Book Review: Black Feminist Thought (Patricia Hill Collins)

Alexandra Bobet HIST 3119 Spring 2013 Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (review) Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Ed. By Patricia Hill Collins. (New York: Routledge, 2000. ii, 336 pp. Cloth, $128. 28, ISBN 0-415-92483-9. Paper, $26. 21, 0-415-92484-7. ) Patricia Hill Collins’s work, Black Feminist Thought seeks to center Black Women into intersectionalist thought, addressing the power struggles that face them not only due to their race but also to the gender.
Masculine rhetoric and powerful male leaders such as Huey P. Newton and Eldridge Cleaver have overshadowed Black Women’s stories, both in and out of the Civil Right Rights/Black Power Era. It is an analysis that defines Black Feminist Thought, instead of recycling former White Feminist philosophies and providing interpretations of them. However, she does integrate consciousness raising into the body of work, drawing in from her personal experiences while analyzing the texts of women such as Alice Walker and bell hooks.
The second edition of Black Feminist Thought differs from the first in both the complexity and the depth of oppression and empowerment, pning into a transnational level. Collins breaks down her novel into three parts. Part I: The Social Construction of Feminist Thought, Part II: Core Themes in Black Feminist Thought, and Part III: Black Feminism, Knowledge, and Power. Bobet 2 Part I: The Social Construction of Feminist Thought covers the history of oppression of black women from various sectors.

White feminism has failed women which use of essentialist philosophy, which Collins uses in the relationship between Rebecca Felton and Ida B Wells, the former praised by White feminists even though she was an advocate of lynching. Collins touches upon Black leadership and how it has addressed gender, in particular the case of Elaine Brown and the Black Panther Party of Oakland. Among African-American female scholars there has been a concern in the masculinist bias of Black political and social thought.
With these mediums of oppression, her first theory, referred to as the Matrix of Domination is brought up. Previous models of oppression were considered additive, or hierarchal, meaning that they must be ranked. Collins uses the experiences of black women to explain that all these modes of oppression, gender, race and class are interlocking and equally important when viewing domination. This bleeds mores into Part II, but the essentials are discussed in this section. While there is validity in this matrix, Collins’s approach is from a group level, and it does not cover how the individual may use the matrix.
While it is true that all these modes of oppression are at play, it would be more beneficial for the individual to place a value on these modes. For one individual, race may be more of a factor than gender, for another individual it may differ, and so on. Another critique of the matrix of oppression is how it does not address, sexual orientation, ableism, and ethnicity, among others. Part II: Core Themes in Black Feminist Thought tackles five themes: 1) a legacy of struggle, 2) treatment of the interlocking nature of race, class, and gender, 3) Bobet 3 eplacement of stereotyped images of black womanhood with those that are self defined, 4) black women’s activism, and 5) sensitivity to black sexual politics. The first three themes correlate to black motherhood and living in a binary environment, one in which black people are the oppressed and white people are the oppressors. Images of black womanhood have been terribly distorted to show stereotypes such as the unwed teenage mother and the welfare mother.
Black women’s activism, one of the last core themes of the text, has been more of a desire for group survival and cohesion than any political motives, as seen with the story of Sara Brooks and her job as a domestic worker. Her job speaks larger volumes to political activism and the nature of oppression than many political texts, according to Collins. This outlook parallels many of bell hooks’s essays, especially “Theory As A Liberatory Practice. ” This essay addresses the powers of the Sara Brookses of the world and how their actions complement the discourse that is being forged.
Part III: Black Feminism, Knowledge, and Power comprises of the edits not found in the first edition. Drawing from experiences from Senegalese, American, and British Black feminists, the matrix of race, gender, and class oppressions are still relevant to all nations, despite diversity. Angela Davis is frequently cited as a champion of this transnational empowerment She encourages Black Women of privilege to not “ignore the straits of our sisters who are acquainted with the immediacy of oppression in a way many of us are not,” fueling Collins’s core theme of a type of feminism rooted in sisterhood and familial ties.
Analysis of oppression from a nationalistic point of view is represented, drawing further from her original gender/race/class matrix. Bobet 4 To conclude, Black Feminist Thought is thorough and crucial text because of how vigilantly it attempts (and successfully so) to not be another spin on White feminism. Using the methodological approach of historical materialism, it addresses the concerns that Black women have on the heels of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.
Concerns with the narrative are that while it does explain the roots of consciousness raising and feminist thought in Black Power movements, the overwhelming amount of text is based on the interpretations of writers such as Alice Walker, bell hooks, and Audre Lorde, much less on intellectuals. Collins touches upon the efforts of Elaine Brown, Angela Davis, and also provides a personal account of Francis Beale and her experience with racism in SNCC. Beale’s experiences with sexism, for example influenced her essay, “Black Women’s Manifesto; Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and A Woman. I found Collins’s assertion of what is a feminist to be inclusionary and not in any way rejecting masculinity, but more how the masculine rhetoric that has oppressed women should be rejected. Black feminist rhetoric created in backlash has centered on community awareness, and a sense of identity through a group. While Collins alludes to capitalism as also being a contributing factor in the oppression of Black women, there was not as much concrete evidence to support that as much as there was racism and sexism. Patricia Hill Collins forms a text that finally draws a map into the complexity of oppression and empowerment.

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