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Black feminism

Black feminism is a school of thought stating that sexism, class oppression, gender identity and racism are inextricably bound together.[1] The way these concepts relate to each other is called intersectionality, a term first coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989.[2] In her work, Crenshaw discussed Black feminism, which argues that the experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black or of being a woman. Instead, Crenshaw argued that each concept should be considered independently while including how interacting identities frequently compound upon and reinforce one another.[3]

A black feminist lens in the United States of America was first employed by black women as a means to make sense of the ways white supremacy and patriarchy interacted to inform the particular experiences of enslaved black women.[4] The black feminist movement continued to expand and build support post-slavery as black activists and intellectuals formed organizations such as the National Association of Coloured Women (NACW) and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).[5] Black feminism rose to further prominence in the 1960s, as the Civil Rights Movement excluded women from leadership positions, and the mainstream feminist movement largely focused its agenda on issues that predominately impacted middle-class, white women. From the 1970s to 1980s, black feminists formed various groups which addressed the role of black women in black nationalism, gay liberation, and second-wave feminism. In the 1990s, the Anita Hill controversy placed black feminism in a mainstream light. Black feminist theories reached a wider audience in the 2010s, as a result of social media advocacy.[6]

Proponents of black feminism argue that black women are positioned within structures of power in fundamentally different ways from white women. In recent years, the distinction of black feminism has birthed the tag "white feminist", used to criticize feminists who do not acknowledge issues of intersectionality.[7] Critics of black feminism argue that divisions along the lines of race or gender weaken the strength of the overall feminist movement or anti-racist movements.[8]

Among the notions that evolved out of the black feminist movement are Alice Walker's womanism, and historical revisionism with an increased focus on black women.[9][10] Angela Davis, bell hooks, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, and Patricia Hill Collins have emerged as leading academics on black feminism, whereas black celebrities, notably Beyoncé, have encouraged mainstream discussion of black feminism.[11][12]


Black feminism has been around since the time of slavery. It's defined as a way that black women have sought to understand their positionality within systems of oppression then this is exemplified in Sojourner Truth's famous speech, "Ain't I a Woman?", which was delivered in 1851 at the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio. Truth addressed how the issues being discussed at the convention were issues that primarily impacted white women.[13] The book A Voice from the South (1892) by Anna Julia Cooper has been credited as one of the first pieces of literature that expresses a black feminist perspective.[14] Several other texts have been published since that have expressed the evolution of these ideas; one of the keystone pieces within the modern black feminist movement being Women, Race, and Class (1981) written by activist and cultural critic, Angela Davis.[15] Kimberle Crenshaw, a prominent feminist law theorist, gave the idea the name intersectionality in 1986–1987 as part of her work in anti-discrimination law, as part of describing the effects of compound discrimination against black women.[16]

Post-slavery period – 1920s

In the post slavery period, black female intellectuals including Sojourner Truth, Anna Julia Cooper, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, set in motion the principles that would become the basis for black feminism.[17] Activists, such as Harper, proposed "some of the most important questions of race, gender, and the work of Reconstruction in the nineteenth century", a very bold action for a black woman at the time.[18] These intellectuals accomplished things that were unheard of for black women, such as giving public lectures, fighting for suffrage, and aiding those in need of help following reconstruction. Suffrage was early evidence of schisms between white and black feminism. According to Harper, white women needed suffrage for education; however, "black women need the vote, not as a form of education, but as a form of protection".[18]

1920s to 1960

Although many wave metaphors of feminist and Civil Rights activism leave out the few decades after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, this was a particularly important moment in the development of black feminist activism.[18] During this period, a few radical black female activists joined the Communist party or focused on union activism. Although they did not all identify as feminists, their theorizing included important works that are the foundation for theories of intersectionality—integrating race, gender, and class. In 1940, for example, Esther V. Cooper (married name Esther Cooper Jackson), for example, wrote a M.A. thesis called "The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism."[19] And in 1949 Claudia Jones wrote "An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman."[20]

Other feminist activism and organizing happened around cases of racial and sexual violence. For example, Esther Cooper and Rosa Parks organized to help Recy Taylor. In 1944, Taylor was the victim of a gang rape; Parks and Cooper attempted to bring the culprits to justice.[21] Black feminist activists focused on other similar cases, such as the 1949 arrest of and then death sentence issued to Rosa Lee Ingram, a victim of sexual violence. Defenders of Ingram included the famous black feminist Mary Church Terrell, who was an octogenarian at the time.[22]

1960s and 1970s

In the second half of the 20th century, black feminism as a political and social movement grew out of black women's feelings of discontent with both the Civil Rights Movement and the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

One of the foundation texts of black feminism is An Argument for Black Women's Liberation as a Revolutionary Force, authored by Mary Ann Weathers and published in 1969 in Cell 16's radical feminist magazine No More Fun and Games: A Journal of Female Liberation.[23] Weathers states her belief that "women's liberation should be considered as a strategy for an eventual tie-up with the entire revolutionary movement consisting of women, men, and children", but she posits that "[w]e women must start this thing rolling"[23] because

All women suffer oppression, even white women, particularly poor white women, and especially Indian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Oriental and Black American women whose oppression is tripled by any of the above-mentioned. But we do have females' oppression in common. This means that we can begin to talk to other women with this common factor and start building links with them and thereby build and transform the revolutionary force we are now beginning to amass.[23]

Black women and the Civil Rights Movement

Not only did the Civil Rights Movement primarily focus on the oppression of black men, but many black women faced severe sexism within civil rights groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.Within the Civil Rights Movement, men dominated the powerful positions. However, Black Feminists did not want the movement to be the struggle for Black man’s rights, they wanted Black women’s rights to be incorporated. Black women felt they needed to have their own Black women’s rights movement because the complaints of the White Feminist differed from the complaints of the Black Feminist. For Instance, some Black women resisted the Feminist Movement because they felt like it could damage their household structures and felt like the feminist movement favored White women[24].

Between 1960-1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was highly active, and focused on achieving social justice through peaceful tactics[25]. The SNCC was founded by Ella Baker. Baker was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC). When Baker served as Martin Luther King Jr.’sSCLC executive secretary, she was exposed to the hierarchical structure of the organization. Baker was tired of the sexism found within both the NAACP and the SCLC, so she wanted to start her own organization that had an emphasis on an egalitarian structure and that allowed women to be a part of the movement and voice their needs[25]. In 1964 at a SNNC retreat in Waveland, Mississippi, the members discussed the role of women and addressed sexism that occurred within the group [25]. A group of women in the SNCC (who were later identified as white allies Mary King and Casey Hayden) openly challenged the way women were treated when they issued the "SNCC Position Paper (Women in the Movement)".[26] The paper listed 11 events in which women were treated as subordinate to men. According to the paper, women in SNCC did not have a chance to become the face of the organization, the top leaders, because they were assigned to clerical and housekeeping duties, whereas men were involved in decision-making.[27]

When Stokely Carmichael was elected Chair of SNCC, he reoriented the path of the organization towards Black Power. Thus, white women lost their influence and power in SNCC; Mary King and Casey Hayden left, to become active in pursuing equality for women.[28] While it is often argued that black women in the SNCC were significantly subjugated during the Carmichael era, Carmichael appointed several women to posts as project directors during his tenure as chairman. By the later half of the 1960s, more women were in charge of SNCC projects than during the first half.[29] Despite these improvements, the SNCC's leadership positions were occupied by men during the entirety of its existence.[30]

Angela Davis speaking at the University of Alberta on March 28, 2006

This combination of the raised fist of black power, and the astrological symbol for Venus, denotes an intersection of ideals of the two groups. Ideals were shared, such as a "critique on racial capitalism, starting with slavery". Despite this, black feminism had reasons to become independent of Black Nationalism. Black feminism had been cast "as a negotiation of the sexism and masculinism (and sometimes heterosexism) of Black Nationalism".[31]

Despite often initiating protests, organizing and fundraising events, communicating to the community, and formulating strategies, women in positions of leadership remain to be overlooked by many historians covering the Civil Rights Movement.[32] Many events, such as the Montgomery bus boycott were made successful due to the women that distributed information. During the Montgomery bus boycott, 35,000 leaflets were mimeographed and handed out after Rosa Parks’ arrest. Georgia Gilmore, after being fired from her job as a cook and black-listed from other jobs in Montgomery due to her contributions to the Montgomery bus boycott, organized the Club From Nowhere, a group that cooked and baked in the 1950’s to fund the Montgomery bus boycott.[33]

Black Southern women were inhibited from being at the forefront of the movement by racism, sexism, and classism. [33] The South is a region historically known to create a dangerous climate for Black women due to legalized bigotry, labor exploitation, sexual assault, and insult. [34]This scared many women away and forced the ones still willing to participate to remain behind the scenes of the action. Even within the Black community, Black women were seen as lesser. In Southern Baptist churches, a woman’s place was “In the pew and out of the pulpit.” [35] This was a huge missed opportunity due to Christianity linked most of the South, meaning that even the opposing White people respected and would regard ministers. If women were given the right to be leaders in the church, they would be much more likely to be leaders at the forefront of the movement, like Dr. Martin Luther King JR. was able to do because of his Baptist minister status. Women were also inhibited by their family roles and jobs— school superintendents were legally able to fire Black female teachers known to be helping the movement, as well as White people employing Black women in their homes to do domestic work. They could even be denied entry or removed from public buildings in some circumstances. Some women, including Jo Ann Robinson and Georgia Gilmore took the risk anyway. Despite these repercussions, Black women continued to fight. Jo Ann Robinson was forced to resign from her position as a professor for using school mimeograph machines to print off pamphlets about the Montgomery bus boycott. McCree Harris, a public school teacher, organized voter registration marches for Black high school and college students in Albany. Beside their teachers, Black women in college such as Dianne Nash risked their future livelihoods to lead protest campaigns.

There are three major biases against Black women that research shows which makes it difficult for their voice to be heard and taken seriously. [33] The first is the stereotypes Black women face, such as poverty, welfarism, and teen pregnancy. The second is the middle class—members of the middle class tend to look down on the perspectives and experiences of working class women, many of whom are Black. This was because they were seen as bad mothers— in the era of the Civil Rights Movement, women were expected to be stay-at-home mothers, which was impossible due to the lack of money in poor Black households. The third bias is the image of Black women in the 1960’s as apolitical or as followers or organizers rather than movement leaders. These three factors made White people of the time look down upon Black women and not take them seriously, even if these biases did not apply to them.

Black women leaders of the Civil Rights Movement also lack the coverage men have due to men’s roles being seen as more important. Historians and scholars focus on three groups of Black activists— the organizational heads-positional leaders, the Young Turks, and the revolutionaries-separists. [33]The organization head-positional leaders were men who were ministers of Black churches in Civil rights orangizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Congress Of racial Equality (CORE), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the National Urban League, and Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Recognition was given to male members such as Martin Luther King JR., and Roy Wilkins, but very little to the founder and executive director of SCLC, Ella Baker, or to executive secretary of SNCC, Ruby Dorris Robinson. The Young Turks- shock troops were a group of educated, motivated Black college students who wanted to see change come about quickly. Male students in this group, including John Lewis and Bob Moses got a sizable parts of the credit while women leaders of the group including Diane Nash, who was elected as the head of the central committee of the Nashville Student Movement, and Bernice Johnson Raegon, who wrote songs that were chanted by members of the Albany Movement in Georgia, did not. The last group of Black activists is the Revolutionaries-separatists. This group includes organizations such as the Black Panther party and the Black Muslims along with CORE and SNCC. They promoted revolution and armed defense as a way to induce change rather than the peaceful protests of the organizational heads-positional leaders. Members of this group that receive recognition are once again all male, including Malcolm X and Huey Newton while women of the group, including officer Kathleen Cleaver and Angela Davis are not nearly as celebrated. [33]

Although women were not recognized for their time and effort as much as men, empowerment still came from their struggles during the Civil Rights Movement. They generate protest and activism, worked behind the scenes and even risked their well-being to be at the forefront at times. They also empowered other outcast groups at the time including farm workers, members of the LGBTQ community, handicapped people, and welfare rights activists by displaying that groups seen as lesser in society can rise up and make a difference as well. [33]

Anne Moody was born and raised in rural Mississippi. As a child, she witnessed both of her parents work numerous hours to support their family as they lived in poverty[36]. When her mother would work for White families, Anne noticed how poorly the White families treated her mother. Unlike White women who were stuck in the household, Black women usually worked in low level jobs outside of the household, so Black Feminism had a different meaning to Anne [36]. As Anne played an active role in the SNCC, she was a strong activist for incorporating feminism into the Civil Rights Movement.

Dorothy Height was a member of the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years and one of the leading forces behind the Civil Rights Movement. Along with Martin Luther King Jr. and other male leaders of the movement, Height helped organize the 1963 March on Washington [37]. Height shared the stage with MLK, but she was denied the right to speak at the event. If a woman was on the stage, she was there to sing, not to give a speech. At the march, Georgia Congressman John Lewiswas 23 years old and the chairman of the SNCC [37]. Lewis remembers asking why Height was denied the right to speak at the march, and King and his fellow leaders responded that they felt the leader of National Council of Negro Women was not qualified to speak at the event [37]. However, one can assume their real reasons were based on the male’s pessimistic attitudes toward empowered women. After her death in 2010, President Barack Obamadescribed Height as the “godmother of the Civil Rights Movement” [37]. Although Height was denied the ability to speak at the March on Washington, she still had an outstanding impact on the movement.

Fannie Lou Hamer, the youngest of 20 children, was born and raised in Mississippi (Hamlet). As an adult, Hamer worked as a sharecropper on a Mississippi plantation [38]. In 1962, Hamer was 45 years old when civil rights workers came to her town to encourage Black Americans to vote [38]. Hamer was unaware that Blacks had the right to vote in other places of the nation. Hamer then joined the Civil Rights Movement and worked relentlessly to achieve freedom for her race [38]. Hamer wanted Black Americans to be counted in the political process. On August 31st, 1962, Hamer and other members of her town went to the Indianolo Courthouse to register to vote [38]. At the courthouse, everyone had to take a literacy test because they were Black. On the bus ride back, the local authorities pulled of the bus driver for driving a group of colored people (Hamlet). Many were frightened on the bus, so Hamer used her voice to soothe those that were anxious [38]. This was the first time Hamer used her voice in the movement. As Hamer continued to stand up for her rights, her family and she faced brutality from locals that disapproved Hamer’s work. At a SNCC conference in Nashville, Hamer gave a speech for the first time [38]. Hamer is well known for her rhetorical style that focused on Ethos [38]. Hamer would focus on stories that would relate to her audience. In 1964 at the Democratic National Convention, Hamer and others began to work on the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party(MFDP) [38]. Later, the MFDP organized the “Freedom Summer”movement. The goal of the movement was to include Black Americans in the political system. Furthermore, as Hamer tried to change the political structure in Mississippi, she ran for a seat in Congress, but was unsuccessful [38]. Although Hamer did not actively work alongside Black Feminist, her strength and perseverance was a symbol for the Black Feminist Movement.

Ella Bakerfound her first organization, the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League (YNCL) in 1930 [39]. YNCL was a way for Black youth to learn about consumer education [39]. Baker began working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP) in 1940 [40]. At first Baker served as an assistant field, and she later served as the director of NAACP branches [39]. In 1946, she resigned from the NAACP and help found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference(SCLC) [40]. Inspired by the Greensboro Four’ssit in movement, Baker organized the first Sit in Leadership Conference [40]. The conference was held at Shaw University, and students from 40 southern universities and 19 northern universities attended to hear Dr. Martin Luther King [40]. In 1960, Baker joined the SNCC [39]. Baker’s focus on youth organizations during the Civil Rights Movement created a network of relationships that allowed all people to connect and fight for Black rights. Baker was a key component of the Civil Right Movement. Although her primary focus was on the Black youth, her strength inspired Black Feminist.

Second-wave feminism

The second-wave feminist movement emerged in the 1960s, led by Betty Friedan. Some black women felt alienated by the main planks of the second-wave feminist movement, which largely advocated for women's right to work outside the home and expansion of reproductive rights. For example, earning the power to work outside the home was not seen as an accomplishment by black women since many black women had to work both inside and outside the home for generations due to poverty.[41] Additionally, Angela Davis wrote that while Afro-American women and white women were subjected to multiple unwilled pregnancies and had to clandestinely abort, Afro-American women were also suffering from compulsory sterilization programs that were not widely included in dialogue about reproductive justice.[42]

Some black feminists who were active in the early second-wave feminism include civil rights lawyer and author Florynce Kennedy, who co-authored one of the first books on abortion, 1971's Abortion Rap; Cellestine Ware, of New York's Stanton-Anthony Brigade; and Patricia Robinson. These women "tried to show the connections between racism and male dominance" in society.[43]

Throughout the 20th century, black feminism evolved quite differently from mainstream feminism. It retained historical principles, while being influenced by new thinkers such as Alice Walker. Walker created a whole new subsect of black feminism, called Womanism, which emphasizes the degree of the oppression black women faced when compared to white women and "addressed the solidarity of humanity".[44] In addition, she stressed the importance of heritage in black feminism through the medium of literature, exemplified by a 2011 interview.

Black lesbian feminism

Black lesbian feminism is a political identity and movement that incorporates perspectives, experiences, and politics around race, gender, class, and sexual orientation.[45] It was created in response to the exclusion of racial experiences within mainstream, lesbian feminist agenda. Hence, this form of lesbian feminism emphasizes its focus on expanding lesbian feminism to incorporate solidarity.[46]


Black lesbian feminists were often ostracized in mainstream black movements based on their gender and sexual orientation; and, in mainstream feminism, and black lesbian feminists were often excluded in lesbian feminism based on race.[47] During the 1970s, lesbian feminists created their own sector of feminism in reaction to homophobia and lesbian exclusion in the mainstream Second-Wave Feminist agenda. Lesbian feminism created a radical agenda focused on challenging homophobia; finding a place in feminism; and, for some, separatist notions. Additionally, some lesbian feminists were involved in black power movements, and vocalized the need for the inclusion of people of color. However, these perspectives on race and sexuality were not accepted by the mainstream, lesbian feminism; and, black lesbian feminists felt excluded from this movement.[48]

In 1970, a defining moment for black lesbian feminists occurred at the Black Panther’s Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Several black lesbian feminists confronted a group of white, lesbian feminists about their racially, exclusive agenda. Following this event, several groups began to include and organize around black lesbian politics. For example, in 1973 the National Black Feminist Organization was founded and included lesbian agenda.[48] Additionally, in 1975 the Combahee River Collective was founded out of experiences and feelings of sexism in the black power movements and racism in the lesbian feminist movement.[46] The primary focus of this collective was to fight interlocking systems of oppression, raise awareness of these systems, and create a group made up of differences but connected by solidarity.[47] Lastly, in 1978 the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gay Men was founded.[48] In addition to the multiple organizations that focused on black, lesbian feminism, there were many authors that contributed to this movement such as Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Pat Parker, Karen Sims, Rose Mason, Darlene Pagano, Kate Rushin, doris davenport, Cheryl Clarke, Margaret Sloan-Hunter, and a number of others.[49]


Black women's voices were continuously marginalized but groups were formed that stood up in the face of oppression. In the early 1990s, AWARE (African Woman's Action for Revolutionary Exchange) was formed in New York by Reena Walker and Laura Peoples after an inspiring plenary session on black women's issues held at the Malcolm X Conference at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) entitled Black Women and Black Liberation: Fighting Oppression and Building Unity.[50]

In 1991, The Malcolm X Conference was held again at BMCC and the theme that year was "Sisters Remember Malcolm X: A Legacy to be Transformed". It featured plenary sessions, "Sexual Harassment: Race, Gender and Power" and was held in a much larger theater that year. Black women were a central focus and not an aside as they were prior. Speakers included Sonia Sanchez, Audre Lorde, Verniece Miller, Reena Walker, Carol Bullard (Asha Bandele) and Vivian Morrison.[51] In 1991, Reena Walker along with the members of AWARE also worked in coalition with AWIDOO (American Women in Defense of Ourselves), formed by Barbara Ransby, to sign a full-page ad in The New York Times to stand in support of Anita Hill.[52]

In 1995, Reena Walker went on to put out the call to various women and organized the group African Americans Against Violence[53] that effectively stopped a parade that a group of reverends led by Al Sharpton were attempting to hold in Harlem for Mike Tyson.[54] The group, including Eve and Kathe Sandler, Nsia Bandele and Indigo Washington, worked tirelessly and successfully stopped the parade from happening, bringing much needed attention to the struggle of black women and sexism and domestic violence.[55] A supporter of Mike Tyson, social worker Bill Jones, exclaimed "The man has paid his debt" (in regards to Tyson's rape conviction), and joined a large group of other Tyson supporters in heckling the African Americans Against Violence group, accusing them of "catering to white radical feminists".[55]

21st century

The new century has brought about a shift in thinking away from "traditional" feminism. Third wave feminism claimed the need for more intersectionality in feminist activism and the inclusion of black and other ethnic minority women. Moreover, the advancement of technology has fostered the development of a new digital feminism. This online activism involves the use of "Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, and other forms of social media to discuss gender equality and social justice. According to NOW Toronto, the internet has created a "call-out" culture, in which sexism or misogyny can be called out and challenged immediately with relative ease."[56]

As an academic response to this shift, many scholars have incorporated queer of color critique into their discussions of feminism and queer theory.[57][58] Queer of color critiques seeks an intersectional approach to disidentifying with the larger themes of "racialized heteronormativity and heteropatriarchy" in order to create a more representative and revolutionary critique of social categories.[59][60][61] An example of queer of color critique can be seen in the Combahee River Collective's statement, which addresses the intersectionality of oppressions faced by black lesbians.[62]


The 2010s have seen a revitalization of Black Feminism as a result of "black feminist thought spreading via big and small screens". As more and more influential figures began to identify themselves as feminist, social media saw a rise in young black feminists willing to "push the conversation forward" and bring racist and sexist situations to light.[63] Assistant professor in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, Brittney Cooper, states "I think Black feminism is in one of the strongest moments it has seen in a while; From Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC, to Laverne Cox on Orange Is the New Black to Beyoncé ... we have prominent Black women [sic] identifying publicly with the term."[64] Social media has served as a medium for black feminists to express praise or discontent with organisations' representations of black women. For example, the 2015 and 2016 Victoria's Secret Fashion Shows were commended by Ebony magazine for letting four black models wear their natural hair on the runway. Black feminists on social media showed support for the Natural hair movement using the hashtags #melanin and #blackgirlmagic.[65] Supposed instances of the "appropriation" of black culture have bee commented on in social media. For example, a 2015 Vogue Italia photo shoot involving model Gigi Hadid wearing an afro sparked some backlash on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Some users claimed it was problematic and racist to have a non-black model wear an afro and a fake tan to give the appearance of blackness when the fashion magazine could have hired a black model instead.[66] Kearie Daniel wrote that white people wearing certain hairstyles is a particularly touchy subject in black feminism is because of the perceived double standard that when white women wear black hairstyles, they are deemed "trendy" or "edgy" while black women are labelled "ghetto" or "unprofessional".[67]

Black feminists have also voiced the importance of increasing "representation" of black women in television and movies. According to a 2014 study by the University of Southern California, of the 100 top films of that year "nearly three-quarters of all characters were white," NPR reports, and only 17 of those 100 top movies featured non-white lead or co-lead actors. That number falls further when only looking at non-white women leads, considering only one-third of speaking roles were for women, according to the same study.[68]

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter is an activist movement that was initially formed by Opal Tometti, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Kahn-Cullors as a hashtag to campaign against racism and police brutality against African Americans in the United States of America.[69] This has contributed to a revitalization and re-examining of the Black Feminist movement.[70] While the deaths of black men played a major part in the Black Lives Matter movement, Rekia Boyd, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson, Shelly Frey, Yvette Smith, Eleanor Bumpurs, and others are women who were also killed or assaulted by police officers. This has been viewed as a Black Feminist Movement first, rather than as a part of the larger feminist movement.[71] While Black Lives Matter has been critiqued for not always centering the ways that black women are subject to police brutality, it has since been better about incorporating the interlocking systems of oppression that disadvantage black women in particular.[72]

Black Lives Matter has been a largely grassroots movement focused on including the voices of people with multiple marginalized and intersecting identities.[73] Activism of Black Feminists in Black Lives Matter has included protests against political candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and hashtags such as #oscarssowhite, and #sayhername.[74]

In 2013, "Mothers of the Movement" brought together Sybrina Fulton the mother of Trayvon Martin, Lezley McSpadden the mother of Michael Brown, Gwen Carr the mother of Eric Garner, Geneva Reed-Veal mother of Sandra Bland, Cleopatra Pendleton-Cowley mother of Hadiya Pendleton, Maria Hamilton mother of Dontre Hamilton and Lucy McBath mother of Jordan Davis. These seven African American women have lost their son or daughter due to police violence. These women have used their voices not only to promote Black Lives Matter but have also made the conscious effort of joining forces in other areas of inequality. Mother of the Movement joined actress and singer Janelle Monae on the Women's March in Washington in January of 2017 after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. In addition, these women appeared in Beyonce's short film, "LEMONADE" of her debut album where the women held photos of their children who had passed away.

Black Lives Matter aided the effort for the "Right to Know" bill in October of 2018. The “Right to Know” bills author Senator Nancy Skinner, authorizes public access of internal investigations when police kill people or are found guilty of serious misconduct. The families of those killed by police rallied in support of this bill and offered public testimony of their own stories and the horrific ordeal of not knowing where a loved one is. This monumental breakthrough gave Black Lives Matter huge success because in the state of California where the bill had originated is also the same state with the highest number of civilians killed by police occurs.

Black feminist identity politics and safe spaces

Black feminist identity politics can be defined as knowing and understanding one's own identity while taking into consideration both personal experience as well as the experiences of those in history to help form a group of like-minded individuals who seek change in the political framework of society.[75] It also can be defined as a rejection of oppressive measures taken against one's group, especially in terms of political injustice.[75]

Black feminist writer Patricia Hill Collins believes that this 'outsider within' seclusion suffered by black women was created through the domestic sphere, where black women were considered separate from the perceived white elite who claimed their dominance over them.[76] They also felt a disconnect between the black men's suffering and oppression.[76] As a result of white feminists excluding black women from their discourse, black feminists expressed their own experiences of marginalization and empowered black consciousness in society.[76] Due to the diverse experiences of black women, it is imperative to Collins to speak for and of personal accounts of black women's oppression.[76]

Identity politics have often implemented race, class, and gender as isolated categories as a means of excluding those who aren't perceived as part of the dominant group.[77] These constructed biases formed from race, class, and gender are what feminist Kimberle Crenshaw believes need to be used, not as a means of degradation, but as a form of empowerment and self-worth.[77] Ignoring these differences only creates more of a divide between social movements and other feminist groups, especially in the case of violence against women where the caliber of violence is correlated with components such as race and class.[77]

Another issue of identity politics is the conflict of group formations and safe spaces for black women.[75] In the 1970s, increased literacy among black women promoted writing and scholarship as an outlet for feminist discourse where they could have their voices heard.[75] As a result, black women sought solace in safe spaces that gave them the freedom to discuss issues of oppression and segregation that ultimately promoted unity as well as a means of achieving social justice.[75]

As the notion of color-blindness advocated for a desegregation in institutions, black women faced new issues of identity politics and looked for a new safe space to express their concerns.[75] This was met with a lot of contention as people saw these black female groups as exclusive and separatist.[75] Dominant groups, especially involved in the political sphere, found these safe spaces threatening because they were away from the public eye and were therefore unable to be regulated by the higher and more powerful political groups.[75]

Despite the growth in feminist discourse regarding black identity politics, some men disagree with the black feminist identity politics movement.[78] Some black novelists, such as Kwame Anthony Appiah, uphold the notion of color-blindness and dismiss identity politics as a proper means of achieving social justice.[78] To him, identity politics is an exclusionary device implemented in black culture and history, like hip hop and jazz, that limit outsider comprehension and access.[78] However, writer Jeffery A. Tucker believes that identity politics serves as a foundation where such color-blindness can finally be achieved in the long run if implemented and understood within society.[78]


Black feminist organizations faced some different challenges to other feminist organization. Firstly, these women had to "prove to other black women that feminism was not only for white women".[79] They also had to demand that white women "share power with them and affirm diversity" and "fight the misogynist tendencies of Black Nationalism".[79]

The short-lived National Black Feminist Organization was founded in 1973 in New York by Margaret Sloan-Hunter and others (The NBFO stopped operating nationally in 1975[80]). This organization of women focused on the interconnectedness of the many prejudices faced by African-American women, such as racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.[81] In 1975, Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, Cheryl L. Clarke, Akasha Gloria Hull, and other female activists tied to the Civil Rights Movement, Black Nationalism or the Black Panther Party established, as an offshoot of the National Black Feminist Organization, the Combahee River Collective, a radical lesbian feminist group. Their founding text referred to important female figures of the abolitionist movement, such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frances E. W. Harper, Ida B. Welles Barnett and Mary Church Terrell, president of the National Association of Colored Women founded in 1896. The Combahee River Collective opposed the practice of lesbian separatism, considering that, in practice, Separatists focused exclusively on sexist oppression and not on other oppressions (race, class, etc.)[82]

The Combahee River Collective was one of the most important black socialist feminist organizations of all time. This group began meeting in Boston in 1974, a time when socialist feminism was thriving in Boston. The name Combahee River Collective was suggested by the founder and African-American lesbian feminist, Barbara Smith, and refers to the campaign led by Harriet Tubman who freed 750 slaves near the Combahee River in South Carolina in 1863. Smith said they wanted the name to mean something to African-American women, and that "it was a way of talking about ourselves being on a continuum of black struggle, of black women's struggle".[83]

The members of this organization consisted of many former members of other political organizations that worked within the civil rights movement, anti-war movement, labor movement, and others. Demita Frazier, co-founder of the Combahee River Collective says these women from other movements found themselves "in conflict with the lack of a feminist analysis and in many cases were left feeling divided against [themselves]."[84] The Combahee River Collective argued in 1974 that the liberation of black women entails freedom for all people, since it would require the end of racism, sexism, and class oppression.[85]

As an organization, they were labeled as troublemakers and many said they were brainwashed by the man hating white feminist, that they didn't have their own mind, and they were just following in the white woman's footsteps.[84] Throughout the 1970s, the Combahee River Collective met weekly to discuss the different issues concerning black feminists. They also held retreats throughout the Northeast from 1977 to 1979 to help "institutionalize black feminism" and develop an "ideological separation from white feminism".[84]

As an organization they founded a local battered women's shelter and worked in partnership with all community activists, women and men, gay and straight playing an active role in the reproductive rights movement.[84] The Combahee River Collective ended their work together in 1980 and is now most widely remembered for developing the Combahee River Collective Statement, a key document in the history of contemporary black feminism and the development of the concepts of identity.[84]

Black feminist literature

The importance of identity

Michelle Cliff believes that there is continuity "in the written work of many African American Women, ... you can draw a line from the slave narrative of Linda Brent to Elizabeth Keckley's life, to Their Eyes were Watching God (by Zora Neale Hurston) to Coming of Age in Mississippi (Anne Moody) to Sula (by Toni Morrison), to the Salt Eaters (by Toni Cade Bambara) to Praise Song for the Widow (by Paule Marshall)." Cliff believes that all of these women, through their stories, "Work against the odds to claim the 'I'".[86]


  • 1970, Black Woman's Manifesto, published by the Third World Women's Alliance, argued for a specificity of oppression against Black women. Co-signed by Gayle Lynch, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Maxine Williams, Frances M Beale and Linda La Rue, the manifesto, opposing both racism and capitalism, stated that "the black woman is demanding a new set of female definitions and a recognition of herself of a citizen, companion and confidant, not a matriarchal villain or a step stool baby-maker. Role integration advocates the complementary recognition of man and woman, not the competitive recognition of same."[87]
  • 1979, Barbara Smith and Lorraine Bethel edited the Autumn 1979 issue of Conditions. Conditions 5 was "the first widely distributed collection of Black feminist writing in the U.S."[88]
  • 1992, Black feminists mobilized "a remarkable national response" to the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas Senate Hearings in 1991, naming their effort African American Women in Defense of Ourselves.[89]
  • 2000, In her introduction to the 2000 reissue of the 1983 black feminist anthology Home Girls, theorist and author Barbara Smith states her opinion that "to this day most Black women are unwilling to jeopardize their 'racial credibility' (as defined by Black men) to address the realities of sexism."[90] Smith also notes that "even fewer are willing to bring up homophobia and heterosexism, which are, of course, inextricably linked to gender oppression."[90]
  • 1997 - Current, Jewel Amoah , a Human Rights activist and feminist scholar, conducted research on Black Feminist Theory through her works such as "The World On Her Shoulders: The Rights of the Girl-Child in the Context of Culture & Identity","Narrative: The Road to Black Feminist Theory", and "Building Sandcastles in the Snow: Meanings and Misconceptions of the Development of Black Feminist Theory in Canada".

The involvement of Pat Parker in the black feminist movement was reflected in her writings as a poet. Her work inspired other black feminist poets such as Hattie Gossett.[91]


Solange Knowles also considers herself a black feminist and womanist. "'I am a proud black feminist and womanist and I'm extremely proud of the work that's being done. I'm a feminist who wants not only to hear the term intersectionality, but actually feel it, and see the evolution of what intersectional feminism can actually achieve. I want women's rights to be equally honored, and uplifted, and heard...but I want to see us fighting the fight for all women — women of color, our LGBTQ sisters, our Muslim sisters. I want to see millions of us marching out there for our rights, and I want to see us out there marching for the rights of women like Dajerria Becton, who was body slammed by a cop while she was in her swimsuit for simply existing as a young, vocal, black girl. I think we are inching closer and closer there, and for that, I am very proud.'[92]"

Many of Beyoncé songs have feminist themes, such as "Pretty Hurts" and "Flawless", that focus on female empowerment, body image, and sexuality. Her sixth studio album, Lemonade, addresses her culture, heritage, marriage, and partner's promiscuity. The 60-minute film that accompanied the album included a primarily African-American cast. At the end of her 2014 VMA performance, Beyonce stood on stand with "FEMINIST" displayed across the screen in huge block letters. For her 2016 VMA performance, Beyoncé ended with her dancers laying on the ground around her and forming a female gender symbol.[93][94][95][96]

Amandla Stenberg approaches feminism as a way to dismantle patriarchy, empower women, and fight discrimination. She focuses on intersectionality and making sure that black and queer women are included within the movement, as a non-binary black woman herself. She is openly against cultural appropriation and has used her platform to criticize it, such as her video, "Don't Cash Crop My Cornrows", targeting Kylie Jenner. Ms. Foundation for Women named her "Feminist of the Year" in 2015. She appears in Beyoncé's "Formation" music video, which focuses on embracing one's blackness and supports Black Lives Matter.[97][98]

In 2015, E! host, Guiliana Rancic made comments about Zendaya's dreadlocks on the red carpet at the 87th Academy Awards. In response to Rancic's remark that Zendaya looked like she smelled of weed, Zendaya took to Instagram to address discrimination, stereotyping, ignorance, and body shaming.[99]

Big Joanie are a self identified black feminist punk trio based out of London. The group made up of Chardine Taylor-Stone, Steph Phillips, and Estella Adeyeri are best known for their punk cover of "No Scrubs" by TLC. They focus on black female empowerment, even citing Melissa Harris-Perry as an inspiration for their song "Crooked Room." The band are also involved in organising London's Decolonise Fest, an ethnic minority punk music festival which is held at the DIY Space for London.[100]

Alice Walker is an author who best known for her novels the “Meridian” and “The Color Purple”. She also has written tons of other novels, poems, short stories, and essays. She first introduced the word “Womanist” in her novel called “In search of our Mothers; Gardens: Womanist Prose, which was published in 1983/[101] Walker written that novel out of a reaction that the term “feminism” did not take into consideration of the perspectives of black women. This novel sought to expand the ideology of the Women’s Liberation Movement that primarily focused on “white middle-class women problems”.[102]

Beverly Guy-Sheftall is a writer, editor, activist, and professor at Spelman College, teaching courses in feminist theory and Global Black Feminism. Also, she is the founding director of the “Women’s Research and Resource Center”. As a professor she decided to help broaden the Women’s Studies Movement by making sure that it fully represented African Americans. Guy-Sheftall did that by “publishing articles about black feminism and editing books that were written by other African American women”.[101] In later years she co-edited a book called “Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature”, which happened to be the first “anthropology of African American women’s writings".[101] She has been rewarded with numerous fellowships and awards such as the “Woodrow Wilson Fellowship for dissertations in Women’s Studies”.[103]

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Further reading