Combahee River Collective - Other Political Work

Other Political Work

In the encyclopedia, Lesbian Histories and Cultures, contributing editor Jaime M. Grant contextualizes the CRC's work in the political trends of the time thus:

"The collective came together at a time when many of its members were struggling to define a liberating feminist practice alongside the ascendence of a predominantly white feminist movement, and a Black nationalist vision of women deferring to Black male leadership."

Grant believes the CRC was most important in the "emergence of coalition politics in the late 1970s and early 1980s... which demonstrated the key roles that progressive feminists of color can play" in bridging gaps "between diverse constituencies, while also creating new possibilities for change within deeply divided communities..."

She notes that, in addition to penning the statement, "collective members were active in the struggle for desegregation of the Boston public schools, in community campaigns against police brutality in Black neighborhoods and on picket lines demanding construction jobs for Black workers."

The collective was also politically active around issues of violence against women, in particular the murder of twelve Black women and one white woman in Boston in 1979. According to Becky Thompson, associate professor at Simmons College and author of 'A Promise and a Way of Life: White Antiracist Activism', the Boston Police Department and the media "attempted to dismiss the murders ... based on the notion that (the women) were alleged to be prostitutes and therefore not worthy of protection or investigation."

In a 1979 journal entry, Barbara Smith wrote:

"That winter and spring were a time of great demoralization, anger, sadness and fear for many Black women in Boston, including myself. It was also for me a time of some of the most intensive and meaningful political organizing I have ever done. The Black feminist political analysis and practice the Combahee River Collective had developed since 1974 enabled us to grasp both the sexual-political and racial-political implications of the murders and positioned us to be the link between the various communities that were outraged: Black people, especially Black women; other women of color; and white feminists, many of whom were also lesbians.

Smith developed these ideas into a pamphlet on the topic, articulating the need "to look at these murders as both racist and sexist crimes" and emphasising the need to "talk about violence against women in the Black community."

In a 1994 interview with Susan Goodwillie, Smith noted that this action moved the group out into the wider Boston community. She commented that "the pamphlet had the statement, the analysis, the political analysis, and it said that it had been prepared by the Combahee River Collective. That was a big risk for us, a big leap to identify ourselves in something that we knew was going to be widely distributed."

Historian Duchess Harris believes that "the Collective was most cohesive and active when the murders in Boston were occurring. Having an event to respond to and to collectively organize around gave them a cause to focus on..."

Read more about this topic:  Combahee River Collective

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