Black Feminism. in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. 4 themes. Black women empower themselves by creating self-definitions and self-valuations that enable themselves to establish positive, multiple images and repel negative, controlling representations of Black womanhood;
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in a white supremacist
Patricia Hill Collins sums it up by saying that Black feminism is “a process of self-conscious struggle that empowers women and men to actualize a humanist vision of community.”
Between 1830 and 1865, BW abolitionists developed a feminist consciousness that reflected their particular experiences as BW as well as aspects of sexism they shared with white women. “Free” and enslaved AA women created numerous strategies and tactics to dismantle slavery as a legal institution and resist racially gendered sexual abuse.
During this period, because of mythical, stereotypical images of Black womanhood, free and enslaved AA women were blamed for their own victimization.
AA female abolitionists feminist consciousness blossomed as they campaigned for equal rights within the context of organized Black abolitionism. Sojourner Truth, 19th century Black reformer couched her arguments in evangelical language. Truth’s narrative, “Aren’t I a Woman?,” highlights a theological justification for the abolition of slavery and the granting of equal rights for men and women.
After passage of the 13th amendment, tensions between abolitionists and feminists exploded over the issue of suffrage. Despite the fact that white women exploited and betrayed Black women during the suffrage movement, Black women nevertheless played an important role in the fight for women’s right to vote, and this in the context of the brutal Jim Crow legal racist structure.
Wells-Barnett challenged the myths that all white women were chaste and all Black women were without virtue and that all Black men were rapists, by unleashing a massive international campaign against lynching. She documented the economic conditions of the lynching victims, and that white women could be attracted to Black men and that Black women were being violated and abused at alarming rates.
After passage of the 19th amendment, Black women tried to cast their votes but were met with hostility not only at the polls in states like Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida, but at the National Women’s Party Convention in 1921. 60 AA women from 14 states requested an interview with Alice Paul, leader of the NWP, to discuss the disenfranchisement of Black Women. Paul agreed to listen but did not accept their request to present their plea to the convention. Journalists for the magazine the Nation (still in existence) revealed that AA women sought to have Paul form a special committee to investigate the violations during the 1920 election, but that Paul was indifferent to and resentful of the AA delegation. Paul and other white leaders repeatedly explained that Black women were no worse off than Black men in these states. (Florida in the 2000 election needs to be viewed historically).
During the Civil rights era, usually demarcated by the Brown vs. Board decision in 1954, many of the leaders were men, certainly the most visible ones in the mainstream media, nevertheless BW were extremely important at the forefront and on the ground.
Ella Baker led the non-violent direct tactics of the SNCC sit-ins, boycotts, and freedom rides, and it is well-known that the civil rights movement served as a model for the women’s movement. JoAnn Robinson and the Women’s Political Council organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott that catapulted Martin Luther King, Jr. onto the National stage. (see The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It, by JoAnn Robinson). Also, the Rosa Parks Myth, that “she was a tired seamstress who was so tired after work one day that she refused to move and then MLK led the boycott, etc.” Rosa Parks was a longtime activist, member and leader of the NAACP and many other organizations. It was planned civil disobedience and she was ‘tired’ but not only or even primarily physically tired from work, but ‘tired’ in the sense of fed-upwith racism, and not simply the separation of public facilities, but the institutional subjugation of AA peoples.
But Black women were also beginning to challenge the male-centeredness of the Civil rights organizations, where Black women fully participated in and led the boycotts, sit-ins, Freedom Summer, March on Washington, and other important campaigns, yet back at the office they did housework, typed, cooked, and when the media called, the men were put in front.
In 1966, Betty Freidan and two Black women, Aileen Hernandez and Pauli Murray, along with a group of prominent professional women, founded the National Organization of Women. This was in part a response to the feeling of many Black and White women that what was need was an “NAACP for Women”.
African American women did not have the privilege of abandoning the anti-racist struggle. As AA struggled against the backlash brought on by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Black Power movement emerged. This shift in the movement toward a nationalist trend had a profound impact on Black feminists.
AssataShakur and Elaine Brown paint two very different pictures of the role of women in the Black Panther party. Shakur shows that women were the real basis of the community programs like the free breakfast program, but Brown details physical abuse and sexist power plays between men and women.
Beal’s 1970 essay “Double Jeopardy: To be Black and Female” was an important moment in the development of Contemporary Black Feminism, but her work went beyond theory, exemplifying one of the core characteristics of BF highlighted by Collins.
Another point of conflict between white and Black women in the women’s movement had to do with the emerging anti-poverty movement and welfare movement. The National Welfare Rights Organization was founded in 1967, though earlier regional groups had been formed earlier.
1973 saw the formation of the National Black Feminist Organization. It had a successful conference in November of 1973 but had difficulty sustaining momentum in part because most Black women did not have the luxury of devoting full-time to a political movement. Again, the class issue came in, as an important issue between Black and white female activists. As Toni Morrison wrote during this period:
The late 70s saw the creation of Black feminist groups like the Combahee River Collective, issuing important statements that stressed their commitment to dismantling the interlocking structures of race/class/gender oppressions.