The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought
PATRICIA HILL COLLINS
A fro-American women have long been privy to some of the most intimate secrets of white society. Countless numbers of Black women have ridden buses to their white "families," where they not only cooked, cleaned, and executed other domestic duties, but where they also nurtured their "other" children, shrewdly offered guidance to their employers, and frequently became honorary members of their white "families." These women have seen white elites, both actual and aspiring, from perspectives largely obscured from their Black spouses and from these groups themselves. 1
On one level, this "insider" relationship has been satisfying to all involved. The memoirs of affluent whites often mention their love for their Black "mothers," while accounts of Black domestic workers stress the sense of self-affirmation they experienced at seeing white power demystified -- of knowing that it was not the intellect, talent, or humanity of their employers that supported their superior status, but largely just the advantages of racism. 2 But on another level, these same Black women knew they could never belong to their white "families." In spite of their involvement, they remained "outsiders." 3
This "outsider within" status has provided a special standpoint on self, family, and society for Afro-American women. 4 A careful review of the emerging Black feminist literature reveals that many Black intellectuals, especially those in touch with their marginality in academic settings, tap this standpoint in producing distinctive analyses of race, class, and gender. For example, Zora Neal Hurston's 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, most certainly reflects her skill at using the strengths and transcending the limitations both of her academic training and of her background in traditional Afro-American community life. 5 Black feminist historian E. Frances White ( 1984) suggests that Black women's ideas
Patricia Hill Collins, "Learning from the Outsider Within: The Social Significance of Black Feminist Thought", in M. Fonow and J. Cook, eds. Beyond Methodology. ( Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991): 35-59. Reprinted by permission.