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Women in Action - Black Lives Matter
Angela Davis, Communist Party USA in the 60's & One-Time Political Fugitive
EXERPT FROM HERSTORY
 blacklivesmatter.com

  "As organizers who work with everyday people, BLM members see and understand significant gaps in movement spaces and leadership. Black liberation movements in this country have created room, space, and leadership mostly for Black heterosexual, cisgender men—leaving women, queer and transgender people, and others either out of the movement or in the background to move the work forward with little or no recognition. 

  As a network, we have always recognized the need to center the leadership of women and queer and trans people. To maximize our movement muscle, and to be intentional about not replicating harmful practices that excluded so many in past movements for liberation, we made a commitment to placing those at the margins closer to the center."​
On Intersectionality:

Intersectionality is an analytic framework which attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society. Intersectionality considers that the various forms of what it sees as social stratification, such as class, race, sexual orientation, age, disability and gender, do not exist separately from each other but are complexly interwoven. While the theory began as an exploration of the oppression of women of color within society, today the analysis is potentially applied to all categories.​

The Power of Intersectional Feminism
by Kimberle Crenshaw

I will center Black women in this analysis in order to contrast the multidimensionality of Black women's experience with the single-axis analysis that distorts these experiences. Not only will this juxtaposition reveal how Black women are theoretically erased, it will also illustrate how this framework imports its own theoretical limitations that undermine efforts to broaden feminist and anti-racist analysis.

The most common linguistic manifestation of this analytical dilemma is represented in the conventional usage of the term "Blacks and women." Although it may be true that some people mean to include Black women in either "Blacks" or "women," the context in which the term is used actually suggests that often Black women are not considered. See, for example, Elizabeth Spelman, The Inessential Woman 114-15  (discussing an article on Blacks and women in the military where "the racial identity of those identified as 'women' does not become explicit until reference is made to Black women, at which point it also becomes clear that the category of women excludes Black women"). It seems that if Black women were explicitly included, the preferred term would be either "Blacks and white women" or "Black men and all women."

With Black women as the starting point, it becomes more apparent how dominant conceptions of discrimination condition us to think about subordination as disadvantage occurring along a single categorical axis. I want to suggest further that this single-axis framework erases Black women in the conceptualization, identification and remediation of race and sex discrimination by limiting inquiry to the experiences of otherwise-privileged members of the group. In other words, in race discrimination cases, discrimination tends to be viewed in terms of sex- or class-privileged Blacks; in sex discrimination cases, the focus is on race- and class-privileged women. This focus on the most privileged group members marginalizes those who are multiply-burdened and obscures claims that cannot be understood as resulting from discrete sources of discrimination. I suggest further that this focus on otherwise-privileged group members creates a distorted analysis of racism and sexism because the operative conceptions of race and sex become grounded in experiences that actually represent only a subset of a much more complex phenomenon. After examining the doctrinal manifestations of this singleaxis framework, I will discuss how it contributes to the marginalization of Black women in feminist theory and in antiracist politics. I argue that Black women are sometimes excluded from feminist theory and antiracist policy discourse because both are predicated on a discrete set of experiences that often does not accurately reflect the interaction of race and gender. These problems of exclusion cannot be solved simply by including Black women within an already established analytical structure. Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated. Thus, for feminist theory and antiracist policy discourse to embrace the experiences and concerns of Black women, the entire framework that has been used as a basis for translating "women's experience" or "the Black experience" into concrete policy demands must be rethought and recast. As examples of theoretical and political developments that miss the mark with respect to Black women because of their failure to consider intersectionality.

Open Letter to Black Nationalists: On Women, 
Black Feminism, and Gender Identity 

by Selwyn Trench, Alt-Black.com


       "Black liberation movements in this country have created room, space, 
       and leadership mostly for Black heterosexual, cisgender men—leaving
       women, queer and transgender people, and others either out of the  
       movement or in the background to move the work forward with little or
       no recognition."

                                                              blacklivesmatter.com


July 29, 2018

 ​
To the Black Nationalist Community and Friends,

The passage above on Black Lives Matter's website bespeaks an uncomfortable truth about the Black Liberation Movement of the sixties. Black women brandished shotguns and pistols, organized marches, published radical newspapers, debated Marxist and Black liberation theory, ran underground operations smuggling revolutionaries abroad, and served lengthy prisons sentences. Yet, Black Nationalists and Civil Rights male leaders demeaned Black women and pigeonholed them into gendered roles. 

In the name of upholding 'Black masculinity,' women of the Darker Nation were sexually exploited and even physically abused. Black women resisted the power of patriarchy and hierarchy, seeking leadership roles and full investment in the Black Power project. They lost the majority of those battles, but not the war.   

In the post-Black Power era, the gender gap that was exacerbated during the 60's sexual revolution and Women's Liberation Movement, still haunts Black Nationalism. Collectively, the brotherdom's failure to address what was  called the "Woman Question," remains a contested issue fifty years later. Arguably, some Black Nationalists want to move on, simply acknowledging that times have changed and sisters have come a long way. Perish the thought. This attitude acknowledges the defeat without having to explain the reasons why it happened. That's not good enough.   

Furthermore, over the past four decades attitudes have been shifting within  the Darker Nation. The People of a Darker Hue are more accepting of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, same sex marriage and the adoption of children by gay and lesbian couples. This shift in attitudes is more pronounced among Black millennials concerning the traditional gender gap and gender identification issues. Thus, the dimension of a generational gap has been added to the equation.

On behalf of Alt-Black.com, this 'Open Letter' is an appeal to Black Nationalists to close the gender gap (cisnormative). It also calls for our trend to clarify its positions regarding an expanding field of gender identification issues. Our movement cannot be made whole absent a sincere effort to achieve reconciliation on gender issues. 

This 'Open Letter' envisages three areas of engagement Black Nationalists may want to consider to address the gender challenge

1) To revisit the ideological and programmatic positions of Black Nationalist forces (former Black Panthers, Revolutionary Nationalists, Cultural Nationalists, Pan-Africanists, Black Marxists and Socialists) on women and Black Feminism from the sixties to the present.   

2) To bridge elements of the generation gap on gender issues between Black Nationalists enrooted in the sixties Black Power experience, and millennial-based Black resistance movements like BLM.   

3) To encourage Black Nationalists to address or clarify their positions regarding an expanding range of gender identities and theories. 

4) To recognize how the cultural sensibilities of empowered Black women, Black feminism and LGBTQ communities are finding expression in emerging Black Alternative cultural movements like AfroPunk and Afrofuturism.    

'The Heresy' at Alt-Black.com is optimistic that Black Nationalists men are "all in" for welcoming and promoting women in leadership positions. This includes supporting women in existing leadership roles and full spectrum participation in the Black Liberation project. In particular, we refer to Black Nationalists relations with Black Feminists and radicalized Black lesbians like the now defunct Combahee River Collective, who advocated for and supported the Black nationalist cause.  

Generally speaking, "The Woman Question" should be a settled matter. Nevertheless, continuous ideological struggle is required. We still live in a culturally bound male-dominated society that influences our thinking.

Black Nationalists will certainly adopt different positions on Gays, Lesbians and Transgender people. However, Black Nationalists should agree on one first principle. We should oppose physical and 'hate crime' attacks on LGTBQ people--state sanctioned or otherwise. Unless we are in the business of purging "unwanted elements" from the race, these communities are part of the Darker Nation. 

Opposing attacks on the LGTBQ community is a different matter than adopting positions supporting, opposing or remaining neutral concerning LGTBQ lifestyle choices. Within the Black Nationalist universe, there are faith-based and secular forces with moral and religious beliefs that must be weighed in the balance. That's fine. What should be avoided is being indifferent to these communities or pretending they don't exist. 

An alternative approach to this issue would be to apply "Wakanda Vision." Imagine that Black Nationalists have won the war of liberation and we now leading an independent Black Nation. Would our government's policy allow sex-change operations? Would we give a government subsidy to pay for them? Would the LGTBQ community have a "Bill of Rights" or special laws guaranteeing certain protections? Working the issue from the future back to today may provide an alternative angle and viewpoint.       

Since the tumultuous and heady days of the sixties, a "soft sexual revolution" has slowly been unfolding. The Darker Nation is very different now than it was in the sixties, especially as it concerns sexuality, gender and culture. Terms such as gender fluidity, queer affirming, transgender and cisnormative are not terms of art found on most Black Nationalist websites these days. Indeed, Alt-Black.com had to update it's own Alternative Black Nationalist Glossary of terms (Harriet's Code) to complete this article.

But these terms and many more are routinely used by Black Lives Matter, Black Millennial and Feminists websites today. Suffice it to say, the proverbial 'gender identity' genie is out of the bottle. As we shall attempt to demonstrate in the following narrative of the post-Black Power era, this is not a genie that can be stuffed back in the bottle.    










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Despite the shortcomings of the Black Nationalist trend, in the aftermath of the sixties, the sisterdom of the Darker Nation relentlessly pressed forward. They defined, articulated and organized around a broad-based agenda. Through their own efforts, they flourished as thought architects, social influencers and maximum organizational leaders. Thus, it's not surprising that three Black women founded Black Lives Matters in 2013, in response to an epidemic of police murders of Black people.  

What was surprising was Black Lives Matter's meteoric ascent, moving from  internet hashtag to national political notoriety in one year. Having arrived on the scene, it was clear BLM represented a radical rupture from previous national Black organizations in substance, style, and its critique of the Black Liberation Movement. 

BLM broke with the 'sixties' single charismatic leadership model that witnessed the demise of national organizations following the death of leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. BLM's founders operated as a  triumvirate of equals. They function as coordinators and resource providers to support their 40 local and international chapters. 

BLM's decentralized model seeks to develop local leadership and activities, with grassroots participants having ownership of their political issues. As Alt- Black.com indicated in its recent article "The Tragic Death of the Black Liberation Collective" we believe BLM's decentralized model should be the subject of continued discussion. Decentralized models can certainly be used  to build movements, but may be inadequate to vanguard organizations requiring command structure to execute its goals.  

While BLM's 'unconstructed' model has proven to be effective, their focus on developing women in leadership positions, and unapologetic promotion of gays, lesbians, queers, and transgender people in leadership roles represents a sea change moment. 


Some Thoughts on Black Women and Black Feminism  
           ​
BLM dramatically expanded political space for women in L' Resistance Noir (Black resistance). Along with other women's groups and Black millennial organizations, thousands of Black women assumed frontline positions as spokespersons, protesters, grass-roots coordinators, student leaders and media communicators. From Ferguson, Missouri to Freddie Gray's murder by Baltimore's police and the subsequent rebellion, Black women evolved as the backbone of the anti-police brutality militant fightback.   ​

For Black Nationalists rooted in the 60's and 70's, understanding the factors that led to BLM and other women's groups rise is critical to strengthening our trend. Recognizing that the woman-led and feminist political surge is the product of four decades of consistent battle against its detractors cannot be underestimated. When the revolutionary struggles of the 60's and early 70's ebbed, Black Feminists, women's groups, and the lesbian activists kept moving forward. 

Black Feminism's roots germinated in opposition the Civil Rights Movement's exclusion of women from leadership positions, epitomized by SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael's comment that "The only position for women in the SNCC is prone." 

Black feminists also simultaneously battled rampant sexism in the Black Power movement. Writer Shanice McBean's article outlined how the Black Panther Party (BPP) saw armed self-defense as an "affirmation of black masculinity" under attack by the white power structure, rather than affirming black dignity across gender boundaries. Gender politics and anti-sexism, McBean asserts, "was not a central tenant of the BPP."

Eldridge Cleaver, BPP Minister of Information regularly referred to female cadre as wielding ‘pussy power'. Elaine Brown, who became BPP Chairman in 1974--the only Black woman to run a national revolutionary organization--claimed Bobby Seale, BPP co-founder advocated that women should “give it up” to revolutionary men and learn to “shoot as well as cook”. When Elaine was beaten up by an underground BPP leader...leading members like Raymond Hewitt and Huey Newton, argued that it was a personal matter, not  party business.

Engaged in a two-front war against the Civil Rights Establishment (The Tabernacle) and Black Nationalists over sexism and masculinism issues, Black Feminists opened a third front against the white-dominated feminists movement. In the late sixties Black feminists were crafting polemics against their white counterparts informing them that demands for women to work outside the home had no purchase. They had been there and done that many years ago. 

Black Fems clashed with white fems over abortion. They were unable to convince white fems that issues like forced forced sterilization were an ever present danger to Women of the Darker Hue. At the core of the dispute, white fems could not grasp was how race and class impacted Black women in a qualitatively different way. That 'minor detail' rendered the matter of gender equality superfluous. The revolt in the 60's and 70's against white "Second Wave Feminism" found Black Fems upping the ante, generating a corpus of theoretical works by luminaries like Flo Kennedy, Celestine Ware and Patricia Robinson.​

In 1983, the publication of poet-essayist Alice Walker's 'In Search of Our Mother's Garden' advanced a new theory called 'Womanism.' It shook up the women's and feminist movement. Walker acknowledged the agency of Feminism, by standing it on its head. Walker asserted that a woman's culture is the prism by which she embraces femininity. Thus, the Black women's historical  experience, grounded in race and class-based oppression inclusive of Black culture, myth, spirituality and oral traditions serves as the vessel by which they envisage their wholeness. 

Walker's 'Womanism' theory committed Black women (and other women of color) to the survival and wholeness of the Darker Nation, male and female, thereby breaking with white fems separatist notions. Womanism also opened a welcoming door to Black lesbianism, while stopping short of promoting it. Eschewing a frontal assault, 'Womanism' rerouted Black fems around white feminism, encouraging them instead to re-connect with their enrooted ancestral legacy steeped in colorful displays of courage, adventurism and a willingness to provoke outrage. Gathering the divergent threads of Black women's and feminists  manifestos from the 60's to the 80's, Walker's "Womanism" project pointed Black women back to rediscovering their unique cultural legacy enrooted in Black southern culture.    

Intersectional Theory

The intellectual ferment that percolated in the ranks of radicalized Black women activists, Black feminists, and Black Lesbians since the sixties, seemed to lead inexorably to Intersectionality theory. Black feminists disputed white fem claims that Black women only suffered from gender domination. By linking racial oppression to male gender domination, they unmasked a potent condominium of oppression whose connectivity systematically reinforces the diminishment of Black women's life chances.    

In 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced the theory of "Intersectionality" at a University of Chicago legal forum, in a paper called "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics."   ​

Well before Intersectionality was introduced in 1989, socialist and Marxist leaning Black feminists had developed a comprehensive critique of women's gender and class exploitation. Black lesbian activists had given voice to the violence, discrimination and political marginalization visited on gays and lesbians. Intersectionality theory was poised to expand the foundation of race and gender-based oppression to include class and sexual orientation.

Building on Kimberle Crenshaw's Intersectional theory, sociologist Patricia Hill Collins categorized the construct into three subsection of study. Collins' first branch examined the ideas, issues, conflicts, and debates within intersectionality. Her second branch of Intersectionality theory explored how to apply intersectionality analytically to social institutions and how they perpetuated social inequality. The final branch sought to formulate intersectionality as a praxis to glean how social justice initiatives can use intersectionality to bring about social change 

It is the third branch of deploying intersectional feminism as a tool to develop cross-movement building or coalition building to combat multiple forms of injustice that is foundational to many Black millennial groups.  Understanding where, how, and why progressive movements overlap, is fundamental to grasping the rise of Black Lives Matter.  

One Black Lives Matter activist described their movement this way: "It’s an intersectional movement created by a shared vision of a world that ceases rampant, institutional violence against black bodies. The movement is rooted in lifting up the voices of all stripes of black people—including queer, trans, disabled, undocumented, and others marginalized within the broader ideal of black liberation. It is, at its very core, an inclusive movement."  

In looking at the Black Lives Matter phenomenon, it's not inconsequential that founding members Patrice Cullors and Alicea Garza are both self-identifying 'queers' married to transgender partners. Highly educated, they are not simply armchair philosophers who discovered how to creatively deploy social media to build a movement. They have studied the history of Black Liberation Movements and are well schooled in the history of the women's movement, Black Feminism, Black Lesbian and LGTBQ movements. They've lived "the struggle" and have receipts on Beale Street (The Black Street) as community organizers.    ​

Black Lives Matter and new Black millennial groups have arrived. They vibrate to a different rhythm, thrive under new organizational models, communicate in a new vocabulary and have assembled a new coalition of the marginalized. In many respects, they are the logical political extension and organic manifestation of the Black women's and feminist theoreticians that sprang to life in the post-Black Power era. 

Finally, Harold Cruse, "Lord Protector of Black Nationalism" and author of the "Crisis of the Negro Intellectual" once asked of sixties activists 'Where is the substantial body of intellectual works and tradition?" For the past forty years Black Women and Feminists/Lesbians have established that intellectual tradition. Their theories are now guiding active measures on the ground, and are followed by movements outside the Black political eco-system.  

Black Nationalists must strive to replicate the stellar intellectual and theoretical tradition Black women forged in the Post-Black Power era. Alt-Black.com implores Black Nationalists to give serious consideration to deepening its level of engagement with Black women's groups, Black feminists and the LGTBQ communities. 

Despite the efforts of hundreds of radical and revolutionary Black men who did treat Black women with respect and welcomed their contributions and leadership at all levels, we missed the mark in the sixties.  Much more will be at stake when the next revolutionary tide comes in. We cannot afford to make the same mistake twice.        ​








Elaine Brown (left) and Huey Newton (center) at Press Conference in 1971. Brown was the only woman to lead revolutionary organization in the Black Power era, Chairman of the Black Panther Party 1974-1977 
Remarks by Elaine Brown to National Meeting of Black Panther Party Announcing She is New Party Chairman, August 1974
From "A Taste of Power"

“I have all the guns and the money. I can withstand challenge from without and from within.

“I haven’t called you together to make threats, Comrades. I’ve called this meeting simply to let you know the realities of our situation. The fact is, Comrade Huey is in exile. The other fact is, I’m taking his place until we make it possible for him to return.”

“If you are such an individual, you’d better run — and fast. I am, as your chairman, the leader of this party as of this moment. My leadership cannot be challenged. I will lead our party both above ground and underground. I will lead the party not only in furthering our goals but also in defending the party by any and all means.”
Alice Walker on "Womanism"

1. “Well, first of all it’s feminist, but it’s feminist from a culture of color. So there’s no attempt to evade the name “feminism,” which is honorable. It actually means womanism – I mean, it’s French in its essence – la femme, so feminism would be womanism, actually. Womanism comes though from Southern African American culture because when you did something really bold and outrageous and audacious as a little girl, our parents would say, “You’re acting ‘womanish’.” It wasn’t like in white culture where that was weak – it was just the opposite. And so, womanism affirms that whole spectrum of being which includes being outrageous and angry and standing up for yourself, and speaking your word and all of that.” 

2. A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or non-sexually. Appreciates and prefers women's culture, women's emotional flexibility (values teas as natural counterbalance of laughter) and women's strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or non-sexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. 

Traditionally universalist as in "Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige, and black?" Ans: "Well you  know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented." Traditionally capable, as in: "Mama, I'm walking to Canada and I'm taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me." Reply: "It wouldn't be the first time." 

3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.

4. Woman is to feminist as purple to lavender.
COMBAHEE RIVER COLLECTIVE
 RIVER STATEMENT 

Although we are feminists and Lesbians, we feel solidarity with progressive Black men and do not advocate the fractionalization that white women who are separatists demand. Our situation as Black people necessitates that we have solidarity around the fact of race, which white women of course do not need to have with white men, unless it is their negative solidarity as racial oppressors. We struggle together with Black men against racism, while we also struggle with Black men about sexism.

We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic systems of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. We are socialists because we believe that work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses. Material resources must be equally distributed among those who create these resources. We are not convinced, however, that a socialist revolution that is not also a feminist and anti-racist revolution will guarantee our liberation. We have arrived at the necessity for developing an understanding of class relationships that takes into account the specific class position of Black women who are generally marginal in the labor force, while at this particular time some of us are temporarily viewed as doubly desirable tokens at white-collar and professional levels. We need to articulate the real class situation of persons who are not merely raceless, sexless workers, but for whom racial and sexual oppression are significant determinants in their working/economic lives. Although we are in essential agreement with Marx's theory as it applied to the very specific economic relationships he analyzed, we know that his analysis must be extended further in order for us to understand our specific economic situation as Black women.

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Open Letter to Black Nationalists on Women, Black Feminists & Gender Identity