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Black feminism and intersectionality


In view of recent fb discussions, here is a clarifying article on Black feminism and intersectionality. Some important points:

—-Decades before the rise of the modern women’s liberation movement, Black women were organizing against their systematic rape at the hands of white racist men. Women civil rights activists, including Rosa Parks, were part of a vocal grassroots movement to defend Black women subject to racist sexual assaults—in an intersection of oppression unique to Black women historically in the United States.

–Angela Davis argues that the history of the birth control movement and its racist sterilization programs necessarily make the issue of reproductive rights far more complicated for Black women and other women of color, who have historically been the targets of this abuse. Davis traces the path of twentieth-century birth-control pioneer Margaret Sanger from her early days as a socialist to her conversion to the eugenics movement, an openly racist approach to population control based on the slogan, “[More] children from the fit, less from the unfit.”

–Davis strongly criticizes 1970s-era white feminists for neglecting to integrate an analysis of racism with the theory and practice of combating rape: “During the contemporary anti-rape movement, few feminist theorists seriously analyzed the special circumstances surrounding the Black woman as rape victim. The historical knot binding Black women—systematically abused and violated by white men—to Black men—maimed and murdered because of the racist manipulation of the rape charge—has just begun to be acknowledged to any significant extent.”

–Black feminists along with Latinas and other women of color of the 1960s era, who were critical of both the predominantly white feminist movement for its racism and of nationalist and other antiracist movements for their sexism, often formed separate organizations that could address the particular oppressions they faced. And when they rightfully asserted the racial and class differences between women, they did so because these differences were largely ignored and neglected by much of the women’s movement at that time, thereby rendering Black women and other women of color invisible in theory and in practice. The end goal was not, however, permanent racial separation for most left-wing Black and other feminists of color, as it has come to be understood since.

–The aim of intersectionality within the Black feminist tradition has been toward building a stronger movement for women’s liberation that represents the interests of all women. Barbara Smith described her own vision of feminism in 1984: “I have often wished I could spread the word that a movement committed to fighting sexual, racial, economic and heterosexist oppression, not to mention one which opposes imperialism, anti-Semitism, the oppressions visited upon the physically disabled, the old and the young, at the same time that it challenges militarism and imminent nuclear destruction is the very opposite of narrow.”

–The Combahee River Collective, which was perhaps the most self-consciously left-wing organization of Black feminists in the 1970s, acknowledged its adherence to socialism and anti-imperialism, while rightfully also arguing for greater attention to oppression:

We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic systems of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. We are socialists because we believe that work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses. Material resources must be equally distributed among those who create these resources. We are not convinced, however, that a socialist revolution that is not also a feminist and anti-racist revolution will guarantee our liberation…. Although we are in essential agreement with Marx’s theory as it applied to the very specific economic relationships he analyzed, we know that his analysis must be extended further in order for us to understand our specific economic situation as Black women. More here.

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