Friday, April 03, 2020


Article Index

Definition and Focus of the Black Feminist Movement

Having decided to form a movement of their own, black women needed to define the goals of the Black Feminist Movement and to determine its focus. Several authors have put forth definitions of the Black Feminist Movement. Among the most notable are Alice Walker's definition and the Combahee River Collective Statement.

Alice Walker, coined the term "Womanist" to describe the Black Feminist Movement. She writes:

Womanist 1. From womanish. (opp. of "girlish," i.e., frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color... Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered "good" for one... Responsible. In charge. Serious.

2. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women's culture, women's emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women's strength... Committed to the survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not separatist, except periodically, for health.

In addition she supplements her definition saying, "Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender." Noteworthy are the emphases on self-determination, appreciation for all aspects of womanhood, and the commitment to the survival of both men and women. This definition is both affirming and challenging for it commends a woman's stretching of her personal boundaries while at the same time calls on women to maintain their connections to the rest of humanity. The entire self, which is connected to others in the community, is valued in womanism. The Combahee River Collective Statement sets forth a more specific, political definition:

The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives. As Black women we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppression that all women of color face.

It is a broad statement. For a single movement to deal with all of the issues listed requires multi-focused, strategic action, which is exactly what was needed for black and Third World women. It was important for black feminism to address the ways that racism, sexism, classism and heterosexism all worked to perpetuate each other. In these two definitions of black feminism/womanism, one can see the complementary nature of one's personal life in relation to one's political life. From the personal, the striving toward wholeness individually and within the community, comes the political, the struggle against those forces that render individuals and communities unwhole. The personal is political, especially for black women. Black feminist writings were to focus on developing theory which would address the simultaneity of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism in their lives. In addition, the audience of these writings was to be black women, rather than white feminists or black male activists. As mentioned earlier, to continue to address the oppressor's needs would be a waste of valuable energy. Black women needed to develop a critical, feminist consciousness and begin a dialogue which directly addressed their experiences and connected them to a larger political system.