Friday, April 03, 2020

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Article Index

Black Women in the Feminist Movement

Black Women who participated in the feminist movement during the 1960s often met with racism. It generally took the form of exclusion: black women were not invited to participate on conference panels which were not specifically about black or Third World women. They were not equally, or even proportionately, represented on the faculty of Women's Studies Departments, nor were there classes devoted specifically to the study of black women's history. In most women's movement writings, the experiences of white, middle class women were described as universal "women's experiences," largely ignoring the differences of black and white women's experiences due to race and class. In addition to this, well-known black women were often treated as tokens; their work was accepted as representing "the" black experience and was rarely ever criticized or challenged. Part of the overwhelming frustration black women felt within the Women's Movement was at white feminists' unwillingness to admit to their racism. This unwillingness comes from the sentiment that those who are oppressed can not oppress others. White women, who were (and still are) without question sexually oppressed by white men, believed that because of this oppression they were unable to assume the dominant role in the perpetuation of white racism; however, they have absorbed, supported and advocated racist ideology and have acted individually as racist oppressors. Traditionally, women's sphere of influence has extended over the home, and it is no coincidence that in 1963, seven times as many women of color (of whom 90 percent were black) as white women were employed as private household workers. It has been the tendency of white feminists to see men as the "enemy," rather than themselves, as part of the patriarchal, racist, and classist society in which we all live. Not only did some white feminists refuse to acknowledge their ability to oppress women of color, some claimed that white women had always been anti-racist. Adrienne Rich claims, "our white foresisters have ... often [defied] patriarchy ... not on their own behalf but for the sake of black men, women, and children. We have a strong anti-racist female tradition;" however, as bell hooks points out "[t]here is little historical evidence to document Rich's assertion that white women as a collective group or white women's rights advocates are part of an anti-racist tradition." Every women's movement in the United States has been built on a racist foundation: women's suffrage for white women, the abolition of slavery for the fortification of white society, the temperance movement for the moral uplifting of white society. None of these movements was for black liberation or racial equality; rather, they sprang from a desire to strengthen white society's morals or to uplift the place of white women in that society.

 

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