Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment- Patricia Hill Collins

“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.


7 thoughts on “Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment- Patricia Hill Collins

  1. Maybe all black women don’t wish to be defined as “black women” ? I mean, I certainly see you as Rowena, the avid perceptive reader, and I hope you don’t only see a white woman in me 🙂

    1. True, Alice, not every black woman wishes to be called by that title and as always I respect their decision. For me, being called a black woman isn’t something to be ashamed of in the least, what I ask is for people to not judge me based on some stereotype they picked up on somewhere. We definitely see colour but I will never judge someone based on their colour alone, or see someone solely as their colour:)

  2. This review made me realize that I I need to give this another read soon. This was a required reading for a sociology class I took in Uni and I loved the commentary on ‘intersectionality’ and how black women are marginalized on various levels. I agree, the book does have a hopeful feel to it 🙂

    1. I used this book to write my thesis and it is heavily highlighted! One thing I didn’t like much, and she does touch upon this, is how black feminist theory is often tied to the USA. I think that the rest of us black diaspora women feel a bit left out of the dialogue sometimes (guess it’s time for us to write our own books, lol!).

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