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Feminism in Color

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Message Dr. Lenore Daniels

Old Spider Woman is one name for this quintessential spirit, and Serpent Woman is another. Corn Woman is one aspect of her, and Earth Woman is another, and what they together have made is called Creation, Earth, creatures, plants, and light.

Paula Gunn Allen, The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions

There were well-meaning white students who had never had close contact with Negroes as peers and were anxious to increase their understanding of the racial problem" 'Tell me in five minutes what it is like to be black.'

Pauli Murray, The Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest, and Poet

'I am a black woman, which means that when I read I have a particular stance. Because it's clear to me that black people, black women, women, poor people, despite our marvelous resilience, are often prevented from being all they can be, I am also a black feminist critic.'

On my refrigerator, there's an old black-and-white photo of my late mother when she was very young, her in early twenties. She's wearing the uniform of a nurse. She's looking into the camera but sits, poised, slightly to her left. Both hands rest on one knee. Much later, I remember hearing from some relative that my mother worked in a doctor's office, as his nursing assistance, until I was born. My mother would have been twenty-two years old then.

By the time I'm school age, my mother works as a maid in a family's home, somewhere away from our home, my grandfather's basement flat on the Southside of Chicago. The same for her sister, my late aunt. She works in housekeeping at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. By my early teen years, I become acquainted with an aunt on my father's side, who also works in housekeeping at the Conrad Hilton Hotel downtown. Her sister owns her own beauty shop in a basement flat on the Southside. Many a Saturdays I had my hair washed and "pressed" before I decided to go "natural."

Another aunt, at the time, was a seamstress. I can't remember the details of this "piecemeal" operation she ran out of her apartment, but I do recall seeing her frail body struggling for air whenever she suffered an asthma attack.

Not one of these women would have considered themselves feminist. The word feminism would have been associated with the young white women out there in California somewhere. Feminism would have had nothing to do with them. As devoted Catholics (my mother and her sister) and Baptist (my aunts on my father's side), Roe v. Wade would have meant nothing more than a way for white women to control nature and defy God's law regarding a woman's duty!

But as far as working outside the home, I can see them, each, shaking their heads, smiling. That is life!

These are the women who immediately came to mind when, years later, while re-reading Sojourner Truth's autobiography, I asked, at a meeting of faculty, predominantly white and female, about teaching a black feminist course. The chair, white and a younger woman, sat across the room. I had taught women of color for nearly ten years by then, and most were feminist writers, but I had never taught a course that specifically examined not just the works of feminist writers, but also the theory, which is pretty straightforward.

Justice! A commitment to the achievement of social justice for black people, and by extension, all of humanity, all species on Earth. Opposition to violence, to oppression of any kind. An eradication, bell hooks has written, of all systems of domination.

To be a black feminist is to learn not to hate.

(Image by (From Wikimedia) Unknown author, Author: Unknown author)
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When I thought about the women in my family, I saw Sojourner Truth standing at that podium in Akron, Ohio, before an audience of mainly white women. Truth was pleading for inclusion of the black woman in the suffrage battle. She had been 40 years an enslaved woman and bore 13 children, and she witnessed the selling of those 13 children. Ain't I a woman?

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Activist, writer, American Modern Literature, Cultural Theory, PhD.

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