African-American Women's Feelings on Alienation from Third-Wave Feminism: A Conversation with My Sisters

Article excerpt

Introduction

Georgia Douglass Camp Johnson (1918), an African American female poet wrote, "The heart of a woman goes forth with dawn,/ as a lovebird, soft winging, so restlessly on./ A far o'er life's turrets and vales does it roam./In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home./ The heart of a woman falls back with the night/and enters some alien cage in plight./And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars,/while it breaks, breaks, breaks, on the sheltering bars.

Historically, middle-class White women have not appreciated the differences among themselves, Black women, and other women of color. Nor, have they acknowledged the unique challenges and issues confronting women of color as multiple oppressed people in terms of the impact of racism and sexism. Because feminism and feminist therapy are intertwined with gender, race, and politics, it is important to set this discussion of Black feminism and feminist therapy in the context of the historical path of the women's movement. Further, to truly understand the unique experiences of women of color, the dialogue must be broadened to include, for example, the history of the Black civil rights movements and the American Indian Movement (AIM).

From these historical data, themes emerge such as women of color's relationship to our personal and political histories and how it connects us to our foremothers, and our relationship with ourselves as women with an oppressive racial identity. Therefore, by tracing the similarities and historical elements that shaped both the Black civil rights and feminist movements, we broaden our understanding of feminist therapy as it relates to women of color, specifically African American women. Thus, the purpose of this article is to illustrate how African American women's experiences of racial and sexual discrimination in the Black and feminist liberation movements during the abolitionist and modern civil rights eras have negatively affected and limited African American females' participation in third-wave feminism.

The Black and the Women's Freedom Movements

The pervasiveness of racism and sexism that existed in the Black and women's liberation movements rendered Black women almost nonexistent in both worlds (Breines, 2002; Hull, Bell-Scott, & Smith, 1982; Oyewumi, 1999). As a consequence, those racist and sexist narratives remain in the consciousness of present-day African American feminists, specifically the older Black feminists, and this memory continues to be a strong force in alienating African American women, and other women of color from White feminist organizations. Nevertheless, the lack of participation with White women in women's liberation has been costly and detrimental to African American and White women's gains regarding gender issues.

In terms of the liberation movements, historically, women's protest has paralleled or followed the Black civil rights protest, which always surged up under the more intense and creel acts such as lynching in early 20th century--then late 1950s through 1968 (Zangrando, 1980). In the second half of the nineteenth century, the women's movement (first wave feminism) resembled the Black movement in its quest for equal rights. However, in contrast, the Black movement's issues of equality were more focused on the human atrocities such as lynching and massacres of African slaves.

Some authors have written that women involved in the first wave of feminism began the reform activities as champions for the rights of others (e.g., Tobias, 1997), whereas according to others, they were advocates for their own rights (e.g., Staples, 1972). Regardless of the view or motive, 19th century White women were strong supporters of charitable organizations, prison reforms, and the abolition of slavery (e.g. Sarah and Angelina Grimke) without them themselves having any status, respect, or power (Baxandall, 2001; Lerner, 1988).

During the 20th century, for a second time, the civil rights movement of the 1960s' ignited a resurgence of the women's movement (second wave feminism). …