Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Reassessing Africana Womanism: Continuity and Change

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Reassessing Africana Womanism: Continuity and Change

Article excerpt

Since Clenora Hudson-Weems broke new ground with her 1993 book Africana Womanism: Reclaiming Ourselves, discourse on the place and agenda of Africana women in the women's movement reflects the text's influence. In only six years, this work is in the second printing of its third revised edition. It has been adopted by faculty in several higher education institutions in as far away places as Africa, Brazil, Japan, and the Caribbean Islands. Adoption at national universities includes California State University-Long Beach, Florida A & M, Indiana State University, Northern Illinois University, San Francisco State University, Temple University, the University of Arizona, the University of Michigan, the University of Missouri-Columbia, and the University of Utah to name a few. This work has been lauded for having added a crucial viewpoint to the understanding of the complex landscape of recent literature on the construction of race in the evolution of the women's movement. With revisions and additions, Hudson-Weems challenges some of the ideological inaccuracies of the movement and has heightened her message of cultural identity and collective consciousness among Africana women as central to the ultimate goal of family survival.

Hudson-Weems coined the concept Africana womanism in the mid eighties, culminating in the 1989 publication, "Cultural and Agenda Issues in Academia: Critical Issues for Africana Women's Studies" (The Western Journal of Black Studies). Africana ties Africana women to their ancestral homeland and womanism evokes Sojourner Truth's open challenge to an all-white women's rights convention in 1852, where she was snubbed on the basis of her race. Her rebuttal, "And ain't I a woman," sparked a lasting attachment to the truth and worth of her words.

The paradigm of Africana womanism has its foundation in the dissimilarities between women of African descent and those of European origins. The establishment of the feminist movement hardly conceals the chasm between these two groups. One of its nineteenth century leaders, Carrie Chapman Catt, pushed for women's voting rights, while being sure to stress the preservation of white supremacy and racial purity (Hudson-Weems, Africana Womanism, 21). Thus, while the feminist movement evolved from its initial thrust to addressing womens civil rights and social injustice following slavery to sexual parity in the United States and then to worldwide concerns of sex discrimination of women in a world of male power and privilege, its exclusion of other important issues (i.e., race and class) resulted in the alienation of women of color (Hill Collins, 1996; Ntiri, 1993; Splawn, 1993).

This peripheralization of non-western women hastened this group's rejection of the central tenets of mainstream feminist ideology and necessitated the formulation of a perspective on the role and place of black women in the women's movement. Feminism came to be seen as problematic and incapable of addressing all the needs of all women all the time. Predicated on patriarchy-based, Western-oriented ideas, the basic premise of feminist ideology is rooted in historical hegemony and a separatist and non-inclusive agenda for Africana women.

This is the basis for Hudson-Weems' theory. She operationalizes her theory on the assumption that race is of paramount importance in any deliberations of or about Africana women. Since any discourse involving Africana people cannot escape the historical realities of Eurocentrism, oppression, and domination, it makes sense to articulate a clear and firm position that is inclusive of those realities. In this regard, Hudson-Weems states that

feminism was conceptualized and adopted by white women, reflecting an agenda which was designed to meet their particular needs. Therefore, black or African feminism that originates from mainstream feminist theory is in a sense a postscript or afterthought and therefore extremely problematic as labels for the true Africana woman. …

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