Latter 20th Century
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 foundation texts of black feminism is An Argument for Black Women’s Liberation as a Revolutionary Force, authored by Mary Ann Weathers and published in 1969 in Cell 16's radical feminist magazine No More Fun and Games: A Journal of Female Liberation. 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.||”|
The following year, in 1970, the Third World Women’s Alliance published the Black Women’s Manifesto, which argued for a specificity of oppression against Black women. Co-signed by Gayle Linch, 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.||”|
Other black feminists active in early second-wave feminism were 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; who all "tried to show the connections between racism and male dominance" in society.
Not only did the civil rights movement primarily focus only on the oppression of black men, but many black women faced severe sexism within civil rights groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The feminist movement focused on the problems faced by white women. For instance, earning the power to work outside of the home was not an accomplishment for black feminists; they had been working all along. Neither movement confronted the issues that concerned black women specifically. Because of their intersectional position, black women were being systematically ignored by both movements: "All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men but Some of Us are Brave", as titled a 1982 book by Gloria Hull, Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith.
Black women began creating theory and developing a new movement which spoke to the combination of problems they were battling, including sexism, racism, and classism. Angela Davis, for instance, showed that while Afro-American women were suffering from compulsory sterilization programs, white women were subjected to multiple unwilled pregnancies and had to clandestinely abort.
The short-lived National Black Feminist Organization was founded in 1973 in New York by Margaret Sloan-Hunter and others. Two years later, 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 off-shoot 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 others oppression (race, class, etc.)
This group's primary goal was "the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking." They rejected all essentialization or biologization, focusing on political and economical analysis of various forms of domination. The Combahee River Collective, in particular on the impulse of Barbara Smith, would engage itself in various publications on feminism, showing that the position of Black women was specific and adding a new perspective to Women's studies, mainly written by White women.
The Black Lesbian Caucus was created as an off-shoot of the Gay Liberation Front in 1971, and later took the name of the Salsa Soul Sisters, Third World Wimmin Inc. Collective, which was the first "out" organization for lesbians, womanists and women of color in New York . The Salsa Soul Sisters published a literary quarterly called Azalea: A Magazine by Third World Lesbians in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Sisters are now known as African Ancestral Lesbians United for Societal Change, and is the oldest black lesbian organization in the United States.
As stated above, the black feminist movement grew out of the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s, stemming from groups like SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), the Black Panthers and other such groups. It was not so much a growth as a separation from black civil rights groups because the main focus was male oppression. In the autobiography of Anne Moody, she brings the idea of black feminism into focus, stating, "We were told in the same breath to be quiet both for the sake of being 'ladylike' and to make us less objectionable in the eyes of white people."
Black women not only had to deal with racism, but sexism as well and it was even more prevalent with black males. According to the authors, another reason why Black women were oppressed more is because of the certain stereotype attributed to black women, i.e. mammy, Sapphire, whore and bulldagger, to name a few. These names are just an example of how insignificant these black women's lives have become, and it's not only white people who continue the name calling, but also more importantly black males.
While the explanations above do a decent job of explaining the black feminist movement, there are certain ideas that are not addressed that play a major role in black feminism. As compared to white feminists, black feminists do no face the threat of being undermined by their own people. No one better exemplifies this ideal better than Michelle Wallace, a black feminist who also was a member of the Combahee River Collective. She states, "We exist as women who are Black who are feminists, each stranded for the moment, working independently because there is not yet an environment in this society remotely congenial to our struggle—because, being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done: we would have to fight the world."
The black feminist movement had to contend with civil rights movements that wanted women in a lesser role. Men believed the black women would organize around their own needs and minimize their own efforts, losing reliable allies in the struggle for civil rights. The black feminist movement not only had to contend with racial prejudice but also the structure of our patriarchal society, making their struggle that much harder.
Read more about this topic: Black Feminism
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