Summary: Black Lives Matter & Black Feminist Thought
“We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us. Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work.”
The Combahee River Collective Statement (1977)
Intersectionality is a contested and hotly debated concept, and it is subject to competing definitions. Some argue, for example, that intersectionality is an analytical tool that can be used to analyze the ways that any systems of oppression or “socially constructed” categories of difference, such as gender, sexuality, and class, overlap and converge (see, for example, Davis 2019). From this perspective, the concept of intersectionality might help explain how class and gender — as multiple systems of oppression — result in higher rates of poverty among women. In fact, the Canadian Women’s Foundation reports that 30% of single mothers in Canada experience poverty (CWF 2021). Critics of this approach argue that dislocating intersectionality from its roots in Black feminist thought, and taking ‘race’ and racism out of the equation, ends up actually obscuring racism, and, therefore, perpetuates that very system. Paradoxically, by applying the concept of intersectionality without an analysis of ‘race’ or racism, some white feminist scholars actually end up erasing Black women from the picture — the very problem that the concept of intersectionality was designed to solve! An intersectional analysis of gender and poverty, for example, reveals that the gender wage gap between women and men widens when ‘race’ is factored in (Block et al 2019). In this course, we will focus on studying and applying intersectionality within the context of a long history of Black feminist thought to avoid erasing Black women from view.
The contemporary Black Lives Matter movement in Canada and the United States is influenced by Black feminist thought when it calls upon followers to say the names of Black women and Black trans women killed by police. Studying the work of Black feminist activists and scholars like Sojourner Truth, the Combahee River Collective, bell hooks, Kimberle Crenshaw, Patricia Hill Collins, and Angela Davis provides a richer understanding of contemporary movements calling for an end to institutionalized anti-Black racism. Canadians tend to think of anti-Black racism and histories of slavery and segregation as American problems. But, anti-Black racism has never stopped at the border, as the women from Dionne Brand’s Sisters in the Struggle explain. Edmonton, too, is a product of histories of anti-Black racism, white supremacy, segregation, and police violence, and a vibrant civil rights movement in which Black women resisted segregation and exclusion. Your big idea challenges for this module involve researching Black women civil rights leaders and trailblazers from Edmonton. But first, test your understanding of the big idea, lessons, and assigned resources from this module and log on to eClass to engage in discussion with your peers.
Brand, Dionne Brand and Ginny Stikeman. 1991. Sisters in the Struggle. NFB,
Collins, Patricia Hill.  “Defining Black Feminist Thought.” Republished in: The Feminist eZine. Accessed September 21, 2023. http://www.feministezine.com/feminist/modern/Defining-Black-Feminist-Thought.html.
“Combahee River Collective Statement 1977.” Reprinted in Frontiers 38, no. 3 (2017): 164–189.
Crenshaw, Kimberle. 2016. “The urgency of intersectionality” TED, December 16, 2016. Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akOe5-UsQ2o
Davis, Kathy. 2020. “Who Owns Intersectionality? Some Reflections on Feminist Debates on How Theories Travel.” European Journal of Women’s Studies, 27 (2): 113-127–127. doi:10.1177/1350506819892659.
Dinerstein, Joel. 2019. “Opinion: The pernicious myth of a Caucasian race.” Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2019-09-10/race-caucasian-myth-racism
“The facts about women and poverty in Canada, what is gendered poverty.” n.d. Canadian Women’s Foundation. Accessed June 20, 2023. https://canadianwomen.org/the-facts/womens-poverty/
Raphael, Daisy. 2020. “Lecture: Anti-Black Racism and Resistance in Canada”. Women and Gender Studies 102: Gender & Social Justice. University of Alberta. https://wgs102.org/2020/04/11/intersectionality-lessons/
Walkden, Jessica. 2013. “Marie Joseph Angelique: Trial of a Rebel Slave”. May 17, 2013. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlBsKzYqYbA&t=60s
Discussion Questions (please check eclass)
Head back over to eClass to engage in discussion with your colleagues. This week, please read the short article “Why I’m giving up on intersectional feminism” by Tamela J. Gordon. If you are among the first 10 students in your group to post, begin by working together to ensure you’ve clearly defined the concept of intersectionality. Then, work together to identify Gordon’s argument. What is her main concern about intersectional feminism, and why is Gordon giving up on intersectional feminism? Use specific examples from the reading. The remaining members of your group should work to identify the solution Gordon proposes. What is her solution, and why? Be sure to define Black feminism clearly, and use the assigned resources to help you.
As you work through these questions, you can also add your responses to the following guiding questions:
- how did the article make you feel?
- do you agree with Gordon’s argument?
Remember to check into eClass to participate in the discussion board, work on and submit your Big Idea Challenges, and communicate with your instructor.