Wednesday, August 8

Feminism and women of color

In this week's Addicted to Race podcast, Carmen Van Kerckhove of Racialicious and Latoya Peterson of Alter Ego Maniacs discuss why women of color sometimes feel ambivalent about feminism.

“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender” -Alice Walker

"Womanist and womanism are populist and poetic synonyms for black feminist and black feminism. They were coined in 1983 by Alice Walker -- African American novelist, poet, essayist, and activist -- in her collection of essays, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose.

As Walker explained to The New York Times Magazine in 1984, "I don't choose womanism because it is 'better' than feminism...Since womanism means black feminism, this would be a non-sensical distinction. I choose it because I prefer the sound, the feel, the fit of it; because I cherish the spirit of the women (like Sojourner) the word calls to mind, and because I share the old ethnic-American habit of offering society a new word when the old word it is using fails to describe behavior and change that only a new word can help it more fully see."

Womanism brings a racialized and often class-located experience to the gendered experience suggested by feminism. It also relects a link with history that includes African cultural heritage, enslavement, women's culture, and a kinship with other women, especially women of color. As Walker also told the Times, "Feminism (all colors) definitely teaches women they are capable, one reason for its universal appeal. In addition to this, womanist (i.e. black feminist) tradition assumes, because of our experiences during slavery, that black women are capable."

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