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Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment

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In spite of the double burden of racial and gender discrimination, African-American women have developed a rich intellectual tradition that is not widely known. In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins explores the words and ideas of Black feminist intellectuals as well as those African-American women outside academe. She provides an interpretive framework for In spite of the double burden of racial and gender discrimination, African-American women have developed a rich intellectual tradition that is not widely known. In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins explores the words and ideas of Black feminist intellectuals as well as those African-American women outside academe. She provides an interpretive framework for the work of such prominent Black feminist thinkers as Angela Davis, bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Audre Lorde. The result is a superbly crafted book that provides the first synthetic overview of Black feminist thought.


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In spite of the double burden of racial and gender discrimination, African-American women have developed a rich intellectual tradition that is not widely known. In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins explores the words and ideas of Black feminist intellectuals as well as those African-American women outside academe. She provides an interpretive framework for In spite of the double burden of racial and gender discrimination, African-American women have developed a rich intellectual tradition that is not widely known. In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins explores the words and ideas of Black feminist intellectuals as well as those African-American women outside academe. She provides an interpretive framework for the work of such prominent Black feminist thinkers as Angela Davis, bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Audre Lorde. The result is a superbly crafted book that provides the first synthetic overview of Black feminist thought.

30 review for Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rowena

    "Race and gender may be analytically distinct, but in Black women’s everyday lives, they work together.” - Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought I find it difficult to summarize books like this, ones which contain such comprehensive content. Although focusing on African-American feminist theory, Collins says the theory can be applied to any black diasporic woman because, “Women of African descent are dispersed globally, yet the issues we face may be similar.” And reading the content I beli "Race and gender may be analytically distinct, but in Black women’s everyday lives, they work together.” - Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought I find it difficult to summarize books like this, ones which contain such comprehensive content. Although focusing on African-American feminist theory, Collins says the theory can be applied to any black diasporic woman because, “Women of African descent are dispersed globally, yet the issues we face may be similar.” And reading the content I believe the issues we face are indeed similar. It was a very thorough documentation, history of slavery, the change in family structure, racial tropes, and so on. I liked how it was stated that although black women have never been seen as academics, they still managed to have a rich feminist history, for example in blues music (Billie Holliday), oral tradition (Sojourner Truth) and literature (Alice Walker). This was just the book I needed to read, I encountered lots of names I probably wouldn't have come across otherwise. The line which stated that black women were "de mule uh de world," (Hurston) and also being seen as nurturers rang true to me from what I've seen and discussions I've had with people. And the section on the main stereotypes of black women (sapphire, mammy, matriarch, welfare mother etc) was very telling especially as almost every black woman I see on television has been made to fit into these stereotypes, in fact I could tell you all stories related to me by black women I've talked to about how people obviously interact with them based on one of those four stereotypes.Despite these stereotypes, the book was promising and suggested that Black women should redefine ourselves, which is what so many of us are doing: "It is axiomatic that if we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we will be defined by others—for their use and to our detriment.”- Audre Lorde The literary criticism that weaved in the book was interesting, pointed to another way black women can define themselves: by writing. Some books mentioned in the book: The Colour Purple- Alice Walker The Living is Easy- Dorothy West A Measure of Time- Rosa Guy Dessa Rose- Sherley Anne Williams The Chosen People, The Timeless People- Paule Marshall Eva’s Man- Gayl Jones The book shows how black women were positioned to fail. Yet we are not doing so, so in that way it was a very hopeful book. I think about how difficult it has historically been for black women to get their words out there and I appreciate this book even more. The content was a reiteration of what I already know about black womanhood, while at the same time educating me more and allowing me to see more profoundly, and from a historical perspective, the issues we face in society. I don't think I've ever come across a book that details black feminist theory so thoroughly. I loved it, and was reminded that black feminist theory is supposed to be inclusive, not exclusionary, by the accessible language.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Zanna

    Not really a review, more a butterfly-view. I had a rare flash of brilliance and decided to read the glossary first. This kind of sensible idea rarely occurs to me. I was immediately struck by Collins' definition of intersectionality: analysis claiming that systems of race, social class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation and age form mutually constructing features of social organisation, which shape Black women's experiences and, in turn, are shaped by Black women In other words, intersectional Not really a review, more a butterfly-view. I had a rare flash of brilliance and decided to read the glossary first. This kind of sensible idea rarely occurs to me. I was immediately struck by Collins' definition of intersectionality: analysis claiming that systems of race, social class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nation and age form mutually constructing features of social organisation, which shape Black women's experiences and, in turn, are shaped by Black women In other words, intersectional analysis, first articulated by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1991, is explicitly and inseparably about Black women. Re-reading 'Mapping the Margins', Crenshaw's original article, I see Collins' framing there, except the centred specificity of Blackness is extended to all women of colour. Anyway, let it not be forgot. The first chapter, The Politics of Black Feminist Thought explains in detail how Black women's ideas and existence have been suppressed, erased and excluded from the academy, and why much Black feminist work has sought to excavate and reclaim the work of earlier Black women intellectuals. It's important to note that Collins defines such intellectuals not by education or academic output: Sojourner Truth is one example who could not read or write, yet contributed to Black feminist oppositional knowledges. She identifies two historical factors that helped foster the critical social theory of Black US women: ghettoisation, which was designed for political control, but had the effect of enabling community structures and spaces for Black people to use African-derived ideas to craft resistance to racial oppression, and Black women's positions in the labour market as domestic workers, in close proximity to Whites, giving them a perspective that Collins terms outsider-within, also applicable to Black women in many institutions. She asks how do Black women in the academy 'find ways of doing intellectual work that challenge injustice'? Collins shares her own experience of being tokenised and suppressed by her very scarcity. Her work must involve disrupting academic norms that are hostile to emotion and subjectivity: the subject position is precisely what has been denied to Black women. The concept here that most provoked my own thought and self-reflection was the orientation of both/and, reflecting Black feminists' rejection of or resistance to the binarism of Eurocentric tradition. One aspect is a BOTH scholar AND activist tradition, another manifests in Collins' approach to fellow intellectuals. She mentions that Sister Souljah is often dismissed as antifeminist for her acceptance of patriarchal masculinity, but her work has still contributed to Black feminist thought. Both/and reading makes space for celebration, solidarity, critique, acceptance and complexity. Distinguishing Features of Black Feminist Thought firmly asserts that this thought exists because the oppression of Black women remains, and thus requires an activist response. Since this oppression is intersectional, Black feminists have always recognised that their liberation requires the dismantling of multiple structures of domination, and thus their work 'supports broad principles of social justice that transcend US Black women's particular needs' Collins uses a technique throughout the book of quoting ordinary African-American woman of varying ages and social positions, here to note how daily experience stimulates the creation of oppositional knowledge. She also constantly refers to Black women intellectuals and studies; the book is superbly, lovingly researched. What emerges is a contrast with White feminist's 'consciousness raising' - Black feminism publicly articulates already developed, taken for granted knowledges. Collins explains why Black women must lead and be in charge of Black feminism:Black women intellectuals from all walks of life must aggressively push the theme of self-definition because speaking for oneself and crafting one's own agenda is essential for empowerment but its work resonates widely: 'if you write from a black experience, you're writing from a universal experience as well... you don't have to whitewash yourself to be universal' says Sonia Sanchez. Other groups engaged in social justice projects can identify points of connection that forward Black feminist as well as their own agendas. Collins notes that such people may become 'traitors', to their own privilege, for example whiteness. Another key point here is the dynamism of Black feminist thought; it responds directly to changing social conditions, for example to changing relationships between African Americans as they have moved through the labour market and social classes since WWII. In her discussion of Work, Family and Black Women's Oppression, Collins reminds us that the heterosexual nuclear family ideal is not natural as is made to appear, but a creation of the state. For African American women it has never applied: slavery allowed no such structures, and later, most Black men never had sufficiently secure income to allow female partners, who found it easier to get jobs but were much less well paid, to work full time at home. US gender norms based on work roles thus rendered black women 'unfeminine'. Kinship structures beyond immediate family developed. While White communities increasingly followed 'market-driven, exchange-based models', Black communities had a high degree of solidarity and collective effort. She also notes that parenting passes on internalised oppression or oppositional knowledges. In the post WWII period, Black Usians experienced both upward and downward social mobility. The introduction of cocaine and other drugs created an informal economy and enabled the rapid expansion of the criminal justice system. Housing remained segregated, but community began to erode. Black women generally moved from domestic work (immigrant women largely replaced them) into industry and clerical work (forming a working class often ignored by Black feminism and conflated with the working poor) and low paid insecure service jobs (becoming working poor) which resemble domestic service. Collins notes a contrast between a 1972 study of adolescent Black girls, who were hopeful despite living in harsh conditions, and a 1984 replication, in which girls and young women complained about unmet emotional needs as the extended family network that once supported Black girls had become overstretched due to economic shifts. Upwardly mobile Black women who made it into the middle class have had to endure a kind of 'mammification'; they are expected to be nuturing and are disproportionately employed in caring roles: Black women are expected to fix systems which are in crisis due to underfunding, infrastructure deterioration, and demoralized staffs or as Barbara Omolade puts it:Black professional women are often in high-visibility positions which require them to serve white superiors while quieting the natives. Collins emphasises the need for Black feminist thought to work through these modern class relations to prevent Black women from becoming oppressors of each other. considers how binary thinking and objectification result in the construction of Black women as the Other. Social theorist Dona Richards is referenced: she posits that the White tradition requires objectification in positing a knowing self distinct from a known object. Feminist scholarship has articulated the construction of women in proximity to nature as integral to their conquest by men, while Black scholarship has traced the parallel situation of Black (and other non-White) people are more 'natural' or 'instinctive', supporting the political economy of domination in slavery and (neo)colonialism.As the "Others" of society who can never really belong, strangers threaten the moral and social order. But they are simultaneously essential for its survival because those individuals who stand at the margins of society clarify its boundaries. African-American women, by not belonging, emphasize the significance of belonging.The 'mammy' image of the faithful and obedient domestic servant who cares for everyone and makes no demands is the oldest image, while the 'bad black mother', the matriarch is contrasted with her. This aggressive, unfeminine woman is the counter-ideal on which the cult of true womanhood stands in all its Whiteness. This image means that assertiveness is penalised in various ways in all women, but especially Black women. The 'absence of a Black patriarchy' has been said to indicate cultural inferiority, so this image feeds White supremacy and pressures Black men to be more dominating. Collins explains and thoroughly exposes the oppressive functioning of other controlling images: 'welfare mother' 'black lady' 'hoochie'. All of these images, in different ways pathologise the sexuality and fertililty of Black women. Collins discusses the hoochie's deviant behaviour as both hyper-heterosexual and lesbian, 'freaky' in either case, in the words of 2 Live Crew. I would like to go back to Mapping the Margins briefly here: Crenshaw compares the 2 Live Crew obscenity trial to the permissiveness granted to Madonna, who portrayed masturbation & insinuated group sex onstage, without interference. The court denied that 2 Live Crew's music had cultural specificity or artistic merit, which Crenshaw shows to be disingenuous and simultaneously a dismissal of the value of rap music made by Black people and a move to universalise and whitewash Black cultural expression. Obviously, like Collins, Crenshaw decries the violently misogynistic content of the work in question and mounts a strong feminist+antiracist critique of the arguments of its defenders, but she also challenges the court decisions' implication that it has no political value as a discourse of resistance. Furthermore, she points out that obscenity trials and critiques by Whites did nothing to protect the Black women objectified by the lyrics they targeted, instead furthering racial subjugation of Black men and devaluing of Black women by ignoring their specificity and viewing them as stand ins for White women, always the implicit victims of Black male sexual violence. Collins discusses beauty standards, colorism and the feelings of inferiority that affect Black girls and women living in the midst of White supremacist capitalist patriarchy. She gives attention to the ways Black women fiction writers have worked against controlling images, by presenting oppositional images of Black women as emergent, as well as tracing the causes of their individual subjugation. Such portraits return full humanity and subjectivity to objectified women. This leads in to (this book has flow) The Power of Self Definition which is about the myriad creative ways that African-American resist and have resisted controlling images, subordinate roles and white supremacist hegemony, in every day ways, through blues music, literature, self-reliance, activism, academic and intellectual work and research. I became very frustrated on behalf of women of colour attempting to organise safe spaces. These are often misdescribed and criticised as 'separatist' and 'essentialist', but spaces free from surveillance by more powerful groups are obviously deeply needed to develop the 'self-definitions [that] become politicised Black feminist standpoints'. One of the striking aspects of the chapter is the idea of self that emerges: one based on accountability and rooted in connectedness in difference and individuality in community. This is one of the hardest aspects of the book for me to get a handle on, and one I want to understand much better: 'identity is not the goal but rather the point of departure in self-definition' When it comes to The Sexual Politics of Black Womanhood 'everyone has spoken for Black women, making it difficult to speak for ourselves'. Women's studies, for instance, has tended to fit Black women into frameworks developed around White women to point out how Black women 'have it worse'. But the silence around sexual politics among Black women, an important subject here, also relates to racism and the pressure to choose between gender and race, when speaking out against rape and misogyny might harm Black men. Black feminism, by treating race, gender and class as intersecting structures of domination rather than individual attributes, has made work in this area possible. One example is reproductive justice discourse, a wider framework for reproductive autonomy than the pro-choice focus often taken White feminists, (but now being claimed by them as a new discovery) that grew as a response to the various suppressions and forms of population control enacted against African-Americans, from forced sterilizations to 'welfare-queen' controlling images. Sexism (and heterosexism) are only possible in a binary system of thought. The devalued jezebel/hoochie makes pure White womanhood possible. Collins reminds us that ideas about what is natural and normal are state sanctioned and promoted in schools, the media, religious institutions and government policies. I love this quote from Toni Cade Bambara on Eurocentric gender: "I have always, I think, opposed the stereotypical definitions of 'masculine' and 'feminine'... because I always found the either/or implicit in those definitions antithetical to what I was all about; and what revolution for the self is all about, the whole person". For me this relates to Julia Serano's critique of oppositional sexism in Whipping Girl. (I think Serano is very inaccurately portrayed as a defender of stereotypical femininity and I find her thought on this very helpful, but Bambara's/Collins' framing highlights that Serano is working, albeit critically, within a White, Eurocentric epistemology) The exploitation and regulation of Black women's bodies under slavery, Collins argues, form the foundation of pornography today. Alice Walker pointed out that White women are objects in pornography, while Black women are 'animals'. Collins suggests that this puts White women in an intermediate position between culture and nature (an object is the work of man), while Black women, uncultured, remain available for the untrammeled exploitation meted out to the rest of nature. The next topic is Black Women's Love Relationships which heart-hurtingly tells subjugation leaves so little space for love to flourish. One obstacle is thatWhite men have exploited, objectified, and refused to marry African-American women and have held out the trappings of power to their poorer brothers who endorse this ideologyAnother obstacle is White women, those institutionally desirable creatures painted as 'racial innocents' yet often seeming to rub salt in the wound by boasting to Black acquaintances about their relationships with Black men, from whom Black women so often experience rejection. Briefly mentioned here is a thread of Black Feminist thought towards redefining beauty in, for example, contrast and action, making use of African-derived ideas - not replacing one ideal with another, binary style, but creating space for erotic autonomy. Love between Black women, erotic or otherwise, is also important here. Black Women and Motherhood and Rethinking Black Women's Activism deal with the problems US Black women have faced as mothers and the stategies they have used for survival and empowerment of themselves, their communities and their children. It's really disgusting to read how 'maternal politics' has been dismissed as 'immature' or inferior to feminism because it is not focussed on 'personal rights' by Julia Wells and others. A couple of key points are the whiteness of higher education and the whiteness (and maleness) of trade unions and other workers' organisations. If Black women have rarely participated strongly in these areas and other forms of organized liberation struggle, that reflects their opportunities more than their interests. Black feminists have thought about power and leadership in terms of social reproduction and decentralisation - there are acute critiques here of civil rights/black power leaders who did not teach others to lead, accepting their status as figureheads. US Black Feminism in Transnational Context looks at issues of global solidarity, oppression by nation, commonalities and differences between African-Americans, other diasporas and women in Africa. The style of collaboration fostered by US Black feminist groups provides a good foundation for 'transversal politics' that enables different groups to learn from each other. There is a sharp observation that police are the 'foreign' occupiers for US Black women. In Black Feminist Epistemology. Collins compares positivist ways of knowing generally used by white men and institutions , where emotion and personality must be removed, ethics are considered an encumbrance to 'objectivity', and quality is checked by testing the work against robust attack, as an example of a contrast with a set of alternative metrics used by African American women - an ethics of care, personal accountability, lived experience as creating meaning, and the use of dialogue to test and develop ideas. This chapter explains the obstacles to Black feminist ideas being heard, and the pressures on Black women in academia to support dominant ideologies She lays to rest the binarist version of standpoint theory that leads to 'oppression olympics', where added layers of oppression somehow gift clearer vision. Collins contends that truths are validated by the fact that people speaking and knowing from many standpoints agree on them or find commonality in themEach group perceives its own knowledge as... unfinished [and] becomes better able to consider other group's standpoints without relinquishing the uniqueness of its own or suppressing other groups' partial perspectivesbell hooks calls this dialogic method humanising speech 'one that challenges and resists domination'. I will continue to struggle away from binary thinking, positivist ways of deciding who is right and that everyone else must be wrong, away from domination and epistemic violence, towards both/and. Finally in Towards a Politics of Empowerment she suggests social justice movements need a new common vocabulary to help foster a politics of empowerment. She describes four 'domains of power' that contextualise Black feminist thought. The structural domain is made up of institutions reproducing Black women's subordination over time. Legal victories have continually improved conditions, but this has led to the rhetoric of colorblindness The disciplinary domain backs up the structural domain with bureaucratic hierarchies and techniques of surveillance. I was reminded of Neil McGregor's discussion of the stability of a solid bureaucracy. It is easy to hire Black women to watch and regulate each other or force their complicity in these activities. Neither structural nor disciplinary domination could operate without the hegemonic domain, which produces and perpetuates 'common sense' white supremacist patriarchy in the form of controlling images. The interpersonal domain is the micro-level where these interlocking power relationships play out. As Collins reminds us many times, Black feminism is concerned with improving the lives of African-American women and others. Key to this is her remark that working within the epistemology of US Black women is far more powerful than creating new knowledge with the master's tools.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Everyone should read this book. I read this for the first time during a women's studies course as an undergrad, but it works so well, as she states, outside of academia. I find her analysis of Black female blues singers as a source of feminist thought especially interesting. Anyone and everyone interested in social justice should read this book. And then read it again.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    What I loved the most about this book is that it is an academic text, but PCH doesn't waste time with jargon. If she uses it, she defines it almost immediately. There is also a glossary in the back of the book. A book that I will use a lot. So happy I was pushed to revisit this text.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    4.5/5 In my own work I write no only what I want to read—understanding fully and indelibly that if I don't do it no one else is so vitally interested, or capable of doing it to my satisfaction—I write all the things I should have been able to read[.] -Alice Walker [I]t is axiomatic that if we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we will be defined by others—for their use and to our detriment[.] -Audre Lorde It's been good to get back into theory after so long a drought. My eagerness to rid my s 4.5/5 In my own work I write no only what I want to read—understanding fully and indelibly that if I don't do it no one else is so vitally interested, or capable of doing it to my satisfaction—I write all the things I should have been able to read[.] -Alice Walker [I]t is axiomatic that if we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we will be defined by others—for their use and to our detriment[.] -Audre Lorde It's been good to get back into theory after so long a drought. My eagerness to rid my shelves of some of the longer staying residents meant going back in time to when nonfiction was was in the realm of meaningless foibles and the effort of thinking was not considered something one should do "for fun", and I feel, once the challenges are over, I'll be doing work more intensive and less led by the carrot. Collins' work has its flaws and lack of comprehensiveness, but certain definitions and ideas she establishes have value in any academic realm intrinsically tied up with conversations about social justice. It was also exciting to recognize a number of referenced works as either read or in my future reading, and made for a feeling of, after much lackadaisical trash and inconsequential meanderings, finally coming back to the bedrock of my way of life. I am no black woman, but that doesn't forbid me from critically evaluating spaces in terms of, would a black (lesbian) woman be welcome here? If she wouldn't be, neither am I. Autonomy and separatism are fundamentally different. Whereas autonomy comes from a position of strength, separatism comes from a position of fear. When we're truly autonomous we can deal with other kinds of people, a multiplicity of issues, and with difference, because we have formed a solid base of strength[s.] -Barbara Smith Firmly rooted in an exchange-based marketplace with its accompanying assumptions of rational economic decision making and white male control of the marketplace, this model of community stresses the rights of individuals to make decisions in their own self-interest, regardless of the impact on the larger society. Composed of a collection of unequal individuals who compete for greater shares of money as the medium of exchange, this model of community legitimates relations of domination either by denying they exist or by treating them as inevitable but unimportant[.] As much reading as I've done in my life, I hadn't come across a text deemed academically credible that touched upon the cornerstone of my evaluating procedure, which takes into account the natural tendency of writing of any form to indoctrinate and, as a result, expects that authors give evidence that they know what they're doing and don't consider the trajectory of a fiction scribbler a free ride to spewing hatred and being congratulated for it. Collins' words in certain sectors were a veritable balm to my soul, as here we have a text that has been around for a tad longer than I've been alive, and it's saying exactly how I've been thinking and acting and writing for the past few years. The text was a give and take of this sort throughout, as while I certainly learned a great deal about how to avoid misogynoir of all sorts, I also took away principles that that served well in contexts outside those that the texts touched upon, namely mental illness and queerness beyond the realm of lesbianism. The fact that this didn't prove a five star and favorite is due to how inflexible the text was at parts, especially with the burden, despite all overt comments that denied such, put upon every single black woman to be responsible for both herself and all others of her race. Again, I'm not black, so I'm not reading this correctly, but the text did end on a rather pull yourself up by your bootstraps tone that got increasingly more jargon filled as time went on. Not as accessible as it claims to be, but not to the point of meriting passing by. Hair type quality rapidly became the real symbolic badge of slavery, although like many powerful symbols, it was disguised...by the linguistic device of using the term 'black,' which nominally threw the emphasis to color[.] Rather than emphasizing how a Black women's standpoint and its accompanying epistemology are different from those in Afrocentric and feminist analyses, I use Black women's experiences to examine points of contact between the two. Viewing an Afrocentric feminist epistemology in this way challenges additive analyses of oppression claiming that Black women have a more accurate view of oppression than do other groups. Such approaches suggest that oppression can be quantified and compared and that adding layers of oppression produces a potentially clearer standpoint...One implication of standpoint approaches is that the more subordinated the group, the purer the vision of the oppressed group. This is an outcome of the origins of standpoint approaches in Marxist social theory, itself an analysis of social structure rooted in [European] either/or dichotomous thinking. Ironically, by quantifying and ranking human oppressions, standpoint theorists invoke criteria for methodological adequacy characteristic of positivism. Although it is tempting to claim that Black women are more oppressed than everyone else and therefore have the best standpoint from which to understand the mechanisms, processes, and effects of oppression, this simply may not be the case. This is the first book in a long time that's made me excited about all the other books I have left to read. Part of this is the sheer number of references to theoretical texts I have on hand. The other part is recognizing how few and far between the works are that encompass my moral compass style of academia, and thus how much I need to relish them while the rare experience is ongoing. Collins wears a bevy of hats throughout this, and when considering such, it's amazing, despite my quibbles, how holistic a paradigm she is able to offer in the face of a mainstream that would do anything to segregate and isolate and ultimately destroy such a full faithed comradery. A prime example of this is the number of quotes I gained that weren't Collins' words, indicating the wealth of a community of black women writers I've yet to experience, whether for the first time in the vein of Fannie Lou Hamer or in the next time in the form of Alice Walker. In either case, I have a long, fruitful, if difficult journey ahead of me, and that feeling is the most I can ask of any written work to provide. An ethic of personal accountability is the final dimension of an alternative epistemology. Not only must individuals develop their knowledge claims through dialogue and present them in a style proving their concern for their ideas, but people are expected to be accountable for their knowledge claims. You can but die if you make the attempt; and we shall certainly die if you do not. -Maria W. Stewart

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tifanny Burks

    Another book where I am not the same person at the end that I was at the beginning. This book was healing to read. I feel seen. This book is another thank you to black women who give me expansive language to articulate my lived experiences under multiple forms of oppression. I am thankful for now revisiting this book 3 years later with a different lens of being a community organizer. The best part about this book 📖 is that it joins the league of books written by other black feminist scholars tha Another book where I am not the same person at the end that I was at the beginning. This book was healing to read. I feel seen. This book is another thank you to black women who give me expansive language to articulate my lived experiences under multiple forms of oppression. I am thankful for now revisiting this book 3 years later with a different lens of being a community organizer. The best part about this book 📖 is that it joins the league of books written by other black feminist scholars that is also a call to action. Doing the work of liberation is taxing, this book is an affirmation and a cheerleader to keep going but while engaging in self-preservation at the same time. I’m ready for my next read!

  7. 5 out of 5

    BMR, LCSW

    Took a long time for me to finish this book, as it is very much a textbook...and I've been out of grad school for a few years now. The most recent edition isn't available at my library, so I read this 2nd Ed. I may still seek out the newer edition. Recommended for anyone interested in feminist theories, political thought, and human rights

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    This book creates an argument about the particular experiences of groups of people and overarching theories of knowledge. It says that if a group of people, in this case US Black women, is consistently ruled untrustworthy or unknowledgeable, a major epistemological shift is required to get other groups of people to hear their testimony and expertise. This is something I've been thinking about a lot. I felt validated seeing this idea spelled out so beautifully and clearly by an African American s This book creates an argument about the particular experiences of groups of people and overarching theories of knowledge. It says that if a group of people, in this case US Black women, is consistently ruled untrustworthy or unknowledgeable, a major epistemological shift is required to get other groups of people to hear their testimony and expertise. This is something I've been thinking about a lot. I felt validated seeing this idea spelled out so beautifully and clearly by an African American scholar. I think I have already undergone that epistemological shift. I was already thinking about social knowledge as something that has to be collected through attention to multiple perspectives. Because this book has been around for awhile, I don't know how much of that insight actually came to me through other people who read it. I only wish I'd read the first edition of this book when it first came out! I think it ties together a lot of my other reading from that time.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tameika

    She offers an explored analysis of the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and class as well as its practical applications. She discuss self-identification, the politics of self empowerment, how woman are essential elements in nationalist thinking and etc. I do wish she discussed the politics of sexuality a bit more.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    This book blew my mind. One of the most impressive parts of it is P.H.C.'s command of black women's history in the U.S. It's so exciting to read about women who have produced "black feminist thought" in the U.S. through writing, music, and oral history since early 1800s, and before.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Hackley

    While I enjoyed her theories, her writing style is unnecessarily obtuse and repetitive.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Linda Le

    if u claim that u're an ally/progressive advocate of feminism, then do urself a favor & read this if u claim that u're an ally/progressive advocate of feminism, then do urself a favor & read this

  13. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    This author says in the intro "I'm going to say this in the most basic language possible so it's very accessible." This was not true lol. But it was still good and thought-provoking and a great synthesis of a lot of seemingly disparate work into one big thing. Pretty cool.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rosemari

    This book was my guiding light while working on my thesis, "Deconstructing Auth Jemima." Patricia Hill Collins is underread and underrated. I want to sit at her feet. It remains an important reference book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alex Knipp

    I read a few chapters of this book last semester for a class on quantitative and qualitative research methods, but just finishing reading it among calls to commit to anti-racist research practices. If you are working in academia at all, I think this is an essential work. If you are doing research with human subjects, I think this is an essential work. And if you are in the practice of knowledge production or translation, I think this is an essential work. As a white researcher and student, it is I read a few chapters of this book last semester for a class on quantitative and qualitative research methods, but just finishing reading it among calls to commit to anti-racist research practices. If you are working in academia at all, I think this is an essential work. If you are doing research with human subjects, I think this is an essential work. And if you are in the practice of knowledge production or translation, I think this is an essential work. As a white researcher and student, it is my responsibility to acknowledge the ways in which research has been a tool of colonial extraction and a way to suppress the lived experiences of the marginalized. Below are some of the key quotes and ideas I’m taking away from Hill Collins. ——————————————————— * As social conditions change, so must the knowledge and practices designed to resist them * Theory of all types is often presented as being so abstract that it can be appreciated only by a select few. Though often highly satisfying to academics, this definition excludes those who do not speak the language of elites and thus reinforces social relations of domination. Educated elites typically claim that only they are qualified to produce theory and believe that only they can interpret not only their own but everyone else's experiences. moreover, educated elites often use this belief to uphold their own privilege. * One key reason that standpoints of oppressed groups are suppressed is that self-defined standpoints can stimulate resistance.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Fasching-Gray

    I especially like when Collins uses non-academic statements from black women talking about their own direct experiences to illustrate her points. I found myself quoting some of that in my day to day conversations with people. There were a couple of moments where I was like, "Is it weird to be a white dude reading this?" But I think, even though there are sadly very few black women in my environment right now, that it is all somehow extremely relevant. Collins makes the point a few times that Blac I especially like when Collins uses non-academic statements from black women talking about their own direct experiences to illustrate her points. I found myself quoting some of that in my day to day conversations with people. There were a couple of moments where I was like, "Is it weird to be a white dude reading this?" But I think, even though there are sadly very few black women in my environment right now, that it is all somehow extremely relevant. Collins makes the point a few times that Black Feminism isn't just about combining antiracism with antisexism or just about the struggles of African(-American) women but it's about a broader social justice for everyone. Certainly anyone who is working for justice in any way would benefit from this book, and really anyone who doesn't want to be working for injustice... When I read a book as dense as this, I don't try to get everything and 'unpack' everything. I figure, it'll make sense if I read further or one day I will read another book, or have some other kind of experience and then it'll make more sense. This edition has a glossary but I never checked it. Some reviewers talk about how academic it is, or note that it is a textbook, and there is the story in here of one of Collins' students who asked her to write a version of the book "for teenagers." I didn't think it was all that heavy. I think it all made sense to me. There are probably some things that will make more sense later, and I probably have forgotten more than I remember, but it's in there somewhere, like seeds beneath the snow to use a lovely cliche.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Aliya Jabbar

    This book is the comprehensive, engaging handbook on black feminism that I'd always hoped to find. PHC harbors a deep disdain for the predominance of the kind of scholarship that is impersonal and abstract, and in Black Feminist Thought, she broadly explores and theorizes while peppering her essays with personal anecdotes and extracts from the literary, artistic and academic works of other black women. The result is a well-organized, deeply insightful collection of essays with plenty of new argu This book is the comprehensive, engaging handbook on black feminism that I'd always hoped to find. PHC harbors a deep disdain for the predominance of the kind of scholarship that is impersonal and abstract, and in Black Feminist Thought, she broadly explores and theorizes while peppering her essays with personal anecdotes and extracts from the literary, artistic and academic works of other black women. The result is a well-organized, deeply insightful collection of essays with plenty of new arguments and some old ones that have been analyzed in a light that is both refreshingly intimate and scholarly at the same time.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

    Unfortunately I wasn't able to finish the book yet (due back at the library) but I can speak to what I read so far. This is an important read for feminist theorists, and feminists in general. As a white woman, this book was especially enlightening, though I want to stress that I am not the target audience, either. My main criticism is the redundancy and length; I think this work would have benefited from some word trimming and condensing, as I often struggled to remain focused and/or found mysel Unfortunately I wasn't able to finish the book yet (due back at the library) but I can speak to what I read so far. This is an important read for feminist theorists, and feminists in general. As a white woman, this book was especially enlightening, though I want to stress that I am not the target audience, either. My main criticism is the redundancy and length; I think this work would have benefited from some word trimming and condensing, as I often struggled to remain focused and/or found myself often thinking "okay, cmon, you've already said this. Support your point with some new information."

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gemma O'Brien

    As a white British woman with a strong interest in feminism I knew this book centring African American women was not addressed to me specifically yet it is vital reading in order to comprehend the specifics of Black feminism and how global feminism has assumed a largely dominantly white Western bias on matters of female empowerment, enabled largely through systems of white privilege. It is a hugely important book for anyone to read in order to understand systemic oppression, the matrix of domina As a white British woman with a strong interest in feminism I knew this book centring African American women was not addressed to me specifically yet it is vital reading in order to comprehend the specifics of Black feminism and how global feminism has assumed a largely dominantly white Western bias on matters of female empowerment, enabled largely through systems of white privilege. It is a hugely important book for anyone to read in order to understand systemic oppression, the matrix of domination and transversal politics within a U.S. Black feminist framework. To also comprehend the systems of oppression that house varying amounts of penalty and privilege across all intersections towards social justice movements. A must read and one to re-read regularly!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dwight Davis

    This is an incredibly helpful book. Collins makes a few constructive arguments, but for the most part offers an overview of the major themes in black feminist thought, offering a repository and guidebook to those new to the discipline.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Absolutely brilliant. Longer review to come.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Filipa

    to buy in physical form and re-read

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    Hard indeed to imagine a more comprehensive or more lucidly written book on the topic of Black feminism. I’m in absolute awe of Patricia Hill Collins’ abilities as a scholar, a researcher, a theorist, and a writer.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    Professor Patricia Hill Collins is a feminist academic and the author of books and articles that opens up the experiences of Black women the juncture of race, gender, sexuality, class and nationality. She was inspired by her own encounters of being an intellectual Black women and feeing "one of the few," or the only female, working class and African American person in her public and private environments. Collins reflects on this in her writing in which she reports feeling isolated and silenced b Professor Patricia Hill Collins is a feminist academic and the author of books and articles that opens up the experiences of Black women the juncture of race, gender, sexuality, class and nationality. She was inspired by her own encounters of being an intellectual Black women and feeing "one of the few," or the only female, working class and African American person in her public and private environments. Collins reflects on this in her writing in which she reports feeling isolated and silenced because of her race and gender within white, male dominated institutions. Through her writing and sociological academia, she found her voice, became a distinguished University professor and in 2008 she became the first Black woman to become the president of the of the American Sociological Association. Collins work confronts the way that female thoughts are trivialize and exclude both inside and outside of academia along with giving meaning to the experiences of being a Black woman in a world defined by white experiences and thought. Along with her focus on oppressions she also articulates daily and historical cultures of resistances to domination. Patricia Hill Collins work is concerned with the social and historical intersecting oppressions and resistances that are connected to the lives of Black woman and the complex ways in which intersectionality forms a double burden for them. She highlights the issue of Black women being unable or unwilling to voice their experiences of oppressions in White, masculine environments and how challenging these problems are blocked by those who have control. In Western academic institutions the people who control and validated new knowledge claims are white males from elite backgrounds. This means that knowledge made by Black females is less likely to be validated than any other group of people. Examples of these issues are highlighted in the University and College Union report which exposes major concerns with stereotyping and the bullying of Black females that prevent them from being promoted or encourages them to opt out of academic routes. Collins maintains that women of colour have a double suffering as the ‘outsider within’ being both Black but not male and female but not white. This suffering has been normalised by negative stereotypes such as Black women as sexual objects, angry and irrational, stereotypes that make their oppression unrecognisable. In her book ‘Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment’, (1990) Collins contributes to the understanding of intersectionality by introduction of the ‘matrix of domination,’ a concept which stresses how oppressions such as ‘age, race and gender’ or ‘sexuality and class’ are connected to produce different types of domination. The ‘matrix of domination’ theorises that power falls into four different domains. The interpersonal domain reflects how daily interactions act to make systems of power, the disciplinary domain relates to the different rules that groups of people are subject to, such as how Black women are less likely to gain justice in rape cases. The hegemonic domain explains how institutions are organised to places some people over others and cultural domain which hides discrimination, for example the message that Black people are more violent so more prone to imprisonment. Collins contends that women of colour turn to ‘subjugated knowledge,’ a term she gives to the conversation, poetry, literature, music and dance that they use to express their experiences. She talks of the importance, as a form of resistance, for marginalised groups of women to have space in which to be heard, reclaim and define their own knowledge about themselves. An example of ‘subjugated knowledge’ can be found in the popular Beyoncé visual album, Lemonade, in which songs like Sorry can be interpreted as an ‘unapologetically black’ refusal of the traditional male domination and Formation, a metaphor used to call women to come together. There are common experiences that groups of women share, and it is important that they have a platform of which to understand and interpret themselves. The turn to ‘subjugated knowledge’ helps women to acknowledge their beautiful cultures, histories and customs along with helping them find ways to resist oppression. Collins has used her personal and intellectual experiences to confront the way that Black female thoughts is misrepresented or excluded within mainstream epistemology. Her work in Black Feminist Thought and other publications has influenced the battle against the essentialism of marginalised groups of women and through her work they are brought closer understanding themselves and valuing their experiences. Collins has helped in pinpointing how individual social locations are connected to lived experiences and made it easy to identify how marginalisation works through intersecting oppressions and not because of malfunctions of family life, ancestral domination or any other cultural message given for their oppression. She states that “Black women’s experiences have never fit the logic of work in the public sphere juxtaposed to family obligations in the private sphere” (Collins, 2000). The assumption that all women experience public and private life in the same way is challenged by Collins who provides a clear picture of how race and class affect personal and public experiences. Patricia Hill Collins lays open the stories of women with intersecting oppressions, who feel like outsiders within both society and higher education along with helping them to reflect on their own systems for creating knowledge.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Henry Cooksley

    If the kinds of things you are interested in include e.g. sociology, social epistemology, intersectionality, compassionate politics... I would strongly suggest that you read this. I was looking forward to reading this for a number of years, and I'm pleased to say that it more than lived up to my expectations. Collins has a great skill in taking a complex topic and treating it with the distant, subject-object style you might find in any other social science textbook. Having said that, the compass If the kinds of things you are interested in include e.g. sociology, social epistemology, intersectionality, compassionate politics... I would strongly suggest that you read this. I was looking forward to reading this for a number of years, and I'm pleased to say that it more than lived up to my expectations. Collins has a great skill in taking a complex topic and treating it with the distant, subject-object style you might find in any other social science textbook. Having said that, the compassion and love she brings to this subject appear obvious throughout the book. It's hard to pick out quotes without their context, as I think Collins' work is better to read in long form, but I'll try and pick some quotes anyway that were notable to me for whatever reason. I took a lot from the epistemology chapter because that was my favourite, not because it's the only good one! On the need for social epistemology: “Several requirements typify positivist methodological approaches. First, research methods generally require a distancing of the researcher from her or his 'object' of study by defining the researcher as a 'subject' with full human subjectivity and by objectifying the 'object' of study (Keller 1985; Asante 1987). A second requirement is the absence of emotions from the research process (Jaggar 1983). Third, ethics and values are deemed inappropriate in the research process, either as the reason for scientific inquiry or as part of the research process itself (Richards 1980). Finally, adversarial debates, whether written or oral, become the preferred method of ascertaining truth: The arguments that can withstand the greatest assault and survive intact become the strongest truths (Moulton 1983). [...] Such criteria ask African-American women to objectify ourselves, devalue our emotional life, displace our motivations for furthering knowledge about Black women, and confront in an adversarial relationship those with more social, economic, and professional power.” On varieties of artistic self-expression: “The polyrhythms in African-American music, in which no one main beat subordinates the others, is paralleled by the theme of individual expression in Black women's quilting. Black women quilters place strong color and patterns next to one another and see the individual differences not as detracting from each piece but as enriching the whole quilt (Brown 1989). This belief in individual uniqueness is illustrated by the value placed on personal expressiveness in African-American communities (Smitherman 1977; Kochman 1981; Mitchell and Lewter 1986). Johnetta Ray, an inner-city resident, describes this African-influenced emphasis on individual uniqueness: “No matter how hard we try, I don't think black people will ever develop much of a herd instinct. We are profound individualists with a passion for self-expression” (Gwaltney 1980, 228).” On intersecting oppressions and the difficulty of simply adding up political perspectives/making interpersonal comparisons: “Rather than emphasizing how a Black women's standpoint and its accompanying epistemology differ from those of White women, Black men, and other collectivities, Black women's experiences serve as one specific social location for examining points of connection among multiple epistemologies. Viewing black feminist epistemology in this way challenges additive analyses of oppression claiming that Black women have a more accurate view of oppression than do other groups. Such approaches suggest that oppression can be quantified and compared and that adding layers of oppression produces a potentially clearer standpoint (Spelman 1988). One implication of some uses of standpoint theory is that the more subordinated the group, the purer the vision available to them. This is an outcome of the origins of standpoint approaches in Marxist social theory, itself reflecting the binary thinking of its Western origins. Ironically, by quantifying and ranking human oppressions, standpoint theorists invoke criteria for methodological accuracy that resemble those of positivism. Although it is tempting to claim that Black women are more oppressed than everyone else and therefore have the best standpoint from which to understand the mechanisms, processes, and effects of oppression, this is not the case. [...] Instead, those ideas that are validated as true by African-American women, African-American men, Latina lesbians, Asian-American women, Puerto Rican men, and other groups with distinctive standpoints, with each group using the epistemological approaches growing from its unique standpoint, become the most 'objective' truths. Each group speaks from its own standpoint and shares its own partial, situated knowledge. But because each group perceives its own truth as partial, its knowledge is unfinished. Each group becomes better able to consider other groups' standpoints without relinquishing the uniqueness of its own standpoint or suppressing other groups' partial perspectives. [...] Partiality, and not universality, is the condition of being heard; individuals and groups forwarding knowledge claims without owning their position are deemed less credible than those who do.” This should be high up on any reading list covering sociology, social science research methods, political science, feminism, or African-American studies. Collins has another book just looking at intersectionality, but if you can only pick one of her works to read, then I would probably make it this one.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tasha

    I had the privilege of being one of Dr. Collin's students at the University of Cincinnati. I learned so much from this woman and her gender study class. She along with some other great writers such a Bell Hooks and others helped me shape my own definition of what it means to be a black woman in America.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lucas

    I really like Patricia Hill Collins and this is no exception, though I found much of what she filed under "Black feminism" really applied to feminism writ large. Still, it's an important work and very readable.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Oren Whightsel

    patricia hill collins is one of the most important voices in feminism. this book is a must read...especially the 10th anniv. ed. because she updates her research and further develops her arguments.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn Diamond

    I've loved her work since Women Studies classes

  30. 5 out of 5

    Roberta Villalon

    thank you pat for writing this and changing the world!

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