Since embracing Black feminism, I have observed people express some of the most uninformed sentiments about what Black feminism is.
Some accuse Black feminism of encouraging a matriarchy that destabilizes the Black family. Others claim that Black feminist theories like intersectionality are divisive, contradicting the actual concept of the matrix of domination – the way a person experiences a combination of privilege and oppression, based on how independent social structures interact.
I read news articles, blog posts, comments on Facebook, tweets, even academic articles with a look of confusion with some of the claims people leave in print that just leave me confused.
Where do these perspectives come from? I started reading Black feminist authors and found that the misrepresentation of Black feminist thought had historical precedent. The erasure, silencing, and gaslighting was nothing new. Books like Fighting Words, Dark Continent of Our Bodies and Black Macho and the Myth of Superwoman revealed the roots of some of these claims, though why they have proliferated across the media in the twenty-first century remains a question.
So, what is Black feminism? Firstly, Black feminism has multiple expressions. The feminism the diaspora shapes is vast, complex, and irreducible to just one concept. Regardless, Black feminism will always be a few things*:
- Centered on Black women’s experience and the way the matrix of domination shapes them
- Rooted in Black communities
- Theorizes agency for Black women
- Promotes a humanistic visionary pragmatism
While academia informs much of the modern conversation about Black feminism, the Black feminism not publicized or problematized in print is what matters the most:
Through participating in struggles to retrieve the reality of Black women’s lives from the periphery of the margin of African and African-American experiences, Theorizing Black feminisms simultaneously challenges these limited experiential theoretical visions and traditional Western ways of theory-building.**
Black feminism offers a way of analyzing and understanding the world. As the quote attributed to Angela Davis goes “When black women win victories, it is a boost for virtually every segment of society.” So why does misinformation about Black feminism persist?
I think any set of knowledge the explicitly refuses to begin from a universal position tends to unsettle people. It’s a social psychological phenomenon, after all, to choose information that supports your worldview. People feel resistant to a perspective that out the gate does not claim to tailor itself to the way most people, through the long reach of colonialism, have learned to view the world.
I encourage people interested in Black feminism or intersectionality to read the work of Black feminists and about Black feminism’s history. Check out this brief list of resources on the blog below:
- Intersectionality 101
- A Brief History of Black Feminism
- Books on Black Feminism: 50 Recommended Reads
- 20 Theories by Black Women
- 7 Concepts by Black Feminists You Need to Know
- 6 Concepts by Black Women You Need to Know
- 39 Books by Black Women Academics
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* This list is adapted from Theorizing Black Feminisms: The Visionary Pragmatism of Black Women.
** James and Busia 1993: 4