Black Feminism Today

Today, the ultimate goal of black feminists is still the same.  By advocating the liberation of black women, historically some of the most marginalized and oppressed people in our country, the aim is to ensure freedom for ALL people, of all genders, races, and socioeconomic classes.  It is not uncommon for others to identify as “black feminists” who also believe in the same goals.

I encourage my readers to check out the blogroll on the right side of the page to see the perspectives of some contemporary black feminist bloggers.

 

“Latina/Chicana Women’s Activism in the US”

This is an informative article about Latina and Chicana feminists and activists in the U.S. throughout the 20th century and the unique challenges they’ve also had to face.

Since the emergence of black feminism as a reaction against the originally white and middle class-dominated feminist movement, other racial and cultural groups have created their unique brands of feminism, focusing on similar issues like the intersectionality of oppressions.  Alternative feminisms have developed in the United States as well as developing countries, where issues of class disparity are perhaps more prominent.

 

Pop Culture and Masculinity

Early 90s gangsta rap group NWA

In the past decade, the concerns of black feminists has expanded to include concerns over issues not solely related to black women, but also to how American ideals of masculinity and femininity repress all people, gay and straight, male and female.

bell hooks examines how racist and sexist attitudes marginalize black males. She is critical of certain movies, for example, as reflecting white imperialist capitalist patriarchy. Films like Eddie Murphy’s Raw and Harlem Nights [trailer] embody a notion of phallocentric violence and portray women in stereotypical roles as either a sex object or a mother figure.1

Patricia Hill Collins is critical of hip hop in her book From Black Power to Hip-Hop: Racism, Nationalism, and Feminism, and she and others have cited the misogyny which is prevalent in hip hop culture.

In Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity, Jackson Katz addresses the limited way that men of color are portrayed in the media which perpetuates stereotypes. Men in general are usually portrayed in the media as violent and aggressive, but there is even less diversity in the way men of color are presented in popular culture. Men who are marginalized because of minority status or socioeconomic class are more likely to feel like they have to put on a hypermasculine front to get respect or validation. This hyper violent image is then idealized in the popular culture as mediums like hip hop music reach the mainstream. [Full video here]

“Sexism fosters, condones, and supports male violence against women, as well as encouraging violence between males.”2  The misogyny and violence that is celebrated in popular culture therefore is a huge obstacle.

References

1. bell hooks, “Reconstructing Black Masculinity” in Black Looks: Race and Representation, (Boston: South End Press, 1992), 102-106.

2. bell hooks.  Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (Boston, MA: South End Press, 1981), 105.

Sociology in Black Feminism

Patricia Hill Collins

Black feminists have come from a variety of different fields and backgrounds. Besides writers like Alice Walker, they have been philosophers, political activists, psychologists, and sociologists, just to name a few. An important contributor to black feminist thought in the 1990s and 2000s is Patricia Hill Collins, a sociologist. In her first book, published in 1990, she uses the term “intersectionality” to refer to the multiple sources of oppression that minority women simultaneously face, and explores the concept of “interlocking” oppressions.1

Hill Collins is perhaps best known for her theory of the Matrix of Domination. She argues that labels used for social classification (race, gender, etc.) imply that these must be ranked in a certain hierarchy. This type of thinking creates a dichotomy between the privileged and the subordinated, excluding certain groups from rising up the social ranks. These social classifications are not interchangeable, but rather, they overlap. People may experience different dimensions of oppression, whether because of their sexual orientation, religion, or race, for example, but the idea is that there is always a dominant group.

Hill Collins also argues that the best way to resist the Matrix of Domination is through knowledge and awareness of interlocking oppressions. To gain this awareness, women must reject previous knowledge that perpetuates the patriarchal system, or any other dominating force. 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.2

References

1. Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (Cambridge, MA: Unwin Hyman, 1990), 44.

2. Ibid., 225-230.