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Subject: Review: Collins, Black Feminist Thought

Subject: Black Femenist Thought (Collins)

Date: Thu, 13 Apr 1995 21:25:24 -0500
Reply-To: jlgord@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu

             Patricia HIll Collins,BLACK FEMINIST THOUGHT

                Reviewed by Janelle L. Gordon jlgord@rs6000cmp.ist.edu

                       Illinois State University

     There are a select few groups in America today that are in someway
represented by or can at least adhere to a kind of doctrine.  White women
have the feminist doctrine, Black men have Afrocentrism, and Euro white
men are the dominant culture in society so their Eurocentric views are
already considered the norm.  As for Asian-Americans,they are usually lumped
with the white/male female views.  Latinos on the other hand are considered
too vast (Mexicans, Peurto Ricans, Latins) to have any specific doctrine.
What America has failed to recognize is that everything is not just a black
or white nor an either/or situation.  Society has forgotten the possibility
of a "both/and conceptual stance," and has therefore left out the
Afrocentric feminist viewpoint.  It was only a matter of time before this
injustice to Black women was stopped.  Patricia Hill Collins virtually takes
on society as she tries to recapture the silenced voice of African-American
women in the long overdue publication of BLACK FEMINIST THOUGHT.
     One of the things I like most about the book is that you are not left
wondering `where is she comming from.. or what approach is she going to take
now.' In the Preface Ms. Collins devotes a significant amount of pages
discussing her reasons for writing this context and the ideas behind it.

     The first concept Collins states in the Preface is the importance she
felt in presenting scholarly ideas mixed with everday life ideas in an
accessible way. Secondly she chooses to place Black women's ideas and
experiences at the center of analysis rather than framing their ideas
around white, middle- class, Western feminist tenets as is usually done.
This in turn encourages white feminists, African-American males, and any
others to see the differences as well as the similarities that they share
with Black feminist ideals.  Thirdly is her use of quotations from famous
intelectuals such as Maria Stewart, Soujourner Truth, and Alice Walker to
blues singer Aretha Franklin, to the `every day ' Black women who is famous
in her right. By using a multiple of voices Collins negates any possible
view that only a few exceptional Black women can theorize which "homogenizes
African American women and silences the majority"(xiii).  Another concept is
the methodology.  By incorporating her social scientific theoretical
ideas and the everyday actions of the Black women in her life, Collins is
able to produce a rich and well rounded volume. Collins also states how she
specifically focuses on the authenticity of Black feminst thought rather
than stressing any contradictions and inconsistencies. She does this not
to give a biased viewpoint, but rather as a means to bring the unheard-of-
Black feminist doctrine into existence and to be taken with serious
consideration.  Finally, writing this book was a way of showing others as
well as Collins herself that subjectivity and objectivity can produce
scholarship.  She does this by using words such as "I" "we," and "our"
instead of the distancing terms she was taught such as "they" and "one." I
think this is a very effective approach because it personalizes herself and
the plight of all Black women with whomever reads the book.  All of these
concepts and ideas boil down to what Collins calls an Afrocentric feminist
epistemological approach.  It is in this approach that Collins points out
the crucial role in the relationship of feminism to Black women. It is here
that she discovers the "both/and conceptual stance of Black feminist thought
allowing her to be both objective and subjective, to possess both an
Afrocentric and a feminist consciousness, and to be both a respectable
scholar and an acceptable mother" (Collins,xiv).
      Individuality is still strongly emphasized.  Collins in no way
professes to be the "voice" of African-American women- each woman must learn
to speak for herself.   BLACK FEMINIST THOUGHT is merely one work of a much
larger process, and Patricia Hill Collins is one voice of a silenced many.
This one voice is aiming to discern the relationship of Black feminist
ideology to "knowlege, consciousness, and empowerment."
    Many people who are not black nor female might be turned off by the title
of the book, but don't sell Ms. Collins short.  BLACK FEMINIST THOUGHT is
much more complex than one would believe.  It is not merely a dissertation
of the ideas and concepts of Black women.  Collins spends little time
castigating white feminists or Black men for their failures in regard to to
Black women as she could easily have done.  BLACK FEMINIST THOUGHT is an
incorporation of everyone's ideas with the Black female at the center and
rightfully so. According to Collins there are many components that make up
the definition of a Black feminist. One that I especially liked is that of
the interdependence of thought and action.  Many claim that the black
women's standpoint is either thought or action because  merging the two
would limit the efficacy of both. But in Collins' view Black women need to
possess a both/and  concept since they live as both African-Americans and as
women. Being black and a women does not automatically mean you are a Black
feminist. Every group, that is white men, black men, white women, and all
other races, is needed to produce this ideology. Black feminist thought is
really not a `black thing or a female thing... it is a human thing.
Chapter  two illustrates this point and gives a perfect definition of Black
feminist thought. Taken from the ideas of such thinkers like Alice Walker,
Anna Julia Cooper, bell hooks, and others: Black feminism is a "process of
self-conscious struggle that empowers women and men to actualize a humanist
vision of community" (Collins, 39).
     The suppression of Black women is a major theme in the analyzation of
Black feminist thought.  There are three interdependent dimensions of this
theme the first one being: the exploitation of Black women's labor.  Collins
discussion focuses on the long-standing ghettoization of Black women in
service occupations.  Black women's labor was originally exploited since
slavery, yet the millions of Black women still ghettoized in the inner
cities merely represents the continuation of Black women's exploitation.
Secondly is the manner in which this oppression has denied African-American
women the rights and privileges routinely given to other groups. For example
in the past underfunded segregated Southern schools were known for ensuring
the impossibility of Black women to achieve quality education.  This same
political dimension is still seen today in the large numbers of school
dropouts of African-American women even before reaching full literacy.  The
final dimension of Black women's oppression that Collins expounds upon are
the controlling images given to Black women from the slave era.  These
images range from mammies and Jezebels to smiling Aunt Jemima's on pancake
boxes and of course the welfare mothers of contemporary popular culture.
Such stereotypical images applied to African -American women has been
fundamental to Black women's oppression.  Unfortunately, what Collins also
points out is the fact that the feminst theory has played a role in
suppressing Black, Latino, Asian-American, and Native-American women's ideas
as well.  They have eexcluded Black women from academic discourse and white
feminist arenas.  Not only have the feminist suppressed Black women but also
black male-run organizations such as SNCC, SCLC,etc.  Historically, Black
women have not held leadership positions and have had to literally fight to
have Black women's issues discussed.
     Furthermore, chapter four continues the idea of "mammies, matriarchs,
welfare mothers and others as contolling images given to African-American
women.  Collin's states how these images have been essential to political
economy in order to dominate Black women.  The objective of stereotypes is
"not to reflect or represent a reality butr to function as a disguise, or
mystification, of objective social relations" (Collins, 68).  These images
are set up to make such things as racism, sexism, and poverty appear normal.
These images serve to objectify Black women, thus make them the "other" in
society rather than treating them as subjects like everyone else.  I found
this chapter to be especially compelling.  Collins points out that a core
theme of Black intellectuals is to "deconstruct these images of
African-American women as "contented mammies...matriarchs, Jezebels (whores or
sexually aggressive women),and welfare mothers" by challenging such
institutions as schools, media, and government agencies who are greatly
responsible for portraying Black women as the `other' and pitting them
against white women and the rest of society. By constructing an Afrocentric
Feminist Aesthetic for Beauty, Collins does not advocate the current
either/or standards which would proclaim Black women `beautiful' and white
women `ugly.' Instead we can have a "both/and ideology and thus promote
harmony.BLACK FEMINIST THOUGHT is a well- researched, thoughtful and
comprehensive coverage of the little-known intelectual tradition of black
women in the United States.
     I realize that following mainstream ideas is easier than
challenging them, and that for the majority something new is usually feared.
But, Black feminist ideology is a mainstream idea that has been imprisoned
for years, but can no longer be silenced.  Thanks to Patricia Hill Collins
the chains of Black feminist thought have finally been broken--but this
is just the beginning.


From ???@??? Wed Apr 03 19:07:34 1996
Reply-To: maswans@acadcomp.cmp.ilstu.edu
From: marji
Subject: Review: Collins, Black Feminist Thought

review removed per request of student

Date: Tue, 1 Apr 1997 16:29:01 -0600
From: marshall plumley
Subject: Black Feminist Thought (Collins)

     Collins, Patricia Hill. "Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge,
Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York 1991.

New York 1991
Reviewed by: Marshall Plumley

     Patricia Collins attempts in her book to define Black
feminist thought.  She begins with the politics that surround
Black intellectual writings and ideas.  This analysis reviews the
historical events surrounding what Collins feels are the
foundations of current Black feminist thought.  With this
completed Collins sets out to define what Black feminist thought
is.  This, followed by review of requirements for inclusion in
the intellectual group, sets the tone for a discussion and
extensive review of literature on core themes in Black feminist
thought.  Collins attempts to form, based on the above mentioned
analysis a Afrocentric Feminist Epistemology and the
politics surrounding Black female empowerment.
     When dealing with the politics that surround Black feminist
thought, Collins paints a vivid picture of oppression that has
helped define as well as limit Black feminist thought.  Three
interdependent "dimensions of oppression" have led to this
perspective.  Collins illustrates the exploitation of Black
women's labor as the economic dimension of oppression.  The
political dimension of oppression is evident in the unequal
treatment of women at the voteing booth as a whole in America in
particular of Black women's.  Finally, an ideological dimension
of oppression has
formed that places qualities on Black women that have been
formulated by stereotypes from the slave era to modern day
manipulations by the media.  Collins argues, and a good one it
is, that this interlocking system of oppression has led to a lack
of control by African-American women in defining themselves and
to a "suppression" of Black women intellectuals and their
     Collins goes on to attempt to define Black feminist thought
by arguing that it is the Black female experience that is the
foundation of thought.  The impression that struggle against the
system of oppression that exists is the most defining
characteristic is clear in Collins attempts to define Black
feminist thought.  All other "core" themes that Collins discuses
are anchored on this premise.  While Collins does make a somewhat
blanket statement about this, she acknowledges the realities of
variation among African-American women in how they respond to the
core set of themes based on individual experience.
     Collins defines Black feminist thought as consisting of
"theories or specialized knowledge produced by African-American
women intellectuals designed to express a Black women's
standpoint."  This standpoint haveing been derived from Black
female experiences in dealing with core themes, and the diversity
found among Black females who encounter these themes.  In sum, as
Collins would say, thought that binds everyday Black female
experiences with consciousness for the empowerment of Black
females.  Collins does take issue however with such an
exclusionary tone.  To Collins, and the authors she looks to for
guidance and affirmation, a more all-encompassing vision of Black
feminism must be conceptualized.  Collins assimilates numerous
Black female writers and intellectuals into the fold of this more
holistic definition.  Collins settles on "a process of self-
conscious struggle that empowers women and men to actualize a
humanist vision of community."
     The core themes that are at the base of Collins development
of Black feminist thought are addressed in the majority of the
book.  Collins addresses the affect of work and family on the
development of the Black female perspective, first.  The family
life of Black females has had a powerful affect upon the
viewpoints of Black females.  Collins challenges the assumptions
about the family structure and work habits of African-American
females on the grounds that the analysis thus far has been based
upon the white-male dominated viewpoint of nuclear families
removed work functions.  This, in Collins view is inappropriate
and serves to devalue Black female experiences.
     Collins traces the overlooked connections between work and
family that have been destroyed, thereby shaping Black female
experiences through four historical periods.  During the period
of slavery in this country, link between work and family for Black
females begins to break down but is for the most part retained.
Collins points to variations in this theme however.  Under slavery
work was done not for the benefit of family and children but for
owners. In addition Black women no longer defined the nature of
their work.  This shift in work would later stereotype Black
women and contribute to the economic oppression of Black females.
In the period following the Civil War, the economic prospects for
Black women did not change.  While paid, the work was of a
domestic nature or agricultural.  The collective nature of Black
communities still predominated as opposed to the white
"capitalist market economies of competitive, individual,
industrial and monopoly capitalism."  It is at this stage that
the split begins that will later affect the African-American
community.  Black women were forced to remain in the work force
due to substandard wages available to Black men.
     The urbanization of America and the massive migration north
of Blacks in the early twentieth century resulted in a large
number of Black women, some 60%, haveing been relegated to
domestic work for white families.  Black men often only able to
find work in manufacturing centers allowed for two income Black
families and a small but growing Black middle class.  With the
decline of manufacturing jobs the two income family is perhaps no
longer a viable option for Black women in Collins opinion.  These
trends in institutional oppression that have shaped Black female
experiences are in need of re-articulation in Collins opinion.
She feels that it is possible that the Black middle and working
class may be made to "foster the other's oppression" if this re-articulation
does not occur.
     Collins correctly keys on the significance of what she terms
controlling images of Black women as instrumental in their
oppression.  The view of Black females as objects takes on two
characteristics that are illustrated by Collins.  The vision of
Black women as objects, whether property or in sexual context,
has resulted in the stripping of Black women of their ability to
define themselves.  Collins also challenges the image of Black
females as matriarch.  She rejects this on the grounds that this
controlling image was created as a mechanism of blame.  In this
white construct Black women are solely responsible for the
success or failure of Black children.  It does not address real
questions pertaining to institutional racism, failed education
systems, or economic inequality.  The image that is of most
significance to myself is that of the lazy welfare mother.
Collins argues that focusing on African-American women as the
source of their own poverty shifts the focus away from the real
issues of poverty.
     Collins look at Black women and motherhood is revealing in
that it illustrates an ongoing struggle between defining motherhood
in a way that conforms to the oppression and in a way that allows
for the self-definition and rejection of the images provided by
white Euro-centric dominated culture.  Collins looks to women-
centered family networks and their ability to promote resistance
to oppression through strong community based child rearing as a
means of self-definition.  Within this women-centered community
mothers teach their daughters the skills for survival in a
hostile world.  This will in turn promote political activism.
This, according to Collins, is a way for Black females to
capitalize on the positive image of motherhood as a symbol of
power.  Collins links this core theme to that of Black female
political activism.  She outlines humanist vision of Black
feminist thought through writings of others and personal stories.
     The strongest chapter in "Black Feminist Thought," in its
impact on me and my understanding of just how powerful it has
been in defining the Black female experience, is the nature of
sexual politics and Black womanhood.  This chapter deals with
pornography, prostitution, and rape as inter-dimensions of a
sex/gender hierarchy of oppression.  These are intertwined with
the controlling images of Black women, fertility exploitation for
economic gain in the slave era, and the oppression related to
Black motherhood, to create of system of oppression that is highly
sexualized to the detriment of Black females.
     Collins relates pornography to earlier eras when Black
women's sexuality was exploited and defined in terms of
exhibitionism and deviant sexuality.  This lack of self
definition has, in Collins opinion, resulted in an inclusion of
Black women in pornography that is calculated and founded on
violence perpetrated against Blacks in slavery.  The depiction of
Blacks in pornography often takes place in settings of violence
and characterized by stereotypes.
     Prostitution is a further example of this objectification of
Black women.  The image if Jezebel, a creation based on the idea
that Black women are often sexually deviant feeds the system of
interlocking race, gender, and class oppression.  The forced
prostitution of Black women in the South under slavery again gave
us the image not of an oppressed individual or group but of a
less than human "other" deserving of such treatment.
     Rape and sexual violence, the means of enforcing the system
of oppression on Black women, is well illustrated by Collins.
The stereotyping of Black men as wild beasts serves as
justification for acts of violence against men such as lynching
and castration.  Rape against women became the primary means of
breaking the Black females will to resist during the slavery era,
with the images of prostitutes and Jezebels haveing been weak
     Collins sets the goal from the beginning to show that Black
women have a tradition of self-definition and self-expression.
It has been the class, gender, and race oppression that has
served to restrict the outflow of this information.  Collins
calls on Black feminist intellectuals to promote these qualities
of Black females in order to stimulate activism and institutional
change.  In essence if the power of oppression, haveing been as
strong as it has been in this country, cannot crush the spirit of
Black women then the world in malleable and can be changed.
     Since this is the first book on feminism I have read I am
sure I have not done the subject justice.  I encourage all to
read it.  The depth of the feelings discussed in this book are
incredible.  Collins does a good job of defining what she feels
is Black feminist thought.  For clarity's sake I wish someone
would define just exactly what an intellectual is.  It seems to
put a value of opinion on certain types of Black feminist thought
even though Collins relies on common experiences to form the core
themes or base of Black feminist thought.  While it is impossible
to argue that oppression has not defined Black feminist thought I
am curious to know what Collins would say about any other factors
involved.  She mentions no other contributors except gender,
race, and class oppression.  While I believe she admits they
exist I think they may have a stronger role in defining Black
feminist thought than what she gives them credit for.

Marshall Plumley
"what dark time is comeing,
what dark time is near."