Stepping out of the Third Wave: A Contemporary Black Feminist Paradigm

By Howard-Bostic, Chiquita D. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Stepping out of the Third Wave: A Contemporary Black Feminist Paradigm


Howard-Bostic, Chiquita D., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction: Toward Difference and Consensus Building

This essay has a three-fold purpose. First, I define black feminist dialogue. Second, I posit that the 'wave analogy' of historical feminist discourse is both problematic and untenable to past and present roles of black feminist scholars and activists. Finally, I introduce viewpoints offered by Black feminists from 1990 to the present, many of whom are radically different or challenge past generations of Black feminist thought. I conceptualize these active mechanisms of theory and practice as a distinct paradigm or movement for women of color. This movement holds 'difference' and 'consensus building' on the platform of social action. Using a contemporary Black feminist voice, I explore how contemporary Black feminists advocate for political, social, and economic change in the United States and globally.

What is Black feminist Dialogue?

Black feminist dialogue is process of identifying self-conscious struggles that empower women and men to actualize a humanist vision of community. When we engage in dialogue, we create a collage of meaning and simultaneously spoken voices that should be interpreted as both modes of social action and knowledge that is self-proclaiming. Regardless of our viewpoint, the ultimate historical and current goal of Black feminists is to create a political movement that not only struggles against the 'racial construction of sexuality,' but that also seeks to develop institutions to protect the minds and bodies of Black women with multiple experiences (Higginbotham 1992, 263). Hence, the context and meaning of this dialogue becomes situated within systems that we urge, be broken down through the insertion of knowledge characterizing the reality of life for women of color.

Black feminists have broadened the scope of coalition building beyond the context of knowledge and consciousness building. This contemporary stage of Black feminism expands notions of liberatory action. Engaging a consensus-guided form of generating social change, we absorb and disseminate education in ways that promote freedom and divert oppression for all women of color. We have exposed the system of interlocking domination and oppression, and have uncovered radical notions of superiority and white privilege that impact society as a whole.

Black feminism has evolved into a more generous paradigm of thought. Rather than embellish the definitive nature of ourselves, we center our notion of collective consciousness within multiple standpoints of difference. In other words, we support the creation of new meaning that operates to generate social change. Our mission is larger than self-actualization. We understand that one cannot create space for herself without transforming the space situated around her. Hence, we persist to fight against the distortion of female identity maintenance and formation, while we simultaneously establish a space for new, multi-cultural, racial, and sexual images in the context of the system of domination that we co-exist in.

Black feminist dialogue continues to fight against an interlocking system as a matrix of domination. Self-definitions and valuations, confrontation, and intellectual though remain at the surface of our conversation (Hill-Collins 1990). However, we have learned that the richness of both consensus and coalition-building is an approach necessary to solve critical problems.

The Challenge: Stepping toward the Third Wave

Some researchers claim that feminist movements have been counterproductive to women's liberation. These researchers fail to understand that cultures of domination create a context for exposing weak relationships. It has been necessary for feminisms to transition through various modes of difference. New meanings are created by demonstrating 'difference' as it relates to the existing structure. I hereby expose the hidden argument nested in claiming counterproductive features of feminist thought: In a stratified society, illustrations of strength held by one group blindly imply weaknesses held by another.

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