In 1851 women’s rights advocate and abolitionist Sojourner Truth gave a speech at a women’s rights convention in which challenged both racism and sexism faced by Black women when she asked “Ain’t I a Woman?” Black feminism aims to empower Black women with new and critical ways of thinking that centered how racism and sexism worked together to create Black women’s social issues and inequalities. that arise from mutually constructed systems of oppression 1. Women such as Sojourner Truth exemplify Black feminist activism in the nineteenth century. In 1892 another Black woman, Anna Julia Cooper published A Voice from the South, a book in which she described the importance of the voices of Black women for social change. Another exemplary Black feminist, Ida B. Wells, an activist, and journalist, led a crusade against lynching during the 1890s. The work of these three and other Black women shows how Black community politics laid the foundation for social justice toward sexism from Black men, marginalization from White feminists, and disenfranchisement under White male privilege2.
A significant aspect of Black feminism is intersectionality. Intersectionality refers to the way gender, race, and other social categories interact to influence individual life outcomes. For instance, in the 1970s, a group of Black women formed the Combahee River Collective. These Black feminists saw intersectionality as integral to the distinction between their movement and that of White feminism because “the major source of difficulty in our political work is that we are not just trying to fight oppression on one front or even two, but instead to address a whole range of oppressions” 3. During the twentieth century, Black women remained active in social justice movements as Black feminism and intersectionality expanded into the academic and professional discourse. Women like sociologist Patricia Hill Collins, critical race scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw and writer bell hooks are just a few examples.
Intersectionality in social justice movements remains an important part of Black feminism in the twenty-first century. Take for instance the three Black women who founded #BlackLivesMatter, an antiracist social movement aimed at addressing police brutality. Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrice Cullors founded #BlackLivesMatter on the principles of intersectionality. This means their activism centers not just on Black women, but also on Black LGBTQ people, Black people with disabilities, and other groups within the Black community. Like the Black feminists before them, these women work to uplift not only Black women but all mankind.
Want to Learn More About Black Feminism? Check out these articles:
- Black Feminism Defined
- What is Black Feminist Thought?
- Black Feminist Movements in the United States
- Who Started the Black Feminist Movement in the United States?
- Black Feminism in Sula by Toni Morrison
- 7 Black Feminist Concepts You Need to Know
- #BlackFeministLit: 30 Days of Black Feminism
- 6 Concepts by Black Women You Need to Know
- Patricia Hill-Collins (2015a)http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-soc-073014-112142 ↩
- Avtar Brah and Ann Phoenix (2004): http://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol5/iss3/8/; Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd (2012) https://muse.jhu.edu/article/476387/pdf; Collins, Patricia Hill. 2015b. “On Not Getting the History of Intersectionality Straight.” Presented at the University of Maryland, September 23, College Park, MD. ↩
- Combahee River Collective 1983 http://circuitous.org/scraps/combahee.html; Verna L. Williams and Kristen Kalsem 2010 http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1112105 ↩