Elevate Difference

Black Feminist Politics from Kennedy to Clinton

There has to be something said for being able to succeed in concisely communicating the issue of Black feminism and politics, but I think Duchess Harris has done just that. In Black Feminist Politics from Kennedy to Clinton, Harris has touched on so many issues within the arena of Black feminism without scattering both her and the reader’s thought process.

Harris opens with a history of Black American feminism with the organizations of the National Black Feminist Organization and the Combahee River Collective She sets the scene with the social, economic, and political climate of the late 1960s. With the advent of the Civil Rights Movement, the War on Poverty, and the focus on welfare, the Democratic Party would become the welcoming committee for racial liberation. The Republican Party, however, would be seen as the home of racial conservatism.

The Aid to Families with Dependent Children program shifted the social consciousness, thus shifting perceptions of the single Black woman as the typical welfare recipient. With the 1968 presidential election involving Richard Nixon, the opportunity to further capitalize on the concept of the welfare queen took prominence in order to further divide both political parties. In further dividing Democratic and Republican Parties, the continuance of that division spread to the White ethnic and working class groups, whose courtship was heavily sought by Nixon for political coalitions. Adding insult to injury came with the use of the 1965 Moynihan Report in which, Senator Moynihan correlated welfare dependency with the behavior of the “poor” (i.e., Black women).

The Combahee River Collective can be said to have been a direct result of this dominant political theme and its exclusion of Black women in their assertions. Having broken away from the National Black Feminist Organization on issues of sexuality and economic development, the group provided the legitimacy of the need to address the social, economic, and political oppression of Black women. Prominent members of the Collective included, Barbara Smith, Cheryl Clarke, Margo Okizawa Rey, Demita Frazier, Gloria Akasha Hull, and Sharon Paige Ritchie.

Harris takes us into the artistic address of Black feminism through Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and The Third Life of Grange Copeland and Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, all of which address Black relationships through a patriarchal lens. She also presents Black feminist perspectives from other notable people, such as Lorraine Hansberry, Shirley Chisholm, Anita Hill, and Paula Giddings.

Harris includes appendices that contain questions she asked various women throughout the text, the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (Executive Order 1098), and members of this Commission, along with its committees and consultations. Harris does an exceptional task of providing a foundation with which to address the Black feminist perspective in this era, the events which led to this movement, and a critical analysis of a diverse group of scholars and scholarly thought. And, she does this in a competently succinct and unpretentious way.

Written by: Olupero R. Aiyenimelo, November 5th 2009

Wonderful insight into your work. Great review. Mom