Sunday, February 7, 2021

Summary: Patricia Hill Collins / Black Feminist Thought

Summary: In "Black Feminist Thinking" Patricia Hill Collins describes the development and ways of shaping African-American political thinking. In addition, she describes the journey of black female intellectuals to the writings of African-American women, in order to raise them to the academic agenda, as well as the importance of the black feminist intellectual discourse today.


Characters that are mentioned a lot: Alice Walker (black feminist writer), Tony Morrison (black writer).

Keywords: oppression (racial, gender and class), activism, tradition, work, family, black femininity and its definitions.

Chapter One: The Politics of Black Feminist Thinking.

As the first American woman to lecture on political issues, Maria Stuart (a black intellectual) called on African-American women to reject the image of the physically and intellectually poor black femininity that stood out at the time, pointing out that racial and sexual oppression was the root cause of this poverty. She therefore encouraged these women to design for themselves definitions of self-confidence and independence as well as to produce a strong mechanism of political action. According to her, this power of self-determination is essential because the survival of these women is at risk. The basis for her claims was that she was aware of the sexual abuse that black women experience.

Maria Stuart is an example of a black intellectual whose words were suppressed and unheard. There are women who were better known, such as Alice Walker, thanks to the efforts of African-American educators. The meticulous process of gathering the ideas and activities of the women who were “thrown aside” (like Stuart) revealed an essential analytical basis of black women’s special perspective on self-identity, community, and society. This foundation has created an intellectual tradition with thematic continuity of black women.

One of the questions raised by Collins is why, then, this intellectual tradition has been invisible until now. Well, repressing knowledge produced by any oppressed group makes it easier for dominant groups to control, because a false absence of free consciousness in the oppressed can be considered as voluntary cooperation in making them a victim.

But despite this oppression, there are women who have struggled and managed to make their voices heard, for example Tony Morrison. This voice promoted resistance and activism of black women.

This dialectics of oppression and activism as well as the tension between the oppression of the ideas of black women and intellectual activism over this oppression, include the politics of black female thinking. More importantly for Collins, the definitions, central themes, and epistemological importance of this thinking were fundamentally established in the political context that I challenged itself to have.

The repression of black female thinking:

This oppression is described by Collins through three dimensions: economic, political and ideological.

Economically, these women are highly exploited in the field of labor ("mules" = mule, black labor: washing, ironing; identified with slavery and with black slavery). They have been systematically removed from intellectual work, and this situation is replicated, passed down from generation to generation.

Politically, the oppression of these women deprived them of rights and privileges such as a ban on voting, removal from public offices, and deprivation of fair and just treatment of the criminal justice system. The large number of young black women in inner cities and rural and poor areas who left school early represents the effectiveness of this dimension.

Ideologically, these women were subjected to false traits (negative stereotypes), which were used to justify oppression. For example: the whore, the "big mother", etc.

These dimensions were designed to keep African-American women in an assigned and inferior place. This system of oppression works to suppress the ideas of the intellectuality among these women and to protect the interests and worldview of the white male elite.

Feminist theory according to Collins also suppressed the ideas of these women. Even today the feminist movement is criticized for being racist and adapted only to issues of middle-class white women. Many white feminists show an unwillingness to change the paradigms that guide them despite the development of black thinking. The historical suppression of black women's ideas has a marked effect on feminist theory, as they challenge the Hegemony of the mainstream education on behalf of all women.

Despite all this, even when these black women stood up for their right to speak both as African-Americans and as women, historically they did not stand at the head of African-American organizations. Much of contemporary black feminist thinking stems from the growing willingness of black women to strive for gender equality among African-American organizations.

Forms of activism:

For African-American women, the knowledge gained through the intersection of racial, gender, and class oppression provides an incentive to shape the resistance of black women's culture.

The definition of "black femininity" allowed these women to use African conceptions of the self and community to oppose a negative assessment of that black femininity, which was promoted by dominant groups.

In fact, economic and political bondage created the conditions for black female resistance. While these women worked for white families, they were "outsiders-within." That is, they realized that they would never be a part of them, the whites. In this way, these women have a distant view of the contradictions between the workings of the dominant groups and ideologies. This position of “stranger within” functions to create a different direction of looking at the process of oppression.

The economic, political, and ideological dimensions of the oppression of black women that directly lead to the repression of black female intellectual tradition also foster the continuity of African culture (Afrocentric culture) and the creation of the "foreigner" position essential to black women's activism.

Black Feminist Intellectual Tradition Claim Back:

Current black women intellectuals are busy restoring their intellectual tradition. This claim requires discovery, reinterpretation, and analysis for the first time of the works of black intellectuals who have failed to cross the intellectual mainstream because of their extraordinaryness. It also requires challenging the existing definitions of intellectual discourse.

At the core of black feminist thinking are theories created by African-American women that clarify their starting point, and in fact: the interpretation of experiences and ideas by those who have experienced them.

The requirement of tradition includes examining the everyday ideas of black women, who are not necessarily considered intellectuals, such as artists, teachers, mothers, church members, and political activists.


The position of African-American women in the intellectual discourse in the economic, political, and ideological fields has fostered a unique feminist female intellectual tradition. The thematic content and epistemological approach of this thinking were shaped by "foreign women" on the inside, and by assimilating them into the traditional African-American tradition.

Chapter Three: The Oppression of Work, Family, and Black Women.

One of the central themes of black feminist thinking consists of the analysis of the work of black women, especially the labor market in which they become victims and are considered "mules" (= living machines). This labor market documentation comes to present the general pattern of gender and racial inequality.

By emphasizing the contribution of these women to the well-being of their families, such as family reunification and learning survival skills for children, some educators argue that these women see their unpaid domestic work as a form of resistance to oppression rather than a form of exploitation by men.

Examining the social status of black women does not match existing models, such as a class conflict model, because these models do not apply to their work, which is characterized by agricultural or domestic work (works that are not under a labor union, which the existing models focus on) and therefore seemingly outside the division fields. The existing theoretical class. Therefore the work of these women is another basic field, but also in it dialectical relations of oppression as well as activism appear.

Family and work - challenge the settings:

Racially divided labor markets, gender ideologies in divided labor markets and family units, and the racial, gender, and social position of black women within the capitalist class structure — all of these are embedded in every structure of black women's work. But the scientific models still do not fit them. Their families and way of life challenge hypotheses about a universal nuclear family: the poor family does not match the separation between the public dimension - belonging to work, and the private dimension - belonging to the family. This is because there is a need for support and sharing arrangements between family details.


In contrast to earlier periods, in which black women's work as a "mule" (= black work in today's terms) understood their oppression, in the post-World War II period differences in social status increasingly marked the experiences of black women with racial and gender oppression. Family and work experiences Shaped by the nature of racial, gender and class oppression. The author seeks solidarity between the lower-class black women (the laundresses, the cooks, etc.) and the middle-class women.

There has never been uniformity in experiences among African-American women, and today there are even fewer. What remains as a challenge to black feminist education is to identify the new patterns of institutional oppression that affect black middle-class women and lower-class women differently. If this does not happen, each group may be a tool in cultivating the oppression of others.

check out:

The Laugh of the Medusa / Helene Cixous 
Sherry Ortner /  Female to Male as Nature to Culture?

List of Great Feminist Theory Books