Black Feminism

Review

I’ve actually jumped the gun a bit, with talking about black feminism last week, when I probably should have reserved it for this week. But, it intersects both gender and race, so it’s applicable for both conversations. This week, we will be looking at race theory, and gaining insight from some of the best academics in this field–including Patricia Hill Collins, and my personal favorite (c’mon…he has to be everyone’s favorite) Cornel West!

As stated in my prior post, I consider black feminism to have utmost importance in the realm of the movements for feminism, and it’s a sect that I think deserves more attention, particularly because I don’t think liberal-feminism or other popular sects of Western, modern feminism appropriately address this intersection of race and class, that is unique to an entire population. I think black feminism struggles from the same thing feminism in general does. My “favorite” (and I use this word dripping with sarcasm) response to feminism is someone asking the inevitable: Why don’t you just call yourselves egalitarian if you truly believe in being equal? And I think people ask the same to black feminism–why do you need your own sect if this is just about gender? Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world that caters to the intersectionality of race and gender, and thus, black women get neglected in the movement. Feminism encompasses rather than replaces the ideas of black feminism. It’s like saying, “I don’t think we should call ourselves physicists, we should just call ourselves scientists. If your focus is on general science like a teacher who needs to know a bit about a lot of subjects, someone else’s might be physics, and that lady over there might focus on biology. Why should one be less precise describing their beliefs so another person can tell me who they are? They are still a feminist, but their focus is on black women issues. It’s not an either or, but as most of their time and effort goes to subjects relating to the intersection between race and gender, it’s appropriate for them to call themselves a black feminist.

I know that the whole abortion movement was pushed forward by white women predominantly. Women of color were/are very careful about supporting abortion since there have been issues of forced abortions and sterilizations, and reduction of choice in for colored women. By reduction of choice, I mean that since colored women statistically exist in lower socioeconomic status, the “choice” to get an abortion is not really a choice. When you have less money than your white women counterparts, you’ll basically feel you have no choice but to get an abortion because you can’t afford a new baby. Another issue is nationalism. Many black women feel like it is their duty to have many children in order to strengthen the black race. This might deter black women from joining the abortion movement. Also, different types of birth control are promoted in low socioeconomic communities than in middle-class or higher communities. Often, young women of color are offered long term birth control such as depo shots and IUDs, whereas white women are offered birth control pills which are short term in their actions. All of this points to inequality between white and non-white women, and more often than not, white feminists do not feel inclined to admit that someone else has got it worse or different than them. They expect women of color to be in lock step with them and are ignorant of the unique position that it is to be a person of color.

Cornel West discusses how market-driven culture has successfully destroyed virtue…in other words, money  has corrupted American culture. The failure is in capitalism – – replaced by a plutocracy. Racism has been one of the most effective means of dividing the common class ever devised. If half the working class hates the other because of religion or color, then they spend a whole lot less time thinking about the actual reasons they aren’t happy.

Modern Application of Theory

 

This isn’t my original image, I came across this image+editing online. It is an interesting look at how our view of race is shaped by the society we live in. Race shouldn’t need development. The assumption that race is such a defining characteristic that you need to write “black characters” rather than characters who happen to be black and just behave like people rather than stereotypes or caricatures is a large part of the problem the girl is commenting on. That characters not written as “black characters” are assumed to be white as default is actually a really interesting facet of the socialization of race related to media.

Critique

I thought it would be interesting to discuss ‘Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix of Domination’, a chapter from Patricia Hill Collins’Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Let’s massively oversimplify things and take one basic point of disagreement between white feminists and black feminists: whether the family is a site of oppression for women. Let’s just assume that there are two traditions here, B and W:

  • It is absolutely true that it is trueW that Fo (where ‘F’ = The family, and ‘o’ = is a site of oppression for women)
  • It is absolutely true that it is falseB that Fo

We don’t have a disagreement. We simply have people saying different things according to their traditions. So how is there supposed to be a ‘dialogue’ here? You can only make sense of there being a ‘dialogue’ here if there is some actual disagreement to start with. Since Hill Collins’ is starting from the relativist position, she fails to understand that introducing the ‘perspectives’ point actually eliminates disagreement. What looks like disagreement, on the relativist view, isn’t actually disagreement. Hill Collins is simply saying that, once black women talk about their experiences, then people ought to recognize that it is simply not a universal truth that the family is a site of oppression for women. This is no different than someone posting a picture of a black swan in response to someone saying “Swans are white.”

However, I’m going to be annoying and sort of immediately offer somewhat of a refute for my prior critique (I find it so so so difficult to critique Hill Collins; just let me have this…). Matrix of Domination gets its street-cred for its understanding of interlocking mechanisms (i.e. intersectionality), not for its breaking down of research methodologies or theoretical paradigms. Collins seems to be arguing for a specific kind of subjectivism.

Possible Research Questions

1. Are there comparable numbers of white women and black women who identify as feminists in the U.S.?

2. Is it as common for black men to discount or fail to see the need for feminism, as it is for white men to view feminism as useless or unnecessary?

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