Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Womanism/ Black Feminism


The word womanism was adapted from Pulitzer Prize winning author, Alice Walker. In her book In Search of Our Mother’s Garden: Womanist Prose, Walker used the word to describe the perspective and experiences of "women of color." Although most Womanism scholarship centers on the African American woman's experience, other non-white theologians identify themselves with this term.
The need for this term arose from the early feminist movements that were led specifically by white women who advocated social changes such as woman’s suffrage. The feminist movement focused largely on oppressions based on sexism. But this movement, largely a white middle-class movement, ignored oppression based on racism and classism. It was at this point that Womanists pointed out that black women experienced a different and more intense kind of oppression than did white women.
The roots of theological womanism grew out of the theology of James Hal Cone, Jacquelyn Grant, and Delores Williams. Cone developed black theology which sought to make sense out of theology from black experience in America. In his book A Black Theology of Liberation, Cone argued that “God is black” in an effort to demonstrate that God identifies with oppressed people. Grant, a first generation womanist theologian, argued that Cone did not attend to the fullness of black experience — specifically that of black women. She argued that the oppression of black women is different than that of black men. Grant pointed out that black women must navigate between the three-fold oppression of racism, sexism, and classism in her books Womanist Theology and White Woman's Christ Black Women's Jesus. For her, Jesus is a “divine co-sufferer” who suffered in his time like black women today. Therefore, black women are more oppressed and in need of further liberation than black men and especially white women. Delores Williams took the work of theologians such as Cone and Grant and expanded upon them. She suggested that womanist theologians need to “search for the voices, actions, opinions, experience, and faith” of black women in order to experience the God who “makes a way out of no way.” In her book Sisters in the Wilderness, she defines womanism in the following way:
“Womanism theology is a prophetic voice concerned about the well-being of the entire African American community, male and female, adults and children. Womanism theology attempts to help black women see, affirm, and have confidence in the importance of their experience and faith for determining the character of the Christian religion in the African American community. Womanist theology challenges all oppressive forces impeding black women’s struggle for survival and for the development of a positive, productive quality of life conducive to women’s and the family’s freedom and well-being. Womanism theology opposes all oppression based on race, sex, class, sexual preference, physical ability, and caste” (67).
Professionals such as historians are regarded as "womanism" historians if they have incorporated the views and experiences of African American women in their accounts of history.

The information shared in this entry came from the following website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Womanism.

What is Womanism?
Womanism brings a radicalized and often class-located experience to the gendered experience suggested by feminism. It also reflects a link with history that includes African cultural heritage, enslavement, women's culture, and a kinship with other women, especially women of color. As Alice Walker also told the Times, "Feminism (all colors) definitely teaches women they are capable, one reason for its universal appeal. In addition to this, womanist (i.e. black feminist) tradition assumes, because of our experiences during slavery, that black women are capable."Womanist and womanism were soon adopted by, and often used in description of, African American women's struggle for self-determination and community, past and present. womanist and womanism helped give visibility to the experience of African American and other women of color who have always been on the forefront of movements to overthrow the sexual and racial caste systems, yet who have often been marginalized or rendered invisible in history texts, the media, and mainstream movements led by European American feminists or male civil rights leaders.In 1993, The American Heritage Dictionary included this new usage, and defined womanism as: "Having or expressing a belief in or respect for women and their talents and abilities beyond the boundaries of race and class; exhibiting a feminism that is inclusive esp. of Black American culture. -- n. One informed by womanism ideals. --wom an ism n." Considering the traditional definitions in such classic sources as the Oxford English Dictionary -- which illustrated womanish with the phrase, "a womanish and a whorist government," and cited womanism as a rare synonym for "womanizer,"--this recognition of change in the language was no small achievement.As Alice Walker made clear, womanist and womanism were not intended to define more narrowly or to criticize existing terms, but to shed light on women's experience by increasing the number and richness of words describing it.http://www.ou.edu/womensoc/feminismwomanism.htm
Alice Malsenior Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American author and feminist. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 for her critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple

James Hal Cone (August 5, 1938 - ) is an African-American Christian theologian in the Methodist tradition. He is one of America's best known architects of Black theology, a form of Liberation theology. He is currently the Charles Augustus Briggs Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.
In response to criticism from other black theologians (including his brother, Cecil), Cone began to make greater use of resources native to the African American Christian community for his theological work, including slave spirituals, the blues, and the writings of prominent African American thinkers like David Walker, Henry McNeal Turner, and W. E. B. Du Bois. Critiques by black women also led Cone to make consideration of gender issues more prominent in his later writings, thus paving the way for womanist theology. His theology has also been heavily influenced by Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Personal Growth for Black People
." Womanist and womanism are synonyms for Black Feminist and Black Feminism. These synonyms were coined in 1983 by Alice Walker . According to Walker's New York Times interview in 1984, she stated "I don't choose womanism because it is 'better' than feminism...Since womanism means black feminism, this would be a non-sensical distinction. I choose it because I prefer the sound, the feel, the fit of it; because I cherish the spirit of the women (like Sojourner) the word calls to mind, and because I share the old ethnic-American habit of offering society a new word when the old word it is using fails to describe behavior and change that only a new word can help it more fully see ." I like the term womanist or womanism because it sounds more inclusive than black feminism/feminist. I can see how the term black feminist can make women of other races feel like they cannot be apart of these issues or take part in black feminist events. The American Heritage Dictionary defines womanist as: "Having or expressing a belief in or respect for women and their talents and abilities beyond the boundaries of race and class; exhibiting a feminism that is inclusive esp. of Black American culture ."Secondly, it is ironic that Black Feminism was born because black women felt that their issues were excluded from those two movements. Yet black feminism is exclusive. This has advantages and disadvantages. Black feminism focuses on the social, political, and educational struggle of African-American women in the U.S. It does not tackle all the global issues that face women within the African Diaspora. While many African-American women may look the same, they may face different issues depending on country, culture or religion. However, globally equality is a common thread between black women everywhere.



Black feminism essentially argues that sexism and racism are inextricable from one another. Forms of feminism that strive to overcome sexism and class oppression but ignore or minimize race can perpetuate racism and thereby contribute to the oppression of many people, including women. Black feminists argue that the liberation of black women entails freedom for all people, since it would require the end of racism, sexism, and class oppression. Black women in this category often refer to themselves as womanism. Kathleen Watkins adds that contrary to "urban lore", black feminists and womanists are loving and gentle wives who respect their male companions


The current incarnation of Black Feminism is a political/social movement that grew out of a sense of feelings of discontent with both the Civil Rights Movement and the Feminist Movement of the 1970s. Not only did the Civil Rights Movement primarily focus only on the oppression of black men, but many black women faced severe sexism within Civil Rights groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The Feminist Movement focused on the problems faced by white women. For instance, earning the power to work outside of the home was not an accomplishment for black feminists; they had been working all along. Neither movement confronted the issues that concerned black women specifically. Because of their intersectional position, black women were being systematically disappeared by both movements. Black women began creating theory and developing a new movement which spoke to the combination of problems, sexism, racism, classism, etc., that they had been battling.


Pat Parker : Poet

Southern born and educated, Pat Parker began her life in Houston, Texas, on January 20, 1944, as the youngest of four daughters in a Black working class family. Urged by her father to take "the freedom train of education," Parker later emigrated to Oakland, California, in the early 1970s to pursue work, writing and opportunities for activism. Working from 1978 to 1987 as medical coordinator at the Oakland Feminist Women's Health Center, which grew from one clinic to six sites during her tenure, Parker also participated in political activism ranging from early involvement with the Black Panther Party and Black Women's Revolutionary Council to formation of the Women's Press Collective to wide-ranging activism in gay and lesbian organizations and positions of national leadership regarding women's health issues, especially concerning domestic and sexual violence.


Take the strength that you maywage a long battle.Take the pride that you cannever stand small.Take the rage that you cannever settle for less.

Pat Parker


I don't think that women today are as passionate for women rights, as when the movement started. Possibly because many women run single homes, have jobs and do not depend on men to take care of them. We have many issues facing us as people that we have to fight for the right just to be people.
But I do appreciate the women who have fought before me so that I can have a little pride about being a women (a black woman). After reading these article I need to search myself to see if I have the power these women have given to make it better for me.

Melinda Scott

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