Multiracial feminist theory

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Multiracial feminist theory is a feminist theory thought to have gained momentum in the 1970s by feminist women of color, like Black, Chicanx, Asian, Native women and anti-racist white women.[who?] Maxine Baca Zinn and Bonnie Thornton Dill wrote “Theorizing Difference from Multiracial Feminism” in 1996, a piece emphasising intersectionality and the application of intersectional analysis in feminist discourse.[1]

Women of color[who?] have challenged the use of the second-wave movement as it places women's oppression at the root of sexism, without any regards to other forms of domination.[2] Generally speaking, women of color acknowledge that race acted as a foundation power structure that heavily effected their lives. The activist work of WOC has been erased from the second wave movement.[2] The term, "multiracial" was used to illustrate the importance of race interacting with other forms of oppression to understand gender relations. With a focus on race, multiracial feminism acknowledges, "the social construction of differently situated social groups and their varying degrees of advantages and power".[3] One definition of multiracial feminism is, "an attempt to go beyond a mere recognition of diversity and difference among women to examine structures of domination, specifically the importance of race in understanding the social construction of gender." [2] The central point of this perspective is to focus in on the significance of race, institutionalized racism, and struggles against racial oppression to understand how various forms of domination influence women's experiences.[3]


Multiracial feminist theory influenced the recreation of Second Wave feminism.[4] Second Wave feminism was ideally racist, classist and only focused on white middle-class women in the United States with a goal to be equal to men.[4] Second wave feminism ignored the struggles of women of color, as it didn't value intersectionality. There are multiple groups of feminist organizations that focus on their differing identities, for example Hijas de Cuauhtemoc which is a Chicana-based group, another group is the Asian Sisters and they focused on the drug abuse that was happening in Los Angeles, California around the 1970s.[4]


Having first gained steam in the 1970s, multiracial feminism grew as a movement to challenge racist, classist, and sexist barriers not as separate, singular matters but as interlocking identities that make up both privilege and oppression.[5] Multiracial feminism is described as a “liberation movement spearheaded by women of color” and focused primarily on intersectional analysis and both an international and a multiracial approach to oppression.[6]

Although not acknowledged by the second wave movement, women of color and white women took a stand to combat racism and colonialism.[2] Black feminists believed that, "cross-racial struggle made clear the work that white women needed to do in order for cross-racial sisterhood to really be powerful." [2] White women also recognized that sexism was not the root of women's oppression.[2] They collaborated to put forth an anti-racist movement that incorporated interlocking forms of oppression.[2]

Notable proponents[edit]

  • Maxine Baca Zinn – born in Santa Fe, New Mexico on June 11, 1942, Maxine Baca Zinn is a sociologist known as being one of the “foremothers of multiracial feminism.”[7] Working alongside other feminist theorists like Bonnie Thornton Dill, Patricia Hill Collins and Lynn Weber, Baca Zinn's hypotheses suggest a need for intersectional analysis regarding identities such as race and gender in contemporary feminism.[citation needed]
  • Bonnie Thornton Dill- is a dean of College of Arts and a professor at the University of Maryland. She has won numerous awards for mentoring. [8]
  • Becky Thompson- is a human rights activist as well as an activist in feminism surrounding multiple issues or anitracism and gender and class issues. She has a Phd and has written around 100 or more articles.[9]
  • Patricia Hill Collins- born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1948, she is greatly known for her article "Learning from the Outsider within which was published in 1986.[10] She is a professor at the University of Maryland, she is working with students and graduate students in race studies but as well as feminist studies.[10]


It is widely agreed by many if not most multiracial feminists that multiracial feminist theory is needed in order to broaden feminist discourse and bring much-needed intersectionality to contemporary feminist movements. In spite of this, however, multiracial feminism struggles to gain momentum as an intersectional approach to combating oppression and is fairly new concept in the world of quantitative research. New though it may be, Catherine Harnios in her book, Feminist Measure in Survey Research, writes that multiracial feminism may be more beneficial to feminist discourse than once thought.[11]

Family study, formation and power relations have been extensively examined using a multiracial feminist approach, the results of which reveal a hidden power dynamic between “advantaged families and disadvantaged families.”[12] Advantaged families have been shown to rely upon the labor and disadvantage of poorer families, women, women of color, minorities and immigrants.

Women of color provide an "outsider within" perspective as they are active participants in domination while also continue to be oppressed by it.[3] In understanding multiracial feminism, it is important to note how interlocking forms of oppression persist to marginalize groups of people.[3] Although people continue to be oppressed, others are privileged at the sacrifice of those who don't obtain benefits of the system. Patricia Hill Collins defines the term, Matrix of Domination, to refer to how various forms of oppression work different depending on what social location one obtains.[3] In reference to this term, people will have varying experiences with gender, class, race, & sexuality, depending on what social position one has in relation to structural powers.[3] In terms of interlocking oppressions, this results in different social groups experiencing varying subordination and privilege.[3]


Though women of color are rarely credited as being prevalent in the 2nd Wave feminist movement, it has become evident that multiracial feminism was very much present in the 1980s through the 1990s and even today.[citation needed]

In the 1970s, women of color worked alongside hegemonic, white feminist groups but found it to be mostly centered on the white, middle-class feminist issues of the time. With the help of white, anti-racist women, women of color gave rise to multiracial feminist theory and led to the development of organizations created by and for women of color.[4]

Multiracial feminists of the 1980s challenged white feminism by speaking out of the individual experiences of women of color, immigrants, and “third-world women” who had been largely swept under the rug.[13] This was mostly done through multiracial feminist writings which have been revealed to date as far back as the 1960s.

Online activism[edit]

There has been a notable increase of multiracial feminists, journalists and bloggers using online media to write about and theorize on intersectionality and multiracial experience as it relates to class, gender and race cooperatively in contemporary society.[citation needed]

Journalist for, Janell Hobson, wrote a critique of white feminist activism pointing out the fact that women of color are still being left out of the conversation in current feminist discourse. She claims that it is time feminists “reclaim solidarity” by recognizing race and gender as being intertwined, rather than separate matters to be deal with individually.[14]

Similarly, Lara Witt who writes for, calls upon both her privilege and oppression to understand her role as a multiracial feminist with the ability to speak out against racism towards Black, Hispanic, and Indian people.[15]


In April 1996, there was a rally in Middletown, Connecticut led by a multiracial coalition.[16] Taking place at Wesleyan University, the rally was organized in defense of journalist and author Mumia Abu-Jamal who had been placed on death row in Pennsylvania.

The Combahee River Collective- a black feminist group that started in 1974 and are a group that influenced multiracial feminism to be included in Second Wave feminism.[17] They wrote A Black Feminist Statement to voice the changes and their politics that they are wanting.

Women of All Red Nations (WARN)- this is a feminist group created by Native American women and was formed in 1974 to fight the promotion of sterilization and the act of sterilization in Native communities.[4]


Some criticisms have been raised challenging whether or not multiracial feminist theory can actually produce measurable results due to a lack of “existing survey tools” by which to quantify or examine those experiences.[18] It is unclear as to whether or not these criticisms will be the undoing of multiracial feminist theory or if such drawbacks can be overcome with more time and research.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dill, Bonnie Thornton, and Maxine Baca Zinn. “Theorizing Difference from Multiracial Feminism.”Feminist Studies, vol. 22, no. 2, 1996, pp. 321, JSTOR 3178416
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Thompson, Becky. Kim, Seung-kyung; McCann, Carole (eds.). Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism (3 ed.). New York: Routledge. p. 56.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Baca Zinn, Maxine; Thornton-Dill, Bonnie (1996). "Theorzing Difference from Multiracial Feminism". Feminist Studies. 22 (2): 321–331.
  4. ^ a b c d e Thompson, Becky. “Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism.” Feminist Studies, vol. 28, no. 2, 2002, pp. 337 JSTOR 3178747
  5. ^ McCann, Carole R., and Seung-kyung Kim. Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. 4th ed., Routledge, 2016.
  6. ^ Doetsch-Kidder, Sharon. “Loving Criticism: A Spiritual Philosophy of Social Change.” Feminist Studies, vol. 38, no. 2, 2012, pp. 444-473, JSTOR 23269194
  7. ^ "Baca Zinn, Maxine: 1942 –: Sociologist.”, Accessed on 8 October 2016.
  8. ^ Thornton Dill, Bonnie. "Bonnie Thornton Dill". University of Maryland. Retrieved October 3, 2019.
  9. ^ Thompson, Becky (2017). "About Becky". Becky Thompson. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  10. ^ a b Higginbotham, Elizabeth. "A New Perspective with Patricia Hill Collins". American Sociological Association. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  11. ^ Harnios, Catherine E. Feminist Measures in Survey Research. SAGE, 2013.
  12. ^ Townsend-Bell, Erica E. “Writing the Way to Feminism.” Signs, vol. 38, no. 1, 2012, pp.127-152, JSTOR 10.1086/665806
  13. ^ Zinn, Maxine Baca. “Feminism and Family Studies for a New Century.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 571, 2000, pp. 42-56, JSTOR 1049133
  14. ^ Hobson, Janell. “Black Women, White Women and the Solidarity Question.” MS. Magazine Blog, 27 Nov. 2013, <> Accessed on 8 October 2016.
  15. ^ Witt, Lara. “As a Multiracial Woman, This is Why I Need Intersectional Feminism.” Rewire, 2 Sept. 2016, <> Accessed on 8 October 2016.
  16. ^ Blee, Kathleen M., and France W. Twine. Feminism and Antiracism: International Struggles for Justice. New York University Press, 2001.
  17. ^ The Combahee River Collective (April 1977). "A Black Feminist Statement". Project Muse. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  18. ^ Ifatunji, Mosi, and Harnios, Catherine E. “Gendered Measures, Gendered Models: Toward an Intersectional Analysis of Interpersonal Racial Discrimination.” Ethnic & Racial Studies, vol.34, no. 6, 2011, pp.1006-1028 doi:10.1080/01419870.2010.516836