What Is Black Feminist Thought?

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Black feminist thought is a collection of ideas, writings, and art that articulates a standpoint of and for black women. Black feminist thought describes black women as a unique group that exists in a “place” in US social relations where intersectional processes of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexual orientation shape black women’s individual and collective consciousness, self‐definitions, and actions.

As a standpoint theory, black feminist thought conceptualizes identities as organic, fluid, interdependent, multiple, and dynamic socially constructed “locations” within historical context. Black feminist thought is grounded in black women’s historical experience with enslavement, anti‐lynching movements, segregation, Civil Rights and Black Power movements, sexual politics, capitalism, and patriarchy.

Jane Landers, in her seminal essay “Theorizing Black Feminism: Or, the Intellectual Traditions from Which I Rise,” offers a sophisticated outline of black feminist thought. In it, she states:

“Black feminism refers to a body of work produced by Black women in the United States that addresses the complex problems and inequalities they confront as a result of the intersection of their race and gender. Because their problems are not solely as women or as Blacks, they are not adequately addressed by white feminists or Black Nationalist men. Black feminists argue that these problems require a analytical framework different from either liberal feminist or Black Nationalist thought.”

As an example of black feminist thought, bell hooks, in Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, articulates black feminism as a standpoint theory. bell hooks describes black feminism as “a way of seeing race, class, and gender as interlocking systems of oppression and as sites of resistance” . Black feminists reject dominant culture’s definitions of black femininity. As opposed to an essentialist approach which defines black women solely as black, woman, and female, black feminists see black women as cultural‐political beings within a social matrix of oppression. Black feminists trace historical and contemporary experiences of black women as a specific group, but also as women of color, as “others” in this society.

Black feminist thought has been used in a variety of disciplines including sociology, history, literary criticism, and religion. Black feminist thought is also practiced in the biomedical field of study and in the medical sciences.

Black feminist thought has made several contributions in research and professional practice. First, black feminist thought has offered a holistic theoretical framework that addresses society’s construction of race, gender, and class and the impacts it has on individuals. These social relations of domination, power, and privilege impact both black women and men and have had a greater impact on black women. Black feminist thought identifies and explains the social and political processes that act on and through black women.

Second, black feminist thought has influenced scholarship in disciplines including history and sociology, particularly regarding the reconstruction period after the Civil War and the first decade of the 20th century. It has analyzed the dynamics of race, class, and gender in order to understand African American history, group consciousness, and collective action. It has also been used with theological questions regarding how religion has been used to perpetuate ideologies that have enslaved black women and men.

Black feminist thought has been used in fields such as art and literature. Black feminist art and literature have been used to illuminate racial stereotypes in the media and have criticized a Eurocentric view of art in the US.

Black feminist thought is an effective therapeutic approach for psychologists. Black feminist thought offers alternatives to dominant forms of psychology that are used to treat trauma, racism, rape, incest, and abuse among black women. Black feminist thought addresses the social, political, and economic conditions that impact black women and their families. It also offers a holistic approach to the treatment of black women.

Black feminist thought has been used in the biomedical field of study. Alondra Nelson uses black feminist thought and the intersectionality of race, gender, and class to understand social behavior and the provider‐patient relationship.

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