For as long as I can remember when it came to black political movements, women were always depicted either on the side lines, in the shadows of their male counterparts or seen as sexual objects of desire. Unlike the suffragist movement where we see kick-ass white women demanding their power and having control of their own agency. It just felt in comparison that black women were missing from the fight. Come to find out years later that black women were very much involved and led black political movements while fighting the sexism and overall patriarchy that stuck them into archaic forms of womanhood. Black female activist also created new ideas of womanhood to support equality and change how people thought of them. Farmer believes that black woman created 5 new ideas of black womanhood; The Militant Negro Domestic, The Black Revolutionary Woman, The African Woman, The Pan- African Woman and The Third World Black Woman. Out of those 5 ideals of womanhood, I believe only two exist today, The Militant Negro Domestic and the combination of the Pan-African Woman and the Third World Black Woman. By looking into the overall black power movement and black woman empowerment, I want to see if Farmer is right, if black women were able to redefine their own womanhood within these movements and if their refinement can be seen in the newer black political movements and outside of these movements within black female empowerment.
Militant Negro Domestic 1945 – 1965
The first new womanhood for Black Woman was the Militant Negro Domestic (1945 – 1965). Audley Moore, known as Queen Mother Moore is credited as being one of the creators in developing the “ideological frameworks of the Black Power era” (Farmer 2017.) Despite the movement being credited to Stokely Carmichael speech in Mississippi 1966. Moore had been a staple in the community and lifelong dedication to Black Power. She always pushed that before Carmichael there were black women radicals who laid the foundation that Carmichael would eventually stand on. Carmichael would then unknowingly go on to use the same definitions of “self-identity” as these unnamed women would use (Carmichael and Hamilton, Black Power, 46). The Militant Negro Domestic was born from black women joining the communist party after the dissolution of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (aka UNIA) (Farmer, 2017) UNIA was dedicated to “racial pride and economic self-sufficiency”(Britannica, 2018) Marcus Garvey the founder of UNIA is also known for his famous quote “Africa for the Africans, at home and abroad” meaning that black people everywhere have a home that they can come back to even though they were displaced by colonial rule. He made the issue of black empowerment a global issue that black people faced everywhere not only the one’s in the United States.
Many women enjoyed the communist party because it continued Garvey’s vision of economic self- sufficiency, and surprisingly they were able to take communist party goals and ideology and apply it to their specific lens of living and reflect on how to make their own organization like the communist party (Farmer, 2017)(Mares, 2017). Other Black nationalists and Communists looked at black liberation, just like how Marx and Engels would look at by first looking at the working class. This led the Black nationalist and Communist to focus black liberation as push and validation of black manhood, even though it was a turn off for many of the black female nationalist who were also communist (Leeds, 2013) (Farmer, 2017)(Lynn, 2013). A turn-off for women like Claudia Jones who was fed up how masculinity dominated the discussion for black nationalist organization and how black women went uncredited and ideas stolen by men happily joined the communist party. When she noticed that the communist party was going the same way as the nationalist party, she called them out for it (Jones, 1955). She was not calling out that black womanhood was framed as the domestic worker, she was calling out how it was framed.
Black womanhood at the time was framed by playing into the mammy stereotype which continued the legacy of slavery (Farmer, 2017) (Sharpless,2010). This mammy stereotype continues living today for black woman, in form of Aunt Jemima on pancake boxes and syrup. Aunt Jemima is a present-day mammy and this continued imagery keeps the stereotype alive (McElya, 2007). It can also be seen in media where black women are not pictured as the breadwinner or protector of the family but as the traditional “wife” or “mammy” who puts the care of other or her own children welfare and happiness above her own. In movies where the black woman has the career there is usually a trade of, she doesn’t have kids, she can’t find a husband and her family usually critiques that if she slows down her life becomes more traditional (more like a house wife) she would find happiness.
This can be seen in movies and shows by Tyler Perry, Spike Lee She gotta have it all, Nappily Ever After from Netflix to name a few. When it comes to depiction of black woman and their womanhood in media, it’s all negative (Crenshaw, 2017). Instead of framing themselves within the mammy stereotype, black woman went back to Garyv’s foundation of self-identity and self-sufficiency combined his teachings and the foundations of Communist Party while ditching the black manhood focus, to create the Militant Negro Domestic (Farmer, 2017). The Militant Negro Domestic as described by Ashley Farmer is a “political identity that framed the domestic worker as a political activist who advocated for community control, black self-determination, self-defense, and separate black cultural and political institutions.”
I see the remnants of the Black Militant Negro Domestic within the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Lives Matter is an international activist movement that fights against violence and systemic racism towards black people. The founders were Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi they are all active members of their respected communities (Hunt, 2015)The movement claims inspiration from civil rights movement, black power movement and the 1980s black feminist movement (Ruffin, 2016). Just like the Militant Negro Domestic, Garza, Cullors, Tometi all advocate for black self-determination in face of white supremacy, community control, self- defense against police enforces and a call for a better law and justice system. Which is not the same as the call for separate black cultural and political institutions but the roots of having a system that supports and protects black people in the eyes of the law is the same. What is interesting though is when looking up black lives matters two names keep popping up Shaun King and DeRay Mckesson. These two men often get credited and a lot of press time for BLM when neither one of them played a major role in the founding and building up of this organization while the women are left out of the conversation. Which is the same thing that happened to Claudia Jones. So different movements but the same goals and the same issues of men claiming the fame while the women do all the back work.
Pan – African Woman 1972 – 1976
Which leads us to the second black female womanhood I wanted to discuss The Pan-African Woman. Pan-Africanism was a worldwide movement whose goal was to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all people of the African diaspora (Oloruntoba-Oju, 2012). This movement believes that the fate of all African people everywhere are intertwined (Makalani, 2011). It should be noted that this movement was not started in the United States, but in London by Henry Slyvester-Williams (History of Pan-Africanism, 2000)), it was brought to the US after the fact. During the black power movement of the 1960s came the time where many African countries gained their independence from colonial powers. Watching the fall of white power within these African nations pushed Black Power activist to focus on the big global picture of their movement (Pan African Congress, 1974).
This led to the birth of the Pan-African movement, which gave new opportunities for female organizers within the US to once again re-shape their own ideas of black womanhood within the black political movement at the time by copying what they say happening globally. Just like with the black power formation amongst the time of the militant negro domestic, women had to fight to have their place within the pan-African movement be considered. Alberta Hill, a member of the Congress of African People left the US to go to an All-Africa Women’s Conference in Africa as a way to start shaping black women’s role on a larger more public scale and creating a relationship with the East Sisterhood (Famer, 2017) (Konadu, 2009).
The east sisterhood viewed this move as an attempt for black woman to better their personal as well as political ties with Pan – African consciousness and the diaspora. (Hill, 1972). Black women leaving their front yards and their country to join in this global conversation is how they got involved in the conversation of Pan – Africanism since it hadn’t reached America yet. This is also the way that ideologies of Pan – Africanism made its way into America. The push to be recognized and furthermore legitimized within pan-African movement is a lot like the push to be recognized and legitimized within archaeology for the feminist critique and by black female anthropologist within anthropology.
The Feminist Critique is a critique that is informed by feminist theory and the broad politics of feminism (Napikoksi, 2018). This critique largely focus on gender and the role of women in society also crosses over with other subjects like sexuality, race and class (Zevallos, 2018). The first article that used this critique within archaeology came from Margaret Conkey and Janet Spector in 1984, after the paper was published Conkey and Spector teamed up again and released a collection of essays in 1991 also dedicated to the same topics explored in their first paper. (Conkey, Spector, 1991). The work of both of these endeavors lead to a conference headed by Geo and Conkey to increase interest in Gender and using the Feminist Critique (Wylie, 1992).
Conkey, Spector and Gero all worked hard in order to show the legitimacy and usefulness of the feminist critique to the field of archaeology. Just like the Black Woman within the pan-African movement had to show the legitimacy and usefulness of their insight and redefine how the men saw them just like how Conkey, Spector and Gero wanted to redefine how the men in the discipline saw and viewed them then furthermore change how men relied on them. I did a study on whether the introduction of the feminist critique had an effect on topics discussed in American Antiquity as well as looking into whether this critique may have affected publishing rates and co-authorship levels. Overall, I wanted to see if the work of Conkey, Spector and Gero made major waves for American Antiquity, which is the Society’s for American Archaeology flagship journal.
Two findings I want to share for this paper because I believe they are connected to Black woman’s uphill battle to being acknowledged within the Pan – African movement and how somethings that work can produce meaningful results and not so meaningful results.