The dominant concept of what characterizes group consciousness is that a group has to focus on one thing. For African American women, that would have to be either their race or their gender based on that paradigm because gender and race are often treated as separate constructs. This view falls short of “the awareness of the simultaneity of oppressions faced by African American women” that is a main recurrent theme in black feminism. Because of that dominant view, black feminists have often been ignored in scholarly work.1
Historically, when African American women have had to choose between anti-sexist and anti-racist causes, they have prioritized their race identification over their gender.2 Black feminists have done away with that limited concept of identity by recognizing that race, class, and gender are all inextricable from each other in making up each person’s identity.
According to Patricia Hill Collins, identity and self-definition are important in understanding the way history is still affecting the course of the present and how it can hinder progress, or even empower the individual. Even so, she recognizes that Black feminists could be anyone who embraces Black feminist ideals, and is not exclusive to African American women.3 One of the determinants of black feminist consciousness is socioeconomic class. Women who take on higher status, higher paying nontraditional occupations are generally more likely to be feminists than women who stay at home or work at low paying jobs.4 Therefore, it is more likely for women with higher incomes to embrace black feminist ideology. Nevertheless, women who do identify as black feminists and advocate its goals recognize the importance of class oppression in developing identities.
1. Evelyn M. Simien, Black Feminist Voices in Politics (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2006), 22-23.
2. Stanlie M. James and Abena P.A. Busia, ed., Theorizing Black Feminisms: The Visionary Pragmatism of Black Women, (New York, NY: Routledge, 1993), 14-16.
3. Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (Cambridge, MA: Unwin Hyman, 1990), 19-37.
4. Simien, Black Feminist Voices, 69.