In my Black Feminism class, a course everyone should take, we discussed Alice Walker’s idea of Womanism. Although the discussion was rather mundane and did not give Walker her due justice, I was able to extract an analysis of her concept which I will redevelop, briefly, here.
Before discussing my thoughts on the dichotomy that often permeates the discourse entre womanism and feminism, a working definition for both concepts needs to be established. Walker offers a multi-layered explanation outlining Womanism- which I won’t fully delve into. However, in a brief summation, Walker named her child the opposite of frivolous , the cultivation of community, the demand of love- for all, the accepting of emotions, the survival of people, and a women who LOVES herself unconditionally. My summary does no justice to the original, but it provides a lens for reference.
Feminism, in the context of Black Feminism, can be defined as an analysis based on the understanding that the major forms of oppression- racism, sexism, and classism- are interrelated. In this context it allows for one, the reader- you, the opportunity to be cognizant of intersectionality. That’s another conversation.
Based off of the two definitions presented, can you make an intellectual guess as to why there may be a division between womanism and feminism?
In looking at feminism, even when annexed with Blackness, it is remissive in that it does not mention community. Historically and contemporarily, the Black woman is a key stakeholder in the communities in which she navigates. There is a dependency on the Black woman.
In mainstream feminism the dependency on the Black woman can be read as problematic, because once again her needs are being relegated to the margins. Yet in the reality of many Black women, family/community is an important aspect of their identity. That is one critique I hold of feminism; it does not fully recognize the experiences and realities of Black women. I could go even further to say that the process of cherry picking exist in applying a Black feminist lens. I hold that in order to accurately and fully analyze Black women, an Africana womanist or womanist lens should be used.
An Africana womanist lens looks at the traditionally studied intersectional identities- sex, gender, and class- nonetheless, it weighs equally Black women’s families, communities, Black men, and Black children. It focuses on the liberation of an entire people. While opponents to womanism, who are feminist, may argue that women aren’t focalized in this movement because other parties are introduced. I would contend that this is one of the major rifts in the fight for liberation between Black and white women. Liberation for white women- feminism- is equated to their freedom alone. Liberation for the Black woman- womanism- is bound up in the liberation of all Black people.
Now, there are Black women who disagree with the ideas expressed in womanism- that’s fine. But in looking at history, which we must always do in performing social science research, the identities of the Black community are tied-up into one another.
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