Cheryl Higashida, Black Internationalist Feminism: Women Writers of the Black Left, 1945-1995

By Boyce-Davies, Carole | Labour/Le Travail, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Cheryl Higashida, Black Internationalist Feminism: Women Writers of the Black Left, 1945-1995


Boyce-Davies, Carole, Labour/Le Travail


Cheryl Higashida, Black Internationalist Feminism: Women Writers of the Black Left, 1945-1995 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press 2011)

A WELL-DOCUMENTED and timely work, Cheryl Higashida's Black Internationalist Feminism: Women Writers of the Black Left, 1945-1995 advances our knowledge of radical Black internationalism as it accounts for the contributions of women writers who were also activists and major contributors to that formulation. Her focus is on the later years--1945-1995--a time just after the larger development and attempted eradication of left movements in the United States. Higashida provides therefore the kind of gender balancing that makes the full story of Black radicalism reveal itself, especially since in its initial formulation this is seen as a largely male movement.

Higashida's work is organized into six chapters and an introduction that sets up a definition of Black Internationalist Feminism. There is also an opening chapter, "The Negro Question, the Woman Question, and the 'Vital Link': Histories and Institutions," which puts in conversation these two communist formulations. Each of the succeeding chapters focuses on a specific writer: Loraine Hansberry, Alice Childress, Rosa Guy, Audre Lorde, and Maya Angelou. The author demonstrates that just as the Black male radicals struggled with the idea of the "class struggle vs. negro-ology," these women found a way to bring together the issues of the "negro question" and the "woman question" in their very being.

I have found Higashida's introduction and Chapter 1, both of which provide important definitions of Black Internationalist Feminism, very useful in my continued thinking on this issue. Higashida indicates that her work "reconceptualizes the relationships between Left, Civil Rights, Black power and second wave Black women's movements." (4) This includes rethinking the opposition between nationalism and Black feminism and above all reinserting transnationalism into Black feminist frameworks. Thus her formulation: "What I call Black internationalist feminism challenged heteronormative and masculinist articulations of nationalism while maintaining the importance, even centrality of national liberation movements for achieving Black women's social, political, and economic rights." (2) She is at pains as well to define what she means by "Left," although she relegates the definition to one of her footnotes. Still, it is a definition worth considering as future scholars re-engage these earlier movements. It goes as follows: "I use "Left" to designate Communist and Communist-affiliated individuals and groups. I use "left" to refer to the broader spectrum of radical movements beyond the Communist Party. (178, note 3) The distinction she makes rhetorically is via capitalizing the "L" in "left" for the former, the stricter organizational structures of CPUSA and lowercasing it for the affiliated groups. Still she claims that the latter, i.e. the Communist-affiliated Black Left, which she here capitalizes in this instance, was the ideological home for many of the postwar Black women writers and activists, and therefore she wants to retain it for definitional purposes.

The value of Higashida's work is that writers like Lorraine Hansberry and Alice Childress are identified solidly, in terms of their activism and their creative work, as Communist Party activists. One remembers, for example, Harold Cruse's The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967) attack on Hansberry as a spoiled bourgeois who wondered naively into left politics and the fact that in the rest of his work, he failed to recognize the women who were actively involved in left movements. Higashida's work offers an important corrective to the tendency to see left activists as simply Caribbean radical men, as Cruse framed them.

That Rosa Guy is included here is significant since we learn she had a much larger role than being an author of young adult literature. …

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