How Domestic Violence and Political Activism are Related. A Case Study on African-American Women

Diploma Thesis, 2002

143 Pages, Grade: very good


Table of Contents

a) Research Question
b) Preview of the Topics
c) Research Methods
d) Notes on Language Use, Terms, and the Discourse

1 Political Challenges for Black Communities
1.1 Racism- Not Just a Personal Ideology
1.2 The Slavery Economy and African-American Identity
1.3 The Focus on Men in the Community’s Collective Memory
1.4 The Creation of Anger
1.5 Drugs
1.6 Women Have Been Ignored By History

2 African-American Movements and Women’s Engagement in Them
2.1 Black Political Ideas
2.1.1 Black nationalism
2.1.2 Pan-Africanism
2.1.3 Afrocentrism
2.1.4 A Word on Them All Together
2.2 Women in the Struggle
2.2.1 Lacking Acknowledgement and the Presence of Women
2.2.2 Where Does the Idea of Domination of Women Come From?
2.2.3 Did Women Contribute in Different Ways?

3 Violence Towards African-American Women
3.1 Structural Violence
3.1.1 Effects of Structural Violence on Black Women in America
a) African-American Women’s Health
b) The Most Humiliating Images Were Put Out on Black Women
c) Media Influence
3.2 Direct Violence
3.2.1 Some Stats and Information on Intimate Partner Violence
3.2.2 Seeking Help and Breaking Out

4 How Is Violence Towards Women Dealt With
4.1 Concepts of Violence Towards Black Women
4.2 The Perception of Violence Towards Women
4.3 The Approach in Local Politics
4.4 Resources for Providing Help
4.3 The Process of Increasing Awareness on Sexual Violence
4.3.1 Televised Confrontations
a) Washington v. Tyson
b) Hill v. Thomas
c) Which Effects Did the Trials Have?
4.3.2 Examples for Awareness Building Efforts

5 Attempting to Correct the Situation. Black Women Correcting the Discourse
5.1 Notions of Sisterhood v. Thinking Global ?
5.1.1 Notions of Black Sisterhood
5.1.2 Networking Among Women of Color
5.1.3 The Black- White Divide
5.2 Self-Definition and Activism
5.2.1 Self-Definition in Black Women’s Literature
5.2.2 Correction of Images in U.S. Media
5.2.3 Internet
5.3 The Potentials and Conservative Counter-Tendencies


a) Books and Articles
b) Internet Sources, Brochures and Newspapers
c) Interviews and Panels
d) Conversations



Already before studying social and cultural anthropology and political science, I was an enthusiastic reader of African-American novelists, especially those authored by James Baldwin, and having viewed racism as one form of marginalization and exclusion, I wanted to learn and gain knowledge about this phenomenon and enrolled for these two disciplines. Specializing on African politics in my study, I nevertheless remained interested in the African-American experience and decided to write my thesis on an issue that would be in some proximity to the latter.

Through contacts with African-American social and political activists, I finally encountered an issue that I wanted to tackle, it is a circumstance that, in my view then, constituted a contradiction, the gap between the enormous political and social activism of African-American women and on the other hand the high rate of domestic violence and sexual assault in U.S. Black communities.

a) Research Question

Therefore in this work I want to examine whether there is a correlation between the circumstance that African-American women, throughout the African-American experience, have been very active in political movements and that on the other hand there is a high rate of violence and sexual assaults against Black women in their own communities.

Generally one can say that there is very much research done on African-American women. Some of the most important publications on the issue of Black women’s political activism and Black feminism stem from Paula Giddings (When and Where I Enter. The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America) and Patricia Hill Collins (Black Feminist Thought). When speaking with people doing research on African-American women I was mostly told that the issues of violence against women in the African-American community and Black women’s political activism are separate ones. None or little consideration seemed to be given to whether and how the two issues could be linked with each other. It is with my examination of this research question and my etic[1] perspectives expressed in this thesis that I hope to give a valuable contribution to the discourse on Black women in America.

b) Preview of the Topics

After an introductory chapter, in which I want to create a frame of reference to enable a basic understanding of major challenges the African-American community is faced with, I will examine the participation of African-American women in Black struggles, using the case-examples of three important ideological movements that are commonly not associated with women, Black nationalism, Pan-Africanism and Afrocentricity.

After having shown that in all of these movements women were essential and have been playing crucial roles I will dedicate the following chapter to the issue of violence towards women in the Black community. In the next chapter, 4, I will try to give insights into the perception of violence towards women in the Black community, how it is dealt with and in problems in the work of increasing the awareness on domestic violence and sexual assault within the African-American community. In chapter 5 I will try to explore the future trend in the on-going process of African-American women fighting for space, in terms of fighting against racism and, in the African-American community, getting to a point where their activism, what they have done and what they are doing is recognized. The aim being that not only their efforts but also they themselves are respected and that survivors of domestic violence, such as other kinds of brutality, are no longer silenced by stigmatization. Because of the fact that the internet is increasingly used to transport messages and facilitate communication between people from both the same and very different backgrounds, a point in this chapter will be dedicated to an examination of the internet’s significance in this process.

In a conclusion I will sum up the main contents and try to answer the research question. Further there will be, at the end of this thesis, a glossary, in which I explain a number of important terms, respectively names of organizations, in my own words.

c) Research Methods

Methods that I used in the course of the research for this thesis were qualitative research through literature studies, interviews and participant observation in the course of three stays in America. Fieldwork involved interviews, conversations, participation in events such as panel discussions, social and church-related gatherings, meetings of political groups in Philadelphia, New York and Washington D.C.

During the first two visits to America I encountered relatively little difficulties, as I worked during both stays in non-profit organizations that employed and / or worked with African-Americans. When I went over for the third time, I did it exclusively for the purpose of literature research and interviews, I had to contact individuals working in the field of my interest directly and exclusively for an interview; due to the fact that I am not a woman of African descent and on the other hand the nature of some of my research questions several individuals were not ready to speak with me, were too busy for giving interviews, respectively did not feel the most knowledgeable persons on the issue.

In one instance a woman, who is a social worker in an impoverished Black neighborhood of Washington D.C., wrote me in an e-mail that she doesn’t think that anyone is really interested in Black people and that a White person who is not even from America will hardly understand the situation of Black women (E. McCall-Haygan in an e-mail in March 2002). After a reply by me, this particular woman was ready to meet me, anyway this example may show how much distrust and doubts, as regards to how the information given might be used, whether giving an interview will be worth the time and be of use to anyone etc., exist. In retrospective I am happy to say that also during this third stay I was able to find a number of interview-partners who were so friendly to spend time on meeting me. All of these individuals were extremely supportive, and knowledgeable on the subject.

In order to make this thesis accessible to African-Americans, especially those who helped me to complete it, and because I want to work in a professional field that is international in nature, I decided to write this thesis in English.

d) Notes on Language Use, Terms, and the Discourse

The language associated with the issue that I will treat is problematic as regards to terms like “race”. I regard “race“ as a political concept and similar to Kofi Molefi ASANTE (1991:95) I am of the opinion that the concept of “race“ is neither a biological nor anthropological fact, but that it stems from the desire to command power over other people so that power is predicated upon distinctions and differences.

In the United States the usage of the term ”race” is quite common, other than in the German speaking countries, where, especially because of the Nazi-past, the word “Rasse“ (“race”) has an explicitly negative connotation. There have been in the course of the last decades lively debates on history, impact and connotations of words. As much as the existence of racism is a reality, as much it is true that speaking in essentialist terminologies does not deconstruct Eurocentrist paradigm, but affirms it. The role of “race“ will be further defined and spoken to in the following chapter. Because of the fact that I have decided to write this work in English and because “race“ is used in the predominantly American literature that I will refer to, I will use the term “ race“.

Further I will use the terms “African-American”, “Black”, “Black American”, and “U.S. Black” interchangeably, but want to add at this point some notes on the meaning of them. “Black” is still a very common descriptor of choice for Americans of African descent, since the mid-eighties another term came up, “African-American“ as an attempt to Africanize Black identity and to promote African roots in a positive light. The preference of the term African-American is also expression of a movement that aims at replacing “race“ as the central issue in civil rights activism with a claim for ethnic status in the United States (cf. HAWKESWOOD 1996:xix).

1 Political Challenges for Black Communities

The framework in which one has to see African-American women, their political activism in Black politics and violence towards Black American women from the hands of African-American males is the African-American community, which often enough is situated at the margins of the U.S. economy and society. Although the Black middle class is growing, there are still many Black communities that suffer from poverty and economic deprivation, the identity problems caused by internalized racism, wounds of experiences of racism in White society. Racism and other oppressive structures, notably sexism, penetrate the Black community and victimize African-American men and women.

1.1 Racism- Not Just a Personal Ideology

According to clinical psychologist Beverly Daniel TATUM (1997:10) ”racism” is a system based on advantage because of ethnic background / ”race”. As a racial identity researcher she stresses the importance to make a distinction between the terms prejudice and racism, because both of them are often used interchangeably. Making this distinction helps to dismantle the argumentation that racism was just a personal ideology and clarifies that it is more than that - namely a system that involves cultural messages, institutional policies, practices and beliefs as well as actions of individuals.

As Anthony Löwstedt says (in a conversation on 11 December 2001) different from marxism and feminism there is not one theory of and for racism. Racism is mostly understood in terms of personal attitude and ideology, but too little as a system of advantages for certain people and disadvantages for others.

The essential purpose of racism is the exploitation of people of color to maintain White economic and political power or White supremacy. In order to make sure that this is working, a racist ideology had to be put in place, vicious stereotypes of African “savages” had to be created so that policies that might otherwise have been regarded as criminally inhumane were justified. Racist ideology, attitudes, beliefs are reinforced by segregation and discrimination and through that institutionalized racism is able to perpetuate itself. Racism is more than a set of negative attitudes or behaviors on the part of individual Whites, although these negative attitudes and behaviors are grievous and sometimes fatal. Rather, racist attitudes and behaviors are symptoms of a system whose purpose is beyond making people of color feel badly, but instead to maintain White power and control (SMITH 1998:100).

The word ”racist” speaks in B. D. Tatum’s view to behavior of Whites in the context of a White dominated society, building on an ever-present power differential that is afforded by Whites through culture and institutions; they all together make up the system of advantage and continue to reinforce notions of White superiority (TATUM 1997:10).

1.2 The Slavery Economy and African-American Identity

Race relations in the United States are until today shaped by the slavery industry. Even in international comparison slavery in North America was practiced in the toughest way; around sixty million people died being captured, during the transport, or in America. More than thirty million persons were working for the duration of their whole life as slaves in America. Slavery, which lasted for four hundred years, has still an impact on African-Americans; as Anthony Löwstedt (quoted from a conversation on 11 December 2001) points out, the effects can be clearly seen in demographic conditions:

In a lot of societies where slavery was practiced the slave population increased in spite of that they were a people that was not free, but this was not the case with the African-American population. Even after the slavery period, Black people were poorer than White Americans and might be thought to have shown an increase therefore, but also then there was for a long time not a significant increase of the Black American population (Anthony Löwstedt in a conversation on 11 December 2001).

The structure of the African-American family gives evidence to the slavery economy; there were a lot of obstacles to the sound development of family structures. However, as data from the latest census, released on 22 February 2001, indicate, the situation of African-Americans is improving[2]. Among middle class African-Americans there is a general mood that the worst things lie behind them; Anthony Löwstedt (in a conversation on 11 December 2002) speaks of an attitude of “realistic optimism”, supported by a tendency according to which many middle class African-Americans work very hard, and with high potentials to succeed, to move up the economic ladder.

This is not a contradiction to the fact that it will still take time to resolve the trauma of slavery, lynching, racial attacks and racist terminologies, ideologies put out on people of African descent. The process of working up and coping with the legacy of slavery and the injustices done in its aftermath is, although in another way than slavery itself, also very painful. Identity is a key-issue in this process and during slavery the fronts were much clearer than it could be the case today. Until today there is a high pervasiveness of the “inferiority myth” and it costs much energy to continuously speak up and fight against White supremacist thinking.

Images spread out and suggesting inferiority of people of color, especially people of African descent, do their work effectively so that again and again controversies caused by undifferentiated statements of politicians, for instance, come up. A lot of the problems in poor communities are more or less automatically linked to “race” / ethnicity, which promotes low self-esteem, little incitements for realizing one’s potentials, which is especially tragic in the case of young people for whom developing an healthy identity and positive outlook on life is of primary importance.

Although the percentage of poor African-Americans is very high, proportionately there has actually been too much of a social science literature production on the Black poor. As different writers (cf. for instance HAWKESWOOD 1996, FRANKLIN 1997) have stressed, this is bound to put the wrong message out: There is much pondering about the massive homicide rate of Black males between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five at the hand of other Blacks, the high teenage pregnancy rate in combination with a generation of fathers who fail to care for their children and the overcrowded prison population, where African- Americans are more than 50 percent of the inmates although Black people make up little more than 12 percent of the U.S. population (cf. EVANS 1995:16).

Even though all of these problems are very real, it is important to keep the perspective and realize that these things are proof of fatally failed U.S. social politics, and that they don’t represent intellectual and work-abilities of African-Americans but challenges and the urgent need for the improvement of U.S. economic policies.

As EVANS (1995:16) laments, one of the worst factors in this dilemma is that in recent years the inferiority myth has been promoted by the Black middle class against the Black underclass. A lot of middle class Blacks have supported a stereotypical understanding of those people by drawing the conclusion that their brothers and sisters, whom they used to live next door to, were now beyond hope. It tends to be seldom understood that this conclusion is very similar to that many Whites made about them.

Another example that illustrates effects of the inferiority myth is that the Black community, and the Black church especially, is in a dependent position in hindsight to welfare and entitlement programs. During the time of slavery the Black church, for instance, formed a community, culture, a religious institution and an anti-slavery resistance movement with limited support coming from the broader culture. But today a good part of Black people feel unable to reproduce this because of being demobilized by the inferiority myth (EVANS 1995:17).

1.3 The Focus on Men in the Community’s Collective Memory

In the collective memory of the Black community slavery, the historical legacy of lynching and other forms of physical and sexual violence committed against Black men and women play a tremendous role. Although oppression has been imposed on both genders, the effects on Black men are more discussed in the community and seem to be more obvious than the atrocities done to and the hardships of Black women. On a social level of understanding the Black male has been demonized.

According to Keith T. WRIGHT (1997:31f.) for a long time in history Black men’s voices were muffled, their potential to object has been controlled, the Black man has been despised and rejected by the White man, by most Black women he was scorned and diminished in value. It is claimed that many Black men have failed in being good husbands, companions, fathers and leaders in society, a certain minority of Black men are frustrated, confused and angry, which is, at least in part, a consequence of the fact that they have been treated really bad in America and do not face equal and fair opportunities. Negative feelings resulting from their disadvantaged position leave Black males to make choices and decisions that are at times not the best ones, some turn to committing crimes and resort to drugs, others act irresponsibly in private relationships and in hindsight to their own survival. Drugs and alcohol use are at academic proportion in these communities. Looking in any hospital room on the weekend, late at night, one can easily see many cases of people who have been hurt in fights in conflicts in the Black community.

Also according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report in 1990 males, regardless of age, were arrested for violent crime at levels that dwarfed the numbers for women. Men aged twenty-five to thirty-four were seven times more likely than women of the same age group to be arrested for murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Males thirty-five to forty-four years old were seven to eight times more likely to be detained in jail, those older than sixty-five were around fifteen times as likely. The conclusions drawn from such statistics usually fail to incorporate various corollary propositions which turn on differences in recorded arrest groups for any number of groups, men and women, for example (COSE 1993:72).

Applying this interpretation from the statistics mentioned, one could expect discrimination against men to be much more prevalent than discrimination against women and that society would treat males as objects of fear and horror until the male crime rate drops to that of the women’s rate. Men would be expected to cure themselves of their evil ways as a condition of acceptance into the world of civil human beings. A further consequence of this argumentation would be that until men improved, changed their ways, women would continue to be granted preference in promotion and hiring, in apartments, trendy shops, and at every other conceivable juncture at which men and women meet. As Ellis COSE (1993:72) states, it is a ridiculous argumentation that is often uttered with straight faces by very intelligent people, when discussing the treatment of Blacks.

Also HAWKESWOOD (1996:6f.) stresses that most Black men, and gay Black men especially, are not street corner men, which contradicts the presentation of social science literature. In much of the prevalent literature, Black men remain marginal to African-American society. There is a vast amount of literature about the Black poor, and this created the impression that they are the majority, particularly in the Black community. Because of poor participation in the census, census-based statistical analyses of Black society cannot be regarded as reliable. Often statistics are based on nationwide data, but even in this sample only 25 percent of Blacks use food stamps, Medicaid, and publicly subsidized housing, 86 percent of Black men have an income, 73 percent are employed and only 19 percent are unemployed (Farley and Allen cited in HAWKESWOOD 1996:6f.).

There is the common conception that there is a lot of pressure on the Black man and that he is faced with formidable forces to overcome so that he will reach success. Some of the vestiges from slavery are still present in collective memory; for centuries the Black man has been told that he is worthless ”except as field hand and a stud” and although most Black males know they can do better, they have to experience getting rebuffed by a society inherently racist (quotes overtaken from WRIGHT). The White power structure systematically excludes the Black man’s participation in mainstream society and economy and the White community’s “egotistical and narcistic attitudes” are the dominant images in television programs, advertising, movies and in the other media institutions. Through the media and even in educational institutions the Black man is suggested to be less than a White person in terms of intelligence and ability to succeed. A lot of Black people internalize this image of their inferiority and, through this, lack self-confidence (WRIGHT 1997:32).

1.4 The Creation of Anger

Again and again in the history of social movements in the United States one finds examples, where it was in alliances between liberal Whites and Black people, White people who betrayed Blacks, when they had a chance to profit from it. For instance in the multiracial workers’ movement, after the end of World War One, attacks against Black American soldiers took place en masse, as the labor market was constricting (Shapiro in HESS 2000:181). Also racist discrimination in the unions had barred African-Americans from all but the most menial jobs and when the White dominated workers’ movement went on strike, Black workers replaced Whites, whereby the striking of the predominantly White workers lost much of their effectiveness (Foner in HESS 2000:182).

Another site of violent attacks against Black people was when big numbers of African-Americans began moving in formerly all-White neighborhoods in order to ensure adequate housing and consequently assaults against African-Americans were on the increase (Shapiro in HESS 2000:181).

In the early part of the twentieth century more than 10 000 people were lynched (WRIGHT 1997:36). According to an interpretation that has broad resonance in the Black community and among Black intellectuals, lynching is interpreted as the sexual violence committed against Black males. Whereas this form of violence was committed in very spectacular ways, at the same time the sexual violence against women took place in very vicious forms, as well (cf. GIDDINGS 1984:114). Women worked for the most part in domestic jobs, in the service field, where in fact nobody could effectively protect them from abuse of any kind. A thing people tend to be less aware of is that among the lynched there were women, too.

In the year 1964, for an example, there was an examination of the FBI in Mississippi and there were so many unidentified African-American bodies found that the search was temporarily called off because of the embarrassment of government officials (cf. M. SIMMONS 1995:4).

Resulting from the bigger internationalist orientation in those days, and the influence of Mahatma Gandhi especially, in the 1950s many African-Americans were politically inclined towards nonviolent tactics of social protest, in the course of the 1960s this tendency lost its fascination for many Blacks, there was a turn to a more militant outlook. At least in part this was caused by the vicious campaign to silence Black protest and opportunist behavior of some Black activists in the movement and White liberals claiming to support the Black struggle, but in reality taking advantage of it by getting a progressive reputation.

The turn to militancy, becoming politically conscious and showing this determination to fight back (by means of presenting small arms) was used by White power strategists to legitimate the CIA- COINTELPRO programs. The violence so exorbitantly used against the mostly very young activists from the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) had again the effect of further militarizing Black communities all over the United States, just the same can be said about police brutality, the practice of framing-up and imprisoning of politically active Black persons, ”events” like the bombing of the Move People’ s house in West-Philadelphia in the year 1985.

Today police brutality, the practice of framing-up political activists, racist attacks other than those committed by the police, has reached an extent that leads people to the assumption that nowadays more Black people are killed than in the era of lynching and the COINTELPRO-campaigns.

Similarly I would go as far as deriving from the latter statement that racial profiling and the economic marginalization of Black men could be seen as the very vicious neocolonial sort of violence, which is mainly targeted at African-American males, but that, of course, at the same time affects African-American women, children and elders in ways that are very harmful to the Black community as a whole.

The political climate in the United States of America, with currently still more than 140 political prisoners from the Black movement in American jails, has become even harsher for African-Americans through the rise of the United States as the only super-power left after the end of the Cold War. One could maybe even argue that already in the 1970s African-Americans were left without powerful allies that could and would have put pressure from outside on the U.S. government.

In the last decades all of this was accompanied by politics of economic restructuring which again affected the situation of U. S. Black communities in very negative ways: Through rationalization policies and the globalization of the markets less workers are needed, a circumstance which affects especially Blacks, who can mainly be said to belong to the working class. For an example, in the city of Philadelphia, some 54 percent of all jobs in the industries were lost in the past 20 to 30 years. Besides belonging to the working class African-Americans, especially males, are subjected to discrimination in the job-market so that they are generally the ones with the worst chances to get a job (cf. ANDERSON 1999: 108ff.). The past decades were a period of profound economic change in the United States. These developments especially affected urban centers, and among the results of this was an enormous growth of the so-called underclass. Deindustrialization and the building of the global economy led to continuing loss of the unskilled and semiskilled manufacturing jobs, which had sustained the urban working class with different outcomes from the beginnings of the industrial revolution onwards (Wacquant / Wilson quoted in ANDERSON 1999:108). At the same time reforms in the fields of welfare contributed through weakening the social safety net (cf. Katz quoted in ANDERSON 1999:108).

Already Willhelm Edward DU BOIS (quoted in ANDERSON 1999:109) stressed in his social study The Philadelphia Negro that young African-American men lack education, connections, social skills, the adoption of a certain outfit, the will to work and hope for their future, which makes it hard for them to find a job. In many working-class and impoverished Black communities the social conduct in public organizes around the street-code, particularly as the trust in the criminal justice system has been lost. Inhabitants of these communities are of the opinion that they cannot rely on the police or other public authorities and overtake it themselves to care for their security.

In terms of infrastructure African-American communities are poorly equipped, there is a high rate of unemployment in the impoverished inner-city communities, and because of the economic and otherwise marginalization of Blacks an underground economy has been developing. As a result of the limited success of the many struggles of Black people for equal rights, the many betrayals and violations of their human dignity and human rights, Black political culture is asserting an opposition to the White wider, or mainstream, culture. In this context violence, crime, disrespecting the American state’s law has the advantage that it can, seemingly or indeed, be justified to themselves, their community, at times also to outsiders by calling on political motivations (cf. for instance BROWN 1992:329).

Certain, through the far reaching poverty in Black communities, strata of the Black population in the United States that find themselves under conditions of marginalization, demand that they take money from White folks who want to help, but that they “don’t want no White folks come into our [Black, F.S.] communities“ (UHURU led conference No Justice, No Peace, Philadelphia, 22 February 2001). This is to some extent result of the lacking possibilities of Black people to create images of themselves, their life-circumstances according to the way they would want it. The anger of Black people that is expressed at times and in different ways is due to the fact that they continue to be exploited and used to maintain White supremacy. Through not integrating its Black minority in mainstream economics and -culture, wider society, America has created ”the racial monster” it is increasingly forced to deal with.

As many community leaders and activists from the older generation lament, America’s worshipping of the youth and youth-culture has had the side-effect that the ”code of the street” dictates that those who long for social prestige among the young in their communities, have to live fast. A lot of talented young people may end up ”hanging on the pipe”, having tried out a few things a few times too much (cf. ANDERSON 1999:111ff.). The ”live fast, die young, have a good looking corpse” (cf. NICOL 1991, in reference to Soweto, South Africa) demands its price.

1.5 Drugs

American legislation on drugs displays the racist bias against Black people in a very clear way, again and again people are sentenced to decades in prison for having just a few grams of crack on them. Crack is the most common drug in African-American communities, contrary to the more expensive cocaine, which is of better quality and that is mainly used by affluent White folks. The following example can be regarded as typical for the unjust application of laws.

”And so there was no.., I mean drugs, the word ‘drugs’.. About two years ago, these White kids in the suburbs got caught with five pounds of cocaine! Now, I know people who have been selling drugs for ten years and have yet to see that much of cocaine. These White kids didn’t do a day in jail. But I know Black people, who were caught with two grams of cocaine and they had twenty years! So, if you look at just laws, I mean, there was no law in this country that is not applied differently when it comes to us.”

Michael Simmons[3], 24 April 2001.

“And what we’re finding here in the United States now, is that many Black men are prosecuted and sent to prison for non-violent behaviors, mostly drug-offences. Being caught with drugs like.., you know different kinds of drugs. A lot of our concern has been that these people are non-violent, they never killed or shot or murdered anyone; they just had drugs.

[..]You have this situation of the perversion of the family values, because so many Black men are locked up in prison.. [..] So, instead of treating .., what we find is that there is a treatment, for a White man who might be caught with drugs or a Black man maybe caught with drugs. There’s an issue of .., you know, for the White men, they’re more likely to be diverted from the system. They’re more likely, if it’s a young man, maybe they will be showing up at the station, the police will be more likely to call their parents and they’ll send them home and they leave it to their parents to take care. Whereas the young Black man will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and sent to prison. –And so we have that issue.

There is the.., there are issues in the law in itself that are very discriminatory. The issue of crack versus powder cocaine has been a very prominent concern for African-Americans. The same substance, cocaine, but one form, the cheaper form that African-Americans are more likely to use, is called crack cocaine. And they go through a process of cooking it up where it becomes a crystallized type of drug that gives you an intense high for a short period of time. Whereas powder cocaine tends to be used more by wealthy Whites, it’s more expensive, it’s more refined.. But the same amount of those has different implications in the law. If you’re carrying the crack cocaine, you’re more likely to get a tougher sentence, you’re more likely to get a stiffer sentence for a longer period of time, than if you carry the same amount of powder cocaine, you’re more likely to get a slap on the hand and sent on your merry way.

So if you have the same amount of that crystallized form of that substance, and you’re more likely to be White, then you don’t have an issue, you don’t have a problem, you’re treated as if maybe you have a substance abuse problem, but you’re not treated as a criminal.

So I mean you have those disparities throughout the law and it creates a negative impact for Black families, because once you send, you know, your Black male to jail, you know, you got your primary breadwinner taken out of the situation.”

Maya Rockeymoore, 1 April 2002.

Over 90 percent of drug convictions are of people of color (Ruby Gittsohnsen in an e-mail conversation in May 2001). In poverty-stricken inner-city communities it is becoming more and more difficult to distinguish poverty from involvement in drugs. For instance numerous “welfare mothers” definitely have come in close connection with the drug trade, either as users or as something like support personnel, through allowing drug dealing boyfriends or male relatives to use their homes as crack houses or drug depots in exchange for money or favors (ANDERSON 1999:111).

As Hugh B. Price, President of the National Urban League, which is one of the large non-profit organizations in America, points out, women get often caught in this activity and have to pay for it. The number of African-American women in prisons is on the increase.

“For young women, unfortunately, when they have boyfriends who are involved in the drug-trade.., [..] sometimes the boyfriends make the young women carry drugs for them. And we find that there’s a very alarming increase in the number of Black women who are being sent to prison, because they are transporting drugs that their boyfriends made them carry.”

Hugh B. Price, President of the National Urban League, 28 March 2002.

Crack is one of the most addictive drugs existing, this has given rise to the rapid establishment of a drug-culture and maintaining its clientele is rather easy (Williams in ANDERSON 1999:121). In the community there is a common belief that crack addiction comes immediately and is to stay permanently. Having tried crack, according to what people say, one is always chasing the ghost, as the high one gets the first time is the strongest and most intensive. One can never achieve it again, however the psychological need to try is so strong that practically everyone keeps pursuing it. Like a drug-dealer (cited in ANDERSON 1999:121) said, he has never observed somebody walk away from crack permanently, even in cases where the user manages to get away from it for two years or so, the right dealer allegedly can easily hook him or her up again by speaking to this person in the “right“ way.

A common interpretation among African-Americans is that drugs were brought into Black communities in an intentional conspiracy-like form by White power strategists (for instance African-American male in panel at Temple university, March 2001). At any rate it seems evident that the spread of drugs into Black communities began in the early 1970s and that it has been conducted in an organized form (cf. BROWN 1992:404).

As Black sociologist Elijah ANDERSON (1999: 110ff.) explains, contemporary impoverished inner-city communities with predominantly African-American population are, to a high extent, both economically exploited and supported by the drug-trade. It is rather easy to get to drugs in this socio-economic environment and becoming a successful drug dealer is one of the little ways open to gain a lot of money on a regular basis.

“You know, people sell drugs because they lack the skills to get a good job, or the respect that they feel they need, or that they wanna have, or that they get from the other peers, you know, that they don’t get on another job. And I think like the absence of that, like equality on the workforce, is the reason why so many Black men, Black young males, turn to selling drugs, you know what I’m saying? Because the money is there, it’s quick and they don’t mind taking the risk. Because in the game of survival, you know what I’m saying, you have to take risk, you know what I’m saying?

People really don’t understand why people sell drugs, you know what I’m saying? If you walk past a Black community, you walk through every day and you see drug users asking you all of the time, ‘Do you have drugs?, Do you know where I can get some drugs?’ and you know you don’t have money, you know you don’t have a good job, you know you don’t have scores to get the kind of job to make the type of money you want, to have the type of life you’d like, -why wouldn’t you walk through there with drugs? You know what I’m saying, to sell them, because they could give you the money.

You know, people.., it’s not the idea that you’re selling this person something that could potentially kill them, or that could make their life worse.. It’s about what I need to do to take care of myself – and the drug dealer is just.., I mean the drug dealer, the gangster and everything.., that’s just a product of like the whole American system, you know what I’m saying? And the sad thing about it is, the only way out for a drug dealer is if he gets killed or if he gets caught and goes to prison.

[..] And for me, that’s so unfair, because when you sell drugs, you don’t have anything else. [..] So, I mean, the economic and financial situation in so many families is what forces so many people to take the risk and to sell drugs and to push aside the fact that this is morally wrong, maybe this is ethically wrong, this is not a right thing to do.. –BUT HEY, it’s, you gotta do what you gotta do, you know what I’m saying? ”

Ron Amber “Flow” Deloney[4], in an interview on February 4, 2002.

As in every other marketing business, production and distribution networks are necessary preconditions for the drug trade as well (Williams in ANDERSON 1999:116). In order to be successful in the business that is characterized by a high degree of competition, there is need for social control, which is, among drug dealers, commonly reached by threat and use of violence. Because of the fact that dealers tend to support quite some members of their family, who then again rely on this source of financial support, being pushed out of the business means to the dealer and a good part of the community financial disaster, therefore the kind of “work“ they are doing tends to be tolerated. Helpful for such an attitude is the alienation of impoverished African-American communities from White mainstream society. Whereas decency, law abiding styles of living, aspiring for social upward mobility is in many cases viewed by street-orientated inhabitants of the Black community as “acting White“, and is read as betrayal of the Black “race“, a certain criminal element has managed to establish itself and is tolerated for reasons of profitability, the alienation and marginal status of the majority of African-Americans (ANDERSON 1999:117ff.).

Increasingly not only are many Black males addicted to drugs, women are drawn or acquainted to crack and other drugs, too. Child neglect is only a logical consequence to follow, as a worried Black male stated in a panel discussion (panel at Temple university, Philadelphia, 24 March 2001):

”My comment is this, yeah, it [ sexism in the Black struggle, F.S .] is a divisive factor, but also I understand how strong women are really, are really doing. In fact, at one point they were so strong that you could nothing do to actually divide a woman from her children until, somewhere on the line, one way figured out to do this was to infiltrate drugs onto women. There was nothing to separate her from her children. Today we have so many women struggling out on drugs.. They didn’t go out and get the drugs themselves. What is in desperate situations, desperate people do desperate things. What you’re talking about education and being informed, education is information..”

Male student, in panel, at Temple university, 24 March 2001.

1.6 Women Have Been Ignored By History

Like Michael Simmons says (interview in April 2001), in African-American communities, as much as in every other culture around the globe and until now to all times, women have been completely ignored by history. Also, according to Geronimo JI JAGA (2001:76f.), it is not just a feature in African-American communities but also in other communities around the globe, and as Michael Simmons explained to me (interview on 24 April 2001) something that is particularly found in oppressed communities that youth cultures show strong tendencies to put women down and to disrespect women.

U.S. Black women are looking at a situation, where they suffer from racist oppression and from sexism within their own, the African-American, community. Significantly also, or especially, on the political level U.S. Black women have until the last years been neglected by the Black political discourse. As Aishah Shahidah Simmons, a Black lesbian feminist filmmaker, author and activist, argues, something has to be done so that race is not only understood and represented as a male / masculine experience and gender is not only viewed as a White experience (e-mail conversation, May 18, 2001). A trend has been developing according to which issues that deal with women have primarily been dealt with in writings that are put under the label of feminism, or Black feminism. This is a fact which could also be interpreted as an intentional politics of separation that may, like the ”separate but equal“-motto in Jim Crow times, not keep this promise. Even today, in the year 2002, Black women in the United States continue to live at the intersection of sexism and racism. Until today a lot of them are fighting against their conditioned attitudes and behaviors directing at “up-lifting the race“.

When looking at sexual and physical assault committed against Black American women one finds the tendency that a good part of the Black community will be resorting to different kinds of “blame the victim“-argumentation.

”And then rape, if I rape you, I may never get out of jail, if I rape Bahia [ who is an African-American woman ], - I may never go to jail! So, if you look at.., so that’s why I say that like our consciousness on racism is not because we’re smarter.. We got to be sharp, because it plays itself out at every single level of our existence. And it never stops, it never stops.”

Michael Simmons, 24 April 2001.

Racism in the American legal system and courts are cause for a double standard in America as regards to attitudes and behavior towards White and Black women.

”[...] in my neighborhood somebody was killing prostitutes, who were on crack. I mean, like depending on who you talk to, as many as from at least ten to thirty people were killed in a period of about four years. Nobody has ever found anybody who had done it; they haven’t even investigated it -seriously!

But a White woman was killed at 22 and Locust, about three years ago and you should have seen, they had a memorial service [...], the parents came to town, there were all these meetings and discussions.. And I’m not suggesting that her life is not important, but there were at least fifteen Black women, who were dead and nobody gave a shit!”

Michael Simmons, 24 April 2001.

As JI JAGA (2001:76) observed, at the time when he first went to prison, men who came in because they had raped a woman would get a knife stuck in them. Today nearly every other prisoner has raped some kid, which is something that he urges has to be addressed, because women are suffering, and as long they are suffering from the hands of Black men, the community as a whole will also not be probable to make much progress. Men would have to face the fact that the African-American movement is to a large extent so retarded because “our enemy“ plays on those sexual concepts that have twisted Black males’, the Black community’s, mind. “We’ve got to bring those women back up“ (Geronimo JI JAGA 2001:76).

Divorced or never married, Black women spend more time single than every ethnic or gender group. In the United States there are one million more Black women than Black men, African-American men have statistically the shortest life expectancy among all groups, namely 60.0 years (REID-MERRITT 1996:168). Because of the higher rates of homicide, incarceration, drug abuse and other social assaults the number of eligible Black mates is rather limited.

2 African-American Movements and Women’s Engagement in Them

The Black political discourse has been a very engaged one since the abolitionist movement at least. On the main African-American political ideologies have been defined by Black men, who were vested in patriarchal images of society. There is much discussion about the victimization and demonization of the Black male, but as Aishah S. Simmons says, women are nearly always left out from the equation (Aishah S. Simmons, interview, April 26, 2001).

2.1 Black Political Ideas

“[..] there’s Black nationalism, Afrocentrism, Pan-Africanism.., they’re still prevalent, but, you know, I just think there are so many people just grappling with the major issues of social and economic issues here.“

Muriel Feelings, in an interview, 23 March 2001.

Already in the abolitionist movement Black male leaders were rather allowed to play a political outstanding role than were their female counterparts (cf. HOOKS 1995:220, cf. LOEWENBERG / BOGIN 1976:4). Whereas in the early post-civil war years political meetings had still involved men, women and children, who were all participating and voting, there was, towards the turn of the twentieth century, a shift in terms of an exclusion of women and children and a tendency to small closed meetings with only a small number of men being admitted (PINDERHUGHES 1993:240).

Historically Black organizational life occurred mostly in close connection to the church which often took on a great deal of sponsorship and acted as an umbrella institution for organizational activity in the African-American community. Churches provided space and opportunities for organizations, community initiatives to come together, to meet and often ministers or other church members organized people and formed organizations. Ministers were not just active in church matters but often held leadership roles in secular organizations, too; at any rate most of the times cooperation in the Black community to the good of the community was presided over by the minister. In almost all religious institutions a formally developed system of authority pervaded so that religious, economic and social decisions have been presided over by the religious leader of the congregation, which is until today nearly always male. But by the 1950s day-to-day work and basic developmental activities were carried out by women in the community (PINDERHUGHES 1993:239).

As Muriel Feelings says, African-American men had, compared with Black women, generally higher chances of getting some education. Nevertheless Black women were involved in fighting for Black people’s liberation from racist oppression, but different from Black male political thinkers, who got an education, they were mostly acting with their native intelligence and were often doing the organizing of Black people on the grassroots level (Muriel Feelings, in an interview, 23 March 2001).

Women were seldom present in treatments of Black history and historians also were content to permit the male to represent the female in nearly every significant category. Therefore the male was the representative abolitionist, fugitive slave and political activist; today the Black male is the leader, entrepreneur, politician and the man of thought. To the extent that Black communities reared churches, schools and institutions of family life on White American models, it was more often men, not women, who gave expression to their history and their feelings (LOEWENBERG / BOGIN 1976:4f.).

In the last years a new scholarship on Black women’s history and the role of women in the African-American struggle is coming forward. Still there is the notion grounded in patriarchal assumptions of gender values that Black men are more committed to racial uplift and Black liberation struggles than African-American women. From the onset of Black struggles until today Black women’s engagement and their role in the African-American liberation struggles have been subordinated to that of Black males. From slavery times onwards, sexist Black males created a paradigm for Black racial uplift that was essentially based on the assumption that acquisition of patriarchal power and privilege was the standard by which Black liberation would be judged (HOOKS 1995:81f.).

Like bell hooks asserts there have been few African-Americans, who were dedicating their life to intellectual work (which HOOKS distinguishes from academic work), as a consequence there is no strong intellectual community. Black academics and / or intellectuals are the ones who have the most opportunities to form bonds with each other. These bonds are in many cases not formed on the basis of respect for work but much more through a process of networking with exchanges of favors, personal likes or dislikes overplaying allegiances. Because of the hierarchy in academe, which is competitive in nature, the formation of an intellectual community based on open-minded sharing of ideas is difficult and within marginalized groups, like African-Americans, the most open-minded individuals are probable to be isolated. This state of isolation intensifies, if they link their intellectual work to progressive politics (HOOKS 1995:230).

According to Cornel West and bell hooks (cited in HOOKS 1995:230) the notion that becoming a Black intellectual and / or academic means to assimilate and to surrender passionate concern about ending White supremacy and about up-lifting Black people has to be repudiated. Then maybe more Black people would feel attracted to doing intellectual work. A problem that HOOKS sees is that many Black women intellectuals often dismiss and devalue intellectual work, especially if it is the work of their peers. Although there are so few African-American females working in this field there is much competition for mainstream attention and jockeying for male approval, thus narrow judgmental attitudes are likely to pit them against each other. In a situation where patriarchal support of competition between Black women is coupled with competitive academic longing for status and influence, Black women are not empowered to bond on a basis of shared commitment to intellectual life or open-minded exchange of ideas. As they are instead empowered to be hostile and to police each other, Black women intellectuals and / or academics censor and silence themselves very often, and this happens especially, when there is dissent in terms of perspective. Hooks asserts that many women in the academic field are conservative or liberal in their politics and therefore tensions arise between the latter mentioned and groups, individuals that are in favor of revolutionary progressive politics (HOOKS 1995:231).

According to AMESBERGER/HALBMAYR (1996:130f.) women cooperate at times with dominant forces and ideas, by policing each other because of several factors: Women policing others gain a more powerful position, they can secure privileges for themselves, can compensate their own oppression and their own role is higher valued, the demonization of women acting contrary to the dominant norms provides simple solutions to complex issues, also the own disciplination can be mantled. Going from the consideration of the social structure to one that focuses on the individual, on a personal level the policing of other women has to be seen in correlation with the adherence to stereotypes of behavior (SCHAEFER-HINCK[5], p.1).

As HOOKS (1995:232) further states, demands for a unitary vision lead to the exclusion of voices and the silencing of dissent. According to CONE (1993:273) the so-called messianic complex is a danger pervading the expectations the African-American community has of leadership. When making Black Messiahs out of certain individuals in the African-American movement, as if only they alone knew how to achieve Black freedom, then individuals in the community and the community as a whole will not be empowered to complete their unfinished tasks, but will rather wait for another messiah to come. Such messianic expectations also encourage self-appointed men and women of God (or something, -body other) to manipulate the African-American liberation struggle for their own interests.

Also exclusion is a way to punish those opinions that are not deemed correct or acceptable and fear of isolation is functional in checking individual Black females’ critical thought and curtails their interest in progressive politics. In fact, to a high extent Black women intellectuals with progressive politics are assailed from all sides, confronting both White supremacy and sexism from the side of Black people. The latter, sexism of African-Americans, particularly men, results in the continued overvaluation of the role of Black male intellectuals and in the under-valuation of the work of African-American women. At least in part because of internalized sexism Black women with more conservative political attitudes feel either threatened or assume a policing role to silence diverse perspectives (cf. HOOKS 1995:232).

It is the lack of solidarity and intellectual community among Black women that results in their vulnerability in regard to highly competitive sexist Black male thinkers seeing themselves as the movers and shakers of Black intellectual tradition. According to HOOKS (1995:232f.) a big amount of their scholarship is written as if they studied none of the work of African-American women critical thinkers. While presenting themselves as shaping the tradition these scholars assign African-American female thinkers supportive roles and by subordinating critical Black women’s works they try to keep in place racialized sexist hierarchies that deem their work more valuable.

This attitude continues to exist although the works of individual African-American female thinkers might be read much better, may reach more diverse audiences than comparable work of their male counterparts. Many African-American males doing intellectual work act in complicity with White supremacy’s power structure with sexist thinking supporting devaluation of Black females as critical thinkers, even if the same structure is appreciative of the excellence of U.S. Black women’s fiction writing. Apart from fiction writing, White-dominated mass media in most cases fail to make distinctions between individual Black females based on their work, if a representation is in need any one will do. Whereas major magazines and newspapers present the opinions of Black male thinkers who are deemed important based on their writings and work, at the same time they act as though any Black female voice will do, as Black women’s voices are apparently not assumed to be particularly distinct. As HOOKS (1995:233f.) argues, collectively Black women intellectuals, as opposed to Black female academics, are not producing much work that can intervene with the assumption that they are just following behind male thinkers. Mostly Black males define the public discourse on the role of the Black intellectual and deflect attention away from African-American female thinkers whose work may be more exemplary in being connected to theory and practice and in its engagement with progressive politics.

2.1.1 Black nationalism

In ideology Black nationalism has a long past and there has been a lot of cross fertilization between Black nationalism and other African-American, African, Third World struggles, and other struggles of oppressed peoples all over the world (Muriel Feelings, interview in March 2001; Michael Simmons interview, 24 April 2001; Gerald Horne, interview in March 2001). At least from the eighteen hundreds onwards Black nationalism was advocated, at the turn of the century Marcus Garvey managed to popularize the concept, it was further referred to by the Nation of Islam with Malcolm X and another expression of Black nationalism is the Black power movement. In the last years Black nationalism is experiencing a renaissance, is especially referred to in hip hop-music and -culture.

After Malcolm’s influence the Black power movement came upon, other important persons in interpretations of Black nationalism are people like Stokely Carmichael, who was involved in civil rights first and went from civil rights to a broader Black power. Black power was a more assertive as well as more independent political movement and it was not searching for integration, but for people being empowered so that they could decide what they wanted to do (Muriel Feelings, interview in March 2001). In this era the Black community no longer viewed itself in terms of the definitions provided by White mainstream society, but instead sought for definitions that would originate in the Black community (EVANS 1995:110).

During the 1960s the dominant mood in the Black community stressed the need for Black male assertiveness, this theme being extremely strong in Black nationalist groups like the Nation of Islam, Ron Karenga’s United Slaves Organization, or the Congress of African Peoples which was led by Amiri Baraka (formerly named LeRoi Jones). In all these groups there was the belief that African-American males were victimized to a higher degree than Black American women. At times some Black males even asserted that Black women were and have always been free. According to this argumentation, Black women were to let the Black male be the head of the family and the front-line fighter in the African-American liberation struggle (CONE 1993:275ff.).

Nowadays Black nationalism does not necessarily have the same character that it had back in the 1960s and ‘70s and in those earlier time periods. As Muriel Feelings[6] says, African-Americans are still pretty local-focused, and this is a trend that will continue, because there are still a lot of unresolved issues (M. Feelings, interview in March 2001).

In something that might be called collective consciousness or remembrance Black nationalism, contemporarily, is seen as a very male experience and unfortunately this image empowers Black male leaders to value the profit they have from up-holding and instrumentalizing this image over what they might be capable of changing.

The history of women and Black nationalism is not restricted to pure sexism from the side of African-American men, but has developed due to tendencies in the Black and White liberal struggles, where Black men compromised with White supremacy in order to reach certain gains and privileges at the cost of leaving Black women behind in several ways. In spite of this African-American women understood that they had to engage in the various struggles to bring about change for their, and their community’s, situation in the United States.

”One of my issues with Black nationalism, or our understanding of Black nationalism now, is that it is all viewed as that whole masculine experience. And while it is very true that the whole language was very manly and very masculine it is also that it was Black women, who were very much at the forefront of this movement, almost at the expense of our issues and struggles.“

Aishah S. Simmons, 26 April 2001.

Most Black males, like also White men, had their attitudes towards women shaped by their acceptance of patriarchal values as the norm for family and society. Following the pattern of White religious bodies, the Black church and the Nation of Islam provided religious justification for the subordination of women. Challenging White values regarding race, their acceptance of Black male privilege caused their lacking insight into the connection between racism and sexism and shared much of the typical American male view of women. In the view mentioned the woman’s place was in the home, the private sphere, but the man’s place was in the society, the public arena, fighting for justice in behalf of women. As Coretta King said, her husband Martin Luther King had all his life an ambiguous attitude towards women, on the one hand he held the opinion that women are just as intelligent and capable as men, on the other hand he wanted his wife to be a homemaker and the mother of his children, who he expected to be at home waiting for him (CONE 1993:273f.).

During the Black Muslim period, which is also the phase during which he adhered to Black nationalism, Malcolm’s view on women, defined by the strict laws and teachings of the Nation of Islam and his experiences as a hustler and steerer in Harlem, was rather similar and even more rigid to Martin Luther King’s perspective. Invoking respect, protection, love, and control, he was constantly ready to hammer home the Nation of Islam teachings about the relations between men and women. Malcolm combined this patriarchal religious doctrine with a misogynic view derived from the ghetto and “this combination resulted in his extremely negative attitude towards women“ (CONE 1993:275).

Malcolm’s temple addresses in the 1950s showed his ultra-sexist views, and many sisters in the Nation of Islam went to Muhammed to complain about Malcolm’s offensive tirades against them. Non-Muslim sisters would simply walk out, rather than stay listening to him blaming Black women for the miserable condition of African-American males (The Autobiography of Malcolm X cited in CONE 1993:275). When giving, in 1956 at the Philadelphia temple, a series of addresses on Black women, he claimed that they were the greatest tools of the devil. Among other things, he blamed Black women to have tricked and tempted Black men in “this state“ in a conspiracy-like form with the White man. Further African-American women would always win over Black men, because the devil could use her to break down more Black brothers, expressing his opinion that “It is this evil black woman, who does not want to do right and holds the black man from saving himself.” Similar to ministers in Christian churches Malcolm said to have his view of women from the Bible and referred to Adam and Eve, the latter having led the male into evil, ruling him entirely by her sex-appeal (Malcolm X: FBI Surveillance File cited in CONE 1993:275).

Less than claiming really an own state within the North American continent I would say that today most African-Americans think rather of engagement for improvements for, and against the marginalization of, African-American people. Statements referring to an own state or double-citizenship are rather seldom, probably also not representative for the opinions of African-Americans. Although surely Black nationalism means something to African-Americans, still there is not the kind of mass education going on, the masses are busy struggling, fighting to survive (Muriel Feelings, in an interview in March 2001).

As Gerald Horne explained to me, one has to see Black nationalism first as nationalism and then in its context (African-American author Gerald Horne, in an interview, March 2001). So that this ideology is a nationalism of an oppressed people that basically wants to reach a better situation, first class citizenship and the realization of equal opportunities. Like Michael Simmons says, there was a period in the African-American experience when nationalism was a good ideology to rally people around. Nevertheless at some point nationalism, regardless where it comes from, becomes a reactionary philosophy, because it almost forces groups to articulate differences (M. Simmons in an interview 24 April 2001).

Looking at Black nationalism with the general features of nationalism, it is kind of clear that Black nationalism is showing the male-centered, sexist, conservative tendencies it does, and given the fact that Black nationalism has become very well-known in the 1960s and the years after, it is a reference point, an ideology that provides orientation. Still, the image we have today of Black nationalism does not show us how it was, especially when one is speaking about gender.

“So I think that’s really important, because when we think of Black power, we always think of Black men with fists in the air, you know, the Panthers with the guns. We don’t think about Elaine Brown, who was the only woman to head the Black Panther party. Or going to Lynn Robinson, or just.., Sonia Sanchez. I mean many, many sisters were very much at the forefront of that movement. So I think, for me, it’s really, really important to get this message across.“

Aishah S. Simmons, 26 April 2001.

Many Black nationalist leaders continue to suffer failures of insight that lead them to view patriarchy as the only possible system of social organization that would be able to bring stability to Black family life and the Black race (HOOKS 1995:94).

2.1.2 Pan-Africanism

The history of Pan-Africanism was especially in its beginnings very entangled with that of African-Americans, especially as the first Pan-Africanists were either African-Americans or Africans who had studied in the United States and who through their experiences there and through the acquaintance with Black social movements and political thought had become politicized. From the beginnings of Pan-Africanism onwards until today Black women have been doing extraordinary work in and for this movement, but one could argue that they received even less recognition for their essential contributions than in Black nationalist thought and Afrocentric discourse.

In the 1960s era, when Afrocentricity as such was not yet developed, there was a certain proximity of Pan-Africanist argumentation and what should in the 1980s become known as Afrocentrism and was especially advocated by Ron Karenga and his United Slaves Organization (U.S. Organization). Speaking of Swahili, wearing of dashikis (a kind of African clothing), consensual decision-making, uncritical respect for the elders and subordination of women were the main principles of this very male dominated African-American interpretation of Pan-Africanism (cf. BROWN 1992:142ff.; Michael Simmons, interviewed on 24 April 2001).

In Pan-Africanism, as regarded within the geographical boundaries of the United States in this work, women have, according to Michael Simmons, even suffered worse than in Black nationalism, because quite often, what happens is that African-American men look back in history, they find that they had the most sexist experience, like women being subservient. This was because during the ‘60s and early ‘70s, during the hey-days of Black power, there were always groups that had things like women had to walk five steps behind the men, women had to cook, had to clean, they did what men told them so that they did not have any independent bearing and this gets justified in some distorted sense of African history.

Another thing that Michael Simmons (interview on 24 April 2001) points out is that the notion that age equals wisdom is something that he, as progressive Black person, is rejecting. In the Black community especially Pan-Africanists, especially at the age of fifty and older, often have this distorted view of African history so that there was this notion that a person of the age mentioned is inherently wise and young people, especially young Black people, have to respect the elders based on their age alone (Michael Simmons, in an interview on 24 April 2001).

Currently the process of female African-American Pan-Africanists fighting for the recognition of their share in organizational, ideological work is right on-going. As there is little literature written by female Pan-Africanists and as the literature that does exist covers very different regions and also different eras, it is difficult to cover the participation of women in Pan-Africanism in depth. A fact that is secured is that W. E. B. Du Bois had to rely on a group of African-American women activists and organizers, who were in fact organizing the first Pan-African Congress[7]. In the years after World War II women such as Eslanda Goode Robeson, who was Paul Robeson’s wife, and Shirley Graham Du Bois, who was from the 1940s onwards in close contact with W.E.B. Du Bois and came to marry him in 1951, influenced their husbands and other individuals to turn towards socialist ideas and stronger internationalist orientation (HORNE 2000; Fact file at Howard University on E. G. Robeson).


[1] The term “etic” originally stems from linguist Kenneth Pike and was introduced to anthropology by Marvin Harris, although there is some confusion around the exact meaning of etic, in anthropology this term is mostly used to speak to the perspective of an outside observer (cf. HEADLAND’s discussion of the emic-etic debate,, 2002/09/15).

[2] Cf. Census Bureau Releases Update on Country’s African American Population. 2002/01/18
and African American History Month Celebrated in February, 2002/02/07.

[3] Michael Simmons is Quaker International Representative of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and has been involved in American social movements since the 1960s.

[4] Ron Amber “Flow” Deloney is an African-American woman slam poet (F.S.).

[5] SCHAEFER-HINCK, Shelly: Rape Myth Acceptance in College Students: How Far Have We Come? (Statistical Data included). In: Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. May 1999. , 2001/11/23 .

[6] Muriel Feelings is an African-American woman author, educator and activist and head of the Pan-African Studies Community Education Center at Temple University (F.S.).

[7] Cf. All African People’s Revolutionary Party- Educational Brochure: African Women: The Necessity of Struggle., 2001/05/14.

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How Domestic Violence and Political Activism are Related. A Case Study on African-American Women
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Friedarike Santner (Author), 2002, How Domestic Violence and Political Activism are Related. A Case Study on African-American Women, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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