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
1. Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (Cambridge, MA: Unwin Hyman, 1990), 44.
2. Ibid., 225-230.