U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Connection between Black Women’s Thought and Activism

In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins argues that all African American women’s “intellectual work has aimed to foster Black activism.” When I first read that, I had the instant reaction of–that’s not the case. Black women think about many things, among them relationships like motherhood and beauty (the first two things that came to mind). Collins goes on to argue that when black women teach their children how to deal with racism, they are engaging in activism–so motherhood as a form of activism.

I was pondering beauty because Juliette Derricotte writes about it frequently in her letters (as I’ve written about before on this blog). Then I read this title passage from The Color Purple by Alice Walker:

“Us sing and dance, make faces and give flower bouquets, trying to be loved. You ever notice that trees do everything to get attention we do, except walk?
“I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?). Not the little wildflowers. Nothing.”

Shug was teaching Celie to rejoice in nature’s beauty as a way of overcoming the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her husband. Natural beauty as a form of activism.

I don’t have time today to write more about this, but I am now looking for how Black women’s thought is connected to activism rather than trying to prove it is not. Or perhaps, I am still somewhere in the middle, where things do not need to be forced to be activism that are not, but neither am I neglecting things that are.

One Thought on this Post

  1. From Patricia Hill Collins’s chapter ‘Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix of Domination’ :

    “Afrocentric feminist thought offers two significant contributions toward furthering our understanding of the important connections among knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. First, Black feminist thought fosters a fundamental paradigmatic shift in how we think about oppression. By embracing a paradigm of race, class, and gender as interlocking systems of oppression, Black feminist thought reconceptualizes the social relations of domination and resistance. Second, Black feminist thought addresses ongoing epistemological debates in feminist theory and in the sociology of knowledge concerning ways of assessing “truth.” Offering subordinate groups new knowledge about their own experiences can be empowering. But revealing new ways of knowing that allow subordinate groups to define their own reality has far greater implications.”

    “Placing African-American women and other excluded groups in the center of analysis opens up possibilities for a both/and conceptual stance, one in which all groups possess varying amounts of penalty and privilege in one historically created system. In this system, for example, white women are penalized by their gender but privileged by their race. Depending on the context, an individual may be an oppressor, a member of an oppressed group, or simultaneously oppressor and oppressed.”

    Which stimulates this reply from blogger “Winter”:


    “I’ll try and give a few examples of where the lack of an intersectional approach has caused problems for feminism. White, middle-class, Eurocentric feminists can be extremely disparaging of the family and organised religion, but women of colour and poor women often find the strength to survive and fight racism and classism in their families and churches. There is a very anti-child and anti-motherhood trend within feminism which women from communities of colour in which motherhood is viewed as empowering find very painful and impossible to relate to. Moreover, when it comes to reproductive rights, the dominant feminist discourse often tends to focus entirely on abortion because, historically, white, middle-class women are the ones most likely to be denied abortion and they tend to be the ones with the loudest voices in mainstream feminism. But women of colour, poor women and disabled women may have very different perspectives on this issue because, historically, they have been forced into abortions and sterilisations, or had their children removed by the state because they are not trusted as mothers, or because their children are not considered as desirable as the children of white, middle-class women.

    Right now, we have black women in the US being told by white feminists that they should vote for Hilary Clinton because she’s a woman and it’s more important that a woman, rather than a black man, becomes president. This totally ignores black women’s experience of racism and abrogates responsibility for the role white women have played in perpetuating racism. Why should black women necessarily trust a white woman to represent their interests?”

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