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Both “Ain’t I a Woman?” (1851) and “A Black Feminist Statement: The River Collective” (1977) make statements in response to exclusionary aspects of feminist activism in the 19th and 20th centuries respectively. With reference to these two texts, a) explain the similarities and differences between Truth’s and the concerns and b) discuss how their arguments are still relevant today. please be more lebral and feminst sided when writtinghttps://www.sojournertruth.com/p/aint-i-woman.htmlhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yq3AYiRT4no
combahee_river_collective__a_black_feminist_statement_1_.pdf

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A Black Feminist Statement
The Combahee River Collective
We are a collective of black feminists who have been meeting together
since 1974.1 During that time we have been involved in the process of
defining and clarifying our politics, while at the same time doing political
work within our own group and in coalition with other progressive organi
zations and movements. The most general statement of our politics at the
present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against
racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression and see as our particular
task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the
fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of
these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives. As black women we
see black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the mani
fold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face.
We will discuss four major topics in the paper that follows: (l) The gen
esis of contemporary black feminism; (2) what we believe, i.e., the specific
province of our politics; (3) the problems in organizing black feminists,
including a brief herstory of our collective; and (4) black feminist issues
and practice.
1. The Genesis of Contemporary Black Feminism
Before looking at the recent development of black feminism, we would like
to affirm that we find our origins in the historical reality of Afro-American
women’s continuous life-and-death struggle for survival and liberation.
Black women’s extremely negative relationship to the American political
system (a system of white male rule) has always been determined by our
This essay originally appeared in Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, published
by the Monthly Review Press in 1978. Reprinted with permission from the Monthly Review Press 271
Foundation. All rights reserved.
This content downloaded from 130.160.24.117 on Tue, 05 Jun 2018 01:57:42 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
272 The Combahee River Collective
membership in two oppressed racial and sexual castes. As Angela Y. Davis
points out in “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Role in the Community
of Slaves,” black women have always embodied, if only in their physical
manifestation, an adversary stance to white male rule and have actively
resisted its inroads upon them and their communities in both dramatic
and subtle ways. There have always been black women activists—some
known, like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frances E. W. Harper, Ida
B. Wells Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell, and thousands upon thou
sands unknown—who had a shared awareness of how their sexual identity
combined with their racial identity to make their whole life situation and
the focus of their political struggles unique. Contemporary black feminism
is the outgrowth of countless generations of personal sacrifice, militancy,
and work by our mothers and sisters.
A black feminist presence has evolved most obviously in connection
with the second wave of the American women’s movement beginning in
the late 1960s. Black, other Third World, and working women have been
involved in the feminist movement from its start, but both outside reac
tionary forces and racism and elitism within the movement itself have
served to obscure our participation. In 1973 black feminists, primarily
located in New York, felt the necessity of forming a separate black feminist
group. This became the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO).
Black feminist politics also have an obvious connection to movements
for black liberation, particularly those of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of us
were active in those movements (civil rights, black nationalism, the Black
Panthers), and all of our lives were greatly affected and changed by their
ideology, their goals, and the tactics used to achieve their goals. It was our
experience and disillusionment within these liberation movements, as
well as experience on the periphery of the white male left, that led to the
need to develop a politics that was antiracist, unlike those of white women,
and antisexist, unlike those of black and white men.
There is also undeniably a personal genesis for black feminism, that is,
the political realization that comes from the seemingly personal experi
ences of individual black women’s lives. Black feminists and many more
black women who do not define themselves as feminists have all experi
enced sexual oppression as a constant factor in our day-to-day existence.
Black feminists often talk about their feelings of craziness before
becoming conscious of the concepts of sexual politics, patriarchal rule,
and, most importantly, feminism, the political analysis and practice that
This content downloaded from 130.160.24.117 on Tue, 05 Jun 2018 01:57:42 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
A Black Feminist Statement 273
we women use to struggle against our oppression. The fact that racial poli
tics and indeed racism are pervasive factors in our lives did not allow us,
and still does not allow most black women, to look more deeply into our
own experiences and define those things that make our lives what they are
and our oppression specific to us. In the process of consciousness-raising,
actually life-sharing, we began to recognize the commonality cff our expe
riences and, from that sharing and growing consciousness, to build a poli
tics that will change our lives and inevitably end our oppression.
Our development also must be tied to the contemporary economic
and political position of black people. The post-World War II generation
of black youth was the first to be able to minimally partake of certain edu
cational and employment options, previously closed completely to black
people. Although our economic position is still at the very bottom of the
American capitalist economy, a handful of us have been able to gain cer
tain tools as a result of tokenism in education and employment which
potentially enable us to more effectively fight our oppression.
A combined antiracist and antisexist position drew us together initially,
and as we developed politically we addressed ourselves to heterosexism
and economic oppression under capitalism.
2. What We Believe
Above all else, our politics initially sprang from the shared belief that black
women are inherently valuable, that our liberation is a necessity not as an
adjunct to somebody else’s but because of our need as human persons for
autonomy. This may seem so obvious as to sound simplistic, but it is appar
ent that no other ostensibly progressive movement has ever considered
our specific oppression a priority or worked seriously for the ending of
that oppression. The mere names of the pejorative stereotypes attributed
to black women (e.g., mammy, matriarch, Sapphire, whore, bulldagger), let
alone cataloguing the cruel, often murderous, treatment we receive, indi
cates how little value has been placed upon our lives during four centuries
of bondage in the Western hemisphere. We realize that the only people
who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation is us.
Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters, and our
community, which allows us to continue our struggle and work.
This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of
identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially the
This content downloaded from 130.160.24.117 on Tue, 05 Jun 2018 01:57:42 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
274 The Combahee River Collective
most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to
working to end somebody else’s oppression. In the case of black women
this is a particularly repugnant, dangerous, threatening, and therefore
revolutionary concept because it is obvious from looking at all the politi
cal movements that have preceded us that anyone is more worthy of lib
eration than ourselves. We reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten
paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough.
We believe that sexual politics under patriarchy is as pervasive in black
women’s lives as are the politics of class and race. We also often find it dif
ficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives
they are most often experienced simultaneously. We know that there is
such a thing as racial-sexual oppression that is neither solely racial nor
solely sexual, e.g., the history of rape of black women by white men as a
weapon of political repression.
Although we are feminists and lesbians, we feel solidarity with pro
gressive black men and do not advocate the fractionalization that white
women who are separatists demand. Our situation as black people neces
sitates 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 imperial
ism as well as patriarchy. We are socialists because we believe the 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 antiracist revolution will guarantee our liberation. We have
arrived at the necessity for developing an understanding of class relation
ships 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 work
ing/ economic lives. Although we are in essential agreement with Marx’s
theory as it applied to the very specific economic relationships he ana
This content downloaded from 130.160.24.117 on Tue, 05 Jun 2018 01:57:42 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
A Black Feminist Statement 275
lyzed, we know that this analysis must be extended further in order for us
to understand our specific economic situation as black women.
A political contribution which we feel we have already made is the
expansion of the feminist principle that the personal is political. In our
consciousness-raising sessions, for example, we have in many ways gone
beyond white women’s revelations because we are dealing with the impli
cations of race and class as well as sex. Even our black women’s style of
talking/testifying in black language about what we have experienced has a
resonance that is both cultural and political. We have spent a great deal of
energy delving into the cultural and experiential nature of our oppression
out of necessity because none of these matters have ever been looked at
before. No one before has ever examined the multilayered texture of black
women’s lives.
As we have already stated, we reject the stance of lesbian separatism
because it is not a viable political analysis or strategy for us. It leaves out
far too much and far too many people, particularly black men, women, and
children. We have a great deal of criticism and loathing for what men have
been socialized to be in this society: what they support, how they act, and
how they oppress. But we do not have the misguided notion that it is their
maleness, per se—i.e., their biological maleness—that makes them what
they are. As black women we find any type of biological determinism a
particularly dangerous and reactionary basis upon which to build a politic.
We must also question whether lesbian separatism is an adequate and pro
gressive political analysis and strategy, even for those who practice it, since
it so completely denies any but the sexual sources of women’s oppression,
negating the facts of class and race.
3. Problems in Organizing Black Feminists
During our years together as a black feminist collective we have experi
enced success and defeat, joy and pain, victory and failure. We have found
that it is very difficult to organize around black feminist issues, difficult
even to announce in certain contexts that we are black feminists. We have
tried to think about the reasons for our difficulties, particularly since the
white women’s movement continues to be strong and to grow in many
directions. In this section we will discuss some of the general reasons for
the organizing problems we face and also talk specifically about the stages
in organizing our own collective.
This content downloaded from 130.160.24.117 on Tue, 05 Jun 2018 01:57:42 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
276 The Combahee River Collective
The major source of difficulty in our political work is that we are not
just trying to fight oppression on one front or even two but instead to
address a whole range of oppressions. We do not have racial, sexual, het
erosexual, or class privilege to rely upon, nor do we have even the minimal
access to resources and power that groups who possess any one of these
types of privilege have.
The psychological toll of being a black woman and the difficulties these
present in reaching political consciousness and doing political work can
never be underestimated. There is a very low value placed upon black
women’s psyches in this society, which is both racist and sexist. As an early
group member once said, “We are all damaged people merely by virtue of
being black women.” We are dispossessed psychologically and on every
other level, and yet we feel the necessity to struggle to change our condi
tion and the condition of all black women. In “A Black Feminist s Search
for Sisterhood,” Michele Wallace arrives at this conclusion:
We exist as women who are black who are feminists, each stranded for
the moment, working independently because there is not yet an envi
ronment in this society remotely congenial to our struggle—because,
being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done:
we would have to fight the world.2
Wallace is not pessimistic but realistic in her assessment of black femi
nists’ position, particularly in her allusion to the nearly classic isolation
most of us face. We might use our position at the bottom, however, to
make a clear leap into revolutionary action. If black women were free, it
would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom
would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.
Feminism is, nevertheless, very threatening to the majority of black
people because it calls into question some of the most basic assumptions
about our existence, i.e., that gender should be a determinant of power
relationships. Here is the way male and female roles were defined in a black
nationalist pamphlet from the early 1970s:
We understand that it is and has been traditional that the man is the head
of the house. He is the leader of the house/nation because his knowl
edge of the world is broader, his awareness is greater, his understanding
is fuller and his application of this information is wiser…. After all, it is
only reasonable that the man be the head of the house because he is able
to defend and protect the development of his home Women cannot
This content downloaded from 130.160.24.117 on Tue, 05 Jun 2018 01:57:42 UTC
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A Black Feminist Statement 277
do the same things as men—they are made by nature to function dif
ferently. Equality of men and women is something that cannot happen
even in the abstract world. Men are not equal to other men, i.e., ability,
experience, or even understanding. The value of men and women can be
seen as in the value of gold and silver—they are not equal but both have
great value. We must realize that men and women are a complement to
each other because there is no house/family without a man and his wife.
Both are essential to the development of any life.3
The material conditions of most black women would hardly lead them
to upset both economic and sexual arrangements that seem to represent
some stability in their lives. Many black women have a good understand
ing of both sexism and racism, but because of the everyday constrictions
of their lives cannot risk struggling against them both.
The reaction of black men to feminism has been notoriously negative.
They are, of course, even more threatened than black women by the pos
sibility that black feminists might organize around our own needs. They
realize that they might not only lose valuable and hard-working allies in
their struggles but that they might also be forced to change their habitually
sexist ways of interacting with and oppressing black women. Accusations
that black feminism divides the black struggle are powerful deterrents to
the growth of an autonomous black women’s movement.
Still, hundreds of women have been active at different times during
the three-year existence of our group. And every black woman who came,
came out of a strongly felt need for some level of possibility that did not
previously exist in her life.
When we first started meeting early in 1974 after the NBFO’s first east
ern regional conference, we did not have a strategy for organizing, or even
a focus. We just wanted to see what we had. After a period of months of
not meeting, we began to meet again late in the year and started doing
an intense variety of consciousness-raising. The overwhelming feeling
that we had is that after years and years we had finally found each other.
Although we were not doing political work as a group, individuals contin
ued their involvement in lesbian politics, sterilization abuse and abortion
rights work, Third World Women’s International Women’s Day activities,
and support activity for the trials of Dr. Kenneth Edelin, Joan Little, and
Inez Garcia. During our first summer, when membership had dropped
off considerably, those of us remaining devoted serious discussion to the
possibility of opening a refuge for battered women in a black community.
This content downloaded from 130.160.24.117 on Tue, 05 Jun 2018 01:57:42 UTC
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278 The Combahee River Collective
(There was no refuge in Boston at that time.) We also decided around that
time to become an independent collective since we had serious disagree
ments with NBFO’s bourgeois-feminist stance and their lack of a clear
political focus.
We also were contacted at that time by socialist feminists, with whom
we had worked on abortion rights activities, who wanted to encourage us
to attend the National Socialist Feminist Conference in Yellow Springs.
One of our members did attend and despite the narrowness of the ide
ology that was promoted at that particular conference, we became more
aware of the need for us to understand our own economic situation and to
make our own economic analysis.
In the fall, when some members returned, we experienced several
months of comparative inactivity and internal disagreements which were
first conceptualized as a lesbian-straight split but which were also the result
of class and political differences. During the summer those of us who were
still meeting had determined the need to do political work and to move
beyond consciousness-raising and serving exclusively as an emotional sup
port group. At the beginning of 1976, when some of the women who had
not wanted to do political work and who also had voiced disagreements
stopped attending of their own acc …
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Both “Ain’t I a Woman?” (1851) and “A Black Feminist Statement: The River Collective” (1977) make statements in response to exclusionary aspects of feminist activism in the 19th and 20th centuries respectively. With reference to these two texts, a) explain the similarities and differences between Truth’s and the concerns and b) discuss how their arguments are still relevant today. please be more lebral and feminst sided when writtinghttps://www.sojournertruth.com/p/aint-i-woman.htmlhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yq3AYiRT4no
combahee_river_collective__a_black_feminist_statement_1_.pdf

Unformatted Attachment Preview

A Black Feminist Statement
The Combahee River Collective
We are a collective of black feminists who have been meeting together
since 1974.1 During that time we have been involved in the process of
defining and clarifying our politics, while at the same time doing political
work within our own group and in coalition with other progressive organi
zations and movements. The most general statement of our politics at the
present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against
racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression and see as our particular
task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the
fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of
these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives. As black women we
see black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the mani
fold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face.
We will discuss four major topics in the paper that follows: (l) The gen
esis of contemporary black feminism; (2) what we believe, i.e., the specific
province of our politics; (3) the problems in organizing black feminists,
including a brief herstory of our collective; and (4) black feminist issues
and practice.
1. The Genesis of Contemporary Black Feminism
Before looking at the recent development of black feminism, we would like
to affirm that we find our origins in the historical reality of Afro-American
women’s continuous life-and-death struggle for survival and liberation.
Black women’s extremely negative relationship to the American political
system (a system of white male rule) has always been determined by our
This essay originally appeared in Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, published
by the Monthly Review Press in 1978. Reprinted with permission from the Monthly Review Press 271
Foundation. All rights reserved.
This content downloaded from 130.160.24.117 on Tue, 05 Jun 2018 01:57:42 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
272 The Combahee River Collective
membership in two oppressed racial and sexual castes. As Angela Y. Davis
points out in “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Role in the Community
of Slaves,” black women have always embodied, if only in their physical
manifestation, an adversary stance to white male rule and have actively
resisted its inroads upon them and their communities in both dramatic
and subtle ways. There have always been black women activists—some
known, like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frances E. W. Harper, Ida
B. Wells Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell, and thousands upon thou
sands unknown—who had a shared awareness of how their sexual identity
combined with their racial identity to make their whole life situation and
the focus of their political struggles unique. Contemporary black feminism
is the outgrowth of countless generations of personal sacrifice, militancy,
and work by our mothers and sisters.
A black feminist presence has evolved most obviously in connection
with the second wave of the American women’s movement beginning in
the late 1960s. Black, other Third World, and working women have been
involved in the feminist movement from its start, but both outside reac
tionary forces and racism and elitism within the movement itself have
served to obscure our participation. In 1973 black feminists, primarily
located in New York, felt the necessity of forming a separate black feminist
group. This became the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO).
Black feminist politics also have an obvious connection to movements
for black liberation, particularly those of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of us
were active in those movements (civil rights, black nationalism, the Black
Panthers), and all of our lives were greatly affected and changed by their
ideology, their goals, and the tactics used to achieve their goals. It was our
experience and disillusionment within these liberation movements, as
well as experience on the periphery of the white male left, that led to the
need to develop a politics that was antiracist, unlike those of white women,
and antisexist, unlike those of black and white men.
There is also undeniably a personal genesis for black feminism, that is,
the political realization that comes from the seemingly personal experi
ences of individual black women’s lives. Black feminists and many more
black women who do not define themselves as feminists have all experi
enced sexual oppression as a constant factor in our day-to-day existence.
Black feminists often talk about their feelings of craziness before
becoming conscious of the concepts of sexual politics, patriarchal rule,
and, most importantly, feminism, the political analysis and practice that
This content downloaded from 130.160.24.117 on Tue, 05 Jun 2018 01:57:42 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
A Black Feminist Statement 273
we women use to struggle against our oppression. The fact that racial poli
tics and indeed racism are pervasive factors in our lives did not allow us,
and still does not allow most black women, to look more deeply into our
own experiences and define those things that make our lives what they are
and our oppression specific to us. In the process of consciousness-raising,
actually life-sharing, we began to recognize the commonality cff our expe
riences and, from that sharing and growing consciousness, to build a poli
tics that will change our lives and inevitably end our oppression.
Our development also must be tied to the contemporary economic
and political position of black people. The post-World War II generation
of black youth was the first to be able to minimally partake of certain edu
cational and employment options, previously closed completely to black
people. Although our economic position is still at the very bottom of the
American capitalist economy, a handful of us have been able to gain cer
tain tools as a result of tokenism in education and employment which
potentially enable us to more effectively fight our oppression.
A combined antiracist and antisexist position drew us together initially,
and as we developed politically we addressed ourselves to heterosexism
and economic oppression under capitalism.
2. What We Believe
Above all else, our politics initially sprang from the shared belief that black
women are inherently valuable, that our liberation is a necessity not as an
adjunct to somebody else’s but because of our need as human persons for
autonomy. This may seem so obvious as to sound simplistic, but it is appar
ent that no other ostensibly progressive movement has ever considered
our specific oppression a priority or worked seriously for the ending of
that oppression. The mere names of the pejorative stereotypes attributed
to black women (e.g., mammy, matriarch, Sapphire, whore, bulldagger), let
alone cataloguing the cruel, often murderous, treatment we receive, indi
cates how little value has been placed upon our lives during four centuries
of bondage in the Western hemisphere. We realize that the only people
who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation is us.
Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters, and our
community, which allows us to continue our struggle and work.
This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of
identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially the
This content downloaded from 130.160.24.117 on Tue, 05 Jun 2018 01:57:42 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
274 The Combahee River Collective
most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to
working to end somebody else’s oppression. In the case of black women
this is a particularly repugnant, dangerous, threatening, and therefore
revolutionary concept because it is obvious from looking at all the politi
cal movements that have preceded us that anyone is more worthy of lib
eration than ourselves. We reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten
paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough.
We believe that sexual politics under patriarchy is as pervasive in black
women’s lives as are the politics of class and race. We also often find it dif
ficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives
they are most often experienced simultaneously. We know that there is
such a thing as racial-sexual oppression that is neither solely racial nor
solely sexual, e.g., the history of rape of black women by white men as a
weapon of political repression.
Although we are feminists and lesbians, we feel solidarity with pro
gressive black men and do not advocate the fractionalization that white
women who are separatists demand. Our situation as black people neces
sitates 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 imperial
ism as well as patriarchy. We are socialists because we believe the 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 antiracist revolution will guarantee our liberation. We have
arrived at the necessity for developing an understanding of class relation
ships 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 work
ing/ economic lives. Although we are in essential agreement with Marx’s
theory as it applied to the very specific economic relationships he ana
This content downloaded from 130.160.24.117 on Tue, 05 Jun 2018 01:57:42 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
A Black Feminist Statement 275
lyzed, we know that this analysis must be extended further in order for us
to understand our specific economic situation as black women.
A political contribution which we feel we have already made is the
expansion of the feminist principle that the personal is political. In our
consciousness-raising sessions, for example, we have in many ways gone
beyond white women’s revelations because we are dealing with the impli
cations of race and class as well as sex. Even our black women’s style of
talking/testifying in black language about what we have experienced has a
resonance that is both cultural and political. We have spent a great deal of
energy delving into the cultural and experiential nature of our oppression
out of necessity because none of these matters have ever been looked at
before. No one before has ever examined the multilayered texture of black
women’s lives.
As we have already stated, we reject the stance of lesbian separatism
because it is not a viable political analysis or strategy for us. It leaves out
far too much and far too many people, particularly black men, women, and
children. We have a great deal of criticism and loathing for what men have
been socialized to be in this society: what they support, how they act, and
how they oppress. But we do not have the misguided notion that it is their
maleness, per se—i.e., their biological maleness—that makes them what
they are. As black women we find any type of biological determinism a
particularly dangerous and reactionary basis upon which to build a politic.
We must also question whether lesbian separatism is an adequate and pro
gressive political analysis and strategy, even for those who practice it, since
it so completely denies any but the sexual sources of women’s oppression,
negating the facts of class and race.
3. Problems in Organizing Black Feminists
During our years together as a black feminist collective we have experi
enced success and defeat, joy and pain, victory and failure. We have found
that it is very difficult to organize around black feminist issues, difficult
even to announce in certain contexts that we are black feminists. We have
tried to think about the reasons for our difficulties, particularly since the
white women’s movement continues to be strong and to grow in many
directions. In this section we will discuss some of the general reasons for
the organizing problems we face and also talk specifically about the stages
in organizing our own collective.
This content downloaded from 130.160.24.117 on Tue, 05 Jun 2018 01:57:42 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
276 The Combahee River Collective
The major source of difficulty in our political work is that we are not
just trying to fight oppression on one front or even two but instead to
address a whole range of oppressions. We do not have racial, sexual, het
erosexual, or class privilege to rely upon, nor do we have even the minimal
access to resources and power that groups who possess any one of these
types of privilege have.
The psychological toll of being a black woman and the difficulties these
present in reaching political consciousness and doing political work can
never be underestimated. There is a very low value placed upon black
women’s psyches in this society, which is both racist and sexist. As an early
group member once said, “We are all damaged people merely by virtue of
being black women.” We are dispossessed psychologically and on every
other level, and yet we feel the necessity to struggle to change our condi
tion and the condition of all black women. In “A Black Feminist s Search
for Sisterhood,” Michele Wallace arrives at this conclusion:
We exist as women who are black who are feminists, each stranded for
the moment, working independently because there is not yet an envi
ronment in this society remotely congenial to our struggle—because,
being on the bottom, we would have to do what no one else has done:
we would have to fight the world.2
Wallace is not pessimistic but realistic in her assessment of black femi
nists’ position, particularly in her allusion to the nearly classic isolation
most of us face. We might use our position at the bottom, however, to
make a clear leap into revolutionary action. If black women were free, it
would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom
would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.
Feminism is, nevertheless, very threatening to the majority of black
people because it calls into question some of the most basic assumptions
about our existence, i.e., that gender should be a determinant of power
relationships. Here is the way male and female roles were defined in a black
nationalist pamphlet from the early 1970s:
We understand that it is and has been traditional that the man is the head
of the house. He is the leader of the house/nation because his knowl
edge of the world is broader, his awareness is greater, his understanding
is fuller and his application of this information is wiser…. After all, it is
only reasonable that the man be the head of the house because he is able
to defend and protect the development of his home Women cannot
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A Black Feminist Statement 277
do the same things as men—they are made by nature to function dif
ferently. Equality of men and women is something that cannot happen
even in the abstract world. Men are not equal to other men, i.e., ability,
experience, or even understanding. The value of men and women can be
seen as in the value of gold and silver—they are not equal but both have
great value. We must realize that men and women are a complement to
each other because there is no house/family without a man and his wife.
Both are essential to the development of any life.3
The material conditions of most black women would hardly lead them
to upset both economic and sexual arrangements that seem to represent
some stability in their lives. Many black women have a good understand
ing of both sexism and racism, but because of the everyday constrictions
of their lives cannot risk struggling against them both.
The reaction of black men to feminism has been notoriously negative.
They are, of course, even more threatened than black women by the pos
sibility that black feminists might organize around our own needs. They
realize that they might not only lose valuable and hard-working allies in
their struggles but that they might also be forced to change their habitually
sexist ways of interacting with and oppressing black women. Accusations
that black feminism divides the black struggle are powerful deterrents to
the growth of an autonomous black women’s movement.
Still, hundreds of women have been active at different times during
the three-year existence of our group. And every black woman who came,
came out of a strongly felt need for some level of possibility that did not
previously exist in her life.
When we first started meeting early in 1974 after the NBFO’s first east
ern regional conference, we did not have a strategy for organizing, or even
a focus. We just wanted to see what we had. After a period of months of
not meeting, we began to meet again late in the year and started doing
an intense variety of consciousness-raising. The overwhelming feeling
that we had is that after years and years we had finally found each other.
Although we were not doing political work as a group, individuals contin
ued their involvement in lesbian politics, sterilization abuse and abortion
rights work, Third World Women’s International Women’s Day activities,
and support activity for the trials of Dr. Kenneth Edelin, Joan Little, and
Inez Garcia. During our first summer, when membership had dropped
off considerably, those of us remaining devoted serious discussion to the
possibility of opening a refuge for battered women in a black community.
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278 The Combahee River Collective
(There was no refuge in Boston at that time.) We also decided around that
time to become an independent collective since we had serious disagree
ments with NBFO’s bourgeois-feminist stance and their lack of a clear
political focus.
We also were contacted at that time by socialist feminists, with whom
we had worked on abortion rights activities, who wanted to encourage us
to attend the National Socialist Feminist Conference in Yellow Springs.
One of our members did attend and despite the narrowness of the ide
ology that was promoted at that particular conference, we became more
aware of the need for us to understand our own economic situation and to
make our own economic analysis.
In the fall, when some members returned, we experienced several
months of comparative inactivity and internal disagreements which were
first conceptualized as a lesbian-straight split but which were also the result
of class and political differences. During the summer those of us who were
still meeting had determined the need to do political work and to move
beyond consciousness-raising and serving exclusively as an emotional sup
port group. At the beginning of 1976, when some of the women who had
not wanted to do political work and who also had voiced disagreements
stopped attending of their own acc …
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