“Usually, when people talk about the “strength” of black women . . . . they ignore the reality that to be strong in the face of oppression is not the same as overcoming oppression, that endurance is not to be confused with transformation.”
― bell hooks
The world has been blessed by the existence of many extraordinary Black women who have called out the ongoing injustices that plague society. The history and evolution of Black Feminist thought is a fascinating one, extending back to First Wave Feminism, when even in those days white suffragettes rarely accepted their Black counterparts as equals. This is also true of Second Wave Feminism when many white, upper and middle class activists failed to recognize the unique challenges that women of colour, those who identify as queer and other women who don’t fit into that narrow box experience. In spite of this, many brilliant Black women have brought to light the issues that Black women and those who find themselves part of other marginalized groups face. Their efforts have helped advance Feminist Theory and inform many of the key tenets of Third and Fourth Wave Feminism.
It’s impossible to cover the diverse array of scholars and activists who have played key roles in advancing Black Feminist thought within a single blog post. As a jumping off point, here are a trio of noteworthy women to start your journey of discovery.
A feminist activist and scholar, who also identifies as a lesbian, Smith and other members of the Combahee River Collective originated the term identity politics in the Combahee River Collective Statement, which has become a key text in modern Black Feminism. Identity Politics refers to the complexities of intersecting identities and their effect on oppressing women. This was the idea that would go on to inspire Intersectionality. Noting the lack of publications by and about Women of Colour, Barbara Smith founded the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, a publishing house that would go on to publish a number of notable books and pamphlets by BIPOC activists and authors, including Smith’s own Home girls : a Black feminist anthology.
We have Ms. Crenshaw to thank for Intersectional Theory, which has informed so much thinking surrounding equity and diversity, and for her work as a Critical Race scholar. For those unfamiliar with the term, intersectionality refers to the differing levels of privilege that exist between individuals and different groups and how multiple aspects of identity affect our position and treatment in the world. For example, a Queer, Black Woman faces different challenges than a White, middle-class straight woman, as does a Two Spirit, Person with a disability. By examining how the sources of marginalization often intersect and result in differing levels of empowerment and disadvantage, we can begin to appreciate the multifaceted nature of societal imbalance. We have a subject guide devoted to resources related to intersectionality. Those interested in reading some of Ms. Crenshaw’s work might want to start with Critical Race Theory: the key writings that formed the movement.
Sadly, we just lost Ms. hooks last year. In her distinguished career as a writer, professor and feminist activist she explored the many ways that Black bodies are marginalized in film and media; the racism inherent in white, Second Wave Feminist thought; and the necessity of education to empower feminist movements.
The idea of oppositional gaze is attributed to Ms. hooks. Oppositional gaze relates to the historical legacy of slavery and the negative consequences that would result if a Black person who was enslaved simply returned their master’s gaze. Adopting the oppositional gaze is a way to rebel against this tendency by returning the gaze of one’s oppressors as a method to take back power. As a primer for Ms. hook’s writing Ain’t I a woman : Black women and feminism or Feminist theory : from margin to center are a great start.
There are many other brilliant Black women whose written works examining are worth checking out, including
- Angela Davis;
- Patricia Collins Hill;
- Alice Walker;
- Audre Lorde;
- Roxane Gay;
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie;
- Jennifer Christine Nash.
If you’re looking to go deeper into this topic, you may also find the following databases of interest:
As always, feel free to Ask Us if you need help looking for a particular resource. We’re here to help.!
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