III African American Women and Their Uniqueness
V Alice Walker and her Fiction
VI Discussion and Analysis
Multiethnicity is a common feature of the present day world. This paper concentrates on the fact that, race is an assigned social construct, and ethnicity is an asserted social construct. Ethnic groups within the domain of a larger society display a unique set of cultural traits, and a sense of community. They have a shared ancestry and heritage. They have a degree of consciousness that separates them from others. American society since its inception has been an ethnically and racially diverse one. Large scale immigration has made America the heterogeneous abode of many ethnic communities. Multifarious ethnicity has led to identity crisis, conflict, and competition. In America, African Americans are both a race and an ethnic group. Moreover, they are the most visible ethnic group. African American women have faced sexist oppression, and gender dissonance in addition to racism, classism and ethnic conflicts when compared to their male counterparts. The intersection of racist, sexist and classist oppression has forced African American women, face complex social and psychological realities. This research paper analyses how race, ethnicity, gender dissonance, racism, sexism and classism effect black women’s lives oppressively, and how womanism is an elixir that saves them from such oppressive forces. It concentrates on womanism as a theory, put forth by Alice Walker. Walker used the term womanism in her collection of essays titled In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose published in 1983. Furthermore, this paper focuses on the black womanist of the novel alone, to show how womanists with womanist awareness, grit and substance alone can overcome ethnic conflicts, racism, sexism, classism, and gender dissonance.
Key words: Ethnicity, Racism, Sexism, Classism, Gender Dissonance, Ethnic Conflicts
Multiethnicity is a common feature of the present day world. This paper concentrates on the fact that, race is an assigned social construct, and ethnicity is an asserted social construct. Ethnic groups within the domain of a larger society display a unique set of cultural traits, and a sense of community. They have a shared ancestry and heritage. They have a degree of consciousness that separates them from others. On account of multiple, mixed ancestries, race is a powerful notion socially, rather than biologically. As pointed out by Eriksen: the boundaries between race and ethnicity tend to be blurred, since ethnic groups have a common myth of origin, which relates ethnicity to descent, which again makes it a kindred concept of race. It could moreover be argued that some racial groups are ethnified, such as American blacks who have gradually come to be known as African- Americans: but also that some ethnic groups are racialised, as when immutable traits are accorded to ethnic minorities . . . . (6)
American society since its inception has been an ethnically and racially diverse one. Large scale immigration has made America, the heterogeneous abode of many ethnic communities. Multifarious ethnicity has led to identity crisis, conflict, and competition. In America, African Americans are both a race and an ethnic group. They entered America as involuntary migrants, and made it their home. Even in the present day, heterogeneous ethnic configuration the place of African Americans continues to present a major challenge to American ethnic relations. As African Americans are the most visible ethnic group, they face more racial discrimination when compared to other ethnic groups. Race as a social construct is used by a dominant group to impose and rationalize prejudice, oppression and discrimination. “Throughout most of its history, the American racial-ethnic system was essentially, a binary structure, in which persons were classified as either black or white.” (Marger 164)). Black ethnic consciousness grew in the 1960s through the ‘Black Arts Movement,’ and it in turn, stimulated ethnic consciousness in many other ethnic groups like Jewish Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and American Indians. This paper analyses how race, ethnicity, gender dissonance, racism, sexism and classism effect black women’s lives oppressively, and how womanism is an elixir that saves them from such oppressive forces. Furthermore, this paper focuses on the black womanist of the novel alone to show how ethnicity, racism, sexism, classism, and gender dissonance influence the life of a black woman.
Though slavery has been abolished long back in America, the legacy of slavery weighs down on African Americans, and makes them a special minority as they have been “subjected to two centuries of slavery.” (Marger 206-207). They are swiftly coming out of the rut and rammel of segregation and direct discrimination. Yet, covert and indirect forms of discrimination and oppression can neither be ruled out, nor can be dealt with effectively by the state. Even in the twenty first century, racist beliefs exist in a modified form. “As a collectivity, blacks in the past four decades have made significant strides in income, occupation, and education. However they continue to lag behind whites on all measures of socio-economic status” (Marger 208).
The word ethnicity, Greek in origin means “the unity of persons of common blood or descent” (Schaefer 456). Ethnicity as a social variable equally effects African Americans, as they form a unique ethnic group and are the most visible race. Moreover, ethnicity “ emerges and is made relevant through social situations and encounters, and through people’s ways of coping with the demands and challenges of life” (Eriksen 1). African Americans in America are a unique ethnic group and race, who have contributed their might in the making of America. Though African Americans are from different ethnic groups, in due course of time, they became a unique ethnic group with indigenous culture. Moreover, they share similar cultural, psychological and social characteristics. African Americans have their unique identity, cultural norms, matrilineal leanings, use of Black folks English, and an indigenous African American lifestyle in America. African American women have their own demands and challenges as they have to undergo racism, sexism, classism, gender dissonance and ethnic conflicts. Ethnic conflicts are bound to happen when there is competition for things on several levels, and African American women are the first to face them in America.
Race as a social variable effects a black woman’s life in addition to gender, class, socio-economic status and education. "Race is now viewed as a social construction that is primarily recognized by physical appearance, or phenotype. In the United States, Americans are socialized first to identify a person's race by skin color, and second by hair form by facial features such as shape of nose and lips, and eye form, along with other features like height" (Lobban 1). Race is the most visible aspect in the case of blacks, on account of their skin colour and physical features. Racism is a truth and not a myth in America, as America is multiracial and multiethnic. Covert, racial conflicts are a common happening, when different races compete for basic amenities, space and place. Having played the role of easily available labour, for long in America, black women occupy a subordinate social and economic position, when compared to white and black men. All these make a black woman’s life unique, and different from that of white women. Feminism fails to voice or protect the interests of black women. Being both black and female, these women are “doubly marginalized” (Warhol & Herndl, 41). As Elaine Showalter points out, the black woman is “the Other Woman, the silenced partner” (Showalter 214). This unique double marginalization does not relate black women to feminism like womanism. Though feminism and womanism are related, womanist stands to feminist as “Purple to lavender” (Walker In Search xii). The only similarity between them is that womanism and feminism are for the wellness and well-being of women.
Class as a social variable effects a black woman’s life in addition to gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status and education. Class is a social construction. A “social class consists of a group of people who share the same position in the social hierarchy regarding the means of production. Class consciousness refers to the awareness members of that group or class have of their membership in that group” (Weir 134). American society is divided into upper class, middle class and lower working class, rather than bourgeoisie and proletariat. The presence of class consciousness along with competition between classes, has led to classism in America which takes no turn to fade away. Blacks in America mostly belonged to the working class during the early twentieth century. By the dawn of the new millennium, they are many who belong to the three afore-stated classes, but majority of the aforesaid many, belong to the middle class and lower class. The need to better the class bias for the black woman, and the black community, lies at the heart of womanist awareness, as it is a way to economic independence and self-reliance.
Gender as a variable effects the lives of black women terribly along with racism, sexism, and classism. Gender is a social construction, while sex is a biological construction and, they can be no escape from both. “Gender is a primary way of signifying relationships of power. Attention of gender is often not explicit, but it is nonetheless part of the organization of equality or inequality. Hierarchal structures rely on generalized understandings of the so-called natural relationship between male and female” (Scott 1073). Blacks have left much of their matriarchal lineage way back and have acclimatized themselves with the white patriarchy of popular culture. As pointed out by Hooks “Patriarchy, the institutionalized structure of male dominance, encourages male of all races and classes to define their masculinity by acts of physical aggression and coercion towards others, women and children” (Hooks, “ When . . .”148). Moreover, black women face double sexism from white and black men, which is difficult to overcome. Furthermore, societal influences can’t be done way with easily, let them be indigenously own or acclimatized. Women and men are made by society rather apart from their sex, yet, sex and gender have an intrinsic relationship. The tripartite struggle faced by black women is not easy to overcome with the negative effects of gender roles thrust forcibly on women. Gender dissonance is not an easy problem to overcome along with tripartite struggle. Kate the protagonist of the novel Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart faces tripartite struggle in addition to problems faced by her, on account of ethnicity, racism, sexism, classism, and gender dissonance, despite being an accomplished author.
III African American Women and Their Uniqueness
African American women have faced sexist oppression and gender dissonance in addition to racism, sexism, classism and ethnic conflicts when compared to their male counterparts. The intersection of racist, sexist and classist oppression has forced African American women face complex social and psychological realities. African American women are forced to play a complementary and unequal role in their families and society. An African American woman’s name has been synonymous with labour at home, and outside home. Slavery did not conform African American women to gender roles, but with passing time, western patriarchal set up became an accepted way of life for blacks. In a patriarchal society, gender subordinates women, to establish a man’s masculinity. When this is internalized by African American women they are forced to accept the frustration of African American men on account of racism, in addition to the racism faced by them. White women are victims of just sexism, while black women are victims of sexism from black men as well as white men. In addition to this, they are victims of classism. The history of racism effects the experience of gender, and intensifies the effects of ethnicity, sexism and classism for African American women. Describing the condition of black women Gloria Wade Gayles has said:
"America is an oppressive system that divides people into groups on the bias of their race, sex and class, creating a society in which a few have capital and therefore are able to influence the lives of many. There are three major circles of reality in American society, which reflected degrees of power and powerlessness. There is a large circle in which white people , most of them men, experience . . . power. Far away from it there is a smaller circle and a narrow space, in which black people, regardless of sex, experience uncertainty, exploitation and powerlessness . . . . Hidden in this second circle is a third small dark enclosure in which black women experience pain isolation and vulnerability. These are the distinguishing marks of black womanhood in white America. (Gayles 3-4)
Downgraded and set aside by the white feminist movement, and black freedom movement, African American women needed their voice and place to protect their interests, and that of the black community. “Although black women and men had struggled equally for liberation during slavery and much of the Reconstruction era, black male political leaders upheld patriarchal values. As black men advanced in all spheres of American life-- they encouraged black women to assume a more subservient role” (Hooks Ain’t I 4). Their much awaited representation found itself in black feminism and later on womanism propelled by many black women writers like Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Sonia Sanchez, Toni Cade Bambara, Maya Angelou, and critics like Barbara Smith, Barabra Christian, Bell Hooks, Patricia Hills Collins, to name a few. They took up the onerous task of showcasing, speaking up, and speaking for black women individually as well as collectively. Mary Helen Washington talking about the stereotypes of black women has succinctly pointed out the bias deeply embedded in American society. She has said:
Stereotypes about black women abound like weeds in this society. It is common practice to make slick, easy generalizations about them. Statements such as, black women have always been strong, they have always been liberated, they're treated better than black men, they're evil, they're loud are made so frequently that they are accepted as known fact. The white media have been in on the act for a long time, of course, creating such perverted fantasies as . . . Sapphire, Pinky, and Aunt Jemima, which are adequate evidence of the abuse of the black woman's image. And the habit still persists. People other than the black woman herself try to define who she is, what she is supposed to look like, act like and sound like. And most of these creations bear very little resemblance to real live black women. (Washington IX)
Hooks has pointed out that white women fail to understand black woman’s needs by succinctly stating that “as victims of racism black women were subjected to oppressions no white woman was forced to endure” (Hooks Ain’t I 122-123). Black women writers have clearly stated why there is a need to usher in black feminism or womanism, and the need to develop black feminist consciousness or womanist consciousness to uplift themselves. Being both black and female, African American women writers write from their point of view about black lives, true to real life. As remarked by Claudia Tate:
- Quote paper
- Ratna Hasanthi Dhavaleswarapu (Author), 2021, Ethnicity, Racism, Sexism, Classism, and Gender Dissonance in Alice Walker’s Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1003497