Black feminism

6 Concepts by Black Women You Need to Know

Learning about Black feminism provides a different way of knowing about feminism. Getting more informed about it does not erase the labor of white feminists or other feminists of color. Additionally, feminist thought by women of color is not divisive or separatist but a means of diversifying our understanding of feminism overall. After all, if your feminism doesn’t incorporate intersectionality, is it truly inclusive of all women?

The erasure of the complexity of the women’s rights movement in our educational material also obscures the diversity and multiplicity of women’s movements. Women of color must negotiate racism in society and sexism within their own communities. As a result, several women of color scholars have developed concepts to describe the experiences of women of color. Check out six concepts by Black feminist scholars below.

1) Outsider within

I mentioned Patricia Hill Collins and her work on controlling images in another article on Black feminist concepts. Another theory she developed centered on how Black women occupy a special status in social situations that give them a unique perspective on family, self, and society. This outsider within status refers to the social location Black women occupy in society’s racial hierarchy. As an example, Collins references Black women laboring as domestics in an essay on the subject:

Countless numbers of Black women have ridden buses to their white “families,” where they not only cooked, cleaned, and executed other domestic duties, but where they also nurtured their “other” children, shrewdly offered guidance to their employers, and frequently, became honorary members of their white “families.” These women have seen white elites, both actual and aspiring, from perspectives largely obscured from their Black spouses and from these groups themselves.

Discrimination against Black men meant they did not receive the same opportunities in the labor market as White men. Therefore, while White (middle and working class) men’s wives stayed at home, Black men’s wives labored as domestics in white homes. This dynamic dates all the way back to slavery when several Black women served as wet nurses and nannies to white women’s children.

Evidence of Black women’s outsider within status appears in popular culture from Hattie McDaniel’s role in Gone With the Wind to Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in The Help. The Help also shows Black women use their outsider within status to make social change. Davis and Spencer, who play maids in 1960s Mississippi, convince other Black women domestic workers to protest mistreatment from their White women employers.

2) Erotic subjectivity

Audre Lorde provides a unique perspective on women and emotionality in her essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” While Lorde believes that the cool detachment of ‘objectivity’ associated with knowledge had its place, she also believed that there was a lot to be learned from the erotic. Most people who read the word ‘erotic,’ might instantly think of porn, but Lorde made sure to distinguish between the two.

In this essay, Lorde wanted to assure women that their erotic subjectivity, ability to be in tune with their own emotions and desires, was actually a source of power they should embrace. Lorde believed women rejected their inner passion because society teaches that spiritual and political knowledge should be separated. Instead, Lorde writes in the essay “The erotic is the nurturer or nursemaid of all our deepest knowledge.” When we tap into this knowledge we can find the ability to feel joy, which should guide how we live life.

3) Hip-hop feminism

Even when Hip-hop music started to take off during the 1980s, it was not an exclusively male space. Still, I never thought to look at rap music as a source of feminism. A group of Black feminist scholars, provide a convincing case in the 2007 book Home Girls Make Some Noise!: Hip-Hop Feminism Anthology.

Hip-hop feminism refers to the contributions of Black women of the hip-hop generation. Black feminist scholars Aisha Durham, Brittney Cooper, and Susana M. Morris elaborate on it in their 2013 essay “The Stage Hip-Hop Feminism Built”:

Drawing from Joan Morgan (2006) and Patricia Hill Collins, Aisha Durham (2007) defines hip-hop feminism as a cultural, intellectual, and political movement grounded in the situated knowledge of women of color from the post–civil rights or hip-hop generation who recognize culture as a pivotal site for political intervention to challenge, resist, and mobilize collectives to dismantle systems of exploitation.

Women in Hip-hop challenge many gender norms, embracing the idea that women should financially support themselves and have sexual freedom.

4) Culture of dissemblance

Historian Darlene Clark Hine developed the concept of a culture of dissemblance to describe how sexual exploitation during slavery had a lasting effect on Black women. To protect themselves from rape and the threat of rape, Black women used silence about sexuality as a strategy. Hine argues this tactic served as both an act of resistance and a form of resistance that helped Black women not only combat rape but also controlling images about Black women’s sexuality.

5) Politics of pleasure

Joan Morgan suggested another approach to confronting controlling images of Black women’s sexuality in her 2015 essay “Why We Get Off: Moving Towards a Black Feminist Politics of Pleasure.” Morgan argues that the culture of dissemblance convinced Black women to adopt a politics of respectability that prevents them from having true sexual freedom.

Morgan suggests a politics of pleasure “as a liberatory, black feminist project. It elevates the need for sexual autonomy and erotic agency without shame to the level of black feminist imperative.” From this perspective, Black women provide an alternative model of sexual expression that breaks from heteronormative expectations promoted in society.

6) Black Cyberfeminism

Black Cyberfeminism, developed by Kishonna Gray, is particularly important in the age of #BlackLivesMatter and other movements born on social media. According to Gray, Black women have shown that technology can be used in innovative ways that help marginalized groups display hegemonic establishments. For instance, Black women use the Internet to sell natural hair products to other Black women, reclaiming an industry that had become dominated by major corporations like L’Oreal.

In the digital world, Gray argues Black feminism goes ‘cyber’ to reveal three themes:

  • The digital divide in technology access and use as a source of structural oppression
  • The intersectionality of oppression on the internet
  • The uniqueness of the feminist community in the virtual sphere

Why It’s Worth It to Learn About Feminism By Women of Color

Many feminist scientists use standpoint theory to guide their work. Standpoint theory critiques mainstream science for falsely associating men’s analyses with objectivity. Instead, they believe that there are a diversity of perspectives and each perspective gives us different ways of knowing. For instance, feminist scholars out of sociology express the following:

…until recently, the knowers had one common standpoint-that of white,middle class male; other standpoints have been effectively silenced as contributors of “credible” social scientific knowledge. Virtually all feminist scholars (and many others) agree that by diversifying the kinds of knowers in sociology, new questions are raised about social life, new data sought to answer them, and new interpretations of received wisdom are proffered.

Learning about Black feminism provides a different way of knowing about feminism. Getting more informed about it does not erase the labor of White feminists or other feminists of color. Additionally, feminism by women of color is not divisive or separatist, but rather a means of diversifying our understanding of feminism overall. After all, if your feminism doesn’t incorporate intersectionality is it truly feminism?