RBG AFRIKAN QUEENS LEARNING SERIES 2012

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A Collection of Essays Dedicated to the Luv, Overstanding and Elevation of the Black (Afrikan ) Women

A Collection of Essays Dedicated to the Luv, Overstanding and Elevation of the Black (Afrikan ) Women

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  • 1. I OFTEN REFER TO BLACK WOMEN IN AMERICA AND THROUGHOUTTHE DIASPORA AS THE MOST OPPRESSED PEOPLE IN THE WORLD,“THE TRIPLE OPPRESSED” IF YOU WILL, AS THEIRS IS AN OPPRESSIONOF RACISM, ECONOMIC EXPLOITATION AND SEXISM. Thus, I amproviding this booklet of, what I think are, six penetrating essays in order that theNew Afrikan Family may development a more acute insight into the historical andcurrent issues and concerns of Afrikan women in America. I firmly believe, as aNew Afrikan man and Nationhood Educator, that “YOU CAN TELL THE STATEOF A NATION BY THE STATION OF ITS WOMEN”. I hope We will benefitfrom the effort, Please “NJOY AND PASS FORWARD”.
  • 2. Page 1 of 49 THE UNKNOWN POET & QUEENDEDICATIONThe BLACK WOMAN,...by Marcus Mosiah Garvey MarcusMosiah Garvey [1887-1940] Text was a 2007 Post by: THE UNKNOWN POET & QUEEN/ ONE OF THE ORIGINALS THAT HELP ME BUILD RBG WORLDWIDE 1 NATION AND ONE OF THE GREATEST POET I HAVE EVER KNOWN… “ASANTE FOR YOUR LUV AND GENIUS POET” BLACK QUEEN of BEAUTY,.. thou hast Given COLOR to The WORLD! Among Other WOMEN Thou art ROYAL and The FAIREST! Like The BRIGHTESTof JEWELS in the REGAL DiaDem, Shinst Thou,.. GODDESS of AFRICA,...Natures PUREST EMBLEM! Black Men WorShip at thy VIRGINAL SHRINE ofTRUEST LOVE;.. Because in Thine Eyes are VIRTUES STEADY andHOLYMARK,... As We See in No OTHER,.... Clothed in SILK or FINE LINEN,....From ANCIENT VENUS,.. The GoDDeSS,...to MYTHICAL HELEN. WhenAFRICA stood at the Head of the ELDER NATIONS,.... The Gods Used to TraVel RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 3. Page 2 of 49from FOREIGN LANDS to LOOK at THEE On Couch of Costly EASTERNMATERIALS,... All PERFUMED,....ReClined Thee,... as in Thy Path FlowERSwere Strewn-SWEETEST That BLOOMED. Thy TRANSCENDENTMARVELOUS BEAUTY made the Whole World Mad, Bringing SoLoMon toTEARS as he viewed Thy ComeLiness;......... Anthony and the Elder Ceasars weptat thy ROYAL FEET,..PreFerring Death than to Leave Thy Presence,.... their Foesto Meet. YOU,..... in All Ages have ATTRACTED The ADORING WORLD,...Andcaused Many a Bloody Banner to be UnFurled,.....YOU,.. have Sat Upon EXALTEDand LOFTY EMINENCE,..... To See a World Fight in YOUR ANCIENT AFRICANDEFENSE. ToDay YOU have been DeTHRONED,Through the WEAKNESS ofYour MEN, While,in Frenzy those Who of Yore CRAVED YOUR SMILES andYOUR HAND Those who were All MONSTERS and Could Not with LOVEAPPROACH YOU. ....have INSULTED YOUR PRIDE and Now ATTACK YOURGOOD VIRTUE. Because of DisUNION YOU became MOTHER of TheWORLD,... Giving TINGE of ROBUST COLOR To FIVE CONTINENTS, Makinga GREATER WORLD of MILLIONS of COLORED RACES,... Whose CLAIM ToBEAUTY is REFLECTED Through OUR BLACK FACES. From the HANDSOMEINDIAN to the EUROPEAN BRUNETTE;... There is a CLAIM for That CREDITof Their SUNNY BEAUTY;.... That NO ONE can eVer Take from THEE,.....* 0QUEEN of ALL WOMEN *,.... Who have Borne TRIALS and TROUBLES andRACIAL BURDEN. Once More WE SHALL,.. in AFRICA,.. FIGHT andCONQUER for YOU, RESTORING The PEARLY CROWN That PROUDQUEEN SHEBA did WEAR. Yea,..it May Mean BLOOD,...IT May MeanDEATH;.. but Still WE SHALL FIGHT, Bearing OUR BANNERS to VICtORY,......MEN of AFRICAS MIGHT. SUPERIOR ANGELS Look Like YOU in HEAVENABOVE,.......For thou art FAIREST,..... QUEEN of The SEASONS,.... QUEEN ofOUR LOVE;....... No ConDition Shall Make Us Ever in LIFE to DESERTTHEE,........ ** SWEET GODDESS of The EVER GREEN LAND and PLACIDBLUE SEA **. ** Marcus Mosiah Garvey ** February 28, 1927 RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 4. Page 3 of 49H y p e r T e x t C o n t e n t s : Bookmarkers upon Download Why Womens Liberation is Important to Black Women By Maxine Williams The Struggle for Women’s Equality in Black America By Ron Daniels Aint She Still a Woman? By bell hooks What Can the White Man Say to the Black Woman? By Alice Walker The Color of Violence Against Women By Angela Davis Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix of Domination By Patricia Hill Collins RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 5. Page 4 of 49Why Womens Liberation is Important toBlack WomenBy Maxine Williams, The Militant, 3 July 1970In the early part of the sixties, social scientists became more and more interested in thefamily structure of blacks. Unemployment and so called crime among Blacks wasincreasing and some of these "scientists" decided that the problems of the Blackcommunity were caused by the family pattern among Black people.Since Blacks were deviating from the "norm" more female heads of households, higherunemployment, more school "dropouts" these pseudo-scientists claimed that the way tosolve these problems was to build up a more stable Black family in accord with theAmerican patriarchal pattern.In 1965, the U.S. government published a booklet entitled "The Negro Family The Casefor National Action." The author (U.S. Dept. of Labor) stated, "In essence, the Negrocommunity has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is so out of linewith the rest of American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole."According to this theory, the institution of slavery led to a breakdown in the Black familyand the development of a so called matriarchy, in which the Black woman was"dominant." This "matriarchal" structure was held responsible, in turn, for contributing tothe "emasculation" of the Black man. In other words, as these people would have it, theoppression of black people was partly caused by the chief victims of this oppression,black women!This myth of the Black Matriarchy has had wide spread influence, and is even widelybelieved in the Black community today. It is something we have to fight against and RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 6. Page 5 of 49expose. To show just how wrong this theory is, lets look at the real condition and historyof the so called dominant Black woman.Under slavery, once arriving on American soil, the African social order of Black peoplewas broken down. Tribes were separated and shipped to different plantations. Slavesunderwent a process of de-socialization and had to adopt a new culture and language.Up until 1840, black men greatly outnumbered Black women. Sociologist E.F. Frazierindicates in his book The Negro Family In the U.S. that this probably led to "numerouscases of sex relations between Negro slaves and indentured white women." The"marriage" rate between Black men and white women became so high that interracialmarriages were banned.Prior to this time, Black men were encouraged to marry white women in order to enrichthe slavemasters plantation with more human labor. The Black man in some instanceswas able to select a mate of his choice. However in contrast, the Black woman had littlechoice in the selection of her mate. Living in a patriarchal society, she became a merebreeding instrument.Just as Black men were chained and branded under slavery, so were Black women. Lyingnude on the slave ship, some women gave birth to children in the scorching hot sun.There were economic interests involved in the Black women having as many offspring asshe could bear. After her child was born, she was allowed to nurse and fondle the infantonly at the slavemasters discretion. There are cases of Black women who greatly resistedbeing separated from their children and having them placed on the auction block eventhough they were subject to flogging. And in some cases, the Black woman took the lifeof her own children rather than subject them to the oppression of slavery.There are those who say that because the Black woman was in charge of carin for theslavemasters children, she became an important figure in the household. Nothing couldbe further from the truth. The Black woman became the most exploited "member" of themasters household. She scrubbed the floors, washed dishes, cared for the children and RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 7. Page 6 of 49was often subjected to the lustful advances of Miss Anns husband. She became an unpaiddomestic. However, she worked outside as well.Still today, many Black women continue to work in households as underpaid domestics.And as W.E.B. DuBois stated in his essay The Servant in the House, "The personaldegradation of their work is so great that any white man of decency would rather cut hisdaughters throat than let her grow up to such a destiny."In this way arose the "mammy” image of Black women an image so embedded in thesystem that its impact is still felt today. Until recently, the mass media has aided inreinforcing this image of portraying Black women as weighing 200 pounds, holding achild to her breast, and/or scrubbing floors with a rag around her head. For such a one,who was constantly portrayed with her head to the floor and her behind facing the ceiling,it is ludicrous to conceive of any dominant role.Contrary to popular opinion, all Black women do not willingly submit to the sexualadvances of white men. Probably every Black woman has been told the old myth that theonly ones who have had sexual freedom in this country are the white man and the Blackwoman. But, in many instances even physical force has been used to compel Blackwomen to submit. Frazier gives a case in his book where a Black woman who refused thesexual advances of a white man was subdued and held to the ground by Black men whilethe "Master" stood there whipping her.In some instances, Black women stood in awe of the white skin of their masters and feltthat copulation with a white man would enhance her slave status. There was also thepossibility that her mulatto offspring would achieve emancipation. Her admiration ofwhite skin was not very different from the slave mentality of some Blacks which causedthem to identify with their masters.In some cases, the Black woman who submitted herself sexually played a vital role insaving the life of the Black man. If she gave the master a "good lovin," she couldsometimes prevent her husband from being horsewhipped or punished. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 8. Page 7 of 49The myth that is being perpetrated in the Black community states that somehow the Blackwoman has man aged to escape much of the oppression of slavery and that all avenues ofopportunity were opened to her. Well, this is highly interesting, since in 1870 when theFifteenth Amendment guaranteed citizens the right to vote, this right did not apply to theblack woman.During reconstruction, those Blacks who served as justices of the peace andsuperintendents of education, and in municipal and state governments, were men.Although the reconstruction period was far from being an era of "Black Rule," it isestimated that thousands of Black men used their votes to help keep the Republicans inpower. The Black women remained an the outside.To be sure, the Black man had a difficult time exercising his right to vote. Mobs ofwhites waited for him at the voting booth. Many were threatened with the loss of jobs andsubjected to the terror of Klan elements. The political activity for the Black an wasrelatively ephemeral, but while it lasted, many offices fox the first time were occupied bythem.The loose ties established between Black men and women during slavery were in manycases dissolved after emancipation. In order to test their freedom, some Black men whoremained with their wives began flogging them. Previously, this was a practice reservedonly for the white master.In the late 1860s and early 70s, female heeds of households began to crop up. Black menwho held Jobs as skilled craftsmen, carpenters, etc., were being driven out of theseoccupation. Since the Republicans no longer needed the Black vote after 1876, the"welfare" of Blacks was placed in southern hands. Black men found it very difficult toobtain jobs and in some instances found employment only as strikebreakers. Black men,who were made to feel "less of a man" in a racist oppressive system, turned toward Blackwomen, and began to blame them for the position they occupied.The black woman, in some cases, left to herself with children to feed, also went lookingfor employment. Many went to work in the white mans kitchen. DuBois in the same RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 9. Page 8 of 49essay mentioned earlier, The Servant In the HOLLY, gives a vivid portrayal of theexploitation of domestic workers. He speaks of the personal degradation of their work,the fact that they are still in some instances made to enter and exit by the side door, thatthey are referred to by their first name, paid extremely low wages, and subjected to thesexual exploitation of the "master."All this proves that because the Black woman worked, it did not make her more"independent" than the white woman. Rather, she became more subject to the brutalexploitation of capitalism as black, as worker. as woman.I mentioned earlier that after emancipation Black men had a difficult time obtainingemployment, that after emancipation he was barred from many of the crafts he had beentrained in under slavery. The labor market for Black women also proved to be a disaster.Black women entered the needle trades in New York in the l900s, as a cheap source oflabor for the employers, and in Chicago in 1917, Black women who were willing to workfor lower wages, were used to break a strike.There was general distrust between Black and white workers, and in some cities, whiteworkers refused to work beside Black women and walked off their jobs.The Black woman has never held high status in this society. Under slavery she was matedlike cattle and mere breeding instrument. Today, the majority women are still confined tothe most menial and lowest paid occupations domestic and laundry workers, file clerks,counter workers, and other service occupations. These lobs in most cases are not yetunionized.Today, at least 20 percent of Black women are employed as private household workers,and their median income is $1200. These women have the double exploitation of firstdoing drudgery in someone elses home, and then having to take care of their ownhouseholds as well. Some are forced to leave their own children without adequatesupervision in order to earn money by taking care of someone elses children. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 10. Page 9 of 49Sixty-one percent of Black married women were in the labor force in 1966. Almost onefourth of Black families are headed by females, double the percentage for whites. Due tothe shortage of Black men, most Black women are forced to accept a relationship on maleterms. In Black communities there sometimes exists a type of serial polygamy a situationwhere many women share the same man, one at a time.As if Black women did not have enough to contend with, being exploited economicallyas a worker, being used as a source of cheap labor because she is a female, and beingtreated even worse because she is Black, she also finds herself fighting the beauty"standards" of a white western society.Years ago it was a common sight to see Black women wearing blond wigs and rouge, theobject being to get as close to the white beauty standard as one possibly could. But, inspite of the fact that bleaching creams and hair straighteners were used, the trick justdidnt work. Her skin was still black instead of fair, and her hair kinky instead of straight.She was constantly being compared to the white woman, and she was the antithesis ofwhat was considered beautiful. Usually when she saw a Black man with a white woman,the image she had of herself became even more painful.But now, "Black is beautiful," and the Black woman is playing a more prominent role inthe movement. But there is a catch! She is still being told to step back and let the Blackman come forward and lead. It is ironic that at a time when all talents and abilities shouldbe utilized to aid in the struggle of national liberation, Stokely Carmichael comes alongand declares that the position of women in the movement is "prone."And some years later, Eldridge Cleaver in referring to the status of women said they had"pussy power." Since then, the Black Panther Party has somewhat altered its view, saying"women are our other half."When writing their political statement, the Republic of New Africa stated they wanted theright of all Black men to have as many wives as they can afford. This was based on theirconception that this is the way things were in Africa. (In their publication The NewAfrica written in December 1969, one of the points in their Declaration of Independence RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 11. Page 10 of 49seeks "to assure equality of rights for the sexes." Whether this means that the Blackwoman would be allowed to have as many husbands as she can afford, I have no way ofknowing.)So today, the Black woman still finds herself up the creek. She feels that she must takethe nod from "her man," because if she "acts up" then she just might lose him to a whitewoman. She must still subordinate herself, her own feelings and desires, especially whenit comes to the right of having control of her own body.When the birth control pill first came into use, it was experimentally tested on PuertoRican women. It is therefore not surprising that Third World people look at this exampleand declare that both birth control and abortion is a form of genocide a device toeliminate Third World people.However, what is at issue is the right of women to control their own bodies. Enforcedmotherhood is a form of male supremacy; it is reactionary and brutal. During slavery, theplantation masters forced motherhood on Black women in order to enrich theirplantations with more human labor.It is women who must decide whether they wish to have children or not. Women musthave the right to control their own bodies. And this means that we must also speak outagainst forced sterilization and against compelling welfare mothers to acceptcontraceptive methods against their will.There is now a womens liberation movement growing in the United States. By and large,Black women have not played a prominent role in this movement. This is due to the factthat many Black women have not yet developed a feminist consciousness. Black womensee their problem mainly as one of national oppression.The middle-class mentality of some white womens liberation seem to be irrelevant toBlack womens needs. For instance, at the November 1969 Congress to Unite Women inNew York, some of the participants did not want to take a stand against the schooltracking system fearing that "good" students thrown in with "bad" ones would cause the RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 12. Page 11 of 49"brilliant" students to leave school, thus lowering the standards. One white woman hadthe gall to mention to me that she felt women living in Scarsdale were more oppressedthen Third World women trapped in the ghetto! There was also little attempt to deal withthe problems of poor women, for example the fact that women in Scarsdale exploit Blackwomen as domestics.The movement must take a clearer stand against the horrendous conditions in which poorwomen are forced to work. Some women in the movement are in favor of eliminating thestate protective laws for women. However, poor women who are forced to work insweatshops, factories and laundries need those laws on the books. Not only must the Stateprotective laws for women remain on the books, but we must see that they are enforcedand made even stronger. I do not mean that those laws which are so "protective" thatwomen are protected right out of a job should be kept. But any laws that better theworking conditions for women should be strengthened, and extended to men!Women in the womens liberation movement assert that they are tired of being slaves totheir husbands. confined to the household performing menial tasks. While the Blackwoman can sympathize with this view, she does not feel that breaking her ass every dayfrom nine to five is any form of liberation.She has always had to work. Before the Emancipation Proclamation she worked in thefields of the plantation, as Malcolm X would say, "from cant see in the morning untilcant see at night."And what is liberation under this system? Never owning what you produce, you areforced to become a mere commodity on the labor market. Workers are never secure, andtheir length of employment is subject to the ups and downs in the economy.Womens liberation must relate to these problems. What is hampering it now is not thefact that it is still composed of mainly white middle class women, Rather it is the failureto engage in enough of the type of actions that would draw in and link up with the massesof women not yet in the movement., including working and Third World women. Issuessuch as daycare, support for the striking telephone workers, support for the laws which RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 13. Page 12 of 49improve working conditions for women, and the campaign to free Joan Bird are a step inthe right direction. (Joan Bird is one of the New York Black Panther members, who wasunjustly held in jail for months awaiting trial, because of the excessively high bonddemanded by the courts.)I dont feel, however, that white women sitting around a room, browbeating one anotherfor their "racism," saying, "Im a racist, Im a racist," as some women have done, is doinga damn thing for the Black woman. What is needed is action.Womens Liberation must not isolate itself from the masses of women or the Third Worldcommunity. At the same time, white women cannot speak for Black women. Blackwomen must speak for themselves.The Third World Womens Alliance has been formed in New York to begin to do this.We felt there was a need for a revolutionary Black womens movement that spoke to theoppression of Black women as Blacks, as workers, as women. We are involved inreading, discussion, consciousness raising and taking action.We feel that Black women will have a difficult time relating to the more bitter anti-malesentiment in the womens liberation movement, fearing that it will be a device to keepBlack men and women fighting among themselves and diverting their energies from thereal enemy. Many Black women realize it will take both men and women to wage aneffective struggle. However, this does not negate the necessity of women building ourown movement because we must build our struggle now and continue it after therevolution if we are to achieve real emancipation.When the Third World woman begins to recognize the depth of her oppression, she willmove to form alliances with all revolutionary forces available and settle for nothing lessthan complete destruction of this of this racist, capitalist, male-dominated system. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 14. Page 13 of 49The Struggle for Women’s Equality inBlack AmericaBy Ron Daniels, the Black World Today, 5 April 2000As we reflect on the extraordinary contributions of African women in America to theBlack freedom struggle and the sustenance of the Black community, it is also importantto note that Black women have had to confront and overcome double oppression—racismand sexism. Though there is some evidence that women enjoyed greater status and rightsin ancient and traditional African civilizations and societies, in large measure theexperience of African women in America has been conditioned by the patriarchal valuesof the system of male domination operative in Euro-American society.Generally speaking, for much of the history of Africans in America, the reality is thatinside the Black community Black women worked the fields, nursed the children,prepared the meals and tended to the housekeeping chores with the assumption that theman was the head of the household/family and leader in the affairs of the community.The role of the Black man was to provide for and protect the family and to take care ofhis woman. The protests of Black men about the highly provocative movie The ColorPurple notwithstanding, domestic violence against women and incest has also been farmore prevalent than many in the Black community have been willing to acknowledge.It is a well known that Black women have most often been the backbone of the churchesand civic organizations in the Black community, the worker bees that have made Blackinstitutions and organizations viable and effective. For much or our history in thiscountry, however, leadership was seen as a role reserved for men. Hence Black womenoften performed the tasks essential to the survival and success of Black institutions andorganizations while Black men enjoyed the fruits of their labor by being the leaders. Foryears Black women could be teachers and nurses, but being a doctor, dentist, lawyer,scientist, engineer was off limits. Similarly, driving a truck or a bus, working on theassembly line in a manufacturing plant or working in the construction industry was taboo. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 15. Page 14 of 49These were considered men’s jobs. To the degree that Black women aspired to enterthese professions and occupations it was often considered a threat to the role of the Blackman as head of the family/household. In the church, the idea that a woman could be aminister was unthinkable.Obviously much has changed in Black America as it relates to the struggle for women’sequality. Indeed, Black women have never been totally subservient within the Blackcommunity. Black women and men have had to stand together in the common fightagainst racial oppression and economic exploitation. Hence the struggle for women’sequality in the Black community has been qualitatively different from the struggle ofWhite women. Because of the reality of racial oppression, however, sometimes Blackmen have been reluctant to confront and address issues of sexism and gender inequalityin the Black community. For some Black men there is a sense that these issues aresomehow subsumed in the larger struggle for racial equality or the belief that these issuescan be deferred until issues of racial oppression have been resolved.During the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 60’s and 70’s, Black womenincreasingly proclaimed that they would not be confined to the clerical and administrativework and risk their lives as organizers while being excluded from leadership roles.Though the debate and tensions over the issue of gender inequality was inevitablyinfluenced by the women’s liberation movement unfolding in the larger society, Blackwomen evolved their own agenda for equality within the framework of the Blackfreedom struggle. While some aspects of the women’s liberation movement weredecidedly anti-male, by and large, this was/is not the case within the Black community.Black women have simply not been content to play a secondary role in the Black freedomstruggle or to settle for anything less than the right to fulfill their dreams and aspirationsas Black women free of the prejudices, misconceptions and constraints of patriarchy andmale domination.As I argued during the debates leading up to the Million Man March and Day of Absencein 1995, equality, collaboration, cooperation and partnership should be the values whichguide Black male-female relationships, not patriarchy. Being put on a pedestal by Blackmen is not a substitute for genuine equality, power and leadership in the Black RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 16. Page 15 of 49community. No occupation, no field of endeavor should be viewed as the exclusivepreserve of men. Black women and men must be free to fulfill their dreams free ofbarriers of race, gender and class. And Black men should not feel threatened by thesuccess and leadership of Black women in the family or the community. Indeed, Blackmen have an affirmative duty to fight against sexism/gender inequality and to advocatefor full freedom for Black women. Such a commitment by Black men will giveauthenticity to our salutes and tributes to contributions of Black women to the survivaland development of Africans in America. Only when Black women are able to proclaim,free at last, will the entire race be truly liberated.Aint She Still a Woman?By bell hooks, in Shambhala Sun, January 1999Increasingly, patriarchy is offered as the solution to the crisis black people face. Blackwomen face a culture where practically everyone wants us to stay in our place.Progressive non-black folks, many of them white, often do not challenge black malesupport of patriarchy even though they would oppose sexism in other groups of men. Indiverse black communities, and particularly in poor communities, feminism is regardedwith suspicion and contempt. Most folks continue to articulate a vision of racial upliftthat prioritizes the needs of males and valorizes conventional notions of gender roles. Asa consequence black males and females who critique sexism and seek to eradicatepatriarchy in black life receive little support.Despite all the flaws and proven failures of patriarchal logic, many black people continueto grasp hold of the model of a benevolent patriarchy healing our wounds. Increasingly,patriarchy is offered as the solution to the collective crisis that black people face in theirprivate and public lives. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 17. Page 16 of 49Despite feminist critiques of patriarchal narratives of race that suggest black men sufferthe most vicious assaults of white supremacy and racism because they are not empoweredto be "real" men (i.e. patriarchal providers and protectors), most black people, along withthe rest of the culture, continue to believe that a solid patriarchal family will heal thewounds inflicted by race and class. Frankly, many people cling to this myth because it iseasier for mainstream society to support the idea of benevolent black male domination infamily life than to support the cultural revolutions that would ensure an end to race,gender and class exploitation.Many black people understand that the patriarchal two-parent black family often faresbetter than matriarchal single-parent households headed by women. Consequently it isnot surprising that at moments of grave crisis, attempting to create a cultural climate thatwill promote and sustain patriarchal black families seems a more realistic strategy forsolving the problems.Of course, that appears more realistic only if one does not bring a hardcore class analysisto the crisis. For example: many conservative black males have spoken about thenecessity of black men assuming economic responsibility for families, and havedenounced welfare. Yet they do not address in any way where jobs will come from sothat these would-be protectors and providers will be able to take care of the material well-being of their families.Black females and males committed to feminist thinking cannot state often enough thatpatriarchy will not heal our wounds. On a basic level we can begin to change oureveryday lives in a positive, fundamental way by embracing gender equality and with it avision of mutual partnership that includes the sharing of resources, both material andspiritual. While it is crucial that black children learn early in life to assume responsibilityfor their well-being-that they learn discipline and diligence-these valuable lessons neednot be connected to coercive authoritarian regimes of obedience.While feminism has fundamentally altered the nature of white culture, the way whitefolks in families live both in the workplace and home, black female involvement in RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 18. Page 17 of 49feminist thinking has not had enough meaningful impact on black families. The work ofprogressive black woman thinkers to encourage everyone in this society to think in termsof race, gender, and class has not radically altered the racist and sexist stereotypes thatsuggest black women succeed at the expense of black men.Concurrently, the assumption that white supremacist capitalist patriarchal culture is lessthreatened by black women, and therefore is willing to grant us "rewards" denied blackmen, has no reality base. Yet it acts as a weapon of cultural genocide in that it encouragesblack men to be complicit in the devaluation of black womanhood that helps maintainexisting structures of domination.To the extent that black men are socialized to see black females as their enemies,particularly those who are professionally employed, misogynist and sexist assaults arelegitimized.Black women face a culture where practically everyone wants us to stay in our place (i.e.be content to accept life on the bottom of this societys economic and social totem pole).Significantly, even when individual black women are able to advance professionally andacquire a degree of economic self-sufficiency, it is in the social realm that racist andsexist stereotypes are continually used both as ways of defining black womens identityand interpreting our behavior.For example: if a black woman sits at a predominantly white corporate board meetingwhere a heated discussion is taking place and she interrupts, as everyone else has beendoing, her behavior may be deemed hostile and aggressive. Often when I lecture with ablack male colleague and I challenge his points, rather than being perceived as moreintellectually competent, I am deemed castrating, brutal, etc. The reverse happens if hechallenges me in a particularly winning way. He is seen as just more brilliant, morecapable, etc.Even in feminist circles, individual black women are often subjected to differentstandards of evaluation than their peers. When the nationally recognized black woman RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 19. Page 18 of 49writer Toni Cade Bambara died, the mass media paid little or no attention. Almost a yearafter her death Ms. magazine published a long article in which a black woman writerfocused on the poor housekeeping skills of the writer and her failure to conform to astandard of desired friendship. Nothing was said about the content of her work or itsimpact; this was a blatant example of devaluation. It is easy to devalue and de-legitimateblack females who do not conform to standards of bourgeois decorum, who do not comefrom the right class backgrounds. No one objects.Often individual black women are so worried that they will be regarded through the lensof racist/sexist stereotypes that portray us as dominating, vicious and all-powerful, thatthey refuse to make any courageous non-conforming act. They may be more conservativein standpoint and behavior, more upholding of the status quo, than their non-black andfemale counterparts.They may refuse to consider taking any action in relation to individual self-actualizationor group participation that would be seen as rebellious or transgressive.Anti-feminist backlash, coupled with narrow forms of Black Nationalism whichwholeheartedly embrace patriarchal thinking, has had a major impact on black females.Fear of male rage, disapproval and rejection leads some of us to be wary of feministpolitics, to reject feminist thinking. Yet if we do not bring feminism out of the closet andinto our lives, racist/sexist images that ensure and perpetuate the devaluation of blackwomanhood will continue to gather cultural momentum. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 20. Page 19 of 49What Can the White Man Say to theBlack Woman?By Alice Walker, address in support of the NationalMarch for Women’s Equality and Women’s Lives inWashington D.C., 22 May 1989What is of use in these words I offer in memory of our common mother. And to mydaughter.What can the white man say to the black woman?For four hundred years he ruled over the black woman’s womb.Let us be clear. In the barracoons and along the slave shipping coasts of Africa, for morethan twenty generations, it was he who dashed our babies brains out against the rocks.What can the white man say to the black woman?For four hundred years he determined which black woman’s children would live or die.Let it be remembered. It was he who placed our children on the auction block in cities allacross the eastern half of what is now the United States, and listened to and watched thembeg for their mothers’ arms, before being sold to the highest bidder and dragged away.What can the white man say to the black woman?We remember that Fannie Lou Hamer, a poor sharecropper on a Mississippi plantation,was one of twenty-one children; and that on plantations across the South black womenoften had twelve, fifteen, twenty children. Like their enslaved mothers and grandmothersbefore them, these black women were sacrificed to the profit the white man could makefrom harnessing their bodies and their children’s bodies to the cotton gin.What can the white man say to the black woman?We see him lined up on Saturday nights, century after century, to make the black mother,who must sell her body to feed her children, go down on her knees to him. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 21. Page 20 of 49Let us take note:He has not cared for a single one of the dark children in his midst, over hundreds ofyears.Where are the children of the Cherokee, my great grandmother’s people?Gone.Where are the children of the Blackfoot?Gone.Where are the children of the Lakota?Gone.Of the Cheyenne?Of the Chippewa?Of the Iroquois?Of the Sioux?Of the Mandinka?Of the Ibo?Of the Ashanti?Where are the children of the Slave Coast and Wounded Knee?We do not forget the forced sterilizations and forced starvations on the reservations, hereas in South Africa. Nor do we forget the smallpox-infested blankets Indian children weregiven by the Great White Fathers of the United States government.What has the white man to say to the black woman?When we have children you do everything in your power to make them feel unwantedfrom the moment they are born. You send them to fight and kill other dark mothers’children around the world. You shove them onto public highways in the path ofoncoming cars. You shove their heads through plate glass windows. You string them upand you string them out. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 22. Page 21 of 49What has the white man to say to the black woman?From the beginning, you have treated all dark children with absolute hatred.Thirty million African children died on the way to the Americas, where nothing awaitedthem but endless toil and the crack of a bullwhip. They died of a lack of food, of lack ofmovement in the holds of ships. Of lack of friends and relatives. They died of depression,bewilderment and fear.What has the white man to say to the black woman?Let us look around us: Let us look at the world the white man has made for the blackwoman and her children.It is a world in which the black woman is still forced to provide cheap labor, in the formof children, for the factories and on the assembly lines of the white man.It is a world into which the white man dumps every foul, person-annulling drug hesmuggles into creation.It is a world where many of our babies die at birth, or later of malnutrition, and wheremany more grow up to live lives of such misery they are forced to choose death by theirown hands.What has the white man to say to the black woman, and to all women and childreneverywhere?Let us consider the depletion of the ozone; let us consider homelessness and the nuclearperil; let us consider the destruction of the rain forests in the name of the almightyhamburger. Let us consider the poisoned apples and the poisoned water and the poisonedair and the poisoned earth.And that all of our children, because of the white man’s assault on the planet, have apossibility of death by cancer in their almost immediate future.What has the white, male lawgiver to say to any of us? To those of us who love life toomuch to willingly bring more children into a world saturated with death?Abortion, for many women, is more than an experience of suffering beyond anythingmost men will ever know; it is an act of mercy, and an act of self-defense. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 23. Page 22 of 49To make abortion illegal again is to sentence millions of women and children tomiserable lives and even more miserable deaths.Given his history, in relation to us, I think the white man should be ashamed to attempt tospeak for the unborn children of the black woman. To force us to have children for him toridicule, drug and turn into killers and homeless wanderers is a testament to hishypocrisy.What can the white man say to the black woman?Only one thing that the black woman might hear.Yes, indeed, the white man can say, Your children have the right to life. Therefore I willcall back from the dead those 30 million who were tossed overboard during the centuriesof the slave trade. And the other millions who died in my cotton fields and hanging fromtrees.I will recall all those who died of broken hearts and broken spirits, under the insult ofsegregation.I will raise up all the mothers who died exhausted after birthing twenty-one children towork sunup to sundown on my plantation. I will restore to full health all those whoperished for lack of food, shelter, sunlight, and love; and from my inability to see them ashuman beings.But I will go even further:I will tell you, black woman, that I wish to be forgiven the sins I commit daily againstyou and your children. For I know that until I treat your chil dren with love, I can neverbe trusted by my own. Nor can I respect myself.And I will free your children from insultingly high infant mortality rates, short life spans,horrible housing, lack of food, rampant ill health. I will liberate them from the ghetto. Iwill open wide the doors of all the schools and hospitals and businesses of society to yourchildren. I will look at your children and see not a threat but a joy.I will remove myself as an obstacle in the path that your children, against all odds, aremaking toward the light. I will not assassinate them for dreaming dreams and offering RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 24. Page 23 of 49new visions of how to live. I will cease trying to lead your children, for I can see I havenever understood where I was going. I will agree to sit quietly for a century or so, andmeditate on this.This is what the white man can say to the black woman.We are listening.The Color of Violence Against WomenBy Angela Davis, keynote address at the Color ofViolence Conference in Santa Cruz, Colorlines, Vol.3no.3, Fall 2000I feel extremely honored to have been invited to deliver this keynote address. Thisconference deserves to be called historic on many accounts. It is the first of its kind, andthis is precisely the right intellectual season for such a gathering. The breadth andcomplexity of its concerns show the contradictions and possibilities of this historicalmoment. And just such a gathering can help us to imagine ways of attending to theubiquitous violence in the lives of women of color that also radically subvert theinstitutions and discourses within which we are compelled by necessity to think andwork.I predict that this conference will be remembered as a mile- stone for feminist scholarsand activists, marking a new moment in the history of anti-violence scholarship andorganizing.Many years ago when I was a student in San Diego, I was driving down the freeway witha friend when we encountered a black woman wandering along the shoulder. Her storywas extremely disturbing. Despite her uncontrollable weeping, we were able to surmisethat she had been raped and dumped along the side of the road. After a while, she wasable to wave down a police car, thinking that they would help her. However, when the RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 25. Page 24 of 49white policeman picked her up, he did not comfort her, but rather seized upon theopportunity to rape her once more.I relate this story not for its sensational value, but for its metaphorical power.Given the racist and patriarchal patterns of the state, it is difficult to envision the state asthe holder of solutions to the problem of violence against women of color. However, asthe anti-violence movement has been institutionalized and professionalized, the stateplays an increasingly dominant role in how we conceptualize and create strategies tominimize violence against women. One of the major tasks of this conference, and of theanti-violence movement as a whole, is to address this contradiction, especially as itpresents itself to poor communities of color.The Advent of Domestic ViolenceViolence is one of those words that is a powerful ideological conductor, one whosemeaning constantly mutates. Before we do anything else, we need to pay tribute to theactivists and scholars whose ideological critiques made it possible to apply the categoryof domestic violence to those concealed layers of aggression systematically directed atwomen. These acts were for so long relegated to secrecy or, worse, considered normal.Many of us now take for granted that misogynist violence is a legitimate political issue,but let us remember that a little more than two decades ago, most people considereddomestic violence to be a private concern and thus not a proper subject of publicdiscourse or political intervention. Only one generation separates us from that era ofsilence. The first speak-out against rape occurred in the early 1970s, and the first nationalorganization against domestic violence was founded toward the end of that decade.We have since come to recognize the epidemic proportions of violence within intimaterelationships and the pervasiveness of date and acquaintance rape, as well as violencewithin and against same-sex intimacy. But we must also learn how to oppose the racistfixation on people of color as the primary perpetrators of violence, including domesticand sexual violence, and at the same time to fiercely challenge the real violence that menof color inflict on women. These are precisely the men who are already reviled as themajor purveyors of violence in our society: the gang members, the drug-dealers, the RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 26. Page 25 of 49drive-by shooters, the burglars, and assailants. In short, the criminal is figured as a blackor Latino man who must be locked into prison.One of the major questions facing this conference is how to develop an analysis thatfurthers neither the conservative project of sequestering millions of men of color inaccordance with the contemporary dictates of globalized capital and its prison industrialcomplex, nor the equally conservative project of abandoning poor women of color to acontinuum of violence that extends from the sweatshops through the prisons, to shelters,and into bedrooms at home.How do we develop analyses and organizing strategies against violence against womenthat acknowledge the race of gender and the gender of race?Women of Color on the FrontlinesWomen of color have been active in the anti-violence movement since its beginnings.The first national organization addressing domestic violence was founded in 1978 whenthe United States Civil Rights Commission Consultation on Battered Women led to thefounding of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In 1980, the Washington,D.C. Rape Crisis Center sponsored the First National Conference on Third WorldWomen and Violence. The following year a Women of Color Task Force was createdwithin the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. To make some historicalconnections, it is significant that the U.S. Third World Women’s Caucus formed thatsame year within the National Women Studies Association, and the groundbreaking bookThis Bridge Called My Back was first published.Many of these activists have helped to develop a more complex understanding about theoverlapping, cross-cutting, and often contradictory relationships among race, class,gender, and sexuality that militate against a simplistic theory of privatized violence inwomen’s lives. Clearly, the powerful slogan first initiated by the feminist movement—the personal is political—is far more complicated than it initially appeared to be.The early feminist argument that violence against women is not inherently a privatematter, but has been privatized by the sexist structures of the state, the economy, and thefamily has had a powerful impact on public consciousness. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 27. Page 26 of 49Yet, the effort to incorporate an analysis that does not reify gender has not been sosuccessful. The argument that sexual and domestic violence is the structural foundationof male dominance sometimes leads to a hierarchical notion that genital mutilation inAfrica and sati, or wife-burning, in India are the most dreadful and extreme forms of thesame violence against women which can be discovered in less appalling manifestations inWestern cultures.Other analyses emphasize a greater incidence of misogynist violence in poorcommunities and communities of color, without necessarily acknowledging the greaterextent of police surveillance in these communities—directly and through social serviceagencies. In other words, precisely because the primary strategies for addressing violenceagainst women rely on the state and on constructing gendered assaults on women ascrimes, the criminalization process further bolsters the racism of the courts and prisons.Those institutions, in turn, further contribute to violence against women.On the one hand, we should applaud the courageous efforts of the many activists who areresponsible for a new popular consciousness of violence against women, for a range oflegal remedies, and for a network of shelters, crisis centers, and other sites wheresurvivors are able to find support. But on the other hand, uncritical reliance on thegovernment has resulted in serious problems. I suggest that we focus our thinking on thiscontradiction: Can a state that is thoroughly infused with racism, male dominance, class-bias, and homophobia and that constructs itself in and through violence act to minimizeviolence in the lives of women? Should we rely on the state as the answer to the problemof violence against women?The soon-to-be-released video by Nicole Cusino (assisted by Ruth Gilmore) onCalifornia prison expansion and its economic impact on rural and urban communitiesincludes a poignant scene in which Vanessa Gomez describes how the deployment ofpolice and court anti-violence strategies put her husband away under the Three Strikeslaw. She describes a verbal altercation between herself and her husband, who was angrywith her for not cutting up liver for their dog’s meal, since, she said, it was her turn to cutthe liver. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 28. Page 27 of 49According to her account, she insisted that she would prepare the dog’s food, but he saidno, he was already doing it. She says that she grabbed him and, in trying to take the knifeaway from him, seriously cut her fingers. In the hospital, the incident was reported to thepolice. Despite the fact that Ms. Gomez contested the prosecutor’s version of the events,her husband was convicted of assault. Because of two previous convictions as a juvenile,he received a sentence under California’s Three Strikes law of 25 years to life, which heis currently serving.I relate this incident because it so plainly shows the facility with which the state canassimilate our opposition to gender domination into projects of racial—which also meansgender—domination.Militarized ViolenceGina Dent has observed that one of the most important accomplishments of thisconference is to foreground Native American women within the category women ofcolor. As Kimberle Crenshaw’s germinal study on violence against women suggests, thesituation of Native American women shows that we must also include within ouranalytical framework the persisting colonial domination of indigenous nations andnational formations within and outside the presumed terri- torial boundaries of the U.S.The U.S. colonial state’s racist, sexist, and homophobic brutality in dealing with NativeAmericans once again shows the futility of relying upon the juridical or legislativeprocesses of the state to resolve these problems.How then can one expect the state to solve the problem of violence against women, whenit constantly recapitulates its own history of colonialism, racism, and war? How can weask the state to intervene when, in fact, its armed forces have always practiced rape andbattery against enemy women? In fact, sexual and intimate violence against women hasbeen a central military tactic of war and domination.Yet the approach of the neoliberal state is to incorporate women into these agencies ofviolence—to integrate the armed forces and the police.How do we deal with the police killing of Amadou Diallo, whose wallet was putativelymisapprehended as a gun—or Tanya Haggerty in Chicago, whose cell phone was the RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 29. Page 28 of 49potential weapon that allowed police to justify her killing? By hiring more women aspolice officers? Does the argument that women are victimized by violence render theminefficient agents of violence? Does giving women greater access to official violence helpto minimize informal violence? Even if this were the case, would we want to embracethis as a solution? Are women essentially immune from the forms of adaptation toviolence that are so foundational to police and military culture?Carol Burke, a civilian teaching in the U.S. Naval Academy, argues that sadomasochisticcadence calls have increased since women entered the brigade of midshipmen in 1976.She quotes military songs that are so cruelly pornographic that I would feeluncomfortable quoting them in public, but let me give one comparatively less offensiveexample:The ugliest girl I ever did see Was beatin’ her face against a tree I picked her up; Ipunched her twice. She said, Oh Middy, you’re much too nice.If we concede that something about the training structures and the operations they areexpected to carry out makes the men (and perhaps also women) in these institutions morelikely to engage in violence within their intimate relationships, why then is it so difficultto develop an analysis of violence against women that takes the violence of the state intoaccount?The major strategy relied on by the women’s anti-violence movement of criminalizingviolence against women will not put an end to violence against women—just asimprisonment has not put an end to crime in general.I should say that this is one of the most vexing issues confronting feminists today. On theone hand, it is necessary to create legal remedies for women who are survivors ofviolence. But on the other hand, when the remedies rely on punishment withininstitutions that further promote violence—against women and men, how do we workwith this contradiction?How do we avoid the assumption that previously private modes of violence can only berendered public within the context of the state’s apparatus of violence?The Crime Bill RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 30. Page 29 of 49It is significant that the 1994 Violence Against Women Act was passed by Congress asTitle IV of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994—the CrimeBill. This bill attempted to address violence against women within domestic contexts, butat the same time it facilitated the incarceration of more women—through Three Strikesand other provisions. The growth of police forces provided for by the Crime Bill willcertainly increase the numbers of people subject to the brutality of police violence.Prisons are violent institutions. Like the military, they render women vulnerable in aneven more systematic way to the forms of violence they may have experienced in theirhomes and in their communities. Women’s prison experiences point to a continuum ofviolence at the intersection of racism, patriarchy, and state power.A Human Rights Watch report entitled All Too Familiar: Sexual Abuse of Women inU.S. Prisons says: Our findings indicate that being a woman prisoner in U.S. state prisonscan be a terrifying experience. If you are sexually abused, you cannot escape from yourabuser. Grievance or investigatory procedures, where they exist, are often ineffectual, andcorrectional employees continue to engage in abuse because they believe they will rarelybe held accountable, administratively or criminally. Few people outside the prison wallsknow what is going on or care if they do know. Fewer still do anything to address theproblem.Recently, 31 women filed a class action law suit against the Michigan Department ofCorrections, charging that the department failed to prevent sexual violence and abuse byguards and civilian staff. These women have been subjected to serious retaliations,including being raped again!At Valley State Prison in California, the chief medical officer told Ted Koppel onnational television that he and his staff routinely subjected women to pelvicexaminations, even if they just had colds. He explained that these women have beenimprisoned for a long time and have no male contact, and so they actually enjoy thesepelvic examinations. Koppel sent the tape of this interview to the prison and he waseventually dismissed. According to the Department of Corrections, he will never beallowed to have contact with patients again. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The fact RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 31. Page 30 of 49that he felt able to say this on national television gives you a sense of the horrendousconditions in women’s prisons.There are no easy solutions to all the issues I have raised and that so many of you areworking on. But what is clear is that we need to come together to work toward a far morenuanced framework and strategy than the anti-violence movement has ever yet been ableto elaborate.We want to continue to contest the neglect of domestic violence against women, thetendency to dismiss it as a private matter. We need to develop an approach that relies onpolitical mobilization rather than legal remedies or social service delivery. We need tofight for temporary and long-term solutions to violence and simultaneously think aboutand link global capitalism, global colonialism, racism, and patriarchy—all the forces thatshape violence against women of color. Can we, for example, link a strong demand forremedies for women of color who are targets of rape and domestic violence with astrategy that calls for the abolition of the prison system?I conclude by asking you to support the new organization initiated by Andrea Smith, theorganizer of this conference. Such an organization contesting violence against women ofcolor is especially needed to connect, advance, and organize our analytic and organizingefforts. Hopefully this organization will act as a catalyst to keep us thinking and movingtogether in the future. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 32. Page 31 of 49Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix ofDominationFrom Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought:Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics ofEmpowerment (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990), pp. 221–238Black feminist thought demonstrates Black womens emerging power as agents ofknowledge. By portraying African-American women as self-defined, self-reliantindividuals confronting race, gender, and class oppression, Afrocentric feminist thoughtspeaks to the importance that oppression, Afrocentric feminist thought speaks to theimportance that knowledge plays in empowering oppressed people. One distinguishingfeature of Black feminist thought is its insistence that both the changed consciousness ofindividuals and the social transformation of political and economic institutions constituteessential ingredients for social change. New knowledge is important for both dimensionsto change.Knowledge is a vitally important part of the social relations of domination and resistance.By objectifying African-American women and recasting our experiences to serve theinterests of elite white men, much of the Eurocentric masculinist worldview fosters Blackwomens subordination. But placing Black womens experiences at the center of analysisoffers fresh insights on the prevailing concepts, paradigms, and epistemologies of thisworldview and on its feminist and Afrocentric critiques. Viewing the world through aboth/and conceptual lens of the simultaneity of race, class, and gender oppression and ofthe need for a humanist vision of community creates new possibilities for an empoweringAfrocentric feminist knowledge. Many Black feminist intellectuals have long thoughtabout the world in this way because this is the way we experience the world.Afrocentric feminist thought offers two significant contributions toward furthering ourunderstanding of the important connections among knowledge, consciousness, and thepolitics of empowerment. First, Black feminist thought fosters a fundamental RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 33. Page 32 of 49paradigmatic shift in how we think about oppression. By embracing a paradigm of race,class, and gender as interlocking systems of oppression, Black feminist thoughtreconceptualizes the social relations of dommation and resistance. Second, Black feministthought addresses ongoing epistemological debates in feminist theory and in thesociology of knowledge concerning ways of assessing "truth." Offering subordinategroups new knowledge about their own experiences can be empowering. But revealingnew ways of knowing that allow subordinate groups to define their own reality has fargreater implications.Reconceptualizing Race, Class, and Gender as Interlocking Systems ofOppression"What I really feel is radical is trying to make coalitions with people who are differentfrom you," maintains Barbara Smith. "I feel it is radical to be dealing with race and sexand class and sexual identity all at one time. I think that is really radical because it hasnever been done before." Black feminist thought fosters a fundamental paradigmatic shiftthat rejects additive approaches to oppression. Instead of starting with gender and thenadding in other variables such as age, sexual orientation, race, social class, and religion,Black feminist thought sees these distinctive systems of oppression as being part of oneoverarching structure of domination. Viewing relations of domination for Black womenfor any given sociohistorical context as being structured via a system of interlocking race,class, and gender oppression expands the focus of analysis from merely describing thesimilarities and differences distinguishing these systems of oppression and focusesgreater attention on how they interconnect. Assummg that each system needs the othersin order to function creates a distinct theoretical stance that stimulates the rethinking ofbasic social science concepts.Afrocentric feminist notions of family reflect this reconceptualization process. Blackwomens experiences as bloodmothers, othermothers, and community othermothersreveal that the mythical norm of a heterosexual, married couple, nuclear family with anonworking spouse and a husband earning a "family wage" is far from being natural,universal and preferred but instead is deeply embedded in specific race and class RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 34. Page 33 of 49formations. Placmg African-American women in the center of analysis not only revealsmuch-needed information about Black womens experiences but also questionsEurocentric masculinist perspectives on familyBlack womens experiences and the Afrocentric feminist thought rearticulating them alsochallenge prevailing definitions of community. Black womens actions in the struggle orgroup survival suggest a vision of community that stands in opposition to that extant inthe dominant culture. The definition of community implicit in the market model seescommunity as arbitrary and fragile, structured fundamentally by competition anddomination. In contrast, Afrocentric models of community stress connections, caring, andpersonal accountability. As cultural workers African-American women have rejected thegeneralized ideology of domination advanced by the dominant group in order to conserveAfrocentric conceptualizations of community. Denied access to the podium, Blackwomen have been unable to spend time theorizing about alternative conceptualizations ofcommunity. Instead, through daily actions African-American women have createdalternative communities that empower.This vision of community sustained by African-American women in conjunction withAfrican-American men addresses the larger issue of reconceptualizing power. The type ofBlack womens power discussed here does resemble feminist theories of power whichemphasize energy and community. However, in contrast to this body of literature whosecelebration of womens power is often accompanied by a lack of attention to theimportance of power as domination, Black womens experiences as mothers, communityothermothers, educators, church leaders, labor union center-women, and communityleaders seem to suggest that power as energy can be fostered by creative acts ofresistance.The spheres of influence created and sustained by African-American women are notmeant solely to provide a respite from oppressive situations or a retreat from their effects.Rather, these Black female spheres of influence constitute potential sanctuaries whereindividual Black women and men are nurtured in order to confront oppressive socialinstitutions. Power from this perspective is a creative power used for the good of the RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 35. Page 34 of 49community, whether that community is conceptualized as ones family, churchcommunity, or the next generation of the communitys children. By making thecommunity stronger, Atrican-American women become empowered, and that samecommunity can serve as a source of support when Black women encounter race, gender,and class oppression. . . .Approaches that assume that race, gender, and class are interconnected have immediatepractical applications. For example, African-American women continue to beinadequately protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The primary purposeof the statute is to eradicate all aspects of discrimination. But judicial treatment of Blackwomens employment discrimination claims has encouraged Black women to identifyrace or sex as the so-called primary discrimination. "To resolve the inequities thatconfront Black women," counsels Scarborough, the courts must first correctlyconceptualize them as Black women, a distinct class protected by Title VII." Such ashift, from protected categories to protected classes of people whose Title VII claimsmight be based on more than two discriminations, would work to alter the entire basis ofcurrent antidiscrimination efforts.Reconceptualizing phenomena such as the rapid growth of female-headed households inAfrican-American communities would also benefit from a race-, class-, and gender-inclusive analysis. Case studies of Black women heading households must be attentive toracially segmented local labor markets and community patterns, to changes in localpolitical economies specific to a given city or region, and to established racial and genderideology for a given location. This approach would go far to deconstruct Eurocentric,masculinist analyses that implicitly rely on controlling images of the matriarch or thewelfare mother as guiding conceptual premises. . . . Black feminist thought thatrearticulates experiences such as these fosters an enhanced theoretical understanding ofhow race, gender, and class oppression are part of a single, historically created system.The Matrix of Domination RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 36. Page 35 of 49Additive models of oppression are firmly rooted in the either/or dichotomous thinking ofEurocentric, masculinist thought. One must be either Black or white in such thoughtsystems--persons of ambiguous racial and ethnic identity constantly battle with questionssuch as "what are your, anyway?" This emphasis on quantification and categorizationoccurs in conjunction with the belief that either/or categories must be ranked. The searchfor certainty of this sort requires that one side of a dichotomy be privileged while its otheris denigrated. Privilege becomes defined in relation to its other.Replacing additive models of oppression with interlocking ones creates possibilities fornew paradigms. The significance of seeing race, class, and gender as interlocking systemsof oppression is that such an approach fosters a paradigmatic shift of thinking inclusivelyabout other oppressions, such as age, sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity. Race,class, and gender represent the three systems of oppression that most heavily affectAfrican-American women. But these systems and the economic, political, and ideologicalconditions that support them may not be the most fundamental oppressions, and theycertainly affect many more groups than Black women. Other people of color, Jews, thepoor white women, and gays and lesbians have all had similar ideological justificationsoffered for their subordination. All categories of humans labeled Others have beenequated to one another, to animals, and to nature.Placing African-American women and other excluded groups in the center of analysisopens up possibilities for a both/and conceptual stance, one in which all groups possessvarying amounts of penalty and privilege in one historically created system. In thissystem, for example, white women are penalized by their gender but privileged by theirrace. Depending on the context, an individual may be an oppressor, a member of anoppressed group, or simultaneously oppressor and oppressed.Adhering to a both/and conceptual stance does not mean that race, class, and genderoppression are interchangeable. For example, whereas race, class, and gender oppressionoperate on the social structural level of institutions, gender oppression seems better ableto annex the basic power of the erotic and intrude in personal relationships via familydynamics and within individual consciousness. This may be because racial oppression RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 37. Page 36 of 49has fostered historically concrete communities among African-Americans and otherracial/ethnic groups. These communities have stimulated cultures of resistance. Whilethese communities segregate Blacks from whites, they simultaneously provide counter-institutional buffers that subordinate groups such as African-Americans use to resist theideas and institutions of dominant groups. Social class may be similarly structured.Traditionally conceptualized as a relationship of individual employees to their employers,social class might be better viewed as a relationship of communities to capitalist politicaleconomies. Moreover, significant overlap exists between racial and social classoppression when viewing them through the collective lens of family and community.Existing community structures provide a primary line of resistance against racial andclass oppression. But because gender cross-cuts these structures, it finds fewercomparable institutional bases to foster resistance.Embracing a both/and conceptual stance moves us from additive, separate systemsapproaches to oppression and toward what I now see as the more fundamental issue ofthe social relations of domination. Race, class, and gender constitute axes of oppressionthat characterize Black womens experiences within a more generalized matrix ofdomination. Other groups may encounter different dimensions of the matrix, such assexual orientation, religion, and age, but the overarching relationship is one ofdomination and the types of activism it generates.Bell Hooks labels this matrix a "politic of domination" and describes how it operatesalong interlocking axes of race, class, and gender oppression. This politic of dominationrefers to the ideological ground that they share, which is a belief in domination, and abelief in the notions of superior and inferior, which are components of all of thosesystems. For me its like a house, they share the foundation, but the foundation is theideological beliefs around which notions of domination are constructed.Johnella Butler claims that new methodologies growing from this new paradigm wouldbe "non-hierarchical" and would "refuse primacy to either race, class, gender, orethnicity, demanding instead a recognition of their matrix-like interaction." Race, class, RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 38. Page 37 of 49and gender may not be the most fundamental or important systems of oppression, butthey have most profoundly affected African-American women. One significantdimension of Black feminist thought is its potential to reveal insights about the socialrelations of domination organized along other axes such as religion, ethnicity, sexualorientation, and age. Investigating Black womens particular experiences thus promises toreveal much about the more universal process of domination.Multiple Levels of DominationIn addition to being structured along axes such as race, gender, and social class, thematrix of domination is structured on several levels. People experience and resistoppression on three levels: the level of personal biography; the group or community levelof the cultural context created by race, class, and gender; and the systemic level of socialinstitutions. Black feminist thought emphasizes all three levels as sites of domination andas potential sites of resistance.Each individual has a unique personal biography made up of concrete experiences,values, motivations, and emotions. No two individuals occupy the same social space; thusno two biographies are identical. Human ties can be freeing and empowering, as is thecase with Black womens heterosexual love relationships or in the power of motherhoodin African-American families and communities. Human ties can also be confining andoppressive. Situations of domestic violence and abuse or cases in which controllingimages foster Black womens internalized oppression represent domination on thepersonal level. The same situation can look quite different depending on theconsciousness one brings to interpret it.This level of individual consciousness is a fundamental area where new knowledge cangenerate change. Traditional accounts assume that power as domination operates from thetop down by forcing and controlling unwilling victims to bend to the will of morepowerful superiors. But these accounts fail to account for questions concerning why, forexample, women stay with abusive men even with ample opportunity to leave or whyslaves did not kill their owners more often. The willingness of the victim to collude in her RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 39. Page 38 of 49or his own victimization becomes lost. They also fail to account for sustained resistanceby victims, even when chances for victory appear remote. By emphasizing the power ofself-definition and the necessity of a free mind, Black feminist thought speaks to theimportance African-American women thinkers place on consciousness as a sphere offreedom. Black women intellectuals realize that domination operates not only bystructuring power from the top down but by simultaneously annexing the power asenergy of those on the bottom for its own ends. In their efforts to rearticulate thestandpoint of African-American women as a group, Black feminist thinkers offerindividual African-American women the conceptual tools to resist oppression.The cultural context formed by those experiences and ideas that are shared with othermembers of a group or community which give meaning to individual biographiesconstitutes a second level at which domination is experienced and resisted. Eachindividual biography is rooted in several overlapping cultural contexts--for example,groups defined by race, social class, age, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. Thecultural component contributes, among other things, the concepts used in thinking andacting, group validation of an individuals interpretation of concepts, the "thoughtmodels" used in the acquisition of knowledge, and standards used to evaluate individualthought and behavior. The most cohesive cultural contexts are those with identifiablehistories, geographic locations, and social institutions. For Black women African-American communities have provided the location for an Afrocentric group perspectiveto endure.Subjugated knowledges, such as a Black womens culture of resistance, develop incultural contexts controlled by oppressed groups. Dominant groups aim to replacesubjugated knowledge with their own specialized thought because they realize thatgaining control over this dimension of subordinate groups lives simplifies control. Whileefforts to influence this dimension of an oppressed groups experiences can be partiallysuccessful, this level is more difficult to control than dominant groups would have usbelieve. For example, adhering to externally derived standards of beauty leads manyAfrican-American women to dislike their skin color or hair texture. Similarly,internalizing Eurocentric gender ideology leads some Black men to abuse Black women. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 40. Page 39 of 49These are cases of the successful infusion of the dominant groups specialized thoughtinto the everyday cultural context of African-Americans. But the long-standing existenceof a Black womens culture of resistance as expressed through Black womensrelationships with one another, the Black womens blues tradition, and the voices ofcontemporary African-American women writers all attest to the difficulty of eliminatingthe cultural context as a fundamental site of resistance.Domination is also experienced and resisted on the third level of social institutionscontrolled by the dominant group: namely, schools, churches, the media, and other formalorganizations. These institutions expose individuals to the specialized thoughtrepresenting the dominant groups standpoint and interests. While such institutions offerthe promise of both literacy and other skills that can be used for individual empowermentand social transformation, they simultaneously require docility and passivity. Suchinstitutions would have us believe that the theorizing of elites constitutes the whole oftheory. The existence of African-American women thinkers such as Maria Stewart,Sojourner Truth, Zora Neale Hurston, and Fannie Lou Hamer who, though excluded fromand/or marginalized within such institutions, continued to produce theory effectivelyopposes this hegemonic view. Moreover, the more recent resurgence of Black feministthought within these institutions, the case of the outpouring of contemporary Blackfeminist thought in history and literature, directly challenges the Eurocentric masculinistthought pervading these institutions.Resisting the Matrix of DominationDomination operates by seducing, pressuring, or forcing African-American women andmembers of subordinated groups to replace individual and cultural ways of knowing withthe dominant groups specialized thought. As a result, suggests Audre Lorde, "the truefocus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek toescape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us." Or asToni Cade Bambara succinctly states, "revolution begins with the self, in the self." RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 41. Page 40 of 49Lorde and Bambaras suppositions raise an important issue for Black feministintellectuals and for all scholars and activists working for social change. Although mostindividuals have little difficulty identifying their own victimization within some majorsystem of oppression--whether it be by race, social class, religion, physical ability, sexualorientation, ethnicity, age or gender--they typically fail to see how their thoughts andactions uphold someone elses subordination. Thus white feminists routinely point withconfidence to their oppression as women but resist seeing how much their white skinprivileges them. African-Americans who possess eloquent analyses of racism oftenpersist in viewing poor white women as symbols of white power. The radical left fareslittle better. "If only people of color and women could see their true class interests," theyargue, "class solidarity would eliminate racism and sexism." In essence, each groupidentifies the oppression with which it feels most comfortable as being fundamental andclassifies all others as being of lesser importance. Oppression is filled with suchcontradictions because these approaches fail to recognize that a matrix of dominationcontains few pure victims or oppressors. Each individual derives varying amounts ofpenalty and privilege from the multiple systems of oppression which frame everyoneslives.A broader focus stresses the interlocking nature of oppressions that are structured onmultiple levels, from the individual to the social structural, and which are part of a largermatrix of domination. Adhering to this inclusive model provides the conceptual spaceneeded for each individual to see that she or he is both a member of multiple dominantgroups and a member of multiple subordinate groups. Shifting the analysis toinvestigating how the matrix of domination is structured along certain axes--race, gender,and class being the axes of investigation for AfricanAmerican women--reveals thatdifferent systems of oppression may rely in varying degrees on systemic versusinterpersonal mechanisms of domination.Empowerment involves rejecting the dimensions of knowledge, whether personal,cultural, or institutional, that perpetuate objectification and dehumanization. African-American women and other individuals in subordinate groups become empowered whenwe understand and use those dimensions of our individual, group, and disciplinary ways RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 42. Page 41 of 49of knowing that foster our humanity as fully human subjects. This is the case when Blackwomen value our self-definitions, participate in a Black womens activist tradition,invoke an Afrocentric feminist epistemology as central to our worldview, and view theskills gained in schools as part of a focused education for Black community development.C. Wright Mills identifies this holistic epistemology as the "sociological imagination"and identifies its task and its promise as a way of knowing that enables individuals tograsp the relations between history and biography within society. Using ones standpointto engage the sociological imagination can empower the individual. "My fullestconcentration of energy is available to me," Audre Lorde maintains, "only when Iintegrate all the parts of who I am, openly, allowing power from particular sources of myliving to flow back and forth freely through all my different selves, without the restrictionof externally imposed definition."Black Women as Agents of KnowledgeLiving life as an African-American woman is a necessary prerequisite for producingBlack feminist thought because within Black womens communities thought is validatedand produced with reference to a particular set of historical, material, and epistemologicalconditions. African-American women who adhere to the idea that claims about Blackwomen must be substantiated by Black womens sense of our own experiences and whoanchor our knowledge claims in an Afrocentric feminist epistemology have produced arich tradition of Black feminist thought.Traditionally such women were blues singers, poets, autobiographers, storytellers, andorators validated by everyday Black women as experts on a Black womens standpoint.Only a few unusual African-American feminist scholars have been able to defyEurocentric masculinist epistemologies and explicitly embrace an Afrocentric feministepistemology. Consider Alice Walkers description of Zora Neal Hurston:In my mind, Zora Neale Hurston, Billie Holiday, and Bessie Smith form a sort of unholytrinity. Zora belongs in the tradition of black women singers, rather than among "the RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 43. Page 42 of 49literati." . . . Like Billie and Jessie she followed her own road, believed in her own godspursued her own dreams, and refused to separate herself from "common" people.Zora Neal Hurston is an exception for prior to 1950, few African-American womenearned advanced degrees and most of those who did complied with Eurocentricmasculinist epistemologies. Although these women worked on behalf of Black women,they did so within the confines of pervasive race and gender oppression. Black womenscholars were in a position to see the exclusion of African-American women fromscholarly discourse, and the thematic content of their work often reflected their interest inexamining a Black womens standpoint. However, their tenuous status in academicinstitutions led them to adhere to Eurocentric masculinist epistemologies so that theirwork would be accepted as scholarly. As a result, while they produced Black feministthought, those African-American women most likely to gain academic credentials wereoften least likely to produce Black feminist thought that used an Afrocentric feministepistemology.An ongoing tension exists for Black women as agents of knowledge, a tension rooted inthe sometimes conflicting demands of Afrocentricity and feminism. Those Black womenwho are feminists are critical of how Black culture and many of its traditions oppresswomen. For example, the strong pronatal beliefs in African-American communities thatfoster early motherhood among adolescent girls, the lack of self-actualization that canaccompany the double-day of paid employment and work in the home, and the emotionaland physical abuse that many Black women experience from their fathers, lovers, andhusbands all reflect practices opposed by African-American women who are feminists.But these same women may have a parallel desire as members of an oppressed racialgroup to affirm the value of that same culture and traditions. Thus strong Black mothersappear in Black womens literature, Black womens economic contributions to families islauded, and a curious silence exists concerning domestic abuse.As more African-American women earn advanced degrees, the range of Black feministscholarship is expanding. Increasing numbers of African-American women scholars areexplicitly choosing to ground their work in Black womens experiences, and, by doing so, RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 44. Page 43 of 49they implicitly adhere to an Afrocentric feminist epistemology. Rather than beingrestrained by their both/and status of marginality, these women make creative use of theiroutsider-within status and produce innovative Afrocentric feminist thought. Thedifficulties these women face lie less in demonstrating that they have mastered whitemale epistemologies than in resisting the hegemonic nature of these patterns of thought inorder to see, value, and use existing alternative Afrocentric feminist ways of knowing.In establishing the legitimacy of their knowledge claims, Black women scholars whowant to develop Afrocentric feminist thought may encounter the often conflictingstandards of three key groups. First, Black feminist thought must be validated by ordinaryAtrican-American women who, in the words of Hannah Nelson, grow to womanhood "ina world where the saner you are, the madder you are made to appear." To be credible inthe eyes of this group, scholars must be personal advocates for their material, beaccountable for the consequences of their work, have lived or experienced their materialin some fashion, and be willing to engage in dialogues about their findings with ordinary,everyday people. Second, Black feminist thought also must be accepted by thecommunity of Black women scholars. These scholars place varying amounts ofimportance on rearticulating a Black womens standpoint using an Afrocentric feministepistemology. Third, Afrocentric feminist thought within academia must be prepared toconfront Eurocentric masculinist political and epistemological requirements.The dilemma facing Black women scholars engaged in creating Black feminist thought isthat a knowledge claim that meets the criteria of adequacy for one group and thus isjudged to be an acceptable knowledge claim may not be translatable into the terms of adifferent group. Using the example of Black English, June Jordan illustrates the difficultyof moving among epistemologies:You cannot "translate" instances of Standard English preoccupied with abstraction orwith nothing/nobody evidently alive into Black English. That would warp the languageinto uses antithetical to the guiding perspective of its community of users. Rather youmust first change those Standard English sentences, themselves, into ideas consistentwith the person-centered assumptions of Black English. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 45. Page 44 of 49Although both worldviews share a common vocabulary, the ideas themselves defy directtranslation.For Black women who are agents of knowledge, the marginality that accompaniesoutsider-within status can be the source of both frustration and creativity. In an attempt tominimize the differences between the cultural context of African-American communitiesand the expectations of social institutions, some women dichotomize their behavior andbecome two different people. Over time, the strain of doing this can be enormous. Othersreject their cultural context and work against their own best interests by enforcing thedominant groups specialized thought. Still others manage to inhabit both contexts but doso critically, using their outsider-within perspectives as a source of insights and ideas.But while outsiders within can make substantial personal cost. "Eventually it comes toyou," observes Lorraine Hansberry, "the thing that makes you exceptional, if you are atall, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely."Once Black feminist scholars face the notion that, on certain dimensions of a Blackwomens standpoint, it may be fruitless to try and translate ideas from an Afrocentricfeminist epistemology into a Eurocentric masculinist framework, then other choicesemerge. Rather than trying to uncover universal knowledge claims that can withstand thetranslation from one epistemology to another (initially, at least), Black womenintellectuals might find efforts to rearticulate a Black womens standpoint especiallyfruitful. Rearticulating a Black womens standpoint refashions the concrete and revealsthe more universal human dimensions of Black womens everyday lives. "I date all mywork," notes Nikki Giovanni, "because I think poetry, or any writing, is but a reflectionof the moment. The universal comes from the particular." Bell Hooks maintains, "mygoal as a feminist thinker and theorist is to take that abstraction and articulate it in alanguage that renders it accessible--not less complex or rigorous--but simply moreaccessible." The complexity exists; interpreting it remains the unfulfilled challenge forBlack women intellectuals.Situated Knowledge, Subjugated Knowledge, and Partial Perspectives RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 46. Page 45 of 49"My life seems to be an increasing revelation of the intimate trace of universal struggle,"claims June Jordan:You begin with your family and the kids on the block, and next you open your eyes towhat you call your people and that leads you into land reform into Black English intoAngola leads you back to your own bed where you lie by yourself; wondering it youdeserve to be peaceful, or trusted or desired or left to the freedom of your own unfalteringheart. And the scale shrinks to the use of a skull: your own interior cage.Lorraine Hansberry expresses a similar idea: "I believe that one of the most sound ideasin dramatic writing is that in order to create the universal, you must pay very greatattention to the specific. Universality, I think, emerges from the truthful identity of whatis." Jordan and Hansberrys insights that universal struggle and truth may wear aparticularistic, intimate face suggest a new epistemological stance concerning how wenegotiate competing knowledge claims and identify "truth."The context in which African-American womens ideas are nurtured or suppressedmatters. Understanding the content and epistemology of Black womens ideas asspecialized knowledge requires attending to the context from which those ideas emerge.While produced by individuals, Black feminist thought as situated knowledge isembedded in the communities in which African-American women find ourselves.A Black womens standpoint and those of other oppressed groups is not only embeddedin a context but exists in a situation characterized by domination. Because Black womensideas have been suppressed, this suppression has stimulated African-American women tocreate knowledge that empowers people to resist domination. Thus Afrocentric feministthought represents a subjugated knowledge. A Black womens standpoint may provide apreferred stance from which to view the matrix of domination because, in principle,Black feminist thought as specialized thought is less likely than the specializedknowledge produced by dominant groups to deny the connection between ideas and thevested interests of their creators. However, Black feminist thought as subjugated RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 47. Page 46 of 49knowledge is not exempt from critical analysis, because subjugation is not grounds for anepistemology.Despite African-American womens potential power to reveal new insights about thematrix of domination, a Black womens standpoint is only one angle of vision. ThusBlack feminist thought represents a partial perspective. The overarching matrix ofdomination houses multiple groups, each with varying experiences with penalty andprivilege that produce corresponding partial perspectives, situated knowledges, and, forclearly identifiable subordinate groups, subjugated knowledges. No one group has a clearangle of vision. No one group possesses the theory or methodology that allows it todiscover the absolute "truth" or, worse yet, proclaim its theories and methodologies as theuniversal norm evaluating other groups experiences. Given that groups are unequal inpower in making themselves heard, dominant groups have a vested interest insuppressing the knowledge produced by subordinate groups. Given the existence ofmultiple and competing knowledge claims to "truth" produced by groups with partialperspectives, what epistemological approach offers the most promise?Dialogue and EmpathyWestern social and political thought contains two alternative approaches to ascertaining"truth." The first, reflected in positivist science, has long claimed that absolute truthsexist and that the task of scholarship is to develop objective, unbiased tools of science tomeasure these truths. . . . Relativism, the second approach, has been forwarded as theantithesis of and inevitable outcome of rejecting a positivist science. From a relativistperspective all groups produce specialized thought and each groups thought is equallyvalid. No group can claim to have a better interpretation of the "truth" than another. In asense, relativism represents the opposite of scientific ideologies of objectivity. Asepistemological stances, both positivist science and relativism minimize the importanceof specific location in influencing a groups knowledge claims, the power inequitiesamong groups that produce subjugated knowledge, and the strengths and limitations ofpartial perspective. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 48. Page 47 of 49The existence of Black feminist thought suggests another alternative to the ostensiblyobjective norms of science and to relativisms claims that groups with competingknowledge claims are equal. . . . This approach to Afrocentric feminist thought allowsAfrican-American women to bring a Black womens standpoint to larger epistemologicaldialogues concerning the nature of the matrix of domination. Eventually such dialoguesmay get us to a point at which, claims Elsa Barkley Brown, "all people can learn to centerin another experience, validate it, and judge it by its own standards without need ofcomparison or need to adopt that framework as their own." In such dialogues, "one hasno need to decenter anyone in order to center someone else; one has only to constantly,appropriately, pivot the center. "Those ideas that are validated as true by African-American women, African-Americanmen, Latina lesbians, Asian-American women, Puerto Rican men, and other groups withdistinctive standpoints, with each group using the epistemological approaches growingfrom its unique standpoint, thus become the most "objective" truths. Each group speaksfrom its own standpoint and shares its own partial, situated knowledge. But because eachgroup perceives its own truth as partial, its knowledge is unfinished. Each group becomesbetter able to consider other groups standpoints without relinquishing the uniqueness ofits own standpoint or suppressing other groups partial perspectives. "What is alwaysneeded in the appreciation of art, or life," maintains Alice Walker, "is the largerperspective. Connections made, or at least attempted, where none existed before, thestraining to encompass in ones glance at the varied world the common thread, theunifying theme through immense diversity." Partiality and not universality is thecondition of being heard; individuals and groups forwarding knowledge claims withoutowning their position are deemed less credible than those who do.Dialogue is critical to the success of this epistemological approach, the type of dialoguelong extant in the Afrocentric call-and-response tradition whereby power dynamics arefluid, everyone has a voice, but everyone must listen and respond to other voices in orderto be allowed to remain in the community. Sharing a common cause fosters dialogue andencourages groups to transcend their differences. . . . RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series
  • 49. Page 48 of 49African-American women have been victimized by race, gender, and class oppression.But portraying Black women solely as passive, unfortunate recipients of racial and sexualabuse stifles notions that Black women can actively work to change our circumstancesand bring about changes in our lives. Similarly, presenting African-American womensolely as heroic figures who easily engage in resisting oppression on all fronts minimizesthe very real costs of oppression and can foster the perception that Black women need nohelp because we can "take it."Black feminist thoughts emphasis on the ongoing interplay between Black womensoppression and Black womens activism presents the matrix of domination as responsiveto human agency. Such thought views the world as a dynamic place where the goal is notmerely to survive or to fit in or to cope; rather, it becomes a place where we feelownership and accountability. The existence of Afrocentric feminist thought suggests thatthere is always choice, and power to act, no matter how bleak the situation may appear tobe. Viewing the world as one in the making raises the issue of individual responsibilityfor bringing about change. It also shows that while individual empowerment is key, onlycollective action can effectively generate lasting social transformation of political andeconomic institutions. RBG Afrikan American Women Study Series