challenged by other writers Hammonds frames her intervention as reaching beyond the limits of this familiar critique. To effectively challenge the hegemony of whiteness within Queer theory Hammonds charges black feminists with the major projects of reclaiming sexuality so that black women and black women sexualities may register as present and power relations between white women and black women’s expression of gender and sexuality becomes a part of theory making within Queer studies. Black holes become a metaphor used to stage an intervention within Queer theory—Hammonds mobilizes this astrophysical phenomenon to provides a new way to approach the relationship between less visible (but still present) black female sexualities and the more visible (but not normal) white sexualities. Hammonds writes that in Queer studies’ “theorizing of difference” white female sexualities hold the position of visibility which is “theoretically dependent upon an absent yet-ever-present pathologized black female sexuality” (Hammonds, 131).

  • 2000, In her introduction to the 2000 reissue of the 1983 black feminist anthology Home Girls, theorist and author Barbara Smith states her opinion that "to this day most Black women are unwilling to jeopardize their 'racial credibility' (as defined by Black men) to address the realities of sexism."[94] Smith also notes that "even fewer are willing to bring up homophobia and heterosexism, which are, of course, inextricably linked to gender oppression."[94]

The involvement of Pat Parker in the black feminist movement was reflected in her writings as a poet. Her work inspired other black feminist poets such as Hattie Gossett.[95]

In 2018, Carol Giardian wrote an article, " Mow to Now: Black Feminism Resets the Chronology of the Founding of Modern Feminism." explores black women and their involvement with the organizing of the 1963 March on Washington (MOW). Particular focus is given to how this was pivotal to the shift of feminist organizing of the 1960s. Many activists are noted including Dorothy Height, Pauli Murray, and Anna Arnold Hedgeman. Facing down powerful male figures of the black church, they established feminist protest models that they subsequently used to inform the establishment of the National Organization for Women in 1966.[96]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]