Michele Wallace

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This article is about the black feminist author. For garage house singer Michelle Wallace, see North End (band).
Michele Faith Wallace
Born (1952-01-04) January 4, 1952 (age 62)
Harlem, New York City, USA
Occupation Author, professor
Notable work(s) Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman
Spouse(s) Eugene Nesmith
 (m. 1989–2001)

Michele Faith Wallace (born January 4, 1952) is a black feminist author, cultural critic, and daughter of artist Faith Ringgold. She is best known for her 1979 book Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman. Wallace's writings on literature, art, film, and popular culture have been widely published and have made her a leader of African-American intellectuals.[1] She is a Professor of English at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).

Early life[edit]

Michele Faith Wallace was born on January 4, 1952 in Harlem. She grew up in a black middle class family with a younger sister named Barbara. Her mother is Faith Ringgold, who was a teacher and college lecturer before becoming an artist. Her father, Robert Earl Wallace, was a classical and jazz pianist.[2] Her parents separated after four years of marriage.[3] Michele and Barbara Wallace were raised by their mother and stepfather Burdette "Birdie" Ringgold in Harlem's exclusive Sugar Hill.[4] Growing up, Wallace went to private school and spent summers at camp or in Europe.[3] She attended elementary school at Our Savior Lutheran Church before transferring to the progressive New Lincoln School, where David Rieff and Shari Belafonte were among her classmates.[5] Wallace cites her time at New Lincoln as one of her first experiences with radical politics.[6]

Wallace graduated from high school in 1969 and enrolled at Howard University for fall the same year. She spent a semester at Howard before returning to Harlem. Back in New York City in the spring of 1970, she organized with her mother around anti-war, anti-imperialist art movements of the time and attended night school at the City College of New York. During this time she and her mother founded Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation (WSABAL), an organization that advocated for the inclusion of women of color's voices in the art world.[6][7] In 1973 she co-founded the National Black Feminist Organization with Faith Ringgold, Margaret Sloan-Hunter, and other prominent black feminist activists.[8] Wallace earned her B.A. in English and Creative Writing from City College in 1974.[5]

Career[edit]

From 1974-1975, Wallace worked at Newsweek as a book review researcher. During this period Wallace contributed to Ms. magazine from time to time. In 1974 she met Ross Wetzsteon and Karen Durbin of The Village Voice and began writing for the publication on black feminism, her upbringing in Harlem in the 50s and 60s, and her position in the black middle class educated elite. Wallace's articles in The Voice brought her prominence as a black feminist in New York.[6]

In 1975, Wallace quit her job at Newsweek after receiving an advance for a book draft that would eventually become Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman. She spent the next two years writing and editing this book. Low on money at the time, Wallace took on a job as an instructor in journalism at New York University in 1976, later becoming an assistant professor of English.[5][6] Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman was published by Dial Press in 1979.[9] Wallace was Essence magazine's Editor at Large in 1983. From 1995-1996, she was a columnist for The Village Voice.[10]

Wallace currently teaches at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). In addition to her B.A. in English and Creative Writing, she holds a M.A. in English from City College (1990) and a Ph.D. in Cinema Studies from New York University (1999).[2] Wallace has taught at numerous institutions, including Rutgers University and Cornell University.[10]

Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman[edit]

Overview[edit]

Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman advertised on the January 1979 cover of Ms. Magazine

Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, published in 1979, criticizes sexism in the black community and black nationalism in the 1960s. The book grapples with twin stereotypes of the black man and woman—black macho, the hypermasculine and hypersexualized black man, and superwoman, the inordinately strong black woman unfazed by white racism.[11] The book criticizes black men and the Civil Rights Movement for its injurious acceptance of white society's notion of manhood.[9] This, according to Wallace, has resulted in a divide between black women and men.[12] Combining personal anecdotes with social, cultural, and historical analysis, Wallace also reflects on her subject position as an educated middle-class black woman. A pre-publication excerpt of Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman appeared in the January 1979 issue of Ms. magazine.

Black feminism[edit]

Though Wallace's editor refused to associate the book with feminism of any kind,[13] Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman is a prime example of black feminist writing. Recognizing black women as the lowest of the low in American society, Wallace argued that black women suffered specific injustices based on the intersection of their race and gender. Black women could not find complete solidarity with black men or white women. According to Wallace, black men blamed black women for their persecution during slavery, and white women were unable to understand the specific problems of black women. In Black Macho, Wallace is most concerned with black men's betrayal of black women. By dating white women and encouraging black women's submission, black men reinforced black female oppression on the basis of both race and gender.[14]

Critical reception[edit]

Former Ms. magazine editor Gloria Steinem proclaimed Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman as the book that would "shape the 80s."[11] In the wake of its publication, Black Macho stirred much controversy. Wallace's blasting of patriarchal culture in the black community and Black Power movement has been called divisive.[15] The work was criticized by intellectuals, political figures, and feminists including Angela Davis and even Wallace's mother Faith Ringgold. A review of Black Macho in The Village Voice called the book "an elusive work... [whose] pages offer autobiography, historical information, sociology, and mere opinion dressed up to resemble analysis. It is a polemic, seriously felt, sometimes scathing, often repetitious." Many critics of the book offered similar evaluations by questioning Wallace's character and intellectual capabilities. Criticisms were published in The New York Times, Freedomways, and Time among other publications.[11]

In the same year that Black Macho was released The Black Scholar published an essay by Robert Staples called "The Myth of Black Macho: A Response to Angry Black Feminists." The essay derides Black Macho for its portrayal of black men and its attack on black malehood. Staples also criticized the book for not including a male voice.[16] The following issue of The Black Scholar, titled "The Black Sexism Debate" (1979), was dedicated to discussing Black Macho, along with Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1975). This issue featured responses to Staples from prominent black scholars and activists including June Jordan, Maulana Karenga, and Audre Lorde. Opponents of Black Macho disputed the severity of sexism in the black community and the priority it should have in black liberation, citing racism as a more serious concern.[11]

Despite the overwhelming hostility it initially faced, Black Macho has been celebrated, especially in contemporary times, for its fearless demystification of stereotypes and critical feminist analysis of black nationalism.[11][17]

Awards and fellowships[edit]

Select bibliography[edit]

Books[edit]

  • Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (1979), ISBN 978-1859842966
  • Faith Ringgold: Twenty Years of Painting, Sculpture and Performances (ed. 1984)
  • Invisibility Blues: From Pop To Theory (1990), ISBN 978-1859844878
  • Black Popular Culture, with Gina Dent (1993), ISBN 978-1565844599
  • Passing, Lynching and Jim Crow: A Genealogy of Race and Gender in U.S. Visual Culture, 1895-1929 (1999)
  • Dark Designs and Visual Culture (2004), ISBN 978-0822334132

Essays[edit]

  • "Michael Jackson, Black Modernisms and 'The Ecstasy of Communication,'" Global Television (1989) ISBN 978-0262691239
  • "Race, Gender and Psychoanalysis in Forties Film: 'Lost Boundaries,' 'Home of the Brave' and 'The Quiet One,'" Black American Cinema (1993) ISBN 978-0415903974
  • "The Search for the 'Good Enough' Mammy: Multiculturalism, Popular Culture and Psychoanalysis," Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader (1994) ISBN 978-0631189121
  • "Anger in Isolation: A Black Feminist's Search for Sisterhood," Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought (1995) ISBN 978-1565842564
  • “Black Female Spectatorship and The Dilemma of Tokenism,” Generations: Academic Feminists in Dialogue (1997)
  • "Uncle Tom's Cabin: Before and After the Jim Crow Era," TDR: The Drama Review (2000)
  • "The Enigma of the Negress Kara Walker," Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress (2003) ISBN 978-0262025409
  • "The Imperial Gaze: The Venus Hottentot," Black Venus 2010: They Called Her "Hottentot" (2010), ISBN 978-1439902059

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Early, Gerald (21 April 1996). "Black Like Them". The New York Times (The New York Times). Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Wallace, Michele. "Personal Information". http://www.michelefwallace.com/. Michelle Wallace. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Wallace, Michele (1979). Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman. London: John Calder. pp. 92–93. ISBN 9780714537818. 
  4. ^ Klemesrud, Judy (19 January 1979). "Black macho: Michele Wallace". The Spokesman-Review (Spokane: The Spokesman-Review). Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c Griffith, Susan. "Wallace, Michele Faith (1952- )". http://www.blackpast.org/. BlackPast.org. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d Wallace, Michele (1997). "To Hell and Back: On The Road with Black Feminism in the 60s & 70s". http://www.blackculturalstudies.org/. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  7. ^ Farrington, Lisa (2005). Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists. Oxford University Press. p. 150. ISBN 978-0199767601. 
  8. ^ Wada, Kayomi. "National Black Feminist Organization (1973-1976)". http://www.blackpast.org/. BlackPast.org. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Watkins, Mel (15 June 1986). "SEXISM, RACISM AND BLACK WOMEN WRITERS". http://www.nytimes.com/. The New York Times. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  10. ^ a b The Center for Art of Africa and its Diasporas (CAAD). "CAAD and Art History Lecture Series present Faith Ringgold and Michele Wallace in conversation". http://www.utexas.edu/. The University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Alexander-Floyd, Nikol (2003). ""We Shall Have Our Manhood:" Black Macho, Black Nationalism, and the Million Man March". Meridians (Indiana University Press) 3 (2): 171–72. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  12. ^ Wallace, Michele (1979). Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman. p. 13. ISBN 978-0520271852. 
  13. ^ Litman, Amanda (16 February 2011). "Black History Month: The Myth of the Black Superwoman, Revisited". Ms. Blog. Ms. Magazine. Retrieved June 8, 2014. 
  14. ^ Wallace, Michele (1994). "Chapter 4: "We Cannot Rely on Existing Ideologies"". In Schneir, Miriam. Feminism in Our Time: The Essential Writings, World War II to the Present. Vintage Books. pp. 295–209. ISBN 978-0-679-74508-2. 
  15. ^ Bloom, Joshua; Martin, Waldo (2013). Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party. ISBN 978-1859842966. 
  16. ^ Breines, Winifred (2007). The Trouble Between Us: An Uneasy History of White and Black Women in the Feminist Movement. Oxford University Press. p. 144. ISBN 978-0195334593. 
  17. ^ "Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman". http://www.versobooks.com/. Verso Books. Retrieved 11 May 2014. 

External links[edit]