Activism by Black women has always played a role in the US social landscape. Here are some recent findings on the subject:
Black Feminist Politics Extend Beyond Black Women
The journal Socialism and Democracy publishes articles relevant to socialist politics and theory. In 2005, Assata Zerai and Horace Campbell published “The Black Radical Congress and Black Feminist Organizing” in the journal to argue that black feminist organizing informs experiences beyond those of black women. They note four intersecting axes that benefit from the black feminist approach in political organizing:
1. community unity
3. dynamism in social movements
4. integrated analysis.
At the level of community, black feminist organizing makes use of alternative resources to create new spaces for marginalized groups. Internationally, black feminism acknowledges that the struggle of racial minorities in the U.S. occurs in tandem with people of color in a global context. Within social movements, Black feminism recognizes “the need to constantly seek new strategies, exercising criticism and self-criticism while keenly analyzing the changing conditions” (p. 152). Lastly, Black feminism makes use of integrated analysis because oppression results from intersecting rather than independent social structures through the matrix of domination.
Third Wave Black Feminism
Kimberly Springer, a former professor of Black Studies, wrote a 2002 article about contemporary Black women’s views on race and gender in “Third Wave Black Feminism?” in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. According to Springer, contemporary Black feminists write about three types of relationships:
1. Relationship with one’s self
2. Relationship with black women’s political and personal histories
3. Relationship with Black men
Examining the relationship with one’s self provides evidence that the harmful implications of the myth of the strong Black woman. Assessing Black women’s political and personal histories reveal that contemporary Black women feel they must extend the work of their activist foremothers. Furthermore, the marginalization of black women from the mainstream narrative of feminism calls into question the accuracy of the ‘wave’ model for describing gendered resistance of the past. In relation to Black men, Black women must contend with “the mutual disrespect and mistrust engendered by slavery and kept alive through women’s and men’s sustained patriarchal notions about gender” (p. 1075). Springer concludes that the use of music can give voice to contemporary feminism, which must also bring attention to heterosexism, ableism, and classism.
Social Movements Influence How Black Women See Themselves
In a 1999 issue of Gender & Society, sociologist Paula Stewart Brush published a review of autobiographies of Black women influenced by the civil rights and women’s rights movements between 1960 and 1975. Brush’s research uncovers how the civil rights movement’s discourse on race influenced women to see that racism at the structural level influenced their personal experiences as Black people. However, though they acknowledged that women faced disadvantages, the autobiographers did not embrace the discourse of the women’s right movement as readily:
because the women’s movement and civil rights movement both failed to address dual racial and gendered oppressions, Black women were left with a fragmentary explanation of their oppression. (p. 134)
The civil rights movement provided a discourse that gave them a way to identify and relate their oppression to the issue of race. The women’s movement, on the other hand, failed to “articulate the experiences of Black women,” and as a result “rendered Black women conceptually invisible, and was thus ineffectual in making ideological appeals to them” (p. 124).
Black Women and Other Women of Color Call for Reproductive Justice
Kimala Price, a professor of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University, wrote about how women of color make use of storytelling in the reproductive justice movement in Meridians: feminism, race, and transnationalism. The piece, titled “What Is Reproductive Justice?: How Women of Color Activists Are Redefining the Pro-Choice Paradigm,” uncovered that women of color made use of origin stories, opposition stories, and cautionary stories “to move beyond the pro-choice movement’s singular focus on abortion” (p. 43).
Origin stories give voice to how things come into being. For reproductive justice activists, origin stories honor the “herstory” of the movement’s founders. Opposition stories define the boundaries of the movement. According to Price:
It is a movement in its own right; the difference is that intersectional politics are at the center of its political mission and vision. Intersectional politics informs its political agenda. These sets of stories are the means through which the movement establishes its political territory. (p.
Cautionary tales have a moral view that warns people of potential negative consequences associated with their movement. For instance, early birth control efforts occurred due to beliefs in eugenics, a pseudoscientific theory that promotes the idea that only the ‘fit’ should reproduce. Taken together, these stories provide the women of color who lead the reproductive Justice movement a means to achieve their political goals.
Black Women Fight for Environmental Justice
Women of color have always had a role advocating for the environment according to a Race, Gender, & Class article written by sociologists Shirley A. Rainey and Glenn S. Johnson titled “Grassroots Activism: An Exploration of Women of Color’s Role in the Environmental Justice Movement.” Environmental justice advocates believe “people of color and the poor bear a disproportionate share of societal environmental problems” (146). In addition to advocating for fair treatment at the political level, they aim to challenge environmental racism:
Environmental racism (ER) was first coined by Reverend. Benjamin Chavis in 1984 as racial discrimination in environmental policymaking, in the enforcement of regulations and laws, in targeting of communities of color for toxic waste disposal and siting of polluting industries, in the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in communities of color and racial discrimination in the history of mainstream environmental groups’ decision regulatory bodies (p.148-9).
Women of color have advocated for environmental justice by making use of grassroots organizing, forming coalitions based on democratic and egalitarian principles. This approach challenged the ‘elitism’ of mainstream environmentalism. They seek reforms of environmental policies within their communities, in an effort to protect their families. Furthermore, women of color treat environmentalism an issue related to other topics of social justice inflicting affordable housing and sustainability.