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This article is part of our “Beyond White Feminism” series. To read the first article in this series, click here.

The erasure of the complexity of the women’s rights movement in our educational material obscures the diversity and multiplicity of feminist movements. Women of color must negotiate racism in society and sexism within their own communities. As a result, a number of women of color scholars have developed concepts to describe the experiences of women of color.

In an earlier article, I described six of these concepts and their place within Black feminist and womanist thought. Check out six more concepts by Black feminist scholars below.

1) Outsider Within

I mentioned Patricia Hill Collins and her work on controlling images in my last article on Black feminist concepts. Another theory she developed focused on how Black women occupy a special status in social situations that gives them a unique perspective on family, self, and society. This status, called the outsider within status, refers to the social location Black women occupy in society’s racial hierarchy. As an example, Collins references Black women laboring as domestics in on the subject:

“Countless numbers of Black women have ridden buses to their white ‘families,’ where they not only cooked, cleaned, and executed other domestic duties, but where they also nurtured their ‘other’ children, shrewdly offered guidance to their employers, and frequently, became honorary members of their white ‘families.’ These women have seen white elites, both actual and aspiring, from perspectives largely obscured from their Black spouses and from these groups themselves.”

Discrimination against Black men meant they did not receive the same opportunities in the labor market as white men. Therefore, while white (middle- and working-class) men’s wives stayed at home, Black men’s wives labored as domestics in white homes. This dynamic dates all the way back to slavery when a number of Black women served as wet nurses and nannies to white women’s children.

Evidence of Black women’s outsider within status has appeared in popular culture, from Hattie McDaniel’s role in Gone With the Wind to Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer’s roles in The Help. The Help also shows Black women use their outsider within status to advance social change. Davis and Spencer, who play maids in 1960s Mississippi, convince other Black women domestic workers to protest mistreatment from their white women employers.

2) Erotic Subjectivity

Audre Lorde provides a unique perspective on women and emotionality in her essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” While Lorde believed that the cool detachment of ‘objectivity’ associated with knowledge had its place, she also argued that there was a lot to be learned from the erotic. Most people who read the word ‘erotic’ might instantly think of porn, but Lorde made sure to distinguish between the two.

In this essay, Lorde wanted to assure women that their erotic subjectivity—their ability to be in tune with their own emotions and desires, was actually a source of power they should embrace. Lorde believed women rejected their inner passion because society teaches that spiritual and political knowledge should be separate. In contrast, Lorde writes, “The erotic is the nurturer or nursemaid of all our deepest knowledge.” When we tap into this knowledge, we can find the ability to feel joy, which should guide how we live life.

3) Hip-Hop Feminism

Even when hip-hop music started to take off during the 1980s, it was not an exclusively male space. Still, I never thought to look at rap music as a source of feminism. A group of Black feminist scholars provide a convincing case for doing so in the 2007 book Home Girls Make Some Noise!: Hip-Hop Feminism Anthology.

Hip-hop feminism refers to the contributions made by Black women of the ‘hip-hop generation.’ Black feminist scholars Aisha Durham, Brittney Cooper, and Susana M. Morris elaborate on it in their 2013 essay “The Stage Hip-Hop Feminism Built”:

“Drawing from Joan Morgan (2006) and Patricia Hill Collins, Aisha Durham (2007) defines hip-hop feminism as a cultural, intellectual, and political movement grounded in the situated knowledge of women of color from the post–civil rights or hip-hop generation who recognize culture as a pivotal site for political intervention to challenge, resist, and mobilize collectives to dismantle systems of exploitation.”

Women in hip-hop challenge many gender norms, embracing the idea that women should financially support themselves and have sexual freedom.

4) Culture of Dissemblance

Historian Darlene Clark Hine developed a concept called the culture of dissemblance to describe how sexual exploitation during slavery had a lasting effect on Black women. To protect themselves from rape and the threat of rape, Black women used silence about sexuality as a strategy. Hine argues this tactic served as both an act of resistance and a form of resistance that helped Black women not only combat rape but also controlling images about their sexuality.

5) Politics of Pleasure

Joan Morgan suggested another approach to confronting controlling images of Black women’s sexuality in her 2015 essay “Why We Get Off: Moving Towards a Black Feminist Politics of Pleasure.” Morgan argues that the culture of dissemblance convinced Black women to adopt a politics of respectability that prevented them from having true sexual freedom.

Morgan instead suggests a politics of pleasure “as a liberatory, black feminist project. It elevates the need for sexual autonomy and erotic agency without shame to the level of black feminist imperative.” From this perspective, Black women provide an alternative model of sexual expression that breaks from the heteronormative expectations promoted in society.

6) Black Cyberfeminism

Black Cyberfeminism, developed by Kishonna Gray, is particularly important in the age of #BlackLivesMatter and other movements born on social media. According to Gray, Black women have shown technology can be used in innovative ways that help marginalized groups display hegemonic establishments. For instance, Black women use the Internet to sell natural hair products to other Black women, reclaiming an industry that had become dominated by major corporations like L’Oreal.

In the digital world, Gray argues, Black feminism goes ‘cyber’ to reveal three themes:

  • The digital divide in technology access and use as a source of structural oppression;
  • The intersectionality of oppression on the internet; and
  • The uniqueness of the feminist community in the virtual sphere

Why It’s Worth It to Learn About Feminism From Women of Color

Many feminist scientists use standpoint theory to guide their work. Standpoint theory critiques mainstream science for falsely associating men’s analyses with objectivity. Instead, these scientists believe that there are a diversity of perspectives and that each perspective gives us a different ways of knowing. For instance, feminist sociological scholars express the following:

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“…until recently, the knowers had one common standpoint—that of white, middle class male; other standpoints have been effectively silenced as contributors of ‘credible’ social scientific knowledge. Virtually all feminist scholars (and many others) agree that by diversifying the kinds of knowers in sociology, new questions are raised about social life, new data sought to answer them, and new interpretations of received wisdom are proffered.”

Learning about Black feminism provides a different way of knowing about feminism. Getting more informed about it does not erase the labor of white feminists or other feminists of color. Additionally, feminist thought by women of color is not divisive or separatist but a means of diversifying our understanding of feminism overall. After all, if your feminism doesn’t incorporate intersectionality, is it truly inclusive of all women?

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Parenting for Anti-Racism

This article is part of our “Beyond White Feminism” series. To read the first article in this series, click here.

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Parenting for Anti-Racism





Melissa Brown is a PhD candidate in sociology. Her research examines how Black women use digital technology to enact social change. Melissa has written for news sites Huffington Post, Revelist, Gradient, and sociology blog Racism Review and Contexts. You can find more of Melissa’s writing at her personal blog www.blackfeminisms.com or follow her on twitter @Blackfeminisms.