Women and the Politics of Empowerment

By Ann Bookman; Sandra Morgen | Go to book overview

2
Building in Many Places: Multiple Commitments and Ideologies in Black Women's Community Work

Cheryl Townsend Gilkes

Popular perspectives on Black communities and their problems often fail to comprehend the tremendous efforts at internal transformation that exist alongside persistent efforts to combat racism. Historical struggles against diverse expressions of institutional racism such as slavery, Jim Crow, ghetto poverty, and political disenfranchisement, for example, have also addressed internal problems and conflicts that would impede participation, autonomy, self-reliance, and dignity. For instance, many Black abolitionists were also involved in educational and benevolent organizations that were working for the survival of Black communities. The legal and direct actions of the civil rights movement existed side by side with activities designed to educate and empower Black communities. The Urban League worked to transform external economic structures that peculiarly oppressed, exploited, and excluded Black people at the same time as it developed a corps of Black social workers whose efforts would enhance the success of Black women and men in the labor force. Historically, a struggle for social justice and institutional transformation never developed without a struggle for group survival. The struggle to transform white racist attitudes and intergroup antipathies was inextricably linked to concerted efforts to foster social uplift and self-esteem.

Women have been central to this work for social change in the wider society as well as for survival and uplift within the Black community. Their consciousness highlights the strategic importance of women to the emergence and mobilization of what Nina Caulfield called "cultures of resistance." 1 Black women see the consequences of racism not only in their own lives as Black women but in the lives of their husbands and other male relatives, of their

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