Black feminist theory was formed from an understanding of intersecting models of discrimination to demonstrate that race and gender should not be viewed as separate categories.
Throughout the battle of African Americans, starting from various oppressions to modern inequality disputes, African American women have faced the intersection of racial and gender inequality.
The fight for equality on both fronts has an enormous historical background. And even though we have come a long way in confronting the issues concerning to black women, still there are a lot of things to be realized.
So, let’s give the profound definition of black feminist theory and see what black feminists have come through throughout the course of the history.
The Importance of Black Feminist Theory
The subject of both sexism and racism is largely marginalized by white women and black men when those issues are being addressed. The thing is that racial privilege enables White women to challenge gender-based oppression while still preserving access and freedoms that women of color are largely denied.
One thing that is important to understand is that race and gender should not be studied as separate categories.
Even though there are still some people who consider that feminism is for white women, nowadays we are witnessing a growing amount of understanding and comprehension of intersectional feminist values and politics in society and media.
What is Black Feminist Theory?
Though the term Black feminism is widely used nowadays, few people know the true definition and history of black feminist theory. So, what does that really mean?
Generally speaking, it is a movement that points out that sexism, gender identity, class oppression, and racism are closely bound together. And the way these notions relate to each other is called intersectionality. By the way, this term first used in 1989 by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw.
Black feminist theory became especially popular in the 1960s as a response to the racism of the feminist movement and sexism of the Civil Rights Movement. During the period of the 1970s to 1980s, black feminists formed different groups which addressed the role of black women.
In the 2010s Black feminist theory reached a wider audience due to the social media advocacy.
By this token, because of the definition and development of black feminism, we now have the tag “white feminist” that is used to criticize those feminists who don’t accept issues of intersectionality.
In parallel to this, critics of the black feminist theory argue that racial divisions weaken the power of the mainstream feminist movement.
Angela Davis, Gloria Jean Watkins (bell hooks), Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Patricia Hill Collins: these are the names of leading academics on black feminism. Furthermore, some black celebrities, including Beyoncé and Zendaya, have promoted mainstream discussion of black feminism.
The Historical Evolution of Black Feminism
Now that we gave the definition of black feminism let’s have a look at its development throughout the history. The black feminist theory was aroused from the civil rights movements in the 1960s and 1970s.
Some organizations (such as the National Black Feminist Organization) considered that many Black Power organizations and civil rights were reluctant to take up causes that were crucial to the experiences of black women.
By the way, the majority of women who later became black feminists noted that sexism was, unfortunately, present among many of civil rights organizations and Black Power organizations.
Activist Angela Davis was one of the first people to articulate a written argument concentrated on intersectionality, namely “Women, Race, and Class”.
And it was Kimberle Crenshaw, another one of prominent black feminist that gave the concept the name intersectionality as part of describing the effects of discrimination against black women.
During the early stages of the post-slavery period, black female intellectuals such as Frances Ellen Watkins Harper promoted some principles that would later become the basis for black feminism. Harper proposed some of the most critical questions of race and gender. Her ideas basically marked the beginning of black feminism.
Second Wave of Black Feminism
Some black feminists who were active during second-wave feminism tried to illustrate the connections between racism and male dominance in our society. In fact, neither the civil rights movement nor feminism challenged the issues that touched upon black women specifically.
In regard to their intersectional position, black women were being constantly ignored by both movements. By the end of the 20th century, black feminist theory developed quite differently from mainstream feminism.
One of the most famous black feminist and influencers, Alice Walker created a new subsection of black feminism, known as Womanism. This movement emphasized the degree of the oppression and discrimination black women faced in contrast to white women.
The Lack of Representation of Black Women in Media
Many times Black feminists have voiced the significance of rising representation of black women in TV and movies. This lack was assigned to the misconception that minority lead characters do not attract to audiences as well as white characters.
Nonetheless, that excuse is consistently disproved when films focused on black characters fare quite well globally, such as Hidden Figures and many others. The prevailing coverage of race and gender inequality in Hollywood sometimes excludes black women.
The pay gap for black women in the entertainment industry is a sign of a larger issue: the invisibility and underestimation of black women in media culture as producers, performers, and directors.
Thus, Black Feminists need to make progress in this movement by forming a media platform for advocating their voices and to inspire others.
Black Feminist Theory Nowadays
The 21st century has brought about a change in “traditional” feminism that was largely considered to serve disproportionately to white women and failed to acknowledge the struggles of black women.
Nevertheless, today we can say that we have a new type of feminism that stresses the need for more intersectionality in the feminist movement and the engagement of black women and other women of color. Furthermore, now we have a new form of feminism – digital feminism that involves the use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other forms of social media.
What’s more important these are great and effective tools to discuss and promote gender equality and social justice. Social media is an especially helpful tool for calling-out sexism and misogyny that is challenged immediately with relative ease.
This use of technology alongside with the focus in the experiences of women of color, LGBTQ women, disabled women and just any other marginalized groups of women have formed an entirely new wave of feminism that brings more positive vibes to black feminism.
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