There is nothing else I would rather be than a Black girl in this lifetime. This affirmation has not been instilled in me since childhood. This affirmation had to grow with me, and manifest itself in me and it is this manifestation that motivates me every day. During my undergraduate years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, I was constantly battling this conflict between my womanhood and my Blackness. I had always wondered which cause was more important. If I was in the 1970s, I would question if I was going to be down with the Feminist Movement or the Black Panther Party. Well, that is why I enjoyed my college experience, because I was able to learn more about Black Feminism. Once I educated myself, it made me even more proud to be a Black woman, and it has birthed my undying advocacy for Black women like me.
It all began with one of my favorite quotes of all time. It pretty summed the existence of the Black women and opened the door on the intersection of identities of the Black woman. The quote is by Anna Julia Cooper and it states “Only the BLACK WOMAN can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me”(Cooper, 1892). This quote to everything. This quote has ignited my passion for studying Black feminism altogether.
By definition, Black feminism is a legitimate intellectual movement that seeks answers to important questions. It seeks to answer the questions about the importance and the role of the Black woman. Black feminism speaks to the Black women who felt out of the feminist conversation along with the racial equity conversation. Black women were excluded from spaces dominated by white women for gender equality along with the exclusion from spaces dominated by Black men who were fighting for racial equality. Some Black feminists that have heavily contributed to the movement include Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and Sojourner Truth. More Black feminists include Patricia Hill Collins, Shirley Chisholm, and Stacey Abrams.
In my opinion, Black feminism has occurred in waves. The First Wave derived from the abolition movement with the First Wave of feminism during the 1800s with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Seneca Falls Convention in which women proclaimed their humanity. The idea of “double jeopardy” from Sojourner Truth applied to social exclusions of race and gender with her speech, “Ain’t I A Woman ”? In 1851. The Second Wave occurred in the 1950s-1970s. During this wave, Black women such as Ella Baker felt that Black women’s plight was not being considered during the Civil Rights Movement. Women like Fannie Lou Hamer spoke openly about their grief, but Black men felt feminist issues were not a part of the Civil Rights Movement. However, in the 1960s, there was this acknowledgment of racism within the Feminist Movement and sexism within the Civil Rights Movement. Black Power activist Angela Davis began to highlight the Angela Davis discussed bounded systems of oppression regarding gender, race, and class. She also explored issues such as women in third world countries and unemployment. To add another layer of social identity, Audre Lorde introduced sexual orientation and the LGBTQIA community into the discussion of Black feminism.
Black Feminism became an official declaration of struggle in 1977. This was the year that the first written manifesto of Black Feminism was written by the Combahee River Collective. The Combahee River Collective Statement was written by Black feminists such as Demita Frazier, Barbara Smith, and Beverly Smith. The purpose of this statement was to declare Black women’s thought, liberation, and contributions that are overshadowed and ignored. The 1970s also served as a time for more Black women in spaces of politics such as Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan.
There was the Third Wave in the 1980s with introducing the terms “intersectionality” by Kimberlie Crenshaw and “womanism” by Alice Walker. Alice Walker introduced the world to the womanist view in 1983. The term from her 1983 book, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose” that states that a womanist is “a Black feminist or feminist of color. A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength”(Walker, 1983). Kimberlie Crenshaw also burst onto the Black feminist scene with her groundbreaking definition of intersectionality. Crenshaw stated that intersectionality is the interconnecting nature of societal oppressions. This includes oppression such as race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, nationality, etc. Her definition has been the prototype for the Black feminism movement and put the entire movement into the academic perspective. This wave ended with an unexpected turning point. The Anita Hill case in 1991 served as a turning point for Black feminism as it shows that all of the issues of Black feminism had not yet been addressed in the community and that Black feminism still had a long way to go.
In these times, I would think that Black women are living in the Fourth Wave of Black feminism. Black women are more sexually expressive and more topics of the Black woman’s experience are being explored. Black women are leading many charges with having the highest numbers of small businesses, having the highest numbers of college graduates, and having the most members in the U.S. Congress. Although these are high achievements for Black women, there are still many issues that continue to plague Black women, such as high mortality rates, rape-to-prison pipeline, and gender violence against Black Trans women.
So overall, being a Black feminist has shaped my journey as a human rights advocate. I continue to go out of my way to uplift Black women and raise my voice to inspire Black girls like me. With being a Black woman, I know what it is like to be left out of spaces that I felt I deserved to be in, and as a country, we have to treat Black women better. With Black women being as strong, diverse, loving, and ambitious, we just deserve more from everyone in this country. While this is something that Black women deserve, Black women continue to advocate for Black women, and this notion is the one that makes me the proudest.
In power and community,
Kameryn C. Thigpen
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