The Impact of Sexism on Black Women

Topics: African American, Race and Ethnicity, Black people Pages: 6 (2052 words) Published: February 10, 2006
American history is replete with slave-rooted images of African American womanhood. Often viewed as the sex object or the Jezebel, African American women have struggled to deflate images that promote sexual exploitation through the participation in feminist movements and the creation of the womanist movement. However, in contemporary American society, black women in popular culture have embraced what was once considered a curse. Their acceptance of this image, a direct example of social reproduction and internalized oppression, has resurrected a skewed vision of black womanhood. Hence, despite feminist and black womanist movements, sexism is still present in contemporary American society, especially among African American women in the form of sexual exploitation. Within the Modern Feminist Movement, white women have been accused of focusing on oppression in terms of gender while ignoring issues of race, class and sexuality. As a result, the definition of womanism was created by the author and theorist Alice Walker. Walker defines a womanist as "…a black feminist or a feminist of color, an outrageous and audacious woman who is interested in learning and questioning all things. A womanist is a responsible woman who loves other women both sexually and non-sexually, a woman who appreciates and prefers women's culture, strength and emotional flexibility" (Walker 27). The theory of womanism is committed to the survival of and wholeness of all people, both men and women. Rather than supporting separatism, womanism promotes universalism. The term womanism also celebrates black women, recognizes a history, and validates it as being both valuable and complex. The term womanism describes an element present in the movement in the fight against the oppression of black women and women of color. The oppression of black women was based on several factors including race, class and gender. These oppressors were interwoven into social structures and worked together to define the history of the lives of black women and women of color (Hooks 2). Because the common negative views of black women were socially reproduced, they were difficult to denounce. According to writers like Bell Hooks, the history of these cultural oppressors can be traced back to slavery. Hooks asserts that, "As far back as slavery, white people established a social hierarchy based on race and sex, that ranked white men first, white women second, though sometimes equal to black men who ranked third, and black women last" (53). Due to the scope of these oppressors and the long history associated with them, writers and theorist, alike, reason that black women have developed a distinct perspective that provides them with a keen sense of survival skills, including utilizing everyday strategies of resistance. Another reason for the development of racially separate women's groups was the exclusion of black women from most white female clubs. African American women participated in the woman suffrage movement from the antebellum period through to the passage of the Nineteenth amendment. Victims of both racism and sexism and eager to fight against both, African American women were in a difficult position. "Not enfranchised along with the men of their race in the Reconstruction amendments, African American women faced a cruel dilemma when asked to wait patiently for their own enfranchisement" (Smith 136). Black women who were eager to participate in the woman suffrage movement often found it difficult to do so, as white suffragists not only embraced racist tactics but excluded black women from membership in suffrage organizations. Hence, "Black woman resisted the many boundaries that limited their freedom in society by creating organizations and institutions that reflected their feminist concerns" (Giddings 75). The conventional views of society hand not only dishonored the black woman's image, but had excluded them from the mainstream of the labor force and...
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