Saturday, 21 July 2012


Notes and Quotes from Black Feminist Thought, by Patricia Hill Collins
Sukant Chandan
Sons of Malcolm


These are some summaries, quotations and some observations and comments from me on reading this book. I have re-doubled my efforts at engaging with issues of white-supremacist-patriarchy and the general disastrous conditions that brothers and sisters find themselves in when trying to relate to each other socially, politically, culturally and intimately.

My personal opinion is that too much of so-called 'feminist' analysis amongst too many of our brothers and especially sisters is more often than not a projection of strategical divisions promoted by the white power structure between brothers and sisters.

I was spurred onto to look into these issues a little more deeply after what I considered the highly classist and white-supremacist and not to mention totally patronising manner in which three critiques of brother Jaja Soze's 'Beautiful Sister' music video was being scrutinised by 'ceasefire' (should really be called 'whitefire' for the way it tails the white power structure in the most trickiest of fashions), the 'Black Feminist blog', and brother Anthony Anaxagorou. Not to say I would agree with everything brother Soze said and the way he said it, but the responses to him were so off the mark, and so insulting in so many ways that I wanted to have no association with those critiques in any way shape or form.

My quotes, comments and notes on this book are not done in any academically formal or structured way, and I dont care at all for that really, but its clearly readable etc.

I hope this is of interest to people. I'll endeavor to put up further quotes from this and other books I am about to read on this general subject, including Audre Lourde's 'Sister Outsider', Joan Morgan's 'When Chickenheads Came Home to Roost', and Althea Prince & Susan Silva-Wayne's 'Feminisms and Womanisms: A Women's Studies Reader'. I would appreciate it if militantly pro-Black Power sisters recommended other texts on patriarchy and sexism and challenges of uniting brothers and sisters.


Author says in preface that she is not gonna use academic language as she wants the book accessible to non-academic black women. I liked that.

She then also says she will not be writing and constantly comparing with white feminism, as she feels this will belittle black feminism, and that black feminism stands on its own without needing to compare etc. I liked that too.

Finally, she also says thus far that I have read, that she will not use well known black feminists in this work, she will also use unknown black women cos this breaks down the problematic dynamic of a few known women speaking for the rest, rather 'the rest' should be cited as well as. I liked that a lot as well.


This is interesting, still in the preface: "When I considered that Black feminist thought is currently embedded in a larger political and intellectual context that challenges its very right to exist, I decided not to stress the contradictions, frictions, and inconsistencies of Black feminist thought. Instead I present Black feminist thought as overly coherent, but I do so because I suspect this approach is most appropriate for this historical moment." - (xiv, preface)


This is something I dont quite agree with. I positively get the sentiment, but dont agree wholly. Obviously she is repping her/our community, but also its right of her to give the space to other to come in on this too, to allow them and give encouragement to them to "speak for herself". But of course she is representing the community about which she is writing. I suppose the biggest problem I have with this is that it shift one away from collective power to an atomised and individualistic context which has the danger of slipping into individualistic identity politics. Anyways, here's the quote:

" 'How can I as one person speak for such a large and complex group as African-American women?' I asked myself. The answer is that I cannot and should not because each of us must learn to speak for herself. In the course of writing the book I cam to see my work as being part of a larger process, as one voice in a dialogue among people who had been silenced." (xv)


She quotes one of the pioneers of Black women intellectuals, Maria Stewart (who called Black women in the usa as 'daughters of Africa'), in 1831:

" 'It is useless for us any longer to sit with our hands folded, reproaching the whites; for that will never elevate us,' she exorted. 'Possess the spirit of independence.. possess the spirit of men [! - Sukant], bold and enterprising, fearless and undaunted." (pg 3-4)


"The shadow obscuring Black women's intellectual tradition is neither accidental nor benign. Suppressing the knowledge produced by any oppressed group makes it easier for dominant groups to rule because the seeming absence of an independent consciousness in the oppressed can be taken to mean that subordinate groups willingly collaborate in their own victimisation." (p5)


 3 areas where Black women, in Collins mind, have been supressed:

1, as slaves and general household drudgery means they had/have got little to no time to push fwd the theoritical discussions etc for their own situation and liberation

2, political and educational poverty, relegated to the worst schooling etc, and discrimination in the criminal justice system


3, "controlling images of Black women", like jezebals, whores, pancake mamas, breeder women of slavery etc.

"This larger system of oppression works to suppress the ideas of Black women intellectuals and to protect elite white male interests and worldviews" (pg.6/7)


"Ironically, feminist theory has also suppressed Black women's ideas .. Theories advanced as being universally applicable to women as a group on closer examination appear greatly limited by the white, middle class origins of their proponents"


"African-American women have long been included in Black social and political organisations .. Even though Black women intellectuals have asserted their right to speak both as African-Americans and as women, historically these women have not held top leadership positions in Black organisations." (pgs 7/8)

She then gives the example of the Ella Baker who basically ran the Southern Christian Leadership Council, but had to defer to the council of males for leadership decisions.

I would add that while the Panthers had their fair share of the mirrored patriarchy in their organisation from wider society, there were many powerful and strong women in leadership positions who also made leadership decisions.

 "Black political and social thought has been limited by both the reformist postures toward change assumed by many Black intellectuals and the secondary status afforded to the ideas and experiences of African-American. Adhering to a male-defined ethos that far too often equates racial progress with the acquisition of an ill-defined manhood has left Black thought with a prominent masculinist bias" (p8)

I agree in general, but imho this needs a lot of exploration. But she's generally right, imo.


She is now saying that although slavery and segregation in the south pre 2ndWW was to control and exploit the Black community, it allowed the community to forge its own conceptions of Black womanhood, derived from West African heritage (where the people were kidnapped and enslaved from).


"The exclusion of Black women's ideas from mainstream academic discourse and the curious placement of African-American women intellectuals in both feminist and Black social and political thought has meant that Black women intellectuals have remained outsiders within all three communities" (p12)

(I dont quite agree with this point, cos having a distinct Black Women's section in academia as distinct from Black political and social thought is not necessarily a advance? I am not sure. Needs discussion imo)


".. her [Sojourner Truth - former slave woman, 1851] speech .. provides an incisive analysis of the definitions if the term 'woman' forwarded in the mid 1800s:

'That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?'

"... Rather than accepting the existing assumptions about what a woman was and then trying to prove that she fits the standard, Truth challenged the very standards themselves. Her actions demonstrate the process of deconstruction [ie., breaking something down critically - Sukant] - namely exposing a concept as ideological or culturally constructed rather than as a natural or simple reflection of reality. By deconstructing the concept 'woman', Truth proved herself to be a formidable intellectual. And yet Truth was a former slave who never learned to read or write. 

"Examining the contributions of women like Sojourner Turh suggests that a similar process of deconstruction must be applied to the concept of 'intellectual'". (p14/15)


I know this is about Black women, but I think the same critical approach has to be brought to the critiques of Jaja Soze's 'Beautiful Sister' video recently, and the way these criticisms by the 'Black Feminist Blog', 'whitefire', sorry I meant 'ceasefire', and Anthony Anaxagorou's criticisms of the video, in as much as they didnt treat Jaja Soze with the sensitivity that Collins is treating Sojourner Truth in terms of 'intellectual standards' etc.

"Reclaiming the Black women's intellectual tradition involved examining the every day ideas of Black women not previously considered intellectuals. The ideas we share as mothers in extended families, as othermothers in Black communities, as members of Black churches, and as teachers to the Black community's children have formed one pivotal area where African-American women have hammered out a Black women's standpoint. Musicians, writers, poets, vocalists, and other artists constitute another group of Black women intellectuals who have aimed to interpret Black women's experiences ... Such women are typically thought of as nonintellectual and nonscholarly, classifications that create a false dichotomy [division] between scholarship and activism, between thinking and doing." (p15)

Great stuff. I been saying stuff like this sice I was 16yrs old, applied to both men and women of resistant-oppressed communities.


Collins has been problematising WHO constutes a 'Black feminist', and WHAT is Black feminism (I think we have to bear in mind that she is talking in the context of the usa):

"I suggest that Black feminist thought consists of specialised knowledge created by African-American women which clarifies a standpoint of and for Black women. In other words, Black feminist thought encompasses theoretical interpretations of Black women's reality by those who live it."

That's fine. But I thought Black feminist thought should also strategise a vision of liberation from the conditions which create the oppression? Perhaps she is giving space and credit to Black feminists who are just problematising the situation rather than finding paths to liberation? Dunno.

[end of part1]

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