African-American Movement of the Later Half Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2400 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Sports - Women

¶ … African-American movement of the later half of the 20th century profoundly shifted from the Civil Rights movement towards the much murkier field of providing freedom and liberation for subclasses of the subjugated. In section five of "Let Nobody Turn Us Around," the reader is presented with the narratives of African-American women and their struggle to realize upon the American Dream. The conflict embodied within these articles provides a telling struggle of a two front war. Not only were African-American women victimized for their black heritage, and thus racialized and castigated by society, they also fought an internal war against the pervasive sexism of the times. Through their struggles to gain recognition not only as African-Americans, but as African-American women, we can learn much about the goals of the Black Freedom Movement. The cry for equality that these women iterate through their narratives is matched by the historical feminist stances of past generations. The struggle for freedom and equality voiced through the experiences of contemporary African-American feminists mirrors a historical and cultural struggle for gender equality that paralleled the movement for racial equality. The crystallization of African-American women's struggle for independence is emblematic of the greater struggle for independence from racial divides.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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The experiences of African-American women presented within this narrative crystallize an internal conflict towards gender equality within the Civil Rights movement. In the midst of the struggle for racial equality, it is evident that a subplot existed in the struggle to gain feminine identity. Michelle Wallace writes in "We Would Have to Fight the World" that the pervasive message of the African-American gender institution is to "be a nice well-rounded colored girl so that you can get yourself a nice colored doctor husband" (520). While the struggle for African-American independence took the bulwark of national attention, the fight for gender equality that was happening in its midst is very telling of the struggle for Black Freedom. Even as African-Americans united together to fight against "stereotypes" and "inequality," they were themselves perpetuating such a doctrine themselves with their gender bias. Wallace explains that the fight for the "Black man...did not include me." In the end, the struggle for African-American equality seems to be gender exclusive to males. This is a conflict that is evident not only through Wallace's narrative but a historically significant one as well. Sojourner Truth in her famous speech "Ain't I a Woman" articulated the internal conflict for equality poetically. She reasons, "I am as strong as any man that is now. As for intellect, all I can say is, if woman have a pint, and man a quart - why can't she have her little pint full?"(67). Even in the midst of the American Civil War, when conflict was evident and the rise of abolitionism was at its strongest, a subplot was ensuing in the fight for women's rights. This conflict was perpetuated as a historical narrative, as some of the most famous abolitionists and freedom fighters were women. The likes of Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth are representatives of a strong class of women who felt that they were fighting a two front war. It is evident from a historical perspective as well as from the perspective of the modern struggle for civil liberties that there is an undercurrent of tension even within the African-American movement. Wallace, along with the historical women free fighters of the past, identifies a historically marginalized battle that occurred in the very bastion of the "equality" movement.

Part of the problem with the African-American women's rights movement is that they sought to fight their battles alone. Although the 1970s and beyond saw the greatest movement towards feminism in American history, the African-American women identified and isolated themselves. As Assata Shakur explains, "Most of us rejected the white women's movement. Miss ann was still Miss ann to us whether she burned her bras or not. We could not muster sympathy for the fact that she was trapped in her mansion and oppressed by her husband" (534). The African-American feminist movement sought to occur independent of the wider feminist movement of the modern era. As a result, its position and the point of leverage made them both vulnerable and oppressed. The strength of the African-American movement of the Civil Rights era lay in their ability to unite into one single powerful voice that could not be ignored. However, the women's rights movement did not benefit from such a strong united force. The traditional definition of "womanhood" left many African-American women with strong biases for the past. They remembered the days of "when draped in African garb, we rejected our foremother and ourselves as castrators" (534). By not allowing themselves to be holy integrated into the wider fight against social oppression that was being fought on a world stage, African-American women were not able to speak with one united voice. The fractured nature of the women's rights movement was strongly evident from a historical perspective as well. In the wake of the Civil War, the opportunity for African-American liberty meant that a greater access to knowledge and opportunity existed for African women as well. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper eloquently pleas in "Pioneering Black Feminist," "Today women hold in their hands influence and opportunity and with these they have already opened doors which have been closed to others. In the home she is the priestess, in society the queen, in literature she is a power, in legislative halls law-makers have responded to her appeals, and for her sake have humanized and liberalized their laws"(142). Watkin also saw the importance of unity as a key-stakeholder in the ability of African-American women to leverage the freedom instilled by the Civil War to procure greater gender equality. Her evident language in addressing all women and extending her open arms to aid women of all genders shows that the battle for equality extends far beyond the borders of African-American culture, but is a universal one. From Shakur's narrative it is evident that one of the foundational reasons that African-American women's rights was not thrust at the forefront of the national consciousness is that they were not a united force. African-American women's historical and contemporary reluctance to join into the wider battle for gender equality meant that they were forced to participate in the backdrop of their racial battles. In effect this limited their ability to attain certain freedoms; however, it also represented a greater internal struggle to attain freedom not only from an oppressive external force, but a traditional and cultural shackle as well.

The African-American struggle for gender equality resulted in frustration in large part due to the fact that it was overshadowed by the battle for racial equality. The need for unity in attaining the goals of the Civil Rights movement meant that many women had to swallow their own internal conflicts with gender equality in order to attain a greater goal. As Claudia Jones explains in "An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!" one of the key struggles of the feminist movement was the need to win the racial war first. She argues, "a developing consciousness of the woman question today, therefore, must not fail to recognize that the Negro question in the Untied States is prior to, and not equal to, the woman question. That only to the extent that we fight all chauvinist expressions and action as regard the Negro people and fight for the full equality of the Negro people, can women as a whole advance their struggle for equal rights" (349). Jones identifies a key reason for the submergence of the feminist movement during the Civil Rights era and beyond. The need for national unity and a strong voice to carry against racial division meant that the African-American women had to "fall into line" with the mainstream doctrine of Civil Rights leaders. Since the cause of the African-American women can only be promoted through the cause of "negro inheritance" it is evident that women had to suppress their inner sense of conflict for the greater good. The problem with this perspective of course, is that it suppresses the national discourse surrounding feminism within African-American circles. It puts the focus of the relationships engendered through the Civil Rights movement as a "Black man's" fight for equality rather than "African-American" victories. The contextualization of the Civil Rights movement as a gendered victory causes the disadvantageous position posited by Jones. The Civil Rights movement was both advantageous and disadvantageous for the women's rights movement. It helped in that it created a stronger basis for which African-American women could fight for their liberty, but at the same time, it type-cast them into traditionalized roles. This subjugation for the greater cause of racial liberty furthered the damage done to the feminist movement through cultural and traditional barriers. At the same time however, the need to draw feminism along racial lines is identified by Audre Lorde as a necessity of the times. She writes, "As white women ignore their… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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