The Importance of Black Feminist Thought in the Era of Black Lives Matter

Uriah Powell

12.11.2015

Blog #2

Black Women’s Lives Matter! Say Her Name! Both of these chants have emerged in the Black Lives Matter Movement to highlight the Black women who are impacted by police brutality and state violence. Black Lives Matter was actually created by black, queer women after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin and the non-indictment of Darren Wilson after he murdered Mike Brown. Ironically, both Black women and Black queers continue to be excluded from the conversation of police brutality. Within the movement, there is a misconception that Black women are doing fine and they do not experience police brutality in the same capacity that Black men experience it. Furthermore, there is a general consensus among many Black, male activists that the sole role of Black women in the movement should be to provide support to Black men. The erasure of Black women in major social movements is not a new concept. When looking at the Abolitionist Movement, the Suffragist Movement, Civil Rights Movement, Black Power Movement, Women’s Rights Movement and countless others, Black women have been left out of the conversation. Ultimately this exclusion led to the emergence of Black feminism and Black feminist thought. It is important to acknowledge that the liberation of all Black people will not be achieved if we continue to exclude Black women from the conversation of police brutality, state violence, sexism etc.

For the final blog assignment, I decided to create another collage of pictures that I believe embodies Black feminism and advocates for Black women’s lives in the past and present. I decided to use these four images because there isn’t one image that accurately portrays Black feminism in the past and in the present. Additionally, I believe that the pictures that are in the collage display the spectrum of advocacy of Black women’s rights. Initially, I was drawn to the image of the Black women with the Afros and the all Black outfits. Without knowing the context of the image, I felt that these women were on the more radical or revolutionary spectrum of Blacks feminism and Black Power. This image exudes a sense of passion, pride and urgency to acknowledge the oppression of all Black people. Additionally, I was drawn to this picture because I could see myself and other Black female activists that I know in this image. Over the past couple of years, I have participated in many protests and rallies against police brutality. As I develop my identity as a Black woman and my understanding of race and racism, I have adopted a broader perspective on the Black Lives Matter Movement.

The next image that I was drawn to was the image of the “Women’s Liberation” poster with the Black Power symbol and the four Black women. Seeing this image made me immediately think of The Black Women’s Liberation Committee that we learned about in class. This committee was created in 1968. The purpose of this committee was to “address the intersectionality of race, gender and class” (She’s Beautiful). Fran Beal created the committee because she believed that “black militant men were being ‘white’ and middle class when they enforced unequal gender roles and expected black women to be ‘breeders’ for the revolution” (She’s Beautiful). I am speculating that the women photographed in this picture had the same analysis of the Black men in the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement. Another important aspect of this image is the small poster below the “Women’s Liberation” banner, in the middle of the photo. This smaller poster reads, “Free our Sisters. Free ourselves.” This poster represents a common view that was held by many Black feminists that there is “a need to ameliorate conditions for their own empowerment” (Pittman). In order for this to happen, Black women need to advocate on behalf of other Black women, and also acknowledge the oppression they’ve internalized.

One of the biggest issues that Black women face within any major movement is the lack of support and solidarity from the Black men. Black Feminism was necessary because Black women were being pushed out of the conversation about race and gender issues. Both Black men and White women were unable to acknowledge the intersectionality between racism and sexism. However, the third picture next to the “Women’s Liberation” image is portraying a Black man who understands the importance of including and defending Black womanhood. This poster signals an example of solidarity with Black women in their fight for liberation. Even within the Black Lives Matter Movement, there is little acknowledgment of Black women’s issues. The simple fact that this Black man is acknowledging the oppression of Black women is rare, but an essential image.

Lastly, I chose to incorporate an image from the University of Missouri Solidarity protest we had on campus. In this image, we are holding up a sign that says “Black Women’s Lives Matter”. This image is significant because we are still fighting the same fight that those Black women in the previous pictures were fighting for decades ago. We are fighting for inclusion into the conversation of police brutality and state violence. As a Black woman in the movement, I have seen countless Black women being silenced because their stories are not seen as important as the issues of Black men. In this picture, we are proclaiming that Black Women’s Lives Matter and that we will not continue to be excluded from the conversation.

Unfortunately, the authors for the first three pictures are unknown. I assumed that it would be easier to find the photographer for these pictures because they were taken during the Civil Rights era. I would hypothesize that these images were used to document these movements. Because of the racial tension and gender inequality during this time, Black women were constantly fighting and resisting the dominant perception of what it meant to be a Black woman. Additionally, the superiority complex that both Black men and White women possess has allowed them to justify their treatment and exclusion of Black women. Tim Sage photographed the final image in the collage. Tim is a photographer and journalist who reports on many of the protests and rallies in Seattle. He didn’t say why he took this picture; however, it seems that he understands the importance of accurately portraying the Black Lives Matter work that is being done in Seattle. Often times when we protest in Seattle, the mainstream media inaccurately portrays the events that occurred, so, the work that Tim and other local journalist do helps counter mainstream media. Even with his involvement in the Black Lives Matter Movement, it is unclear if he understands the intersectionality of racism and sexism in the movement.

The pictures in this collage were created between the 20th Century and the early 21st Century. During the mid 20th Century, this was the height of the Jim Crow and the Civil Rights era. Jim Crow laws were “rigid anti-blacks laws” (Pittman) that enforced segregation between Blacks and Whites. Also, de jure and de facto racial segregation emerged during this time period. These additional forms of oppression were put in place to keep Blacks in an inferior status and to segregate Blacks from Whites. “De facto racial segregation was discrimination that was not segregation by law” (Pollard, Slavery by Another Name). On the flip side, “de jure racial segregation was enforced by law” (Pollard, Slavery by Another Name). Racial tensions were extremely high during this time because the Jim Crow era was another time period used to oppress Blacks and force them into a subordinate class. Because of these laws, it was difficult for Black men to find stable work, which caused many issues within the Black community and the Black family. Additionally, Black women were only allowed to work in domestic jobs for white families. Black women were locked out of certain positions because of institutional racism and because White women didn’t want to work with Black women. The African American women were called “service pan because they were locked into positions as domestics and personal service” (Pittman). In addition to being excluded from certain jobs, African Americans were forced into ghettos. This was not a safe environment to raise a family. We see a spike in truancy of Black youth because the community environment was not ideal and Black parents were not home because they were working.

The 21st century is significant because we are currently living in a time where many Americans believe that we are post-racial. This post-racial ideology “suggests that racial advocacy is over and our country has elevated” (Crenshaw). The visibility of police brutality has increased; which has resulted in many protests throughout the US. Currently, there are high racial tensions; however, many people feel that we don’t need to talk about racism. Anyone who does protest or resist “is now seen as the racists” (Crenshaw). With the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement there has been extreme opposition from the police, from the US government and white society. Because of colorblind ideology, there is a common belief that those that bring up race and racism “are playing the race card” (Crenshaw). This colorblind ideology coupled with the idea of a “post racial society” has produced a lot of hostility toward the movement.

Each artifact within this collage is significant to the time period because they are documenting the power and persistence of Black women in their fight for liberation. Also, these women are using their voice to show the necessity of including Black women in the movement. Too often, their voices are ignored and rejected. Advocacy for Black women emerged at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement. Black women had a level of independence during this time that White women didn’t have; however, they were still seen as the most inferior group. This artifact is significant to both time periods because it highlights the lives and stories of Black women who are left out. Both movements centered on Black males and their advocacy work and failed to give Black women, who were at the forefront of the movement, recognition for their role in advocacy for Black liberation. During this time, Black women were “pointing out that race, gender and class oppression were fundamental causes of Black women’s poverty” (Collins 1). There was a strong effort by White women, White men and Black men to silence Black women. By “suppressing the knowledge produced by any oppressed group it makes it easier for dominant groups to rule because the seeing absence of dissent suggests that subordinate groups willingly collaborate in their own victimization” (3). During this era, Black women were fighting against the dominant group, who was trying to silence them, while also going against every stereotype or generalization placed on them about what it means to be black and a woman.

In class, we talked about the emergence of Black Feminism and its role throughout history. The cultural artifact relates to the class because it adds a visual element to the text we have been reading in class. Since slavery, Black women have been under constant attack and neglect by White men, Black men and White women. Black feminism was “ developed out of antagonistic and dialectical engagement with White women and later Black men” (Pittman). The emergence of Black feminism was important because both Black men and White women refused to address the intersectionality of race and gender issues. My cultural artifact represents Black women’s constant fight to be included in movements that impact them. Just like the Black women during wave one we “see black women being blamed for their victimhood” (Pittman). “Ain’t I a Woman” is an important speech given by Sojourner Truth that addresses how “Black slave women are denied motherhood, protection from sexual exploitation and feminine qualities” solely based on the color of their skin and the fact that they are slave.

The reemergence of Black feminist thought in the 21st Century tends to be similar to Wave 2, “ which is linked to the Civil Rights Movement” (Pittman). What’s important about this wave is that Black feminists “held men individually accountable for their sexism” (Pittman). Furthermore Black feminists, “dealt with their own issues around the relationship between Black men and White women both politically and personally” (Pittman). Till this day, there is little to no outcry by White feminists about issues that affect Black women. There is a lack of advocacy for Black women because certain frameworks have been set up so that we don’t acknowledge the oppression of Black women (Crenshaw). Society has created a false narrative about Black women to support the claim that “Black women should play the role of helpmate” (Pittman) instead of taking charge to bring attention to issues that are vital to them. Ultimately the exclusion of Black women from movements in the past and the Black Lives Matter Movement only hurts the movement. Throughout history, Black women have played an intricate role in maintaining the Black family and the Black community. All Black individuals benefit from the inclusion and liberation of Black women.

 

Work Cited

  1. Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Black Lives Matter”. Seattle Human Rights Day. Seattle, WA. 10Dec. 2015. Speech.
  1. Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge,Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2000.
  1. Dybis, Karen. “Defend Black Womanhood 7141975 – Q&A: Danielle L. McGuire on Civil Rights and Detroit – The Detroit Blog.” The Detroit Blog. Time Inc., 9 Sept. 2010. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. <http://detroit.blogs.time.com/2010/09/07/qa-danielle-l-mcguire-on-civil-rights-and-detroit/defend-black-womanhood-7141975/&gt;.
  1. Foster, Kimberly. “Black Feminist Contradictions: We All Got ‘Em.” Black Feminist Contradictions: We All Got ‘Em. For Harriet, 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.
  2. “Fran Beal.” She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. Squarespace,.Web. 11 Dec. 2015. <http://www.shesbeautifulwhenshesangry.com/fran-beal/&gt;..
  1. Pittman, LaShawnda. “Black Feminism.” AFRAM 101 Lecture. University ofWashington. 2 Dec. 2015. Lecture.
  1. Pittman, LaShawnda. “Great Migration.” AFRAM 101 Lecture. University ofWashington. 19 Nov. 2015. Lecture.
  1. Sage, Tim. 2015. Photograph
  2. Slavery by Another Name. Dir. Sam Pollard. PBS Film, 2012. Film.
  3. Toure, Shay. “Black Feminism: A Short Intro.” Decolonize ALL The Things. WordPress.com, 03 Mar. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. <http://decolonizeallthethings.com/2014/03/03/black-feminism-a-short-intro/&gt;.

Blog Assignment 2 Collage

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s