INTRODUCTION”Social Movements areinvolved in conflictual relations with clearly identified opponents; they arelinked by dense informal networks and share a distinct collective identity(Porta, 2006)”. A movement is not merelya crowd; it involves collective behaviour, innovation, network orientation,multi-centeredness, membership that is open of all and willingness of themembers to change the existing social order. This paper aims to understand theemergence and growth of the Black Feminist Movement with an insight to thetheories of social movements. The Black Feminist Movementgrew because of gender and sex discrimination in the Black Liberation Movementand the Women’s Movement respectively.
In the Women’s Movement, black womenwere racially oppressed as well as sexually oppressed in the Black LiberationMovement. Black women came to the terms that “black” was equated with the blackmen and “woman” with the white women due to which the black women were treatedas an invisible group and their needs were ignored. The oppression of the blackwomen in both the movements and ignorance towards their needs gave rise to theBlack Feminist Movement. The main purpose of the movement was to developtheories which would address the intersectionality of class, gender and race intheir lives and policies that would take action against the discrimination ofclass, sex and race. BlackWomen in Black Liberation MovementIn the Black LiberationMovement, the black women were subjected to constant sexism.
The interest ofthe black men in the movement was in controlling the sexuality of the blackwomen. “To explain their disapproval of inter-racial relationships black menemphasized that white men sexually exploit the black woman (Hooks, 1960)”. Thefreedom to access and control over the women’s body was considered as freedomand right of men. Sexual discrimination was a part of daily life for the blackwomen.
Elaine Brown in her book ‘A Taste of Power’ sites an incident where inthe Black Congress organizational meeting, she and other black women wereforced to wait for the food for which all of them have contributed money becausethe food was first served to men and women are supposed to wait until theyfinish. It was explained to her that sisters should stand behind their blackmen to support and respect them; it was “unsisterly” of them to want to eatwith the brothers. The black men disregarded the equality of black women andmen.BlackWomen in Feminist Movement During 1960, the blackwomen who participated in the Feminist Movement have faced racialdiscrimination which was there in the form of exclusion. Black women were neverbeing invited to participate in the conference panels and even the conferenceswere specifically on based on white and middle-class women.
In most of thewomen’s movement writings, the white middle-class women’s experiences wereconsidered as “universal” experiences of women, completely ignoring thedifferent experiences of black and white women due to race and class. In manysituations, black women realised that white feminists in the Women’s Movement wereunwilling to admit their racism. Also, the belief that those who are oppressedcannot oppress others, gave rise to the unwillingness. White women who werechallenging the oppression by the white men were supporting and advocatingracial ideologies and were acting as racist oppressors to black women. TowardsBlack Feminist MovementBy the end of thenineteenth century, black women started organizing themselves into their ownnetwork of clubs. These groups not only supported women suffrage but also addressedthe social and political issues that affected black communities especially theblack women.
Journalist and activist Ida B. Wells-Bernett challenged racistterrorism as well as sexual stereotyping of Black women as immoral in contrast towhite women. The National Association of Colored Women was formed in 1896 whichbrought more than hundred black women’s clubs together. During the first halfof the twentieth century, the primary focus of black women’s activism was to challengeracism and work on the social and economic problems. In the weekly newspaper ofthe United Negro Improvement Association, Amy Jacques Garvey wrote about thewomen’s rights and expressed her concern about the situation of black women inAmerica.
In 1947, an article was published by novelist Ann Petry in the widelycirculated Negro Digest entitled “What’s Wrong with Negro Men?”, criticizedsexism within the Black community. In 1950s and 1960s when black womenparticipated in the Civil Rights Movement, the male dominance as well as thenarrowness of the white feminist’s agendas was the reason they began toconfront the sexist and racist oppression in their own lives. In 1973, the NationalBlack Feminist Organization (NBFO) by a group of black feminists in New Yorkand held a conference which was attended by huge number of black feminists allover the country. Black women for the first time started questioning thereality of sexual oppression within the black community as well as sexism inthe society as a whole that have impacted them as black women.
The work of blackfeminist writers and theorists such as Alice Walker, Michele Wallace etc. ledto national debates on sexual politics in the black community. In 1977, the CombaheeRiver Collective, a feminist organization in Boston issued a paper thathighlighted the intersection of oppression in black women’s lives. This workbroke significant new grounds because it was socialist, addressed homophobiaand called for sisterhood among the black women of various sexual orientations.
The role of Black lesbian feminists such as Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde, PatParker and others was crucial in the initial phase of the movement especially whenmany heterosexual black women were hesitant to identify themselves asfeminists. As the decade continued, the black feminist challenged the whitefeminists to eradicate racism, to broaden the scope of women’s issues, tointegrate their organization and to share leadership with women of colour. By 1990s, the blackfeminism had a positive effect in many aspects in the society which led to thedevelopment of Black women’s studies. Many black feminists spoke about thepatriarchal assumption of the male.
However, black feminism rooted in thestruggle of generations of black women continues to play a vital role and alsothere has to be a working dialogue between the white feminists and the blackfeminists to continue to develop a theory and action which strives towards theend of sexism.