Black Feminist Thought

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For the concept, see Black feminism.
Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment
Black Feminist Thought (Collins book).jpg
Author Patricia Hill Collins
Language English
Subject Black feminism, women's studies
Publisher Hyman
Publication date
1990
Pages 384
ISBN 978-0-04-445137-2

Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment is a 1990 book by Patricia Hill Collins.

Defining Black feminist thought[edit]

Black feminist thought consists of ideas produced by Black women that clarify a standpoint of and for Black women. Several assumptions underlie this working definition. First, the definition suggests that it is impossible to separate the structure and thematic content of thought from the historical and material conditions shaping the lives of its producers (Berger and Luckmann 1966; Mannheim 1936). Therefore, while Black feminist thought may be recorded by others, it is produced by Black women. Second, the definition assumes that Black women possess a unique standpoint on, or perspective of, their experiences and that there will be certain commonalities of perception shared by Black women as a group. Third, while living life as Black women may produce certain commonalities of outlook, the diversity of class, region, age, and sexual orientation shaping individual Black women's lives has resulted in different expressions of these common themes. Thus, universal themes included in the Black women's standpoint may be experienced and expressed differently by distinct groups of Afro-American women. Finally, the definition assumes that, while a Black women's standpoint exists, its contours may not be clear to Black women themselves. Therefore, one role for Black female intellectuals is to produce facts and theories about the Black female experience that will clarify a Black woman's standpoint for Black women. In other words, Black feminist thought contains observations and interpretations about Afro-American womanhood that describe and explain different expressions of common themes.

Black women's insistence on self-definition, self-valuation, and the necessity for a Black female-centered analysis is significant for two reasons. First, defining and valuing one's consciousness of one's own self-defined standpoint in the face of images that foster a self-definition as the objectified "other" is an important way of resisting the dehumanization essential to systems of domination. The status of being the "other" implies being "other than" or different from the assumed norm of white male behavior. In this model, powerful white males define themselves as subjects, the true actors, and classify people of color and white women in terms of their position vis-a-vis this white male hub. Since Black women have been denied the authority to challenge these definitions, this model consists of images that define Black women as a negative other, the virtual antithesis of positive white male images. Moreover, as Britain and Maynard (1984:199) point out, "domination always involves the objectification of the dominated; all forms of oppression imply the devaluation of the subjectivity of the oppressed."[1]

Book description[edit]

In spite of the double burden of racial and gender discrimination, African-American women have developed a rich intellectual tradition that is not widely known. In Black Feminist Thought, originally published in 1990, Patricia Hill Collins set out to explore the words and ideas of Black feminist intellectuals and writers, both within the academy and without. Here Collins provides an interpretive framework for the work of such prominent Black feminist thinkers as Angela Davis, bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Audre Lorde. Drawing from fiction, poetry, music and oral history, the result is a book that provided the first synthetic overview of Black feminist thought and its canon.[2]

Key Concepts[edit]

Outsider-within[edit]

Patricia Hill Collins coins the term outsider-within in a former essay[3] and redefines the term in her book to describe the experience of black women. In the book, she historically situates the term to describe the social location of black women in domestic work pre-World War II. While the domestic work gave black women an opportunity "to see White elites, both actual and aspiring, from perspectives largely obscured from Black men and from these groups themselves," they were still economically exploited by their white employers. Collins asserts that black women cannot fully be a member of feminist thought nor black social thought because the former assumes whiteness while the latter assumes maleness. The makeup of their identity and consequently their experiences as black women maintain their position as outsiders within spaces of oppression.[4] However, as Collins notes, the black woman's position as an outsider-within provides her with a unique perspective on social, political, intellectual, and economic realities. Therefore, although black women are marginalized they can bring a more nuanced outlook to feminist and social thought.[4]

Intellectual activism[edit]

Collins pinpoints intellectual activism as a key process in developing black feminist thought. She articulates the reclaiming of "black feminist intellectual traditions" as one of the most important pillars of intellectual activism.[5] Since the intellectual work of black women has been suppressed for so long, reclaiming and centering these works not only preserves the intellectual traditions of past black women but also encourages continued contributions to black feminist thought.[6] Collins also notes the importance in "discovering, reinterpreting, and analyzing the ideas of subgroups within the larger collectivity of U.S. Black women who have been silenced" meaning that we must also give equal attention to the groups of black women who have been especially marginalized, such as black lesbians.[6] Collins describes the relationship between past and present intellectual traditions, suggesting that we use black feminists' theoretical frameworks of today, such as, race, class, and gender, to interpret the intellectual traditions of previously silenced black women.[7] Collins' focus goes beyond black female academics; she argues that all forms of works be considered as black women's social thought which questions the definition of "intellectual" and allows for poetry, music, etc. to be considered as valid forms of social thought.

Matrix of domination[edit]

The matrix of domination refers to how intersections of oppression are structurally organized. It explains the way "structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal domains of power reappear across quite different forms of oppression".[8] The matrix of domination is made up of varying combinations of intersecting oppression such as race, gender, socioeconomic status, age, and sexuality. Collin's matrix of domination works in four different in domains: the structural domain, the disciplinary domain, the hegemonic domain, and the interpersonal domain. The structural domain functions to organize power and oppression, the disciplinary manages oppression in attempts to sustain it, the hegemonic functions to legitimize oppression, and the interpersonal domain controls the interactions and consciousness of individuals.[9] Although all black women are within the matrix of domination, the differences in the intersections of oppression make the experiences and the perspectives of black women differ.

Controlling images[edit]

Collins' discussion of controlling images focuses on the negative stereotypical representations and images of black women. These representations continue to oppress black women as they continue to perpetuate the dominant subject's definition of the object i.e. the black woman. The images' pervasive nature aid in sustaining intersecting oppression because they "[reflect] the dominant group's interest in maintaining Black women's subordination.[10][11] These images are use to make black women's oppression seem natural and normal. Collin's critique on controlling images includes an analysis of the mammy, the welfare mother, and the jezebel. She explains that the images constitute different oppressions simultaneous: the mammy works to makes the defeminized black women and all oppressive factors against her seem natural, the welfare mother works to make the economically unfit black women and all oppressive factors against her seem natural, and the jezebel works to make the hypersexual black women and all oppressive factors against her seem natural.[10]

Self-definition[edit]

Self-definition is "the power to name one's own reality"[12] Collins articulates black women's resistance against controlling images as an important step for practicing self-definition. The rejection of the dominant group's definition of black women and black women's imposition of their own self-definition indicates a "collective Black women's consciousness".[13] The expression of the black women's consciousness and standpoint is an integral part of developing Black feminist thought.[14] Collins notes the importance of safe spaces for black women, where self-definition is not clouded by further objectification or silencing.[15] Affirmation is also an important part of Collin's call for self-definition, which can take place in the individual friendships and familial relationships of black women. Collins describes the process of self-definition as a "journey form internalized oppression to the 'free mind'"[16] in order to emphasize its significance in the formation of the collective consciousness of black women.

Author biography[edit]

Patricia Hill Collins (born May 1, 1948) is a Distinguished University Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the former head of the Department of African American Studies at the University of Cincinnati, and the past President of the American Sociological Association Council.

Collins' work primarily concerns issues involving feminism and gender within the African-American community. She first came to national attention for her book "Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment", originally published in 1990.

Professor Collins’s current research interests lie in (1) investigating the actual and/or potential interconnections between critical race theory and American pragmatism; (2) theorizing intersectionality, namely, analyzing how race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and nation mutually construct one another as concepts and as social phenomena; (3) exploring epistemologies of emancipatory knowledges, for example, ideologies of nationalism and feminism as well as influential knowledges of popular culture and everyday life; and (4) examining how the status of Black male and female youth sheds light on broader social processes such as globalization, transnationalism, class inequalities, racism and gender inequities.[17]

Reception[edit]

Media reception[edit]

With the success of Black Feminist Thought, Collins gained more recognition as a "social theorist, drawing from many intellectual traditions." Collins' work has now been published and used in many different fields including philosophy, history, psychology and sociology.

The University of Cincinnati named Collins The Charles Phelps Taft Professor of Sociology in 1996, making her the first ever African-American, and only the second woman, to hold this position. She received Emeritus status in the Spring of 2005, and became a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. The University of Maryland named Collins a Distinguished University Professor in 2006."

Black Feminist Thought is used in various university African American and Women Studies courses.

Literary significance and reviews[edit]

Black feminism remains important because U.S. Black women constitute an oppressed group. As a collectivity, U.S. Black women participate in a dialectical relationship linking African American women's oppression and activism. Dialectical relationships of this sort mean that two parties are opposed and opposite. As long as Black women's subordination within intersecting oppressions of race, class, gender, sexuality, and nation persists, Black feminism as an activist response to that oppression will remain needed.[18]

Editorial reviews[edit]

"With the publication of Black Feminist Thought, black feminism has moved to a new level. Her work sets a standard for the discussion of black women's lives, experiences, and thought that demands rigorous attention to the complexity of these experiences and an exploration of a multiplicity of responses."

Black Feminist Thought provides a synthesis of a body of knowledge that is crucial to putting in perspective the situation of Black Women and their place in the overall struggle to reduce and eliminate gender, race, and class inequalities. The book provides an analysis of the ideas of Black Women, particularly those ideas that reflect a consciousness in opposition to oppression.[19]

Awards[edit]

Black Feminist Thought won the Jessie Bernard Award of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in 1993 and the C. Wright Mills Award of The Society for the Study of Social Problems in 1990. According to the American Sociological Association, "The Jessie Bernard Award is given in recognition of scholarly work that has enlarged the horizons of sociology to encompass fully the role of women in society. The contribution may be in empirical research, theory, or methodology. It is presented for significant cumulative work done throughout a professional career."

The Society for the Study of Social Problems "annually gives its C. Wright Mills Award to the author of what the committee considers to be the most outstanding book written in the tradition of C. Wright Mills and his dedication to a search for a sophisticated understanding of the individual and society."

References[edit]

  1. ^ Collins, Patricia Hill (December 1986). "Learning from the outsider within: the sociological significance of black feminist thought". Social Problems. Oxford University Press. 33 (6): s14–s32. doi:10.2307/800672. 
  2. ^ Hill, Collins Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.
  3. ^ Collins, Patricia Hill (1986). "Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought". Social Problems. 
  4. ^ a b Collins, Patricia Hill (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge. p. 12. 
  5. ^ Collins, Patricia Hill (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge. p. 17. 
  6. ^ a b Collins, Patricia Hill (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge. p. 13. 
  7. ^ Collins, Patricia Hill (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge. p. 14. 
  8. ^ Collins, Patricia Hill (2000). Black Feminist Thought:Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge. p. 18. 
  9. ^ Collins, Patricia Hill (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge. p. 276. 
  10. ^ a b Collins, Patricia Hill (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge. p. 69. 
  11. ^ Collins, Patricia Hill (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge. p. 72. 
  12. ^ Collins, Patricia Hill (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge. p. 300. 
  13. ^ Collins, Patricia Hill (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge. p. 98. 
  14. ^ Collins, Patricia Hill (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge. p. 99. 
  15. ^ Collins, Patricia Hill (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge. p. 101. 
  16. ^ Collins, Patricia Hill (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge. p. 112. 
  17. ^ "Patricia Hill Collins". University of Maryland. Retrieved 8 August 2013. 
  18. ^ Hill, Collins Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.
  19. ^ Newby, Robert G.; King, Deborah K.; Thorne, Barrie (1992). "Review Symposium". Gender and Society. 6 (3): 508–17. doi:10.1177/089124392006003009. JSTOR 189999. 

External links[edit]