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Black Consciousness and Women as “Nigger”

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Both Black consciousness, an “identity based on African American heritage” and Black Power, “building social, economic, and political institutions” were powerful influences on white women’s articulations about the need for their own liberatory movement.  The language of consciousness reveals black women’s activism was not just a model for white feminists but that theorizing about blackness itself was foundational to women’s liberation.  At the same time, white women often appropriated metaphors of blackness, while positioning Black women as models.  Black women resisted the most extreme metaphors of Blackness, “women as nigger,” and responded with their own intersectional analysis of double jeopardy.

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3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Cover from http://blackfeminismlives.tumblr.com/post/48041229818/beautone-double-jeopardy-to-be-black

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5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Much of the language of consciousness came into women’s liberation through the writing and activism of Black women.  As Black women within SNCC organized themselves, first into the Black Women’s Liberation Committee (1968) and then into the autonomous Black Women’s Alliance (eventually called the Third World Women’s Alliance 1970), they used the language of black consciousness. [3] In Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female (1969), better known in its revised version from Sisterhood is Power (1970) and The Black Woman (1970) Frances M Beal argued that “political consciousness” of systems of oppression was the necessary prerequisite for action:

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 “Each individual [men and women] must develop a high political consciousness in order to understand how this system enslaves us all and what actions we must take to bring about its total destruction.”[4]

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 An inadequate or erroneous consciousness could therefore inhibit mobilization of women into activists.  The concept of false consciousness, suspect knowledge or knowing wrongly followed women from the New Left into women’s liberation groups.  SDS national secretary Gregory Calvert  focused on “the problem of consciousness’ in a speech given at the the 1967 Princeton Conference.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 I am going to speak today about the problem of consciousness in American society and about the possibility of developing radical or revolutionary consciousness. I approach the problem of organizing from this viewpoint because 1) the objective conditions of oppression in America seem to be manifest and 2) because those objective conditions are not perceived, and 3) because the major problem to which organizers must address themselves in this period is the problem of false consciousness.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Calvert here is moving from the Black Power movements example of transformative revolutionary consciousness, in terms that sounds quite like what women were arguing for, but framed only as a class issue.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 It is a problem of false consciousness, that is, the failure to perceive one’s situation in terms of oppressive (class) relationships. Only when white America comes to terms with its own unfreedom can it participate in the creation of a revolutionary movement.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Women who remained in the New Left attempted to fit women’s liberation within this framework, positioning sexism within class oppression.  In “The Look Is You: Rising Feminism vs. Mass Media” (1968Naomi Jaffe and Bernadine Dohrn argued that women’s position as economic consumer required her unique liberation.  In “Free Women: Connecting Our Battles to All the Others” Susan Eanet and Anne Goodman stressed women’s secondary labor force status and gendered employment patterns.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 In the face of this persistent insistence that the only true oppression was rooted in economics, women offered instead an analysis of women’s false consciousness that kept them from consciousness of sexist oppression.   In June 1969 article, eventually published inVoices from Women’s Liberation,  (1970)  Irene Peslikis explored “resistances to consciousness” including tokenism, exceptionalism, denial, privilege, utopianism.  Similarly, Jennifer Gardner in an essay originally published in the Florida women’s liberation periodical Tooth and Nail, noted that false consciousness led people to erroneously conclude “that women oppress themselves” through the choices they make, to marry for example, or because she “asks for it” by not resisting male supremacy.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Explanations of women’s false consciousness often relied on an analogy of women as slaves or as “niggers.”  “House niggers” was exemplar used by Malcolm X to explain specious divides among a people unified by a common oppressor. [1963 Grassroots] Women’s liberation was not the first to pick up this metaphor.  The Student as Nigger by Jerry Farber (1967) popular among the New Left.    The idea of “woman as nigger” gained widespread exposure In March of 1969  Yoko Ono openly declared “woman is the nigger of the world” (Nova March/April 1969)

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 [However, “woman as nigger” appears to have been used as early as 1968 Roth points to “Cornell feminists reportedly handed out flyers about women’s liberation entitled “The Chick as Nigger” (Cornell alumni news May 1970). 1968 Hanisch and Martinez Women of the World Unite We have Nothing to Lose But our Men reprinted in Notes from the First Year also describes women as house niggers and in 1969 circulated republished an anthologized piece by Gayle Rubin of the same title which at least one scholar suggests took its title from Student as Nigger.  Marge Piercy referred to herself as a house nigger in The Grand Coolie Damn, article Secretary Capitalism’s house nigger n.d.]

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 1 The racialized metaphor gained additional currency in battles with men on the Left at the moment when Black power reached its greatest influence on the New Left.Naomi Weisstein’s baldy titled “Woman as Nigger” published in Psychology magazine in October of 1969 therefore reflected several circulating tropes.  In March of 1969, SDS had proclaimed the Black Panther Party as the “vanguard” of the black movement, and by extension at the fore of movements in the U.S. fighting oppression,.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Weisstein attempted to illustrate that woman was limited by her false consciousness following

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 “a typical minority group stereotype —  Woman as nigger–  if she knows her place ( the home) she is really a quite lovable, loving, creature happy and child like”

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 This method of emphasizing women’s false consciousness through comparisons to “house niggers” continued.  Even while crediting the black consciousness movement with inspiring women’s liberation,  an editorial for Aphra (Aphra, Vol: 1, Issue: 2, (Winter 1970), 9) the author, presumably the editor, Elizabeth Fisher, continues to equate sexism and racism

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 “to some extent, since we have all be house niggers in the mansion of man, we are engaged in a similar task.”

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 To white women who understood themselves as sleeping with the enemy It seemed a small step from housewife to house nigger.  In the Spring of 1970, one woman described the false consciousness of the housewife and house nigger as follows:

“house niggers aren’t supposed to be uppity – they’re supposed to be grateful for the roofs over their heads.” [Man hating by Ann Everywoman, Vol: 1, Issue: 2, (May 29, 1970), 6]*

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23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 These comparisons did not go unchallenged by black women.  As early as September of 1968 in response to  BIRTH CONTROL PILLS AND BLACK CHILDREN: a statement by the Black Unity Party (Peekskill, NY), a group of black women from Mt. Vernon wrote

“we were the real niggers in this society — oppressed by whites, male and female, and the black man too” 

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 While black women pushed back against white women’s cooptation of “nigger,” their own analogies relied slavery, and related their position to that of black men.   Frances M. Beal, SNCC member and founder of the group that became the Third World Women’s Alliance describes black women as a ‘slave of a slave'” in Double Jeopardy (1969).   Maryanne Weathers in In No More Fun and Games (February 1969) invoked the “sick slave culture” and made references to black women as “enslaved” in An Argument For Black Women’s Liberation As a Revolutionary Force.”  In Weather’s analogy as well as Beal’s, Black men have taken on the role of oppressor “Black men are still parroting the master’s prattle about male superiority” and Black women are “enslaved” by a distorted notion of motherhood in “a slave culture.”

Pat Robinson later expanded her analysis in “a historical and critical essay for black women of the cities [No More Fun and Games, Issue: 3, (November, 1969)] in which she argues that the origins of the house slave lie in the master’s breeding of indentured white women with enslaved black men.  This account then ties the “house nigger” to multiple oppressions of bondage, shot through with race and gender.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 In what became “Poor black women” circulated as a companion to the Poor Black Women’s Study group statement on birth control  Patricia Robinson laid bare the false consciousness that perpetuated white oppression as well as male dominance. [both reprinted in Lilith 1968]

“the oppressor must have the cooperation of the oppressed”

If consciousness began with an awareness of the self as a woman who is oppressed. then a political consciousness (or raised consciousness as it would come to be called) meant understanding the structural aspects of sexism.  Consciousness existed as an (unrealized) potential within all women that could be activated through participation in the movement.

Weathers listed herself as a member of “Female Liberation” the description used by Cell 16.  At least one participant in women’s liberation lists Robinson as among the black women involved in “early feminist groups such as Cell 16 and the New York Radical Feminists.”

The writings of Beal, Robinson, and Weathers were included in the not only the first mimeographed packets of women’s liberation, but also in the mass market anthologies that appeared in 1970 as the mainstream began to take notice. In fact, of the authors common to the anthologies that appeared that year, The Black Woman edited by Toni Cade (Bambara), Sisterhood Is Powerful, editing by Robin Morgan, Voices from Women’s Liberation, and Women’s Liberation: A Blueprint for the Future,   they are among a handful of authors appearing in more than one anthology.  Robinson has the distinction of being one of three authors to appear in three collections.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0  Katie King , in Theory in Its Feminist Travels, concludes “there is a sense of the obligatory but minimal inclusion called tokenism” (16) precisely because these women are not “structurally ‘at the center’ of women’s liberation. Yet their presence in these pivotal books points to them at the center of at least the print culture of women’s liberation.

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36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Similarly Kathi Roche in The secretary: capitalism’s house nigger also describes a false consciousness of women

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 “who have deceived ourselves into thinking we have come a long way” even while they existed in “servitude” to “the man”

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 a description similar to drowning in the steno pool’s paralleling of sabotage of “uppity [house] niggers” to “the quiet revolts that go on daily in the lives of women in America”

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Source: http://politicsofwomensculture.michellemoravec.com/about-2/book-pre-fall-2016/consciousness/black-consciousness-and-women-as-nigger/