The African American Feminists In My World

Dr. Cheryl Hicks

Dr. Hicks was my honors thesis advisor, I worked with her during the summer through the Charlotte Research Scholars program, and she is now my graduate advisor. Her work, (including her First book) addresses issues of race, class, and gender. Dr. Hicks makes visible the diversity in turn of the century New York and gives voice to working-class women of color. She also teaches classes about race in America here at UNCC.

I have never spoken to Dr. Hicks specifically about being a feminist; however, because of her work and because of the texts she has recommended to me, I see her as a feminist. Dr. Hicks has been an invaluable source of knowledge and advice in my life and I owe her a huge debt of gratitude. I’m sure that others here and at the previous schools she has taught at, have been similarly influenced and inspired by her work. I believe that Dr. Hicks is representative of the academic wing of intellectuals that Patricia Hill-Collins discusses as being an important part of developing the modern iteration of Black feminism.

Wanda Williams

A second powerful African American feminist inspiration in my life is my mother’s best friend, Wanda Williams. Growing up, I admired Wanda because to my eye she always seemed independent, dressed to the nines, and reliable. Whenever we, or anyone else who knew her, needed anything, Wanda was always there. She is very active in her church, Greater Young Zion Baptist Church, in Augusta, Georgia. My family, mostly women, often attends the service focused on women that the Church has after their female members return from their women’s conference. Wanda, a career woman, has been working for the same company for over thirty years.

Again, I have never spoken to Wanda about feminism or whether she considers herself to be a feminist, but I see her as one. I know that Wanda has had a powerful influence on many women’s lives, including my own, her two step-daughters, and countless friends and family members who she has helped throughout the years. As a child, Wanda was among the first African Americans to integrate the schools in the rural area of Georgia where she grew up. I interviewed her about this groundbreaking time for an oral history project I had and she emphasized that her parents always taught them that being second-class citizens was not acceptable. The local hamburger joint, for instance, would only serve black customers at the backdoor; young Wanda, however, found herself jealous of all the people who got to eat there at all, because her mother would not allow them to eat anything from a place that would not treat them as equals to their white counterparts. I believe that everyday women in the community, like Wanda, are indicative of the type of feminism that is sometimes undefined but plays, perhaps, an even more important role within the community.

Including Black Feminist Perspectives in “Mainstream” Online Feminist Discourse

In this article, Jezebel Group Think member and blogger, Cate Young, expresses her frustration with white feminist bloggers’ willingness to ignore the issues of race that Miley’s VMA performance raised, in favor of discussing the slut-shaming going on post-performance. After listing some of the problematic racial messages within the performance, Young bluntly states, “it is very clear to me, that Miley thinks that black women’s bodies are to be enjoyed, devalued and put on display for entertainment purposes.” Young goes on to share comments, tweets, and insights, her own and others’ from around the web, on the historical issues of black women’s agency, the sexualization of the black female body, and minstrelsy.  Later, she discusses the association of “rachet culture” with a monolithic idea of “black culture” and concludes that, “(i)t is reductive and racist to present one subset of black culture as indicative as the whole.” The article goes on to discuss many other important points and definitely deserves a full read through.

After reading Young’s article, I understood the truth and intelligence of her critique of Miley’s performance and appreciated her taking the time to lay out all the problematic issues from the perspective of a woman of color. To exclude or dismiss intersectional issues of race, class, sexuality, etc. is to diminish the importance and relevancy of third-wave feminism. This is clearly not an issue limited to Young’s experience, either. A plethora of other blog entries by women of color, like “I’m sorry, did my existence hurt your feminism?”, which discusses the lack of concern over race-related issues within “mainstream” feminist discussion of pop culture (re: Miley, Iggy Azalea, Lily Allen, etc.), or “Why We Can’t Have Black Feminist Pop Icons”, which discusses how “mainstream feminism shuns Black celebrities for the very things they laud their White peers for,” makes one question how far the struggle to create an inclusionary feminism has really come since black suffragists were made to walk separate from their white counterparts in the 1913 suffrage parade.

What can a white feminist do to increase the awareness of issues that go beyond our own lived experiences? Jamie Nesbitt Golden’s advice on how to avoid becoming a “performance feminist” seems to offer the best insight:

“As the famed poet Dewayne Michael Carter once said, Real Gs move in silence, like lasagna. Let your work speak for you. When advocating on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, remember that they are human beings, not a cause to be advanced; let them tell their own stories in their own words. Use your online platform to facilitate discussions in good faith. If someone calls you out, graciously accept the criticism and learn from it. Talk less. Listen more.”

So, what does everyone think of the Miley controversy or other recent issues of cultural appropriation? I know the Miley performance is a little old, as fast as the news cycles move these days, but did it hit your radar after the VMAs?

Also, first post, *excite*  Image