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On Black Folks, Blackfolks and Feminism March 3, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in Higher Education.
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 A shout out to the sometimes wise, sometimes witty, sometimes weird folks who keep the livejournal’s Blackfolks community alive, provocative, and thriving.

Today’s discussion thread on Womanist thought focused directly on one of my pet peeves, the residual tendency within our African American and Afro-diasporic communities to dismiss feminism or any woman-centered politics as “white.”

This mode of thinking is much less common today that it was even 10 years ago; and it is certainly a lot less prevalent during what I might call the 20th-century heyday of such ideas, the Black Arts and Black power movements of the mid- to late 1960s and the early ’70s.

Still, though, such thinking continues to rear its head, and often in ways that are silencing to those who feel differently. Despite the ascendancy of Black public intellectuals like Mark Anthony Neal and bell hooks who argue quite convincingly that feminism is liberatory for both men and women of the Black community, too many us of continue to ascribe to the belief that to adopt a political mode of analysis that addresses sexism as well as racism is to dilute or undermine the rightful focus of Black social justice activism on the restoration of male power to Black men.

Needless to say, any time Black folks begin talking about how feminism is a white thing, I become frustrated. To say that feminism is for white women is historically, politically, and ideologically uninformed. Those who assert that feminism and/or anti-sexist political activism is for white women have either forgotten about or never heard of  Sojourner Truth, Frances E.W. Harper, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, all of whom fought for women’s rights before the name feminism had been invented.

I also think of the book All the Women Are White, All the Men are Black, but Some of Us Are Brave, the groundbreaking  reader that takes up the task of defining a feminst framework that addresses the specific interests of Black women, as it both white supremacy and some of the more sexist aspects of Black Nationalism and Afrocentrism.

Consider also the more recent contributions of these scholars: the prolific bell hooks, with her many volumes of Black feminist analysis; Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins’s s overview of Black feminist theory in the U.S.; the Gates-edited anthology of Black feminist literary criticism called Reading Black, Reading Feminist; and countless others.

These are powerful people and powerful texts. To say that feminism is a white mode of analysis of socio-political framework is to reinforce the invisibility of Black women’s myriad and paradigm shifting contributions to the discourse around sexism and racism.

When we as Black women and men deny that feminism can serve Black folks as well as white, we limit the meaning of Blackness and we limit the possibilities for our own freedom.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

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