Last semester I took an African-American literature class. At the end of the class I wrote a research paper on the topic of black feminism. I think it turned out pretty well. Here are some selected segments of that paper. There are in-text citations and my sources are at the end of the post.
For political purposes, including all women of color in black feminism makes more sense than using the term African-American feminism. The institutionalized and systemic discrimination against women of color is based on snap judgments. No one goes through your history to discover your actual heritage, if your skin is dark and your hair is tightly curled, people will assume you are African-American. I have always been taught that the politically correct and more respectful way to designate a person with dark skin is African-American. Political correctness be damned; if for some reason I need to discuss someone’s skin color I should not have to make assumptions about their heritage or citizenship. It made me wonder if all the people who wrote the works we read this semester would have actually identified as African-American, or if history has forced this label upon them in an effort to be politically correct. As Tawana Petty, a Detroit-based author and activist says “I am looking for freedom from oppression, not a politically correct newer version of it.”
People tend to think of the black liberation movement and the women’s movement in the past tense, but there is still need for them today. Despite the Republican National Committee’s tweet that Rosa Parks had ended racism, racial discrimination is alive and well(Lapidos). We all know that women got the right to vote more than 40 years after black men did and that women make less money than men, but there are a lot of other problems that affect black women. Black women are over-represented in poverty, and under-represented in politics, business, and education.
37 million Americans are living in poverty; over half are women (Cawthorne). Across all racial and ethnic groups, women are poorer than men. In 2007, 13.8 percent of females were poor compared to 11.1 percent of men(Cawthorne). As a percentage of the population living in poverty, black women are the poorest group. 26.5 percent of black women are poor compared to just 9.4 percent of white men(Cawthorne). But even among women, people of color are more likely to be poor. Black women are more than twice as likely as white women to be living in poverty. 26.5 percent of African American women are poor compared to 11.6 percent of white women(Cawthorne).
Black female scientists are rare. African Americans make up 12 per cent of the US population, but only seven percent of women who received doctorates in the US in 2010 were black(Where are). According to research carried out by Donna Nelson of the University of Oklahoma, even in 2012 there are only four black female tenure-track physics professors employed at the top 100 research universities. The reason black female scientists are rare lies in stereotypes and discrimination. Tasha Inniss, who is now a mathematics professor recalls “trying not to come across as too smart” in high school(Where are). Many black women are influenced by stereotypes such as ‘only men do hard sciences’ or ‘people of colour are not as smart’. Tasha Innis says “If you buy into those, it’s hard to do well because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,”(Where are).
Black women are underrepresented in politics. Of the 535 voting members of Congress, only 14 are black women(African American Women). Only 2 of the 73 women in statewide elective executive are black(African American Women). Of the mayors of the 100 largest US cities, only one is a black female. Only 242 of 7,383 state legislators are black women (African American Women, Number of..).
Black women are underrepresented in business. Only 13 black executives have ever made it to the Chairman or CEO position of a “Fortune 500” listed company(African American CEO). Only one of these was a woman. Ursula Burns was the first black woman to head a Fortune 500 company. And she didn’t even gain this title until July 1, 2009(African American CEO). Discrimination in business is still an issue today.
It would be easy if there was one person we could point to as the cause for all these problems. If there was just one person to blame, it would make life simple. However, there is not just one person responsible for the injustice and inequality in America; racism and sexism are so ingrained in society that these problems are everyone’s fault and everyone’s problem.
“African American CEO’s of Fortune 500 Companies.” Black Entrepreneur Profile. 12 Aug.2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
“African American Women in Elective Office.” Center for American Women and Politics. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
Cawthorne, Alexandra. “The Straight Facts on Women in Poverty.” Americanprogress.org.Center for American Progress., 8 Oct. 2008. Web. 01 Dec. 2013.
James, Stanlie M., and Abena P. A. Busia. Theorizing Black Feminisms: The Visionary Pragmatism of Black Women. London: Routledge, 1993. Print.
Lapidos, Juliet. “The G.O.P.’s Racism Tweet.” Nytimes. 2 Dec. 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2013
“Number of State Legislators and Length of Terms.” National Conferene of State Legislators.Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
Petty, Tawana. “Why a Single, Struggling, Partially Employed, Barely Mobile, Black Mother of a Teenage Son Has Yet to “Occupy”” The Huffington Post. 28 Nov. 2011. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.
“Where Are All the Black Women in Science?” NewScientist. 19 Sept. 2012. Web. 01 Dec. 2013.