Throughout history, black women have been at the forefront of the women’s suffrage movement, fighting for equal rights and trailblazing the feminist movement. Women like Mariah Stewart, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman have fought for women’s right, and yet history has often overlooked or diminished their contributions, leaving many to believe that black women have had little to do with the movement. The term womanist was conceived in 1983, by Alice Walker, to recognize and label the contributions of black feminist and their campaigns, and outline the unique circumstances black women faced within and outside of their own communities. Today, feminism is feverishly rising to the forefront of mainstream conversation, and the argument whether black feminist should identify as womanist or feminist has resurfaced.
Womanism, is a social theory deeply rooted in the racial and gender oppression of black women. Alice Walker first coined the term, womanist, in 1983 in her book, In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden: Womanist Prose. Walker defined the term as, “Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. A Black Feminist or Feminist of Color…A woman who loves other women [and or men] , sexually and/or non-sexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength.”
Feminism, like womanism, is a radical, political ideology that aims to deconstruct societal norms like white supremacy and heteropatriarchy. It challenges the male dominated world to recognize the contributions and capabilities of women, as they are no lesser than that of a man’s, and to be compensated as such. Many argue that the term is not limited to White women, rather it is intersectional and fights for social justice and equality on multiple levels, but history has proven otherwise.
In spite of, Angela Dodson, editor and author of Remember the Ladies, believes that black women can and should you the term.
“I’ve always identified as a feminist. I’m aware of the arguments for the term womanist. It depends on how you identify. In my opinion, womanist refers to just the concerns of black women which are not insignificant, and I am certainly empathetic to that as a black woman; but I’m not only concerned about black women. I’m concerned with [the rights of] women in general.”
This seems to be a common misconception about what womanism truly is. Yes, womanism has been campaigned by black women however, the issues that the movement fights for pertains to all marginalized communities. When Alice Walker coined the term, she talked about womanism being more expansive and capturing black women’s unique positions, an understanding the need for liberation.
The meaning of womanism is deeply rooted in major political and societal traditions within the African American community, mainly empowerment, but not at the expense of others. One of the main platforms of womanist theory, is providing equal opportunities, rights, and respect to all groups. By retaining black [or native] cultural distinctiveness and integrity.
This fight is paired with the campaign of pluralism, a modified version of racial integration premised not on individual assimilation but on group integration. Clearly rejecting what they perceive as being the limited vision of feminism projected by North American white women.
Yet. Mrs. Dodson explains why, as a black woman, she believes it’s beneficial to be a feminist.
“I think that given our number black women are a fraction of the population and a fraction of women over all. We still don’t have the political clout to secure all the rights and privileges we need. We’re going to need some help, banding with other women can help.”
She notes the example of the recent presidential election. Although 92 percent of black women voted for Hilary, and 53 percent majority of white women gave Trump his seat.
“I certainly wouldn’t advocate throwing your lot in with a bunch of white women, because they have shown time and time again that when push come to shove, they are very clear with wear their interest lie.”
Dr. Yolonda Wilson, recognizes the disproportioned notoriety and benefit white women have received from feminism, and yet still identifies as feminist.
“In some way, it does matter what you call yourself because it signals something but I also think it’s the history of black women struggle in this country that has shown us…Anna Julia Cooper didn’t label herself. She wasn’t running around marching and calling herself things, she was doing the work.”
Wilson notes, despite what you call yourself its your work and advocacy that should label you. As far as feminism, although history hasn’t represented it well it should stand for the upliftment of women everywhere.
When defending her feminist title she refers to Bell Hooks.
“You know people ask me how I can call myself a feminist, and align myself with a movement that has shown itself to be racist; the real question we should ask, is how it is that racist white women can call themselves feminist.’”
African American women have long been articulating this sense of feminist consciousness, and practicing feminist theory knowingly or unknowingly since the 1800s. Womanism and feminism are two sides of the same coin. Alice Walker, said “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” Truth Be Told, there is no disparity between the term, they just shed light in a different color. Although many women of color identify with womanism, it’s still a derivative of feminism in it’s purest form.