Black women

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A group of Black women, including Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris (center-left), in 2020

Black women are women who are of Sub-Saharan African and Afro-diasporic descent. The term black women is both a multi-faceted cultural identity and a social construct with different meanings in different places.[citation needed]

Black internationalism[edit]

Ideas of black internationalism have expanded since the 1920s. Historians Keisha N. Blain and Tiffany Gill define it as "a global political, intellectual, and artistic movement of African-descended people engaged in a collective struggle to overthrow global white supremacy in its many forms". Black women have played a major role in numerous countries.[1]


In Tunisia black women are victims of double discrimination, facing prejudice both because of their gender and race.[2] They are often "stigmatised, hyper-sexualised, and objectified".[3] It has been noted that this sexualization of black Tunisian women leads to them being viewed as objects by Arab men to "achieve sexual satisfaction" and face sexual harassment.[4]

The feminist movement in the Arab world—including Tunisia—has been labelled as racist, failing to take into consideration the issues of women that are not Arab; this has led to parallels between Arab feminism and white feminism.[5] In 2020, four black Tunisian women created the Facebook group Voices of Tunisian Black Women in an attempt to bring to light these issues affecting them, which they felt were not being discussed in the Me Too movement.[2]

United States[edit]

Black women in popular culture[edit]

Notable black women in American popular culture include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Portrait of Harriet Tubman
    Harriet Tubman: Born in the early 19th century in the former slave state of Maryland, Tubman is widely regarded for helping many African-American slaves to escape slavery via the Underground Railroad.[6] According to PBS, Tubman risked her own life "19 times by 1860" in order to save other slaves and return them to the North during the American Civil War.[7] Prior to being married, Tubman's name was Araminta Ross[8] and she was also a nurse, cook and spy for the Northern Army during the Civil War.
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald, an American jazz singer born in 1917, was given the title of "The First Lady of Song".[9] She is also known as the "Queen of Jazz" and won 13 Grammy Awards for her vocal performances over the course of her life. In the music community, Fitzgerald is known for her four-octave vocal range and for being a scat singer. Additionally, Fitzgerald was capable of performing music in a multitude of genres, including swing and bop.[10] Like many black artists at the time, Fitzgerald performed at the Apollo Theater in New York City.[11]
  • Billie Holiday in New York City, 1947
    Billie Holiday: Similarly to Fitzgerald, Holiday, born as Eleanora Fagan, remains an important figure within the history of jazz music in America.[12] Influenced by Louis Armstrong, Holiday's vocal range was limited yet she is known for her thin, light voice that has a punch to it. Holiday is featured on the track "A Sailboat in the Moonlight", which was a number-one hit when it was released and remains popular today,.[10]
  • Queen Latifah: Real name Dana Elaine Owens, Queen Latifah is an American singer, songwriter, actor, and producer. She has released seven solo studio albums in addition to one compilation album. She is known for her energetic, smooth, and skillful rapping style. In 1993, her acting career took off with her starring role as Khadijah James on the FOX television series Living Single. From there, Owens obtained supporting roles in the films House Party 2 (1991), Jungle Fever (1991), and Juice (1992). Since then, Owens has achieved superstar status as a talk show host (The Queen Latifah Show) and mainstream actor: Chicago (2002), Bringing Down the House (2003), Scary Movie 3 (2003), Taxi (2004), Hairspray (2007) and many more.
  • Oprah Winfrey: One of the most famous women on the planet, Oprah Winfrey is a TV host/producer, philanthropist, and media mogul. She is perhaps best known for The Oprah Winfrey Show, which has run for 25 seasons since 1986 and maintained a weekly viewership well into the tens of millions. She is the namesake of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), which produces content largely targeted at black audiences. According to Forbes, she has a current net worth of approximately 2.7 billion USD, one of the wealthiest self-made fortunes of all time.
  • Beyoncé Knowles Carter
    Beyoncé: Full name Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, Beyoncé is an American singer, songwriter, producer, philanthropist, dancer, and actor. Her first major venture in the music industry was as the frontwoman of Destiny's Child. The group released 5 studio albums from 1998 to 2004. As a solo act, she has released nine studio albums from 2003 to 2019.
  • Nicki Minaj
    Nicki Minaj: Black female rapper born in Trinidad and Tobago and raised in New York City. She released her debut album in 2010.
  • Singer Rihanna in 2018
    Rihanna is a Barbadian singer who moved to the United States. She released her debut album in 2005.

American politics[edit]

Black women in American political history include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Shirley Chisholm:[13] Chisholm was the first African-American woman to serve in Congress as well as the first to run for the nomination of a major political party for President of the United States. She served in New York's 12th congressional district for seven terms from 1969 to 1983.
  • Barbara Jordan:[14][15] Jordan was the first African-American congresswoman from the Deep South, originating from Houston, Texas. She was also the first black woman elected to the Texas Senate in 1966.
  • Kamala Harris: Harris was elected to the US Senate as a representative of California in 2016. In January 2019, Harris officially announced her candidacy for President of the United States, but withdrew from the race in December 2019.[16] On August 19, 2020 Harris was officially nominated as the Democratic Party Nominee for the Vice Presidency, the first African-American and South Asian woman to receive the honor from a major US political party.

American slavery[edit]

Black slaves, many of whom were women, were often abused by their owners and other white people.[17] This abuse extended beyond the physical and psychological abuse directly related to how slaves were treated, and include the exploitation of black women slaves in order to advance different scientific practices and techniques.[citation needed] Black female slaves were sexually abused by White men and were forced to breed with their White male slave masters to bear mulatto children to maintain White supremacy, have more slaves to pick cotton and produce superior slaves in the South.[18] Black female slaves received the same treatment in Brazil, Central America, Mexico, Peru and the Caribbean.[19][20] However, rape of white women was prevented and feared.[21]


Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw developed the theory of intersectionality, which highlighted the overlapping discrimination faced by Black women (on the basis of both race and gender) in the United States. The theory has been influential in the fields of feminism and Critical Race Theory as a methodology for interpreting the ways in which overlapping social identities relate to systems of oppression.[22]

Increased risk for health problems[edit]

Black women are often at a higher risk to contract these diseases than white women, but they also are at a higher risk to die from them as well. According to the American Cancer Society, the death rate for all cancers for black women is 14% higher than that of white women.[23] While the probability of being diagnosed with cancer in black women is one in three, the chance of dying from cancer is one in five.[23] Cancer is not the only disease that disproportionately affects African-American women. Lupus is two-three times more common in women of color, but more specifically one in every 537 black women will have lupus.[24] Black women are also at a higher chance of being overweight thus making them open to more obesity-related diseases.[25] There is also a racial disparity when it comes to pregnancy related deaths. While there are 12.4 deaths for every 100,000 births for white women, the statistics for black women is 40.0 deaths for every 100,000 births.[26] In a 2007 US study of five medical complications that are common causes of maternal death and injury, black women were two to three times more likely to die than white women who had the same condition.[27] The World Health Organization in 2014 estimated that black expectant and new mothers in the United States die at about the same rate as women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan.[28] A 2018 study found that "The sexual and reproductive health of African-American women has been compromised due to multiple experiences of racism, including discriminatory healthcare practices from slavery through the post-Civil Rights era."[29] Another 2018 study found that darker skin tones were underrepresented in medical textbook imagery and that these omissions "may provide one route through which bias enters medical treatment".[30]

Famous leaders[edit]

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia

Some of the most important artistic and political leaders in history have been black women. For instance, Queen Qalhata and Candace of Meroe are important, early African queens.[31][32][33] In Africa, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf served as President of Liberia for 12 years.[34]

In the United States, Toni Morrison was the first black woman Nobel laureate. Shirley Chisholm was an important Democratic candidate for U.S. President in the 1970s. In the 2020 United States presidential election, Kamala Harris was named Joe Biden's running mate, making her the first black woman to be on a major party ticket. Biden won the election, making Harris the first black person and black woman to be Vice President of the United States.[35]

Caribbean society[edit]

Jennifer Palmer argues that in the plantation world of the colonial Caribbean, women of color were typically treated as property owned by white men. In the French islands, race and gender shape popular assumptions about who could own property. However there were legal loopholes that sometimes opened up windows of opportunity for women of color to be landowners.[36]


The 2003 Maputo Protocol on women's rights in Africa set the continental standard for progressive expansion of women's rights. It guarantees comprehensive rights to women including the right to take part in the political process, to social and political equality with men, improved autonomy in their reproductive health decisions, and an end to female genital mutilation.[37]


Women play a modest role in Ghana's two major political parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and (New Patriotic Party (NP), as well as in the Convention People's Party (CPP). The first president, Kwame Nkrumah (CPP), made Ghana the first African nation to introduce a quota in 1959, reserving 10 seats for women in Parliament. Ghana has recently been laggard, however, with a representation of 11% women after the election in 2012 and 13% after the election in 2016.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blain, Keisha N., and Tiffany M. Gill (eds), To Turn the Whole World Over: Black Women and Internationalism (University of Illinois Press, 2019), p. 2.
  2. ^ a b Bajec, Alessandra (November 19, 2020). "Giving a voice to Tunisia's black women, victims of double discrimination". Radio France Internationale. Archived from the original on February 20, 2021. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
  3. ^ Bajec, Alessandra (December 29, 2020). "The Black Tunisian women fighting 'double discrimination'". openDemocracy. Archived from the original on January 3, 2021. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
  4. ^ ElHajjaji, Chouaib (April 17, 2018). "Black Tunisian women: ceaseless erasure and post-racial illusion". openDemocracy. Archived from the original on January 26, 2021. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
  5. ^ Alghoul, Diana (April 1, 2017). "Why is the Arab feminist movement so racist?". Middle East Monitor. Archived from the original on November 12, 2020. Retrieved May 8, 2021.
  6. ^ "Harriet Tubman Facts and Quotes | Black History | PBS". Harriet Tubman Facts and Quotes | Black History | PBS. Retrieved 2017-05-17.
  7. ^ "Harriet Tubman". Retrieved 2017-05-17.
  8. ^ "Harriet Tubman". Biography. Retrieved 2020-03-10.
  9. ^ "Ella Fitzgerald". Ella Fitzgerald. Archived from the original on 2014-02-20. Retrieved 2017-05-17.
  10. ^ a b DeVeaux, Scott (2009). Jazz. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393192742.
  11. ^ Editors, History com. "Ella Fitzgerald wins Amateur Night at Harlem's Apollo Theater". HISTORY.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  12. ^ "Billie Holiday". Retrieved 2017-05-17.
  13. ^ "Shirley Chisholm".
  14. ^ "Barbara Jordan Biography".
  15. ^ "JORDAN, Barbara Charline". History, Art, and Archives: United States House of Representatives.
  16. ^ "Kamala Harris Drops Out Of Presidential Race".
  17. ^ Greenberg, Kenneth S; White, Deborah Gray; Harris, J. William (1987). "Black Women and White Men in the Antebellum South". Reviews in American History. 15 (2): 252. doi:10.2307/2702176. JSTOR 2702176.
  18. ^ "Slavery in the U.S. | Boundless US History".
  19. ^ see "American Slavery in Comparative Perspective" (2019)online
  20. ^ David Gaspar and Darlene Clark Hine, eds. More than chattel: Black women and slavery in the Americas (Indiana University Press, 1996).
  21. ^ Olds, Madelin (1995). "The Rape Complex in the Postbellum South". Black Women in America. pp. 179–205. doi:10.4135/9781483326962.n10. ISBN 9780803954557.
  22. ^ Adewunmi, Bim (2014-04-02). "Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality: "I wanted to come up with an everyday metaphor that anyone could use"". New Statesman. Retrieved 2020-06-30.
  23. ^ a b "Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans" (PDF).
  24. ^ "Lupus facts and statistics". Lupus Foundation of America. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  25. ^ Gillum, Richard F. (1987–2008). "Overweight and Obesity in Black Women: A Review of Published Data From The National Center for Health Statistics". Journal of the National Medical Association. 79 (8): 865–871. ISSN 0027-9684. PMC 2625572. PMID 3508218.
  26. ^ "Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System | Maternal and Infant Health | CDC". 2018-08-07. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  27. ^ Tucker, Myra J.; Berg, Cynthia J.; Callaghan, William M.; Hsia, Jason (2007). "The Black–White Disparity in Pregnancy-Related Mortality From 5 Conditions: Differences in Prevalence and Case-Fatality Rates". American Journal of Public Health. American Public Health Association. 97 (2): 247–251. doi:10.2105/ajph.2005.072975. ISSN 0090-0036. PMC 1781382. PMID 17194867.
  28. ^ Organization, World Health (2014-05-12). "World health statistics 2014: a wealth of information on global public health". hdl:10665/112739. Retrieved 2020-06-22.
  29. ^ Prather, Cynthia; Fuller, Taleria R.; Jeffries, William L.; Marshall, Khiya J.; Howell, A. Vyann; Belyue-Umole, Angela; King, Winifred (2018-09-24). "Racism, African American Women, and Their Sexual and Reproductive Health: A Review of Historical and Contemporary Evidence and Implications for Health Equity". Health Equity. 2 (1): 249–259. doi:10.1089/heq.2017.0045. ISSN 2473-1242. PMC 6167003. PMID 30283874.
  30. ^ Louie, Patricia; Wilkes, Rima (April 2018). "Representations of race and skin tone in medical textbook imagery". Social Science & Medicine. 202: 38–42. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.02.023. PMID 29501717.
  31. ^ Vercoutter, Jean (1976-01-01). The Image of the Black in Western art. Morrow. ISBN 9780688030865.
  32. ^ Walker, Robin (2006-01-01). When We Ruled: The Ancient and Mediœval History of Black Civilisations. Every Generation Media. ISBN 9780955106804.
  33. ^ Sertima, Ivan Van (1984-01-01). Black Women in Antiquity. Transaction Books. ISBN 9780878559824.
  34. ^ "Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf". Forbes.
  35. ^ Lerer, Lisa; Ember, Sydney (7 November 2020). "Kamala Harris Makes History as First Woman and Woman of Color as Vice President". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  36. ^ Jennifer L. Palmer, "The fruits of their labours: Race, gender and labour in the eighteenth-century French Caribbean." French History 32.4 (2018): 471-492.
  37. ^ Christine Ocran, "The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa." African Journal of International and Comparative Law 15.1 (2007): 147-152.
  38. ^ Diana Højlund Madsen, "Gender, Power and Institutional Change–The Role of Formal and Informal Institutions in Promoting Women’s Political Representation in Ghana." Journal of Asian and African Studies 54.1 (2019): 70–87.

Further reading[edit]

  • Blain, Keisha N., and Tiffany M. Gill (eds). To Turn the Whole World Over: Black Women and Internationalism (University of Illinois Press, 2019). 280 pp. online review.
  • Blain, Keisha N. Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).
  • Busby, Margaret (ed.), New Daughters of Africa: An international anthology of writing by women of African (Myriad Editions, 2019).
  • Coquery-Vidrovitc, Catherine. African Women: A Modern History (1997).
  • Hafkin, Nancy, and Edna G. Bay. Women in Africa: Studies in social and economic change (Stanford University Press, 1976).
  • Harris-Perry, Melissa V. Sister Citizen: Shame, stereotypes, and Black women in America (Yale University Press, 2011).
  • Hine, Darlene Clark, and Kathleen Thompson. A Shining Thread of Hope: The History of Black Women in America (1999).
  • Hooks, Bell. Ain't I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism (Routledge, 2014).
  • Jones, Jacqueline. Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present (2nd edn. 2010).
  • Nelson, Nicki. African Women in the Development Process (Routledge, 2013).
  • Scales-Trent, Judy. "Black women and the constitution: Finding our place, asserting our rights." Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 24 (1989): 9–44.
  • Smith, Barbara (ed.), Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (Rutgers University Press, 2000), primary sources.
  • Stichter, Sharon B., and Jane Parpart. Patriarchy and Class: African women in the home and the workforce (Routledge, 2019).
  • Strobel, Margaret. "African women." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 8.1 (1982): 109–131.
  • Vaz, Kim Marie, ed. Black Women in America (Sage Publications, 1995).