Black Feminism

by Michael_Koger

Advocacy for the rights of women worldwide has long existed.

Equality for women white and black has been a concern across the globe for hundreds of years. Though much progress has occurred, discrimination continues everywhere. The genesis of this problem is complex and entails family, education, community, voting rights, empowerment, and movements to change the situation.

Introduction

     The Black Feminist Movement has been in progress for centuries, and in the United States, it originated from the Black Liberation Movement and the Women’s Movement (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994; Christian, 1989; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007). Moreover, since Black Feminism is part of the Black Liberation Movement in general, it can be part of the approaches of the Civil Rights Movement, Black Nationalism, Black Panthers, and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994; Henry and Foster, 1982; Hine, 2007).  In 1973, the National Black Feminist Organization began in New York (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994).

     In their efforts to obtain equality, African-American women encountered issues of gender as well as race.  The feminist movement included white and black women; however, a split took place in which African-American women created their own movement separately from whites (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994; Aldridge, 2001; Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     The split concerned voting rights and amendments during Reconstruction.  Specifically, in 1870, black men obtained the right to vote by the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, but white women did not (Aldridge, 2001).  Since white women considered themselves equal or superior to black men and women, this resulted in their resentment toward blacks (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994; Class Notes, University of Wyoming, 2017; Aldridge, 2001; Henry and Foster, 1982; Hudson-Weems, 2000). 

     To illustrate feminism‘s lack of utility for blacks, Carrie Chapman Catt publicly said that the right of white women to vote was to ensure the presence of white supremacy in the South (Aldridge, 2001; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

Theory of Black Feminism

     There are six concepts for black feminism, and they include controlling images that display black women with negative stereotypes such as recipients of public assistance or sexual promiscuity.  The effect that race and gender interactions have on one’s life—intersectionality—is another matter to consider.  Moreover, the gendered racism that black women experience is what researchers call misogynoir (Brown, 2016).

     Alice Walker created the well-known term “womanism,” and she defines it as the spiritual, political, social, and other ways that have to do with the empowerment of women (Brown, 2016).

     There is also the recognition that it is at times a challenge to determine what leads to oppression.  Finally, there is the idea that home of origin is where one can encounter the humanization issue (Brown, 2016).

Forms of Discrimination

     Some researchers call the movement Africana Womanism as it entails gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, and classism as forms of discrimination which women must overcome (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994; Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hall, 2000; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007). 

     There are many forms of oppression such as apartheid, slavery, colonialism, and imperialism, all of which create racial hegemony or domination.  Victims around the world share what blacks have encountered (Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hall, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     The interactions between the parties in these situations are complex.  First, many of these movements have been for the benefit of black men rather than women.  This leads to sexism in which black men participate in panel discussions and research while their female partners have duties merely to serve coffee and answer the telephone (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994; Aldridge, 2001; Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hine, 2007). 

     Black men want to control the sexuality of black women.  For example, they do not want black women to participate in interracial relationships.  Moreover, men have long believed in the biblical approach that women are to submit themselves to the man and that the woman is the weaker vessel (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994; Henry and Foster, 1982).

     At the same time, black men are victims of discrimination (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994; Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     There is also the promotion of misogyny, or hatred of women, and sexism via the entertainment media such as music videos (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994).

     In consideration of sexual harassment, many Americans recall the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Clarence Thomas’ confirmation to serve on the United States Supreme Court.  A previous co-worker of Thomas, Anita Hill, accused him of sexual harassment, and this became part of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing which the late Senator Arlen Specter chaired (Kolbert, 1991).  A decade prior to the 1991 hearing, Thomas and Hill worked together as federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attorneys.  Hill was a law professor at the time of the hearing (Kolbert, 1991).

     The Africana Womanism Movement has encountered resistance from many people.  Some believe that the movement is a form of man-hating.  Others consider black feminists to be lesbians.  Moreover, opposition from the community stems from the assumption that black women already have enough rights and privileges (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994; Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hine, 2007).

University Women’s Studies

     What has further hampered progress for women is their inability to obtain faculty positions at universities where they can conduct research and publish papers.  Even when Women’s Studies Departments became fashionable, they were under the supervision of white faculty members—whether man or woman (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994; Aldridge, 2001; Christian, 1989; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     Men have controlled African-American Studies, and this obviously leaves black women at a serious disadvantage.  Black women need to participate in professional organizations and present at conferences in order to develop their careers.  There is discussion about this discrimination in Hull’s book, All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us are Brave (Aldridge, 2001; Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     During the 1960s, there was a paucity of university black faculty in general.  However, Africana Studies programs began during those years of the Civil Rights Movement (Aldridge, 2001).  Black academicians believe that such educational programs must include lessons of human dignity and empowerment.  Many of them do not consider feminism and Africana Womanism to have the same agenda for the movement (Aldridge, 2001; Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     What black faculty members at universities can do is publish in the scholarly literature about these matters.  In fact, there are doctoral dissertations as well as poetry on the forms of discrimination that they encounter (Guy-Sheftall, 1992; Hine, 2007). 

     For example, in 1981, Bell Hooks published Ain’t I A Woman:  Black Women and Feminism.  This is obviously an allusion to Sojourner Truth’s well-known 1852 speech at the National Woman’s Suffrage Convention in Akron, Ohio (Henry and Foster, 1982; Hall, 2000; Hudson-Weems, 2000).  Of course, as this description is of the 19th century, Hooks naturally writes about slavery (Guy-Sheftall, 1992).

     The well-known writer, Alice Walker, contends that womanists have to include the “survival and wholeness of an entire people (Aldridge, 2001, page 158).”  She also agrees that feminism does not properly deal with the needs of black women (Aldridge, 2001; Henry and Foster, 1982; Hine, 2007).

     Obviously, there have been many storytellers and poets.  Others include orators, autobiographers, and blues singers who have long participated in the generation of black feminist thought (Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hall, 2000; Hine, 2007). 

     Despite these obstacles, there has been considerable progress with the integration of Women’s Studies at universities in the United States since the onset of the postmodern era (Sheftall, 1992; Hall, 2000).  The goal of these academic departments is to address discrimination against black women worldwide (Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hall, 2000; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     Hence, there has long been a need for Women’s Studies Departments which address the lives of African-American women not only in the curriculum conceptual framework, but also in the form of black women faculty members (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994;Aldridge, 2001; Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hall, 2000; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     Moreover, Toni Cade’s The Black Woman and Gerda Lerner’s Black Women in White America:  A Documentary History significantly contributed to Black Women’s Studies during the latter part of the 20th century (Guy-Sheftall, 1992; Henry and Foster, 1982).

     Of great importance is the Black Feminism Movement and its connection with Black Studies.  For example, there is Afrocentrism that focuses on Africa.  Second, there is integrationism which will cover African Studies, but it considers the methodologies of sociology, anthropology, and history as the standard.  This is obviously somewhat problematic as it may lead some to conclude that Black Studies do not comprise credible research (Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hall, 2000; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     Some universities will hire black women as faculty and assign them to teach African- American Studies.  However, they will work under the supervision of white faculty who will determine what acceptable material in the classroom is.  In these situations, white faculty may have control of the knowledge validation process and thus suppress black feminist ideas (Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hall, 2000; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     It is important that one view such approaches with caution because there is a tendency to teach with a Eurocentric focus and therefore fail to include investigation into the lives of black people (Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hall, 2000; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     Transformationism is another school of thought that acknowledges constant community change while we study these matters of race relations and black feminism.  Therefore, researchers and those in the public must consider this factor as they reach conclusions (Hall, 2000; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     With all these interesting controversies, it is reasonable to assume that the implementation of an African-American Studies program must include a specific standpoint that originates with black women.  This is not actually present in feminist thought (Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

The Black Family

     Though these descriptions may give the impression that Caucasian men elevate their women on a pedestal in some sense, many black women believe that white women are victims of sexual oppression in which white men are the perpetrators (Hall, 2000).  In reality, black women have suggested that they can educate white women about the sexist relationships they have with their partners as well as their own spouses (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994; Christian, 1989; Hall, 2000; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     Black women sometimes identify with black men, and in other instances, they see themselves as white women.  Some do not consider themselves in either of these categories (Hall, 2000).  In any event, black women have learned to survive through what they know about these variables.  Specifically, the class subordination that they experience enables them to learn and adjust to the community where they live (Christian, 1989; Hall, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     The status of black women diminishes because of several factors such as gender, race, and lack of financial wealth (Henry and Foster, 1982; Christian, 1989; Hall, 2000; Hudson-Weems, 2000; Hine, 2007).

     In many instances, black women carry multiple roles in the household such as the provision of emotional or financial support for the family.  This likely is the result of career failures of black men.  To complicate matters, black children may not understand why their father’s employment situation is unstable, and this can lead to resentment between parent and child (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994; Guy-Sheftall, 1992; Henry and Foster, 1982; Hine, 2007).

     Literature suggests that intimate partner violence is more common in black families than in Caucasian couples.  Black women may have to return to work in order to support the family, and these minority couples tend to be more distant from each other than are white families (Guy-Sheftall, 1992; Henry and Foster, 1982).  These family interactions, which may include aging and same-sex relationships, are present across the globe.  In any event, the issues that regularly appear in the news have to do with reproductive rights, childcare, disability rights, intimate partner violence, and sexual harassment (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1994; Hall, 2000).

     Many organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights vigorously speak out against the discriminatory treatment of women everywhere.   As these lifestyle issues are relevant to African-American Studies, there must be thorough discussions about urban violence, teen pregnancy, high school dropout, unemployment, substance use disorders, and other dysfunctional matters of the black family (Henry and Foster, 1982; Hall, 2000).

     W. E. B. DuBois, who attended Fisk University, wrote about these issues.  He said that blacks seem to have a double consciousness in which they identify with behaviors and thought patterns of whites and non-whites (Hall, 2000).

Conclusion

     There has been much progress in the United States and other parts of the world with regard to the treatment of women white and non-white.  It has to do with several demographic variables that contribute to the problem.  These variables interact with family structure, employment, community, and other issues.  Protests and other methods in which one can exercise freedom of speech will continue to make America and other parts of the globe aware of the seriousness of discrimination against women of all racial/ethnic groups.  University research will have, of course, a significant role in this endeavor as well.  

References

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  (1994).  The Thistle.  But some of us are brave:  A history of black feminism in the United States.  Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  2. Aldridge, D.  (2001).  Womanist issues in Black Studies:  Towards Integrating Africana Womanism into Africana Studies.  In The African American Studies Reader, editor, Nathaniel Norment, Jr., Durham, North Carolina:  Carolina Academic Press.
  3. Guy-Sheftall, B.  (1992).  Black Women’s Studies:  The Interface of Women’s Studies and Black Studies.  Phylon,(1960-  ), 49, 33-41.
  4. Henry, C. and Foster, F.  (1982).  Black Women’s Studies:  Threat or Challenge?  The Western Journal of Black Studies, 6, 15-21.
  5. Christian, B.  (1989).  But who do you really belong to—black studies or women’s studies?  Women’s Studies, 17, 17-23.
  6. Hill-Collins, P.  (1989).  The social construction of black feminist thought.  The University of Chicago.  In The African American Studies Reader, Second Edition, editor, Nathaniel Norment, Jr., Durham:  Carolina Academic Press.
  7. Hall, P.  (2000).  Paradigms in Black Studies. In Out of the Revolution:  The Development of Africana Studies, eds., Delores P. Aldridge and Carlene Young.  Lanham:  Lexington Books.
  8. Hudson-Weems.  (2000).  Africana Womanism:  An Overview.  In Out of the RevolutionThe Development of Africana Studies, editors, Delores P. Aldridge and Carlene Young Lanham:  Lexington Books.
  9. Hine, D.  (2007).  The Black Studies Movement:  Afrocentric-Traditionalist-Feminist Paradigms for the Next Stage (1992).  In The African American Studies Reader, Second Edition, editor, Nathaniel Norment, Jr.,  Durham:  Carolina Academic Press.
  10. Kolbert, E. (1991). The New York Times.  The Thomas Nomination:  Sexual harassment at work is pervasive, survey suggests.  Retrieved March 20, 2017.
  11. Brown, M.  (2016).  Ready to ditch white feminism?  Here are 6 black feminist concepts you need to know.  Unapologetic Feminism.
  12. Copyright 2017.  Michael Koger, Sr.  All Rights Reserved.
Updated: 05/27/2017, Michael_Koger
 
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