By Briana Whiteside
Earlier this week, I was having a conversation with my brother about my upcoming project concerning black women characters in the works of Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler. I mentioned that I would be positioning my work in feminist theory as it serves as a lense to view uncanny black women characters. Almost immediately he stated, “if you tell me you are a feminist I will stop talking to you. They are women who participate in men bashing and they just hate men.”
Yesterday, while I was at the gym a young Nigerian man approached me who I often have short conversations with and started to talk about literature. He asked what type of project I was working on and I told him “black feminism” and he said “Whoa, I would prefer you to study womanism because feminism is isolated.”
From these remarks, I noticed some men have a fear of feminism, more specifically, black feminism because they assume that feminists either hate men or that they participate in exclusionary rituals. Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought, however, addresses some of these misconceptions about black feminism and explains that black feminism is a sisterhood, it offers comfort and security for black women of a collective identity. As the Combahee River Collective Statement, which is reprinted in the anthology notes, “the reaction of black men to feminism has been notoriously negative.
They are even more threatened than black women by the possibility that black feminists might organize round our own needs. They realize that they might not only lose valuable and hard-working allies in their struggles, but that they might also be forced to change their habitually sexist ways of interacting with and oppressing black women.”
Black feminism exists because no other movement had examined the multilayers of black women’s lives fully, consistently, and exclusively. “To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough,” notes the Combahee River Statement, for black feminists who actually strive to provide inclusionary tactics for black women. Some of the negative implications surrounding black feminism may surface from the lack of understanding, unwillingness to recognize, and laxity to identify the importance of communal spaces for black women.
Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Black Studies Program.