Re-Constructing the Leadership Model of Social Justice for African-American Women in Education

By Grimes, Mary L. | Advancing Women in Leadership, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview
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Re-Constructing the Leadership Model of Social Justice for African-American Women in Education


Grimes, Mary L., Advancing Women in Leadership


The mainstream epistemology about women in educational leadership roles has been constructed, canonized, and theorized from a white hegemonic female perspective. The early literature about women as leaders include The Managerial Woman (Henning & Jardim, 1977); Men and Women of the Corporation (Kanter, 1977); Paths to Power (Josefowitz, 1980); The Androgynous Manager (Sargent, 1981); Women and Men as Leaders (Heller, 1982); In a Different Voice (Gilligan, 1982); and Feminine Leadership (Loden, 1985). This literature suggests that women lead from a different frame of reference due to their socialization process. Because of male dominated managerial customs that exist in the workplace, in some instances, they experience obstacles to leadership. Recent mainstream white female scholars like Shakeshaft (1989) and Bensimon (1989) suggest that the feminist perspective is not recognized in the leadership literature. Shakeshaft posits that women's leadership experiences are generalized into one category and that the leadership discussion appears androcentric in nature. Bensimon (1989) suggests that the prevailing leadership theories do not take into account that "women experience the social world differently than men do and that this translates into a particular epistemology and a particular ethic.it translates into a different experience of leadership.gender must be taken into consideration" (Bensimon, 1989, p. 146).

African-American women, on the other hand, experience the cultural, contextual, social, behavioral, and linguistic world differently than white females. To silence the African-American woman's voice in the leadership literature further marginalizes her and her experiences. Historically, African-American women in leadership have been the catalyst that provides mutual aid and support to the community by enriching the lives of countless families, preparing future scholars for the academy, and supporting economic and social justice efforts for the betterment of the community (Allen, 1997). Thus, the African-American woman's challenges to leadership cannot be studied against a white hegemonic construct.

Mitchem (2003) asserts that the African-American women's voice has been systematically silenced from the Western-culture perspective of leadership. Moreover, the influence on mainstream leadership literature is to silence the sounds from African-American women; to dismiss her voice, devalue her pain, disengage her voice, or oversimplify the black leadership paradigm in intellectual contexts (Mitchem, 2003). A working definition for social justice for this discourse comes from Lewis (2001). He argues that social justice is a means of "exploring the social construction of unequal hierarchies, which result in a social groups' differential access to power and privilege' (p. 189). The researcher explains that to effectively explore issues of social justice one must also engage in the deconstruction of unjust and oppressive structures that give power to such constructs as racism and sexism (Lewis, 2001). The purpose of this discussion is to deconstruct the idea that African-American women's experiences should be generalized into the white, hegemonic, mainstream leadership literature and to propose that leadership for social justice is a more accurate depiction of the African-American women's leadership paradigm.

Black Feminism- A Social Justice Discourse

Epistemologies about African-American women from a feminist context began to take shape in the late 1970s, when an emergent group of black women scholars began to challenge the androcentric bias in the literature about black history (Hine, 1992). Groundbreaking work by bell hooks (1981), Deborah Gray White (1985), and Patricia Hill Collins (1990) critically discussed the intersection of gender and racism in America. hooks' (1980) Ain't I a woman : Black women and feminism, discusses the impact of sexism on the black woman during slavery, the continued devaluation of black womanhood, black male sexism and racism within the feminist movement, and the black woman's involvement in the study of slave women on the plantation.

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