2 The Dialectics of Black Womanhood

Bonnie Thornton Dill

A new scholarship about black women, strengthened by the growing acceptance of black and women's studies as distinct areas of academic inquiry and by the need to refute myths and stereotypes about black women and black family life which helped shape social policies of the mid-1960s, is examining aspects of black family life that have been overlooked or distorted. Several studies have argued that a historical tradition of work forms an essential component in the lives of Afro-American women. 1 Beginning from that premiss, this paper seeks to demonstrate that the emphasis on women's work role in Afro-American culture has generated alternative notions of womanhood contradictory to those that have been traditional in modern American society. 2

These new models project images of female sexual and intellectual equality, economic autonomy, and legal as well as personal parity with men. While they represent a new direction in the social ideology, they reflect an aspect of life that has been dominant for generations among many Afro-American women. Dialectical analysis enables us to clarify and illuminate this contradiction, and could provide theoretical direction to the new scholarship. But understanding the dialectics of black womanhood first requires rethinking several areas of scholarship about black women and their families.

This is a revision of a paper presented at the Seventieth Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, 25-9 Aug. 1975, San Francisco. I would like to thank Elizabeth Higginbotham and Carroll Seron for their helpful comments and criticism. Reprinted by permission of the University of Chicago Press from Signs, 4/3 ( Spring 1979), 543-55.


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