Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Which social hierarchies are involved in shaping the consciousness of the individual or group you are considering? How do the positions of the individual or group in those hierarchies confer overlapping or conflicting dominant or subordinate status in US society? 2. What evidence or examples, if any, do you see of specific awareness, identities, and activism on the part of the individual or group based on their intersectionality?Collinsexcerpt2.pdf |

Which social hierarchies are involved in shaping the consciousness of the individual or group you are considering? How do the positions of the individual or group in those hierarchies confer overlapping or conflicting dominant or subordinate status in US society? 2. What evidence or examples, if any, do you see of specific awareness, identities, and activism on the part of the individual or group based on their intersectionality?Collinsexcerpt2.pdf

  1. Which social hierarchies are involved in shaping the consciousness of the individual or group you are considering? How do the positions of the individual or group in those hierarchies confer overlapping or conflicting dominant or subordinate status in US society?

2. What evidence or examples, if any, do you see of specific awareness, identities, and activism on the part of the individual or group based on their intersectionality?


Figure 3.5 Collins's Basic Concepts and Theoretical Orientation


Self-defined Cultural context standpoint

Shared angles of vision

Individual Collective

Interests Hierarchical power relations



Reading –

Introduction to Black Feminist Thought

In the following selection from Collins's most highly acclaimed book, Black Feminist Thought, Collins exposes and discusses the tension for black womei't as agents of knowl­ edge, acknowledging that "Black culture and many of its traditions oppress women" (Collins 1990/2000:230). However, she also warns against portraying black women either "solely as passive, unfortunate recipients of racial and sexual abuses" or as "heroic figures who easily engage in resisting oppression" (ibid.:238). In sum, Collins continually emphasizes the complexity of systems of both domination and resistance.

Black Feminist Thought (1990)

Patricia Hill Collins

DISTINGUISHING FEATURES Rather than developing definitions and argu­ ing over naming practices-for example, whether OF BLACK FEMINIST THOUGHT this thought should be called Black feminism, womanism, Afrocentric feminism, Africana •Widely used yet increasingly difficult to define, womanism, and the like-a more useful approach U.S. Black feminist thought encompasses diverse lies in revisiting the reasons why Black feminist and often contradictory meanings ….

SOURCE: Excerpts from Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins. Copyright© 2000 by Taylor & Francis .. Group LLC. Reproduced with permission ofTaylor & Francis Group, LLC via Copyright Clearance Center.

. thought exists i features that ct may provide sorely needed women, and b( and all others thought has a thought's disti unique and ma; knowledge. Rai distinguishing feminist thougl

Why U.S. Blac

Black femir U.S. Black won As a collectivit in a dialecticc American won Dialectical rela two parties are , Black women's oppressions of 1

nation persists, response to that

In a similar of U.S. Black J

oppression, botl justify it. If inte1 Black feminist knowledges wo social theory, 1 empower Afric1 context of socia ing oppressions fully empowerei themselves are e supports broad transcend U.S. I

Because son been filtered thr text, its contour the specificity (Takaki 1993). I thought and prB contradiction of democratic pro equality under made to all Am,

µght exists at all. Exploring six distinguishing #fies that characterize Blackfeminist thought

provide the common ground that is go ly needed both among African'."Ainerican

d 6n, and between African-American women 4/alJ•.··others :whose ·collettive .. k:nowledge or ';µgb..t has a similar. purpose. Black feminist 'ijghfs distinguishing features need not be 1'"he :and may share much with other bodies of

: ledge; Rather, it is the convergence of these j~guishing features that gives U.S. Black · st thought its distinctive contours.

'i"U.s. Black Ferninist Thought? . ,_;_;-~· ' . ' . . . . . .

Jack. feminism remains important because ;J3latk women constitute an oppressed group. a:coilectivity, U.S1 Black women participate '});Jialecfical relationship linking African- 'ht!)Il. women's oppression and activism. ~~tjcal relationships of this sort mean /hat parties are opposed and opposite. As long as

.kwomen's subordination within intersecting i'issions of race,: class, gender, sexuality, and fo,n. persists, Black feminism· as an activist p9pse to that oppression will remain needed. ':fii'a $im.ilar fashion, .the overarching purpose s. Black feminist thought is aiso to resist

pt~ssion, both its practices and the ideas that ftfy it. If intersecting' oppressions. did not exist, l.lqk feminist thought and similar oppositional ovledges.would be unnecessary. As a critical Jal',theozy; Black feminist ,tho:ught aims to p6wer Africans.American Women within the

.~text of social injustice.sustained by intersect~ gt.~ppressions. Since Black women cannot be liy empowered unless• intersecting oppressions ~fuselves .are eliminated, Black feminist thought ppprts. broad principles of -social justice that pscend U.S. Black women's particular needs.

t;Because so much ofU.S. Black.feminism has , f~n filtered through the prism of the U.S. con­ '.t~J(t; its c.ontours have been greatly affected by ~thffspecificity of American· multiculturaHsm :ttl1kaki 1993). In particular, U.S. Black feminist t4:~1:ight·.and practice respond to a fundamental '£5~tradiction ofUS; society. On the. one hand, . ~rnocratic promises of individual. freedom,

i:ality under the law, and social .justice are .~de to all American citizens. Yet on th,e other

Critical Theory GB 169

hand; the reality of differential group ,treatment based ot). race, class, gender, sexuality, and citi­ zenship status persists. Groups organized around race,·. class, and· gender in and of themselves are not inherently a problem, However, when African­ .Americans, poor people, women, and other groups discriminated . against .• see little hope for group­ based advancement, this situation constitutes social injustice ..

Within this oyerarching contradiction, U.S. Blackwomen encounter a, distinctive set of social practices .that accompany· our particular history

· within a UJJ.jque matrix of domination character- ized by intersecting oppressions;:Race is far from being the only significant marker of gro:up differ­ ence-,-dass, gender,, se~uality,religion; and citi­ zenship statu!l allmatter,gready· in·the<United States . (Andersen and Collin.& J998). Yet.for African~American women, the effects of.institu~ tionalized racism remain visible .and palpabl~. Moreover, •.. the• instit:utionali,zed ,i:acism·. •that African:…Americanwonien [email protected] relies heav­ ily on racial segregation.and :a,ccompanyi11g. dis, criminatory practices desigried .to ;qelY.c tJ;S•. Blacks .. equitable· treatment. Despite important strides to desegregate U.S .• socfoty:.:since 1970, racial segregation remains deeply e11trenbb,ed in housing, schooling, and. emplp)'ll:leJ,it;'. (Ml:ssey and Denton 1993). For many A_ft-ican,1;rileric:ah women, racism is not something tliatexists •inJhe distance.· We encounter racism in everyday situa~ tions in workplaces,· stores,· schools; housing, ancj daily social interaction (St. J~an an.d Feagin 1998). Most Blackwomen do nothavetheoppor­ tunity to · befriend , White. women and men as neighbors, hbr do . their children attend schpol with White children..Racial segregation remains a fundamentai feature of the US. social land­ scape, leaving many African-Am,er-icans With. the belief that "the more ch}mge, the niore they stay the same'' (CollinsJ998a, 11–43). Overlaying these persisting .inequalities is a rhetoric of color blindness designed to _render tl:),ese social inequal­ ities invisible. In a context where many believe that to talk of race fosters :r;acisn1, equality ~lleg~ edly. lies in treating everyone the same. Yet as Kimberle Crenshaw (1997) points out, "it is fairly obvious that treating different things the same can generate as much inequality as. treating the satne things differently'' (p. 285).


Although racial segregation is now organized differently than in prior eras (Collins 1998a, 11-43), being Black and female in the United States continues to expose African-American women to certain common experiences. U.S. Black women's similar work and family experi­ ences as well as our participation in diverse expressions of African-American culture mean that, overall, U.S. Black women as a group live in a different world from that of people who are not Black and female. For individual women, the par­ ticular experiences that accrue to living as a Black woman in the United States can stimulate a dis­ tinctive consciousness concerning our own experi­ ences and society overall. Many African-American women grasp this connection between what one does and how one thinks. Hannah Nelson, an elderly Black domestic worker, discusses how work shapes the perspectives ofAfrican-American and White women: "Since I have to work, I don't really have to worry about most of the things that most of the white women I have worked for are worrying about. And ifthese women did their own work, they would think just like I do-about this, anyway" (Gwaltney 1980, 4). Ruth Shays, a Black inner-city resident, points out how variations in men's and women's experiences lead to differ­ ences in perspective. "The mind of the man and the mind of the woman is the same" she notes, "but this business of living makes women use their minds in ways that men don't even have to think about" (Gwaltney 1980, 33).

A recognition of this connection between experience and consciousness that shapes the everyday lives of individual African-American women often pervades the works of Black women activists and scholars. In her autobiogra­ phy, Ida B. Wells-Barnett describes how the lynching of her friends had such an impact on her worldview that she subsequently devoted much of her life to the anti-lynching cause (Duster 1970). Sociologist Joyce Ladner's dis­ comfort with the disparity between the teachings of mainstream scholarship and her experiences as a young Black woman in the South led her to write Tomorrow's 'Tomorrow (1972), a ground­ breaking study of Black female adolescence. Similarly, the transformed consciousness experi­ enced by Janie, the light-skinned heroine ofZora Neale Hurston's (1937) classic Their Eyes Were

Watching God, from obedient granddaughter and wife to a self-defined African-American woman, can be directly traced to her experiences with each of her three husbands. In one scene Janie's second husband, angry because she served him a dinner of scorched rice, underdone fish, and soggy bread, hits her. That incident stimulates Janie to stand "where he left her for unmeasured time" and think. And in her thinking "her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered…. [S]he had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them" (p. 63).

Overall, these ties between what one does and what one thinks illustrated by individual Black women can also characterize Black women's experiences and ideas as a group. Historically, racial segregation in housing, education, and employment fostered· group commonalities that encouraged the formation: of a group-based, col­ lective standpoint. For example, the heavy con­ centration of U.S. Black women in domestic work coupled with racial segregation in housing and schools meant that U.S. Black women had common organizational networks . that enabled them to share experiences and construct a collec­ tive body of wisdom. This collective wisdom on how to survive as U.S. Black women constituted a distinctive Black women's standpoint on gender­ specific patterns of racial segregation and its accompanying economic penalties.

The presence of Black women's collective wisdom challenges two prevailing interpreta­ tions of the consciousness of oppressed groups. One approach claims that subordinate groups identify with the powerful and have no valid independent interpretation of their own oppress sion. The second assumes the oppressed are less human than their rulers, and are therefore less capable of interpreting their own experiences (Rollins 1985; Scott 1985). Both approaches see. any independent consciousness expressed by African-American women and other oppressed groups as being either not of our own making or inferior to that of dominant groups. More impor­ tantly, both explanations suggest that the alleged lack ofpolitical activism on the part ofoppressed groups stems from our flawed consciousness of our own subordination.

Historically, Black women's group location iii intersecting oppressions produced commonalities :., .•,!ce,c>F••'·'·'

among individua the same time, ~ predispose Black group consciousn such a consciou: women nor that it group. As historic links amongthety will have and an: concerning those standpoints are sit unjust power rela (Collins 1998a, : lenges may foster to a group kno1


Diverse Respom Challenges With

A second distin feminist thought e experiences and African-American lenges that result historically and n African descent. :C women face com means that individ have all had the E

agree on the signiJ ences. Thus, on thl mon challenges cc as a group, dive: themes characteriz knowledge or stanc

Despite differen social class, regio women encounter us to inferior hom jobs, and public tre tial consideration · beliefs about Blac1 habits, and sexuali1 in tum result in rec1 for individual gro African-American backgrounds reporl Not every individt need experience be

,brig .individual African-American women. At t~a:me· time, while common ·experiences• may ~spose Black women to develop a distinctive Jp consciousness, they guarantee neither. that :h 'a •consciousness will· . develop ·a:mong. ·. all Jhen nor thatit will be articulated as such by the 'iip. As historical cbnditions change, so do the among the types ofexperiences Blackwoinen

{i('cha:ve and· any ensuing group consdoushess '~c'eriting those experiences. Because group · · ' points are situated in, reflect,· and help shape· h~t power, relations; standpoints are not· static jlins 1998a, 201-'-28). Thus; common dial~ 'es may foster similar angles of vision leading 'a/group knowledge or standpoint among '.can-American women. Or they may not. ,

'¢fseRespons~s 'to Common 'ifknges Within IJ!ack Feminism

s~cond distinguishing feature ofU.S, Black )iist thought enierges f.rom a tension linking '~riences and ideas. On the one hand, all i~an~American women face similar chal~ esthat··result from· living in a society that

ptically and routinely derogates women of }an descent. Despite the fact that U.S. Black il:ieti face common challenges, this neither

:;~ii'6ifthat individual African~American women 19:tl'"all had the same experiences nor that we ~e~ on the significance of our varying experi­ ~~es. Thus, on the other hand, despite the com­

challenges confronting U.S. Black women , 'group, diverse · responses to these core

. , 'es characterize U.S. Black women's group '~'\'ledge ot standpoint. Jt)espi.te differences ofage, sexual orientation, '9ialclass, region, and )religion; U.S. Black §'then, encounter societal practices that· restrict CJ~ •inferior housing, neighborhoods, schools,

)?s,and public treatment and hide this differen­ ~F,col:J.sideration behind an array of common 'ifefsabout Black women's intelligence, work

its, and sexuality. These common challenges . . •· result in recurring patterns· of experiences Sfodividual group members; For example,

,,:can~American women from quite diverse '6kgrounds report similar treatment in stores. :f,every ·individual Black woman consumer

(~cl experience being followed in a store as a

Critical Theory :: 171

potential· shoplifter, ignored while · others are waited on first, or seated near restaurant kitchens and rest rooms, for African:cAmerican women as a collectivity t6 recognize that differential group treatment is operating.

· Since standpoints refer to group knowledge, recwring patterns of differential treatment such as these stiggestthat certain themes will charac~ terize U.S.'Black women's group knowledge or standpoint. , For example, one· core theme con~ cems multifaceted legacies ofstruggle; especially in response to forms· of violence that accompany intersecting oppressions· (Cbllins 1998d).··Katie Cannon observes,· ''[T]htoughout··the· history of the United States, the interrelationship of white supremacy and maJe. superiority has . character0

ized the Bla:ckwonian's reality as a situation of struggle-"-a struggle to survive in ~o contradic­ tory Worlds simultaneously, one white; privi­ leged; and oppressive, the other black, exploited, and oppressed'' (1985, 30). Blackwomen;s yul­ nerability to• assaults .iti the .. workplace, ·· on · the street; at home; and in media representations has been one facfot fostering this legacy of struggle.

Despite differences ·created· by historical era, age, social class, sexual orientation, skin color, or ethnicity, the legacy of struggle against the · vio­ lence that permeates U.S. social structures is a common thread binding African~American women. · Anna Julia Cooper, an educated, nine­ teenth-century Black woman intellectual, describes Black women's vulnerability to sexual violence:

I would beg .• , . to· add my plea fodhe Colored Girls ofthe Solth:-that large, bright, promising fatally beautiful .. ·• so· full of promise and possibilities, yet so sure of destniction; .often with9ut a father to. wh9I11 they <:lare !!pply the.lov­ ing Jenn, . often without a stronger brother to espou~e their cause and defend thekhortor with . his iife's blood; in the midstofpitfallsartd snares, waylaid by the lower'classes of white nien, with no _shelter, rtb protection. (Cobper ~892, 240)

Yet during this period Cooper and other middle­ class U.S. Black women built a powerful club movement and numerous . community orgahiza~ tions (Giddings 1984, 1988; Gilkes 1985).

Stating that a legacy· of struggle exists does not mean that all U.S. Black wonien share its benefits or even recognize it. For example, for


African-American girls, age often offers little protection from assaults. Far too many young Black girls inhabit hazardous and hostile envi­ ronments (Carroll 1997). In 1975 I received an essay titled "My World" from Sandra, a sixth­ grade student who was a resident of one of the most dangerous public housing projects in Boston. Sandra wrote, "My world is full of peo­ ple getting rape. People shooting on another. Kids and grownups fighting over girlsfriends. And people without jobs who can't afford to get a education so they can get a job … winos on the streets raping and killing little girls." Her words poignantly express a growing Black feminist sensibility that she may be victimized by racism, misogyny, and poverty. They. reveal her aware­ ness that she is vulnerable to rape as· a form of sexual violence. Despite her feelings about her neighborhood, Sandra not only walked the streets daily but managed safely to deliver three siblings to school. In doing so she participated in a Black women's legacy of struggle. Sandra prevailed, but at a cost. Unlike Sandra, others simply quit.

This legacy of struggle constitutes one of several core themes of a Black women's stand­ point. Efforts to reclaim U.S. Black women's intellectual traditions have revealed Black women's long-standing attention to additional core themes first recorded by Maria W. Stewart (Richardson 1987). Stewart's perspective on intersecting oppressions, her call for replacing derogated images of Black womanhood with self-defined images, her belief in Black women's activism as mothers, teachers, and Black com­ munity · leaders, and her sensitivity to sexual politics are all core themes advanced by a variety of Black feminist intellectuals.

Despite the common challenges confronting African-American women as a group, individual Black women neither have identical experiences nor interpret experi~nces in a similar fashion. The existence of core themes does not mean that African-American women respond to these themes in the same way. Differences among individual Black women produce different patterns of expe­ riential knowledge that in turn shape individual reactions to the core themes. For example, when faced with controlling images of Black women as being ugly and unfeminine, some women-such as Sojourner Truth-demand, "Ain't I a woman?"

By deconstructing the conceptual apparatus of the dominant group, they challenge notions ofBarbie­ doll femininity premised on middle-class White women's experiences (duCille 1996, 8-59). In contrast, other women internalize the controlling images and come to believe that they are the ste­ reotypes (Brown-Collins and Sussewell 1986). Still others aim to transgress the boundaries that frame the images themselves. Jaminica, a 14-year- ••• old Black girl, describes her strategies: "Unless you want to get into a big activist battle, you accept the stereotypes given to you and just try and reshape them along the way. So in a way, this gives me a lot offreedom. I can't be looked at any worse in society than I already am-black and female is pretty high on the list ofthings not to be" (Carroll 1997, 94-95).

Many factors explain these diverse responses. For example, although all African-American women encounter institutionalized racism, social class differences among African-American women influence patterns of racism in.housing, education, and employment. Middle-class Blacks are more likely to encounter a pernicious form of racism that has left many angry and disappointed (Cose 1993; Feagin and Sikes 1994). A young manager who graduated with honors from the University of Maryland describes the specific form racism can take for middle-class Blacks. Before she flew to Cleveland to explain a mar­ keting plan for her company, her manager made her go over it three or four times in front of him so that she would not forget her marketing plan. Then he explained how to check luggage at an airport and how to reclaim it. "I just sat at lunch listening to this man talking to me like I was a monkey who could remember but couldn't think," she recalled.· When she had had enough, "I asked him ifhe wanted to tie my money up in a handkerchief and put a note on me saying that I was an employee of this company. In case I got lost I would be picked up by Traveler's Aid, and Traveler's Aid would send me back" (Davis and Watson 1985, 86). Most middle-class Black women do not encounter such blatant incidents, but many working-class Blacks do. Historically, working-class Blacks have struggled with forms of institutionalized racism directly organized by White institutions and by forms mediated by some segments of the Black middle class. Thus,

while it shru women, the 1 Blacks (Kel Blackwome1 tive characte1

Sexuality, influences A responses to 1

have identifa sion and the i bic communi of everyday e 1984; Clarke 1998; Williar how being a the wedding 1 I wish I hado me and woul1 querading as 'girl"' (1983, attending the Beverly Smit] into a form • varying ethni, U.S. nation-s1 among Black example, Bia< that combines ethnicity in di women thus 1 experiences ti holding a spe and being etru

Given hov response to c1 to stress that standpoint exi typal Black w normal, nonn essentialist ur standpoint su1 women in se Instead, it ma Black women one characteri different res] Because it bot rate heteroger oppositional standpoint es


'bile it shares much with middle-class Black .vcifuen, the legacy of struggle by working~class 13acks (Kelley 1994) and by working-class Blackwomen in particular will express a distinc­

~ character (Fordham 1993). 'Sexuality signals another important factor that · uences African-American women's varying spolises to common challenges. Blacklesbians

.. ie identified heterdsexism as a form· ofoppres~ fqn and the issues they face living in homopho~ iccomniunities as'.shaping their interpretations £everyday eventS{Shockley 1974; Lorde 1982,

{9$4r'Clarke et at 1983; Barbara Smith 1983, l9Q8; .Williams 1997). Beverly Smith describes Jw :being a lesbian •affected herperceptions of . !ivedding ofone, of her closest friends: '~God, ''Yisb'Ihad One friend here. Someone who kpew 'f.and would understand how I feel. I am mas­ ~~rading as a nice;,straight, middle-class Black '~1"'{1983, 172)_':While the majority of those

ending . the wedding saw only· a·. festive :event, 'yerly Sniith felt that herfriend:was being sent .p:a: form of bondage. In a·. similar fashion;

ing ethnic and citizenship Statuses wi.thin the iS.'nation°state as; Well also ·shape. differences

,?19,ng.Black womenin the United States.>For ~'iainple, Black Puerto Ricans constitute a group h~tcoi:nbines categories ofrace,nationality,.and 'tlrtiicity in distinctive ways. Black Puerto Rican · foiien thus must negotiate . a distinctive set of · p~riences that. accrue to being. racially Black, idinga special form of American,citizenship,

tl<l being ethnically Latino. . i)Given how • these, factors influence diverse iWnonsci to commori challenges,. it is important ':/stress that no homogeneous Black womans )idpoint exists. There is no essential or arche­

iilBlack woman wb,ose experiences stand as ;{krnal, normative, · and thereby authentic. An JS~ntialistunderstailding of a Black woman's {~dpoint suppresses differences among. J3lack

J:nen in , search of . an elusive group . unity. lfstead, it may be tnore accurate to say that a

. )ack,women s collective standpoint does exist, ~tje i;:haracterized by the tensions that accrue to •tl!ff~rent responses' to common challenges. ' ,~.¢ause it both recognizes and aims to incorpo­

J{ heterogeneity in crafting Black women's :positional knowledge, this Black women s

)ihdpoint eschews essentialism in favor of

· Critical Theory DI 173

democracy. Since Blackfeminist thought both arises within . and a:iins to :. articulate a Black womens group standpoint regarding experiences associated .with intersecting oppressions, stress­ ing this group standpoint's h!)terogeneous com- position is significant: .. · . . . • , . …

Moreover in thinking through the contqurs of a Black women's standpointit is ~qually impor~ tant to recognize that U.B. Black women also encounter:the same challenges (artd correspond­ ingly different expressions) as women ofAfrican descent· within, a Black.diasporic context. This context in tum is situate<;! within· a transnatiorial, global cont.ext. The term diaspora describes the experiences· of people who, through Slavery, . colonialism,· imperialistn, ahd migration, ·. have been forced to leave· their native. lands '(Funani 1998,•417); ·For U:S..Black .women and othe.r people ofAfrican descent, a diasporic framework suggests · a dispersal· from Africa· to. societies in the Caribbean, South America, North America, and Europe. Understandings ofAfrican-American womanhood thus reflect a distinctive pattem pf dispersal associated with· forced immigration to the United States·· arid· subsequent·· enslavement (Pala 1995). Since a diasporic framework is not normative, it should not be used to. assess the authenticity ofpeople ofAfrican descent in refer­ ence to an. assumed African norm, Rather; Black diasporic frameworks .center analyses ofBlack women within the context ofcommon challenges experienced transnationally.

The version of Black.feminism that U.S. Blackwomen have developed certainly must be understood in the context of U:Si. nation:.:state politics; At the same time,U.S. Black feminism as a social justice project shares l,lluch with com~ parable social justice projects advanced notonly by other. U:S. racial/ethnic groups {see; e.g., Takaki •l 993); but by women ofAfrican descent across quite diverse societies. In the context of an "intercontinental.· Black·. women's conscious­ ness movement" (McLaughlin 1995, 73), women ofAfrican descent are dispersed globally, yet the issues we face may· be similar.. Transnationally, women encounter recurring social issues such as poverty, violence, reproductive concerns, lack of education, sex work, and susceptibility to disease (Rights of Women 1998). Placing African­ American women's experiences, thought, and


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