Discovering Black Feminism, The Power of Female Relationships

It was this time one year ago that Milca and myself were in the midst of planning for The Africana. Our original goal and purpose for this blog was on an entirely different path from where it is today. Both of us being avid blog followers, we wanted to create a place where we could make use of our photography, mainly, and create a space that helped shape the way we experience, feel and live as WOC. Although we’re still in the midst of defining the Africana and creating an idea of where we want it to go, I feel as if we’ve both mentally changed from the place we were one year ago.

I’m still trying to understand the definition of black feminism. Or, at least, I’m still trying to create a clear idea of what I believe it is. In this past year, I’ve met, encountered or read the views of many who already do identify themselves as (black) feminists/womanists or demonstrate a clear interest and (some) understanding about black feminist thought. I’ve encountered these people in different forms – in person, via the Africana or on my own time; through their personal blogs where I’ve come to discover their politic views and thoughts, or even on this website – supporting Milca and myself, and/or criticizing.

Defining Black Feminism

Let me clarify that I am not defining black feminism but more so providing a revelation of my understanding of what it is, as a woman who is coming to discover it. I’ve been reading Patricia Hill Collins Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, so you may notice a handful of her quotes, alongside a few others that have helped me discover a better understanding of black feminism:

“I am a Black Feminist. I mean I recognize that my power as well as my primary oppressions come as a result of my blackness as well as my womaness, and therefore my struggles on both of these fronts are inseparable.” —Audre Lorde

“The potential significance of Black feminist thought goes far beyond demonstrating that African-American women can be theorists. Like Black feminist practice, which it reflects and which it seeks to foster, Black feminist thought can create a collective identity among African-American women about the dimensions of a Black women’s standpoint. Through the process of rearticulating, Black feminist thought can offer African-American women a different view of ourselves and our worlds” —Patricia Hill Collins, “Distinguishing Features of Black Feminist Thought,” Black Feminist Thought

“First, Black feminist thought fosters a fundamental paradigmatic shift in how we think about oppression. By embracing a paradigm of race, class, and gender as interlocking systems of oppression, Black feminist thought reconceptualizes the social relations of domination and resistance. Second, Black feminist thought addresses ongoing epistemological debates in feminist theory and in the sociology of knowledge concerning ways of assessing “truth.” Offering subordinate groups new knowledge about their own experiences can be empowering. But revealing new ways of knowing that allow subordinate groups to define their own reality has far greater implications.” —Patricia Hill Collins, ‘Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix of Domination..’

“A definition of Black feminist thought is needed that avoids the materialist position that being Black and/or female generates certain experiences that automatically determine variants of a Black and/or feminist consciousness. Claims that Black feminists thought is the exclusive province of African-American women, regardless of the experiences and worldview of such women, typify this position. But a definition of Black feminist thought must also avoid the idealist position that ideas can be evaluated in isolation from the groups that create them. Definitions claiming that anyone can produce and develop Black feminist thought risk obscuring the special angle of vision that Black women bring to the knowledge production process.”—Patricia Hill Collins, Defining Black Feminist Thought

“In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt and distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change” — Audre Lorde

“The process begins with the individual woman’s acceptance that American women, without exception, are socialized to be racist, classist and sexist, in varying degrees, and that labeling ourselves feminists does not change the fact that we must consciously work to rid ourselves of the legacy of negative socialization.” — bell hooksAin't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism

“Visionary feminism is a wise and loving politics. It is rooted in the love of male and female being, refusing to privilege one over the other. The soul of feminist politics is the commitment to ending patriarchal domination of women and men, girls and boys. Love cannot exist in any relationship that is based on domination and coercion. Males cannot love themselves in patriarchal culture if their very self-definition relies on submission to patriarchal rules. When men embrace feminist thinking and preactice, which emphasizes the value of mutual growth and self-actualization in all relationships, their emotional well-being will be enhanced. A genuine feminist politics always brings us from bondage to freedom, from lovelessness to loving.” ― bell hooks

The Power of Female Relationships

I’m under the realization and belief that WOC who dedicate themselves to combating and challenging their role as women of colour in this society benefit greatly from female relationships. The female friendships I have formed in the past few years – the women who are like sisters to me – have helped me to learn to love, not just them, but to approach new friendships with open arms and trust. They have provided me support in various situations, particularly in regards to my identity. They have helped me find answers to questions that I couldn’t answer, and, with their love, made me feel at strength when difficult, traumatic and racist experiences have occurred in my life. They have spent hours listening to my perspectives, correcting me when I’ve been wrong and provided me the support I’ve desired and needed when I’ve felt at war with this society.

But most importantly, they have assured me that I am not alone with any of the difficulties I have faced as a woman, or a woman of colour.

I’ve spent many hours with the women in my life, sharing, discussing and opening up about a realm of topics and subject matter, regarding our personal lives and also with our new found philosophies. With one of these women, who I identify as the sister I’ve never had, we spoke about how empowered we feel when we leave each other’s presence after long discussions about race, gender, relationships and identity. How beautiful is that? How empowering is that?

I’m bringing this up because these relationships I have formed with other women who identify themselves as feminists/womanists (of different forms) have helped me realize that as we battle/fight against the grain in the methods that we do, I have love and support from a team of women who all identify with me as individuals who feel displaced in this white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchal (and heteronormative) society. I think that this is crucial for any of us who consider ourselves as activists and that one without such a crucial component to their activism can face the possibility of feeling isolation.

When I witness or experience tension with other WOC, who play a role in activism in some way or another, it deeply bothers me that we can’t set our personal dilemmas aside and look at the bigger picture. Who are we really fighting here? Who are our allies and who are our real “enemies”?
As Patricia Collins points out, our communities should stress connection, caring, personal accountability, creative power and focus on growth from within.

“The love expressed between women is particular and powerful because we have had to love in order to live; love has been our survival.” – Audre Lorde
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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