On This The Last Day of BHM: Link Love

I spent a ridiculous amount of time finding and reviewing posts for this link luv edition. Even though we have been celebrating Herstory, I have included some posts about men as well, b/c ultimately it is our story. The post is set to publish around midday in case after 6 hours of work I sleep through the rest of Sunday; but, I do want you to know that it feels like this list is unfinished to me. If you have a post you think should be here please say so in the comments and maybe I’ll even do a part deux. Until then, enjoy the reading and the chance to see black history/American history as it should be: through multiple viewpoints and voices.

Why Black History:

  • Rev Irene Monroe @ Basic Black “Do We Still Need Black History Month” – Rev Monroe offers an even handed and insightful post about why we still need black history month that incorporates key historical moments and concerns about inclusivity in black history from within black communities. Ultimately, her post reminds us that as long as our history is erased or locked away we cannot move forward into an anti-racist tomorrow.
  • Lola Adesioye @ The Root “London Slashes Black History Month” – Taking a global approach to Black History Month, Adesioye draws parallels between the increasing apathy toward black history month in the U.S. and the defunding of it in Britain. Her discussion of the impact of the decision on the social and intellectual understanding of the place of Black British people in England’s history serve as a stark warning to those of you snubbing your nose at a nationally sanctioned month for Black History.
  • Tami @ What Tami Said “From the Vault: Celebrate Black History Month by Researching Your Own Black History” and “It’s in The Blood or My Story Began Before I Did” – both posts personalize the pursuit of black history in a way that ultimately reminds us that part of the reason knowing and speaking our history is so important is because of the critical process of erasure in colonialism that robbed us of the basic knowledge of where we came from and who our people are; this personal loss is mirrored by the collective loss of black Americans’ contributions to N. American history a loss that gains ground when we participate in the silence rather than actively uncovering and discussing our histories.

Poetry

Art & Pop Culture

  • Kameelah @ Kameelah WritesMantle” – simply beautiful
  • le chick batik “Jet Ride” and “Not Far From Francie” – both give us a glimpse at history through historical images of popular media and toys w/ the former showing an array of Jet Magazine covers discussing everything from Passing to Lesbian identity that highlight anxieties about race, sexuality, and gender in the upper class black community and the latter mixing images and discussion of black Barbie with a subtle comment on the difference between French vogue and its N. American counterpart.
  • Sokari @ Black Looks “Proudly African and Transgender” – the post features portraits by Gabrielle La Reux from the Amnesty International IGLHCR exhibit and they are simply breathtakingly beautiful

Books & Author Interviews

  • Carleen Brice White Readers Meet Black Authors Blog “Meet Dolenz-Perkins Valdez author of Wench” – an interview with the author about her controversial historically based novel which hopes to grapple with the complex emotions of enslaved mistresses to white slave owners & the documented vacations they took in free states. (made me want to read the book after having passed it over more than once in the bookstore)
  • Breeze Harper @ Vegans of Color “Sistah Vegan Book” – Harper describes the process of doing research on black female vegans from a holistic feminist healing perspective.

Film Reviews

  • Jasmyne Cannick “World Premiere of Blood Done Sign My Name” – Cannick reminds of us an important book and historical event of discrimination that moved from one family protesting the murder of a loved one to a civil rights revolution while reviewing the film that tells us the story of Henry Marrow’s murder.
  • Mandy Van Deven @ Feminist Review “The Blind Side” – Van Deven reminds us what is wrong with centering white voices and perspectives in black history just in time for the Oscars.
  • Stefanie Zacharek @ Salon.com “Gabourey Sidibe: Playing the Victim” – this review catches the subtle and essentially plot shifting performance of Sidibe in a film that I still maintain trots out every black stereotype available and has some intensely, though apparently too subtle for some, fatphobic moments (think sizzling ham and rape)

Feminism

  • Pamela Merrit @ RH Reality Check “Women of Color and the Anti-Choice Movement” – Merrit discusses the fallacy of the “black genocide” argument used by pro-life groups and its links to the recent Billboard in Georgia claiming abortions kill black kids.
  • Alexis Pauline Gumbs @ Kitchen Table “Happy Black Herstory Month” Gumbs graciously gives us a brief history of the Salsa Soul Sisters and a glimpse into the amazing goings-on in Raleigh before giving us a rare digitized copy of a documentary about the movement. If you listen, give her money if you can and support even more black feminist consciousness raising and herstory learning.

Intersectionality

  • LeeRoy Moore Poor Magazine (2001) “Stories of Black Disabled People” – sadly this was one of the only posts I read addressing differently-abled black people for black history month and it is 9 years old. Nevertheless, Moore gives an extensive list of differently abled-black women and men and their accomplishments while also questioning either their absence or the absence of reference to their abilities from history.
  • Monica Roberts @ Transgriot “Black Transpeople Are Making Black History Too” – Roberts reminds us that transgender people are not only part of black history but have been critical players in our push for Civil Rights. If you don’t know the people on her list, take it as a launch point to learn about the people most often forgotten in the celebration of black, queer, and transgender history.

Latinegras

  • Negra Cubana @ Negra Cubana teni`a que ser “Mujeres, raza e identidad caribeña. Conversación con Inés María Martiatu” – Negra Cubana spotlights Inés María Martiatu and her feminist literary work on Afr@-Cuban culture and women (post is in Spanish)
  • Latinegras tumblr – uh yeah, I can highlight the tumblr even though I participated in the Latinegras Project this black herstory month, mostly because I am a sad sack whose real work life and volunteer commitments always speed up time in February and I should never have agreed to help b/c I didn’t. So this is all Bianca’s baby – the idea for the Latinegras Project, most of the publicity, and maintaining the tumblr which is open to everyone to contribute.

LGBT History

  • Sylvia Rhue @ National Black Justice Coalition “Snatching Our Humanity Out of the Fire of Human Cruelty” – while the images for this article are overwhelmingly of black men and all cis, Rhue outlines the history of the black LGBT movement post-Stonewall with an eye to the contributions of our entire queer alphabet. What I like most about this post is its inclusion of voices/memories from “the birth” of the movement and the links to some critical online archives.
  • various authors @ After Ellen’s “Black History Month Spotlights” – the 3 part series focuses on black lesbians who help increase the visibility of lesbians in the media. It’s a little on the fluffy side but I do so love that pic of one of the director’s I highlighted last year during black herstory month, Angela Robinson and Katie Moennig …

Discrimination

  • Penny Richards @ Disability Studies Blog “13 February: Beating of Isaac Woodard” – truthfully, despite a degree in history, I didn’t know this story of violence against a black veteran and how it helped contribute to the desegregation of the military, nor how the disabled veterans association was so moved by racism that they bent the rules to include Woodard and that my friends is why we have black history month b/c black history is not part of the rest of the year or even a PhD in any other history than Af-Am.
  • Johnathan Liu @ Wired “How to Raise Racist Kids” – Liu discusses research for the upcoming book called Nurtureshock that says children learn racism in one easy step and also offers links to starters on how to talk to your children about racism.
  • Julian Ing @ Race Wire “Black and Latinos Were Targeted with Subprime Mortgages, Shut Out of Recovery” – this post gives some key stats and also links to ARC’s “Race and the Recession” Report and The Color Lines article on Subprime Mortgages’ impact on women of color, both must reads to understand how lending and the bail out are  raced and gendered.

Academics

  • Tim Wise @ Racism Review “Majoring in Minstrelsy” – an intelligent and thorough discussion of the rise in racist incidents on college campuses and why we, academics, may be partially to blame.
  • Joel Dreyfuss @ The Root “Black History Today: Profile of Historian Crystal Feimster” – ok, I admit it, this is just a shameless plug for all black women reading this blog to go into history (if you are not in school, go back and major in history) b/c we need you, we have amazing black women to mentor you, and Feimster’s generation is bringing in whole new layers to the pursuit of history (especially with regards to black women’s history) and you should too.

BHM: Teaching TABs to See

Ever Lee Hairston is the first African American Vice President of the New Jersey Chapter of the National Federation for the Blind.

unattributed

During her childhood she helped her parents and grandparents on a Cooleemee Plantation in Winston Salem MA, where they were sharecroppers and took the bus to a segregated school 18 miles away from home. As a teen she went to New York to work as a live-in caregiver to a terminally ill child; when the child died, her parents offered to help put Hairston through nursing school. Unfortunately, the school would not let her attend due to the discovery of retinitis pigmentosa. Hairston refused to be deterred by ablism, so she went into the teaching program at a different college. Unfortunately, 4 years after she started teaching, she was fired because of her rapidly deteriorating eye sight.

While Hairston initially let repeated incidents of ablism and racism get to her, she ultimately fought back. Once in college she became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Building on her own knowledge of discrimination and unfair labor practices in the South, Hairston was committed to ensuring African Americans had better choices and equal access to education and employment in the future. She recalls her involvement in the Sears and Roebuck discrimination case sit-in as the proving ground for her disability rights activism, By the time she was being ridiculed in public with other blind colleagues, she felt she had endured enough sanctioned identity based hate that she knew she had to stand up and stand strong.

In 1987, she applied to do entry level social service for the state of NJ and confronted the ableism of the hiring committee head on. When they claimed her blindness would get in the way of her ability to intake clients properly, Hairston pointed out that it takes more than one skill to understand people and that she had developed quite a few skills during her time as a caretaker and a teacher. She not only got the job but then exceeded her peers expectations by moving up the ranks. While her time as an advocate continues to be marred by workplace discrimination at the intersections of race, ability, and gender, Hairston holds her co-workers accountable as well tries to educate them. She feels her presence both as a Supervisor for State Health and Human Services and as an advocate in the court room has been essential to changing the way people think about both black women and differently-abled people.

Hairston’s work also allows her to continue working for working class women and people of color’s rights by working for social justice in the courts. She is also a club woman, and her advocacy and mentorship of other black women was recognized in 1999 when she won the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs Woman of the Year Award.

BHM: Strength in the “Inbetweenity”

This post was meant to be posted on 2/25 but was eaten by the computer fairies:

I first became aware of Afra-Panamanian-American Veronica Chambers while perusing the local Borders bookstore. As is my custom, I walked through the literature section looking for books with black people on the cover while doing my general shopping. As per usual, very few, if any books highlighted (ie turned out toward the isle or with an on shelf review alerting patrons to a new book) met the basic criteria. Having reached my book limit, I went to the back of the store to the African-American Lit section (which in the chain store I was in actually includes more social science and journalism than lit) and looked for books by or about black women there. On a small desk in front of the isle was Veronica Chambers face looking up at me with a slightly ironic head tilt. I quickly perused the back jacket and put it in my overstuffed cart; the book was Mama’s Girl, Chambers’ third book and autobiography about her parent’s divorce, her move from Panama to the U.S., and surviving endless misdirected abuse from her mother.

Several months later, I was reminded that I had yet to read Chambers 3rd book when I read an article by her about anti-black discrimination at a Latin@ cultural pride festival. Chambers was meant to be the guest speaker for the event. During her multiple conversations with the event organizers, they, like so many others, praised her for being such a prolific and thoughtful writer at such a young age and talked about what a role model she had and would continue to be for young Latinas. When Chambers arrived for the event, that warm and encouraging welcome quickly faded. Despite seeing her name in huge block print on a banner over a large stage with a stack of her books for signing off to one side, Chambers was told by organizers that they were going to move her talk to due to technical difficulties with the main stage. They quickly ushered her to a back room on the edge of the event and said someone would come and get her when it was time for her speech. It wasn’t until hours later that she realized she was locked in and forgotten, in what was essentially a storage room. By the time she got out of the room and back to the main stage, the event was over and her banner hung askew over a deserted stage. It seems that the organizers did not believe that a black Latina could adequately motivate anyone in the community, nor be a role model, or even be Latina. Chambers later discovered that event attendees had been told she had not shown up and the woman who had contacted her to speak and then summarily hidden her and the fact of blackness in Latin@ culture away, wanted nothing to do with her and would not acknowledge what happened.

The erasure of one’s cultural heritage and right to an identity that has been so carefully defined as to exclude you is a common occurrence for Afr@-Latin@s. In both the example of the bookstore and the cultural pride event Veronica Chambers’ blackness negated her Latina-ness. Neither the content of her autobiography nor her smirking image on the cover could combat the perception that Latin@ means brown and black is algo diferente.

Luckily for us, even at 20, Chambers was an unstoppable force. Rather than wallow in the discrimination, she wrote about it to expose the complexities embedded in Latin@ culture and the ways that denial of African roots plays out in the interpersonal relationships of communities every day. As an abuse survivor, she tapped into her own well-honed strength and continued her journalism career and her prolific writing career without skipping a beat.

Veronica Chambers began her journalism career as a freelance writer for magazines like Essence, Vogue, and Seventeen when she was just 20 years old. For 18 years she has been a contributor to a wide variety of publications including Food and Wine Magazine, The LA Times Book Review, and Esquire. Chambers has  advanced from freelance to helping make some of the key editorial decisions in mainstream magazines; she has been the Editor of the New York Times Magazine and a Senior Associate Editor for Premiere Magazine. In a world where both black and Latin@ perspectives are often missing from mainstream media, these accomplishments cannot be ignored. Though her journalistic work has covered many topics it often comes back to the diaspora and the women in it. One of her pieces for Newsweek for instance was a pioneering look at Latin@ youth, that included Afr@-Latin@s. She was also one of the only Afr@-Latin@ writers invited to write a blog column for The Root when it launched.

Chambers is also a prolific writer of children’s, young adult, and adult fiction. Her children’s center on black and Latin@ pride and history almost always centering the stories  of women and girls.Her first children’s book Amistad Rising re-centered the struggle of enslaved black people fighting for their freedom in the Amistad tale, taking back the narrative from people like Spielberg who centered white abolitionists or government machinations over that of the freedom fighters themselves. In so doing, she gives children the opportunity to experience black history from the perspective of self-reliant and triumphant black people, whose message of hope and freedom inspired others to fight with them rather than for them (as silent or passive objects). Her next book, The Harlem Renaissance, continued this vein of looking at the history of African Americans from the perspective and through the voices of black people. While she covered the key figures of the movement, and the conflicts they had with another, she also included and centered women’s contributions to the Harlem Renaissance. As in the case of Amistad, she also included critical information about the mostly white patrons of the arts, both their positive and negative contributions, while never losing sight of the black artists who produced it. (I am stressing the issue of centering black voices here not to diminish the interconnected histories or solidarities amongst white and black people but because both the stories of Amistad and over arching histories of the Harlem Renaissance often erase that centrality in order to talk about the white people who participated, their contributions, and their influence as if black history has no meaning on its own. You see the same thing in such critically acclaimed film’s as The Last King of Scotland in which the story of Ida Min has to be told through the eyes of a fictional white journalist and his love affairs because the director and writers did not believe it would have “broad interest” otherwise.)

Her latest children’s books, Double Dutch Sisterhood and Celia Cruz: Queen of Salsa, continues her emphasis on history and art. Moving away from established historical subjects, Double Dutch Sisterhood takes a popular children’s game and historicizes it, pointing to its important social and historical meanings particularly for young black girls on the playground. Chambers also highlights innovations in Double Dutch by young girls around the world, showing how the game and the social spaces it creates empower young girls to think outside the box. In Celia Cruz, she returns to more recognizable history while at the same time potentially providing young N. American audiences with the history of the most celebrated Afra-Latina artist of our time. The book was named an NCSS Notable Children’s Trade Book In The Field Of Social Studies and among the New York Public Library’s “100 titles for reading and sharing”.

Her young adult novels have been essential to creating a space in publishing for novels about young Afra Latinas and their stories and in expanding the marketing of young adult books about black youth in general. Her two-part series on the growing pains of Marisol and Magdalena expose young adult readers to an accessible look at how young Latinas experience transnational social spaces and lives lived inbetween a lived “here” and an ever present “there”. The first book,  Marisol and Magdalena, highlights generational divide amongst the Panamanian-American community in NYC. While the older, first-generation immigrants, try to help the girls know and retain their roots, they bask in a young adulthood of Latino-ness unconcerned with specificity until Marisol’s mother sends her to Panama. As Magdalena contends with life in the U.S. and how it shapes her sense of herself, Marisol does the same in Panama and both girls learn about belonging, blackness, Latinoness, girlhood and themselves. In the second book, Quinceanera Means Sweet Fifteen, the girls tackle classism and elitism within the immigrant community in which second and third generation youth are often encouraged by U.S. society to see anyone newly returned or arriving as backward. Their struggle to reconnect and to be true to themselves and their cultures highlights contrasting viewpoints, the meaning of identity in transnational immigrant communities, and the struggle of young girls to find their way.

Chambers also offers young adult and adult readers a chance to consider the impact of divorce on the development of young girls in her fictional book Miss Black America (2004) and her autobiography Mama’s Girl (1996). In Miss Black America, fictional teen Angela Davis Brown has to make sense of her abandonment by her mother and a life spent with her charismatic but often absent father. Chambers weaves in key figures in black history like Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and Muhammed Ali into the story of family loyalty, culture, love and loss. Thus Brown’s life unfolds against a backdrop of social and political struggle for civil rights that continues Chambers’ interest in black history. At the same time, some found the female protagonist less well developed than her father, whose pain and sorrow about both losing his wife and the racism surrounding them are palpable. These moments also highlight the growth of main character Angela Davis Brown who often balks at her father’s bitterness and stresses out over how to heal his sorrow even as she worships him.

Praise for the book recognizes its important to both women’s and black literature in ways that are often missing in mainstream feminist discourse about “women’s and girl’s lit” that often ignores immigrant and woc lit:

“[Miss Black America] Joins Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina and Kaye Gibbons’ Ellen Foster as the great contemporary novels of a young woman’s coming of age.” — Anthony Walton, author of Mississippi: An American Journey

Unlike Miss Black America, Mama’s Girl is autobiographical. Like most of her fiction, Mama’s Girl centers the lives and experiences of women and girls in ways that highlight both real struggles and the hope of overcoming them. Also like her other work, Mama’s Girl highlights the experience of the Afr@-Latin@ Panamanian transnational community and how immigrant hopes and dreams are both thwarted and rewarded in the United States. As the narrative unfolds, we are once again allowed entry into the complex negotiations of immigrant women and their daughters through the harrowing story of a young girl, this time Chambers’ herself. her story is one of abuse by multiple family members whose own disappointments and brokenness often visit upon her body but not her mind. Despite not receiving the support she needs to succeed in school, Chambers’ pushes through to become both an academic and intellectual success. And while her story never pulls punches on the pain around her, she works hard to contextualize dysfunction and disappointment in ways many narratives about black youth fail to do.

Chambers has also written non-fiction books and one collection of essays that focus on women, race, and identity. Her first book, Poetic Justice: Filmmaking South Central Style, came out of an interview she did with then unkown director John Singleton. Chambers had unlimited access to the film Poetic Justice and with Singleton on board, she co-authored a book that not only gives us insight to the youngest director in Hollywood to ever be nominated for an Academy Award but also re-inserted black women into the narrative surrounding Singleton’s early success. Often, Poetic Justice is referred to in terms of the Tupac tragedy and Singleton’s directorial style, erasing Janet Jackson’s  return to film and Maya Angelou’s poetry. Chambers’ book reminds us of the latter and describes the important contributions, insights, and collaborations between black women who had been in the industry much longer than anyone associated with the film and the black men who are often centered in the stories told about the movie.

Her book Having it All: Black Women and Success, co-written with Karen Bates, explores the import of black women to the middle class aspirations and attainment of black diasporic communities. The book incorporates interviews Chambers did with 50 middle and upper class black women in business, media, law, academia, and the arts about how they see themselves and their experiences. Once again blending a narrative of triumph and abuse, Chambers provides a long list of strides black women have made in the U.S. while also discussing the racism, sexism, and racialized sexism/sexualized racism they endure. Ultimately, she sees black women working hard, defining themselves and their place in the N. American landscape with gusto, but also lacking accurate depictions of themselves or understanding in their workplaces.

Her latest non-fiction book, Kickboxing Geishas, marks her first move away from black and Latin@ women’s subjectivity. In 2000, Chambers won a Japan Society fellowship to do research on Japanese women and culture. Kickboxing Geishas represents the outcome of this work. The book explores the radical challenges to gender norms and gender divisions by young Japanese women. It discusses how many of them mix traditional and modern mediums, Western and Eastern cultures, and a feminism of their own to craft new and empowered spaces for women and girls. Finally, by including the voices of several Japanese women and girls she interviewed, Chambers lets Japanese women as varied as Hip Hop artists to CEOs speak for themselves about what it means to be vibrant, successful, women in modern Japan.

Finally, Chambers is also an entrepreneur. Inspired by the response to her children’s book, Celia Cruz: Queen of Salsa, she started her own independent fashion line for girls called Florabunda Tots. The line combines flirty girl’s fashion with Salsa and Afr@-Latin@ diasporic traditions. The clothes are easy to wear, to put on and to wash, and fun.  They also highlight hand made craftsmanship from around Latin America. In 2009, Chambers used the line to help raise money for the Princeton Child Development Center.

Veronica Chambers story, her prolific work, and her own understanding of feminism as intimately tied to black women’s struggles are an inspiration to women and girls across racial, generational, and spatial divides. Her tireless effort to weave history and culture into contemporary stories and research makes her an important contributor to black herstory.

BHM: Charlotte Hubbard

This post should have posted on 2/26/10 but was eaten by the wordpress fairies:

Charlotte Hubbard was the first black woman deputy assistant of state public affairs. At the time of her appointment, she was the highest ranking woman in a permanent position in the White House ever. She was also the first African American appointed to an important position at a television station when she began work as Community Service Director of WTOP-TV in Washington DC.

Hubbard joined the State Department in 1963 as Coordinator of Women’s Activities. While advocating for women’s issues she also initiated community meetings on Foreign Policy. These meetings were held in cooperation with community organizations around the country in order to better educated the N. American people about current foreign policy and make the role of the U.S. government and its policies more transparent; unlike the fireside chats of Roosevelt and the online videos of Obama, these meetings took place in local communities as well as the White House and involved an exchange of information between government and community leaders. In 1964, she was the moderator for the U.S. State Department Regional Briefing Conference which brought in diplomats from around the world.

Prior to her work in the government, she was a national community relations advisor for the Girl Scouts of America, where she not only honed her own leadership skills but that of other black women and girls.  In 1950, director of the Director of Field Relations at Tuskegee Institute. Her work at Tuskegee represented a long family history of work on educational equity and commitment to the education of black people in N. America. Hubbard had over 15 years of educational right’s advocacy under her belt before then-President Johnson appointed her to his administration.

She was also a strong advocate for workers rights. She spent two years in the leadership of the Political Action Committee of the Congress of Industrial Organizations a trade union organization that was one of the only large union organizations actively supporting African American workers. She talks about her time with the unions, as well as the rest of her career in an interview on file at Harvard as part of the Women in Federal Government Oral History Project.

During World War II, she worked tirelessly to ensure social programs for servicemen and women, especially African Americans struggling to survive. She was also a race and human relations consultant working on issues of racial discrimination in the military. Her work was instrumental in providing welfare and recreational facilities for service people and support staff. During the Vietnam War she worked to eliminate racial discrimination against African-American soldiers as well.

Despite her long term work with the U.S. government, her high ranking and historically groundbreaking position in the Johnson Administration, and her families long term involvement in the civil rights and black education movements, very little is actually available about Hubbard’s important contributions to black herstory online or in published book form. Her erasure is a great shame but perhaps this post will motivate one of you readers who is a grad student in history to think about a new topic … (Hint: there is a whole section of both her and her family’s papers on file at the Library of Congress)

Primary Text Post: The Combahee River Collective

Often when we talk about feminism, we talk about it as if it is a movement exclusively for mainstream centered identities within the larger category “woman”, ie that “woman” is in fact a vary narrow group that excludes most women in the world. What this operational definition of “woman” means for black women who fight for gender equality is that our primary texts remain hidden or the stuff of academe. While today’s primary text is one you should all know, I am sad to say it is not as widely read as you might think. Even people who have “heard of it” have not actually read the text thoroughly, if at all. So today’s BHM highlights a classic in black women’s organizing:

A Black Feminist Statement
From The Combahee River Collective

“We are a collective of black feminists who have been meeting together since 1974. During that time we have been involved in the process of defining and clarifying our politics, while at the same time doing political work within our own group and in coalition with other progressive organizations and movements. 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 oppressions that all women of color face.

We will discuss four major topics in the paper that follows: (1) The genesis of contemporary black feminism; (2) what we believe, i.e., the specific province of our politics; (3) the problems in organizing black feminists, including a brief herstory of our collective; and (4) black feminist issues and practice.

1. THE GENESIS OF CONTEMPORARY BLACK FEMINISM

Before looking at the recent development of
black feminism, we would like to affirm that we find our origins in the historical reality of Afro-American women’s continuous life-and-death struggle for survival and liberation. Black women’s extremely negative relationship to the American political system (a system of white male rule) has always been determined by our membership in two oppressed racial and sexual castes. As Angela Davis points out in “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Role in the Community of Slaves,” black women have always embodied, if only in their physical manifestation, an adversary stance to white male rule and have actively resisted its inroads upon them and their communities in both dramatic and subtle ways. There have always been black women activists—some known, like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frances E. W. Harper, Ida B. Wells Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell, and thousands upon thousands unknown—who had a shared awareness of how their sexual identity combined with their racial identity to make their whole life situation and the focus of their political struggles unique. Contemporary black feminism is the outgrowth of countless generations of personal sacrifice, militancy, and work by our mothers and sisters.

A black feminist presence has evolved most obviously in connection with the second wave of the American women’s movement beginning in the late 1960s. Black, other Third World, and working women have been involved in the feminist movement from its start, but both outside reactionary forces and racism and elitism within the movement itself have served to obscure our participation. In 1973 black feminists, primarily located in New York, felt the necessity of forming a separate black feminist group. This became the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO).

Black feminist politics also have an obvious connection to movements for black liberation, particularly those of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of us were active in those movements (civil rights, black nationalism, the Black Panthers), and all of our lives were greatly affected and changed by their ideology, their goals, and the tactics used to achieve their goals. It was our experience and disillusionment within these liberation movements, as well as experience on the periphery of the white male left, that led to the need to develop a politics that was antiracist, unlike those of white women, and antisexist, unlike those of black and white men.

There is also undeniably a personal genesis for black feminism, that is, the political realization that comes from the seemingly personal experiences of individual black women’s lives. Black feminists and many more black women who do not define them-selves as feminists have all experienced sexual oppression as a constant factor in our day-to-day existence.

Black feminists often talk about their feelings of craziness before becoming conscious of the concepts of sexual politics, patriarchal rule, and, most importantly, feminism, the political analysis and practice that we women use to struggle against our oppression. The fact that racial politics and indeed racism are pervasive factors in our lives did not allow us, and still does not allow most black women, to look more deeply into our own experiences and define those things that make our lives what they are and our oppression specific to us. In the process of consciousness-raising, actually life-sharing, we began to recognize the commonality of our experiences and, from that sharing and growing consciousness, to build a politics that will change our lives and inevitably end our oppression.

Our development also must be tied to the contemporary economic and political position of black people. The post-World War II generation of black youth was the first to be able to minimally partake of certain educational and employment options, previously closed completely to black people. Although our economic position is still at the very bottom of the American capitalist economy, a handful of us have been able to gain certain tools as a result of tokenism in education and employment which potentially enable us to more effectively fight our oppression.

A combined antiracist and antisexist position drew us together initially, and as we developed politically we addressed ourselves to heterosexism and economic oppression under capitalism.

2. WHAT WE BELIEVE

Above all else, our politics initially sprang from the shared belief that black women are inherently valuable, that our liberation is a necessity not as an adjunct to somebody else’s but because of our need as human persons for autonomy. This may seem so obvious as to sound simplistic, but it is apparent that no other ostensibly progressive movement has ever considered our specific oppression a priority or worked seriously for the ending of that oppression. Merely naming the pejorative stereotypes attributed to black women (e.g., mammy, matriarch, Sapphire, whore, bulldogged), let alone cataloguing the cruel, often murderous, treatment we receive, indicates how little value has been placed upon our lives during four centuries of bondage in the Western hemisphere. We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation is us. Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters, and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work.

This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially the most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression. In the case of black women this is a particularly repugnant, dangerous, threatening, and therefore revolutionary concept because it is obvious from looking at all the political movements that have preceded us that anyone is more worthy of liberation than ourselves. We reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough.

We believe that sexual politics under patriarchy is as pervasive in black women’s lives as are the politics of class and race. We also often find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously. We know that there is such a thing as racial-sexual oppression which is neither solely racial nor solely sexual, e.g., the history of rape of black women by white men as a weapon of political repression.

Although we are feminists and lesbians, we feel solidarity with progressive black men and do not advocate the fractionalization that white women who are separatists demand. Our situation as black people necessitates that we have solidarity around the fact of race, which white women of course do not need to have with white men, unless it is their negative solidarity as racial oppressors. We struggle together with black men against racism, while we also struggle with black men about sexism.

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 the 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 convinved, however, that a socialist revolution that is not also a feminist and antiracist revolution will guarantee our liberation. We have arrived at the necessity for developing an understanding of class relationships that takes into account the specific class position of black women who are generally marginal in the labor force, while at this particular time some of us are temporarily viewed as doubly desirable tokens at white-collar and professional levels. We need to articulate the real class situation of persons who are not merely raceless, sexless workers, but for whom racial and sexual oppression are significant determinants in their working/economic lives. Although we are in essential agreement with Marx’s theory as it applied to the very specific economic relationships he analyzed, we know that this analysis must be extended further in order for us to understand our specific economic situation as black women.

A political contribution which we feel we have already made is the expansion of the feminist principle that the personal is political. In our consciousness-raising sessions, for example, we have in many ways gone beyond white women’s revelations because we are dealing with the implications of race and class as well as sex. Even our black women’s style of talking/testifying in black language about what we have experienced has a resonance that is both cultural and political. We have spent a great deal of energy delving into the cultural and experiential nature of our oppression out of necessity because none of these matters have ever been looked at before. No one before has ever examined the multilayered texture of black women’s lives.

As we have already stated, we reject the stance of lesbian separatism because it is not a viable political analysis or strategy for us. It leaves out far too much and far too many people, particularly black men, women, and children. We have a great deal of criticism and loathing for what men have been socialized to be in this society: what they support, how they act, and how they oppress. But we do not have the misguided notion that it is their maleness, per se—i.e., their biological maleness—that makes them what they are. As black women we find any type of biological determinism a particularly dan-gerous and reactionary basis upon which to build a politic. We must also question whether lesbian separatism is an adequate and progressive political analysis and strat-egy, even for those who practice it, since it so completely denies any but the sexual sources of women’s oppression, negating the facts of class and race.

3. PROBLEMS IN ORGANIZING BLACK FEMINISTS

During our years together as a black feminist collective we have experienced success and defeat, joy and pain, victory and failure. We have found that it is very difficult to organize around black feminist issues, difficult even to announce in certain contexts that we are black feminists. We have tried to think about the reasons for our difficulties, particularly since the white women’s movement continues to be strong and to grow in many directions. In this section we will discuss some of the general reasons for the organizing problems we face and also talk specifically about the stages in organizing our own collective.

The major source of difficulty in our political work is that we are not just trying to fight oppression on one front or even two, but instead to address a whole range of oppressions. We do not have racial, sexual, heterosexual or class privilege to rely upon, nor do we have even the minimal access to resources and power that groups who possess any one of these types of privilege have.

The psychological toll of being a black woman and the difficulties this presents in reaching political consciousness and doing political work can never be underestimated. There is a very low value placed upon black women’s psyches in this society, which is both racist and sexist. As an early group member once said, “We are all dam-aged people merely by virtue of being black women.” We are dispossessed psychologically and on every other level, and yet we feel the necessity to struggle to change our condition and the condition of all black women. In “A Black Feminist’s Search for Sisterhood,” Michele Wallace arrives at this conclusion:

We exist as women who are black who are feminists, each stranded for the moment, working independently because there is not yet an environment in this society remotely congenial to our struggle—because, being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done: we would have to fight the world.’

Wallace is not pessimistic but realistic in her assessment of black feminists’ position, particularly in her allusion to the nearly classic isolation most of us face. We might use our position at the bottom, however, to make a clear leap into revolutionary action. If black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.

Feminism is, nevertheless, very threatening to the majority of black people because it calls into question some of the most basic assumptions about our existence, i.e., that gender should be a determinant of power relationships. Here is the way male and female roles were defined in a black nationalist pamphlet from the early 1970s.

We understand that it is and has been traditional that the man is the head of the house. He is the leader of the house/nation because his knowledge of the world is broader, his awareness is greater, his understanding is fuller and his application of this information is wiser. . . . After all, it is only reasonable that the man be the head of the house because he is able to defend and protect the development of his home. . . . Women cannot do the same things as men—they are made by nature to function differently. Equality of men and women is something that cannot happen even in the abstract world. Men are not equal to other men, i.e., ability, experience, or even understanding. The value of men and women can be seen as in the value of gold and silver—they are not equal but both have great value. We must realize that men and women are a complement to each other because there is no house/family without a man and his wife. Both are essential to the development of any life.

The material conditions of most black women would hardly lead them to upset both economic and sexual arrangements that seem to represent some stability in their lives. Many black women have a good understanding of both sexism and racism, but because of the everyday constrictions of their lives cannot risk struggling against them both.

The reaction of black men to feminism has been notoriously negative. They are, of course, even more threatened than black women by the possibility that black feminists might organize around our own needs. They realize that they might not only lose valuable and hard-working allies in their struggles but that they might also be forced to change their habitually sexist ways of interacting with and oppressing black women. Accusations that black feminism divides the black struggle are powerful deterrents to the growth of an autonomous black women’s movement.

Still, hundreds of women have been active at different times during the three-year existence of ou
r group. And every black women who came, came out of a strongly felt need for some level of possibility that did not previously exist in her life.

When we first started meeting early in 1974 after the NBFO first eastern regional conference, we did not have a strategy for organizing, or even a focus. We just wanted to see what we had. After a period of months of not meeting, we began to meet again late in the year and started doing an intense variety of consciousness-raising. The overwhelming feeling that we had is that after years and years we had finally found each other. Although we were not doing political work as a group, individuals continued their involvement in lesbian politics, sterilization abuse and abortion rights work. Third World Women’s International Women’s Day activities, and support activity for the trials of Dr. Kenneth Edelin, Joan Little, and Inez Garcia. During our first summer, when membership had dropped off considerably, those of us remaining devoted serious discussion to the possibility of opening a refuge for battered women in a black community. (There was no refuge in Boston at that time.) We also decided around that time to become an independent collective since we had serious disagreements with NBFOs bourgeois-feminist stance and their lack of a clear political focus.

We also were contacted at that time by socialist feminists, with whom we had worked on abortion rights activities, who wanted to encourage us to attend the National Socialist Feminist Conference in Yellow Springs. One of our members did attend and despite the narrowness of the ideology that was promoted at that particular conference, we became more aware of the need for us to understand our own economic situation and to make our own economic analysis.

In the fall, when some members returned, we experienced several months of comparative inactivity and internal disagreements which were first conceptualized as a lesbian-straight split but which were also the result of class and political differences. During the summer those of us who were still meeting had determined the need to do political work and to move beyond consciousness-raising and serving exclusively as an emotional support group. At the beginning of 1976, when some of the women who had not wanted to do political work and who also had voiced disagreements stopped attending of their own accord, we again looked for a focus. We decided at that time, with the addition of new members, to become a study group. We had always shared our reading with each other, and some of us had written papers on black feminism for group discussion a few months before this decision was made. We began functioning as a study group and also began discussing the possibility of starting a black feminist publication. We had a retreat in the late spring which provided a time for both political discussion and working out interpersonal issues. Currently we are planning to gather together a collection of black feminist writing. We feel that it is absolutely essential to demonstrate the reality of our politics to other black women and believe that we can do this through writing and distributing our work. The fact that individual black feminists are living in isolation all over the country, that our own numbers are small, and that we have some skills in writing, printing, and publishing makes us want to carry out these kinds of projects as a means of organizing black feminists as we continue to do political work in coalition with other groups.

4. BLACK FEMINIST ISSUES AND PRACTICE

During our time together we have identified and worked on many issues of particular relevance to black women. The inclusiveness of our politics makes us concerned with any situation that impinges upon the lives of women, Third World, and working people. We are of course particularly committed to working on those struggles in which race, sex, and class are simultaneous factors in oppression. We might, for example, become involved in workplace organizing at a factory that employs Third World women or picket a hospital that is cutting hack on already inadequate health care to a Third World community, or set up a rape crisis center in a black neighborhood. Organizing around welfare or daycare concerns might also be a focus. The work to he done and the countless issues that this work represents merely reflect the pervasiveness of our oppression.

Issues and projects that collective members have actually worked on are sterilization abuse, abortion rights, battered women, rape, and health care. We have also done many workshops and educationals on black feminism on college campuses, at women’s conferences, and most recently for high school women. One issue that is of major concern to us and that we have begun to publicly address is racism in the white women’s movement. As black feminists we are made constantly and painfully aware of how little effort white women have made to understand and combat their racism, which requires among other things that they have a more than superficial comprehension of race, color, and black history and culture. Eliminating racism in the white women’s movement is by definition work for white women to do, but we will continue to speak to and demand accountability on this issue.

In the practice of our politics we do not believe that the end always justifies the means. Many reactionary and destructive acts have been done in the name of achieving “correct” political goals. As feminists we do not want to mess over people in the name of politics. We believe in collective process and a non-hierarchical distribution of power within our own group and in our vision of a revolutionary society. We are committed to a continual examination of our politics as they develop through criticism and self-criticism as an essential aspect of our practice. As black feminists and lesbians we know that we have a very definite revolutionary task to perform and we are ready for the lifetime of work and struggle before us.

BHM: How Wide the Diaspora

While I have kept these posts largely about N. Americans, I think it is only fair to include Aída Cartagena Portalatín in this year’s Black Herstory Month/ Latinegras Project posts. Portalatín was a Dominican feminist poet who wrote poetry about women, race, immigration, and imperialism. Her poems consistently centered the female experience and were informed both by her own travels, as a student in Paris, Santo Domingo as a transnational cityscape (ie a place where people from around the world interact and engage in discussion of ideas about identity and travel), and her friends, colleagues, and family members who had moved permanently to the U.S. Thus her poems represented the viewpoint of mothers whose sons had experienced racism abroad, or women whose longing had made them susceptible to exploitation, elder women who had been abandoned for younger ones, etc. At the heart of her work was a preoccupation with the limits of freedom and how freedom was both gendered and raced.

She has published in numerous anthologies and has a wide body of work most of which has not been translated to English. Her most famous poem Una Mujer está Sola appears below:

Una mujer está sola. Sola con su estatura.
Con los ojos abiertos. Con los brazos abiertos.
Con el corazón abierto como un silencio ancho.
Espera en la desesperada y desesperante noche
sin perder la esperanza.
Piensa que está en el bajel almirante
con la luz más triste de la creación
Ya izó velas y se dejó llevar por el viento del Norte
con la figura acelerada ante los ojos del amor.
Una mujer está sola. Sujetando con sus sueños sus sueños,
los sueños que le restan y todo el cielo de Antillas.

Seria y callada frente al mundo que es una piedra humana,
móvil, a la deriva, perdido el sentido
de la palabra propia, de su palabra inútil.
Una mujer está sola. Piensa que ahora todo es nada
y nadie dice nada de la fiesta o el luto
de la sangre que salta, de la sangre que corre,
de la sangre que gesta o muere en la muerte.
Nadie se adelanta ofreciéndole un traje
para vestir una voz que desnuda solloza deletreándose.
Una mujer está sola. Siente, y su verdad se ahoga
en pensamientos que traducen lo hermoso de la rosa,
de la estrella, del amor, del hombre y de Dios.

In 1981, she published her epic poem Yania Tierra, which retold the history of the Dominican Republic from the perspective of a woman. In the poem, Yania, the protagonist, is a female personification of the nation harkening back to the original declarations of independence in which the island nation as female was celebrated rather than negated as weak and violatable. Infusing both a female perspective into the “his story” of the nation and recasting the nation as a whole allowed Portalatín to insert women back into Dominican history at the same time that she questioned machista nation building at home and abroad.

You can read more of her poetry here.

Portalatín was also an active member of the international community. After her post-graduate studies in Paris, she was appointed to UNESCO and sat on the jury of the 1977  Casa de las Américas awards for Latin American poets. In 1969, her work was up for a prestigious Premio Seix Barral International Literary Award in Spain. She also traveled frequently in Africa, Latin America, and Europe engaging in feminist encuentros, expanding her knowledge of global blackness and colonial histories, all of which informed her work. Thus her work has inspired many black female poets and other artists in and outside of the Dominican Republic.

She also taught about colonialism and history at UASD for several years, encouraging a new generation of intersectional scholars who embrace blackness and feminism in their work.

BHM: Sistahs in Business

Dolores Duncan Wharton was the first African American and the first woman, and subsequently also the first African American woman, on the Board of Gannett Company and Director of Kellog Foundation. She is the former chairman and chief executive officer of the Fund for Corporate Initiatives, Inc., a nonprofit organization devoted to strengthening the role of people of color and women in the corporate world.In the 1980s she founded a training program for African Americans in business. The program mentors African Americans interested in advancing in business and also provides them with needed training and the knowledge of several African American business leaders. Wharton explains:

We have young people in the pipeline. What we are interested in is nurturing that black talent, enhancing it, broadening it, strengthening it right up the pipeline. (Ebony Oct 1987)

Her business interests have also transferred to equity and ethics work in education. Wharton has been committed to the advancement of women and poc in education through work at Tufts, MIT, and SUNY Albany in the areas of ethics and business. (It should be noted however, that while she is opening doors for women and people of color in business, Wharton does subscribe to laissez fair capitalism that this blog has often argued disempowers workers and women globally. Wharton’s focus on liberal economics is tempered by work on human rights in China and ethics in the U.S.)

Wharton also contributed a considerable amount to the inclusion of women and poc in the arts. Her time on the Board at Garnett Company is not only a business first but also a publishing first. She sat on the Board of NPR, which sadly has very little diversity in its final product. And she also worked specifically on inclusion and diversity in issues through her directorship at Albany Institute of History and Art for 7 years, her Boardmembership at the MOMA, and her 6 year appointment to the National Council for the Arts. Wharton was appointed to the Council by President Gerald R. Ford in 1974.

BHM: Do you Know Who This Important Figure in Black Herstory Is?

Today is your second chance to win a gift certificate to Powell’s Bookstore, hopefully to buy a book about black women’s history.

The Contest: The first person to correctly identify the woman pictured below and her significance to black herstory wins a $20 gift certificate to Powell’s Books

The Time Frame: you have until 12pm Monday 2/22/10 to guess (even if some else has already guessed before you, weigh in, because you never know who will get the most accurate info)

The Hint: Her speech about the hypocrisy of N. American racism and its connections to slavery, civil rights, and the prison industrial complex aired on independent and some major radio stations across N. America in the summer of 1973.

Do You Know Who this Important Figure in Black Herstory is?

Assata Shakur

The Winner: Sasha for her answer “Assata Shakur, who is a political activist and a former member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army. She was forced into political exile because the United States government falsely convicted of her of shooting a New Jersey police officer.” (full BHM bio forthcoming)

BHM: Malcom X’s Family Speaks

Since tomorrow is the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, and I have already committed to doing a Do Y0u Know contest for the Sunday post, I am honoring Malcolm a day earlier. Like many political radicals, I do not believe that there could have been a Martin without a Malcolm and that neither man would have accomplished such greatness without the political activism, support and care work, and strength of black women. So, here are the voices of his wife and daughter discussing the meaning of Malcolm X and his leadership:

Uva: Rocking the Afra-Latina Poetry Beat

Uva is an Afra-Latina/Latinegra spoken word performer who combines the  various elements of the black diaspora, African American political consciousness, Spanish verse, and West Indian beats, into a tapestry of words about blackness primarily in the Americas. She is deeply committed to Latin@ leadership and women’s rights and works to encourage these through teaching and the arts. She is the Founder and Director of Creative Bulla!—a nonprofit organization, that provides workshops and events for organizations interested in promoting cultural awareness and personal growth through the arts. Her work focuses on the Afra-Latina experience, ie the intersections of race and gender, and the empowerment that comes from embracing oneself and one’s identity.

In 2005, she created a one woman show entitled “UVA: Observations in Black & Blanco.” The performance highlighted spoken word from her CD “Labor of Love.”  Through the blend of music and poetry, she described her multiple journeys from a girlhood in Panama to life as an adult in Philadelphia. One of my favorite pieces is “Yo Soy” which honors her grandmother and talks about the African influence in Latin America and Latin@ cultures from a distinct female experience.

She currently teaches at the Philadelphia Arts and Education project empowering other Latinegras to find their voices and speak their truths.