In 1988 Deborah King, a sociologist at Dartmouth College, published “Multiple Jeopardy, Multiple Consciousness” as an article for the interdisciplinary women’s studies journal Signs. Multiple jeopardy refers to the interdependence of classism, sexism, racism, and other systems that contribute to the simultaneous and multiplicative effects of oppression on Black women in her life. King theorized this concept as an expansion of double jeopardy as coined by Frances M. Beal.
The concept of multiple jeopardy offers a corrective to logic about gender and race that treats these forms of oppression as separate. A worldview that sees gender and race as unrelated erases the realities of Black women because it fails to account for intersectionality.
How Intersecting Oppressions Contribute to Multiple Jeopardy
Multiple jeopardy as a concept illuminates how Black women experience compounding penalties in terms of social outcomes like income, marriage, and educational attainment. King asserts that models or theories about race and gender that treat these social identities as variables that add or subtract from one another misses how race and gender interact to affect people’s lives:
> In the interactive model, the relative significance of race, sex, or class in determining the conditions of black women's lives is neither fixed nor absolute but, rather, is dependent on the sociohistorical context and the social phenomenon under consideration. These interactions also produce what to some appears a seemingly confounding set of social roles and political attitudes among black women. \ - King (1988:49)
For example, King believes that the political economy of slavery creates a society wherein the labor of Black women continues to benefit their employers more than it does Black women themselves. This society then goes on to denigrate Black women as wage earners, based on pathology of the Black family that draws on the controlling image of the Black matriarch. The reality of intersectionality leads to competing demands on Black women that affect how they define themselves and respond to oppression.
How Multiple Jeopardy Affects Black Women’s Activism
King’s concept of multiple jeopardy confronts the false dichotomy between race and gender to show how a belief in race and gender as distinct issues marginalizes Black women in women’s rights and antiracist social movements.
Antiracist social movements among Black people assert that intraracial solidarity will lead to the liberation of all Black people. In practice, however, antiracist social movement organizations favor Black men in leadership roles. This emphasis on Black men’s needs leads to a cautionary stance toward feminism due to the myth that Black feminists collude with white people to oppress Black men. However, feminist social movements often fail to propose theories and solutions that do not adequately address what affects Black women. For example, King notes that the way mainstream feminists frame patriarchy, individualism, and separatism alienates Black women who do not share these goals.
Black women have responded to the marginalization within feminism and antiracism by starting their own movements. King highlights how women members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) went on to form the Third World Women’s Alliance.
How Black Women Bring a Gendered Feminist Analysis to Labor Movements
King points out that in addition to gender, the class division operates as another barrier to intraracial solidarity in antiracist social movements due to the interdependence of intraracial, gender, and economic jeopardies. While many feminist organizations cater to middle-class women, a sizable number of Black women share a struggle with working-class and impoverished issues. To address these issues, Black women like Nannie Burroughs, Maggie Wallace, and Mary McCleod Bethune founded the National Association of Wage Earners.
Many labor movements and organizations practiced racial segregation. King mentions that Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labor preached that women should stay home and unions should only offer membership to white men. Organizations founded by white women excluded non-white women. However, some intraracial organizations open to both genders did exist. Accordingly, the racism and sexism Black women faced in these labor movements prompted them to bring class analysis to their race and gender politics.
Black Feminist Ideology and Multiple Consciousness
According to King, Black women have arrived at feminism due to a particular history shaped by multiple jeopardy and have innovated strategies to cope with intersecting oppressions. Many Black feminist scholars reference the ways Black women organized during the 19th-century suffrage movement. During the twentieth century, Black women organized and founded groups like the Combahee River Collective, the National Black Feminist Organization, and the Sapphire Sapphos.
Based on this argument, King proposes four defining features of Black feminist ideology, which have much in line with the six features of Black feminist thought as described by Patricia Hill Collins. First, Black feminist ideology illuminates the way race and gender shape the social status of Black women. Second, it asserts that Black women’s empowerment rests on their ability to self-determine and self-define objectives and their own realities. Third, Black feminist ideology challenges intersecting oppressions within social movements and broader society. Finally, Black feminist ideology declares Black women independent and powerful agents who respond dynamically to how oppression shapes their social conditions. Therefore, confronting multiple jeopardy necessitates a multiple consciousness.