Black feminism

The Politics of Homemaking: Black Feminist Transformations of a Cityscape

According to bell hooks, homeplace refers to the political spaces and communities created by Black women that fosters caring and the generation of black political resistance. Black feminist theorist Zenzele Isoke expands on this concept in her 2011 Transforming Anthropology article:

I develop a political theory of homemaking that attempts to make sense of how space, place, and identity shape black women’s political activism. I examine and retell the spatial stories that black women shared with me in order to clarify how gender and racialization impact black women’s conceptions and practice of contemporary grassroots politics. 

Isoke argues that for Black women, homemaking creates and preserves autonomous spaces for relationship building between black people that foster hope, leadership capacity, and a strong, stable, and positive sense of self-identity. Further, it’s a critical form of spatial praxis  that

  1. Reconfigures hostile and deeply racialized landscape
  2. Requires respatializing social capital
  3. Find ways to creatively confront and transform extant structures of domination in contemporary urban neoliberalism (heteropatriarchy and racialization)

Homemaking occurs in three distinctive modes:

  1. Living history of resistance – Making space in community for people to remember and reenvision the black radical tradition
  2. Politics of reclamation – Storytelling about black political and cultural resistance and thereby transforming use, symbolism, and cultural potential of dilapidated public spaces.
  3. Politics of selling-in – The dedication of one’s professional and community life to uplift, revitalize, and transform urban space.

Isoke argues Black women activists use resistance politics to reimagine and reconfigure the community’s relationship to space physically and symbolically. Resistance politics, a form of political agency, include collective action, bodily labor to produce political space, and affective labor to reinforce discourses of care, belonging, affect, and relationality (as opposed to logic, objectivity, and rationality).

Isoke argues homemaking, as an affective form of resistance, operates toward movement, thought and extension. By doing so, Black women resist the dehumanization and alienation of urban spaces by leading people care about space. Black women also exhibit political agency by engaging in community mothering, which enables them to address the structural inequalities and injustices affecting the lives of people of color:

I extend these studies by offering a portrait of contemporary black womanhood that is situated within Newark’s specific cartographic history. I explain how memory and affect shape black women’s political work by considering how their unique relationship to space and place inform how they define and deploy discourses of identity and community. The politics of homemaking is an attempt to sketch a response, not a definitive answer, to these questions: What are the meanings that black women attribute to space and place? How do identity and affect impact the range of politics that black women pursue in urban spaces? How do black women enact political resistance in contemporary urban spaces?

Newark characterized by black male unemployment, relegation of black women to low-wage service work or public welfare. Isoke argues these issues are core to political homemaking in Newark.  Isoke interviewed 29 Black women between 2005 and 2007 to highlight how Black women imagine politics through a distinctive way of envisioning social space. The researcher approached this study through a voice-centered framework that involved listening to Black women’s oral narratives and political biographies:

The spatial stories that black political women told reveal that Newark was a “home” that was worth the individual sacrifices of extraordinary stores of time, energy, and resources. The painful history of racial discrimination and violence was not as important as reviving and creating myriad forms of resistance. This is the essence of the politics of homemaking in Newark. 

Ultimately,  Isoke argues the politics of homemaking involve not forgetting or looking away from past and present injustice in order to create new spaces that affirm Blackness.