Politics of Racism SS3015 Book Review

Ain't_I_a_Woman-_(front_cover)

Ain’t I A Woman : Black Women and Feminism by Bell Hooks.

Politics of Racism SS3015 Book Review

Céire McCarthy – 112315001

27/02/15


Ain’t I A Woman? : Black women and feminism by cultural studies scholar and feminist Bell Hooks, is a book commonly found in the areas within the discipline of social sciences. The book is regularly used as a significant reference in feminism, race and ethnicity and gender studies. The book was published in 1981 by South End Press. It is titled after Sojourner Truth’s 1863 “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech which she initially delivered in 1851 at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, but the speech acquired greater publicity when later published in 1863 during the American Civil War by Frances Dana Barker Gage. Truth was born into slavery and following her successful freedom fight, she went on to become an acclaimed anti-slavery speaker.

The book exclusively focuses on the social status of black American women. In the book, Hooks examines the effect of racism and patriarchalism on black women during slavery, the infamous devaluation of black womanhood and the marginalization of black women, the civil rights surrounding racism and feminists’ movements.

A dominant strength of the book is its depiction of the influence of sexism on black women in society. Her central argument is that both the monumental black male liberation and feminist movements have followed from perceptions of patriarchal and race supremacy, respectively, in attempt to obtain race equality with the ‘white’ race.

Hook makes several startling revelations in the text. She contends that the issues surrounding the effect of sexual exploitation on black slave women needs to be universally recognized. Slavery, a reflection of racism and patriarchalism is dealt with in her opening chapter “Sexism and the Black Female Slave Experience”. Hook progresses the argument that slavery not only painfully oppressed black men, but it particularly de-feminized the black slave woman. Hook provides a great insight into the theories surrounding black matriarchalism, arguing that black nationalism was predominantly a patriarchal movement, collectively aiming to overcome severe racial division but by doing so, actually strengthened sexist divisions that already existed within the community. Hooks successfully criticizes the previous feminist agreements which compare the situation of women to the oppression of black slaves. Such an agreement, Hooks implies, that only white women are women, and only black men are black, completely ignoring black women in both comparisons. As a result, patriarchalism and racism were significantly responsible for black women holding the lowest socio-economic status and suffered the worst living conditions than any other community in the American society.

Hooks also crucially criticizes the feminist movement which was mainly white and bourgeois. Again, neglecting to include black women, therefore, reinforcing classism, patriarchalism and racism. Hook uses provocative examples throughout the text, conveying that white female suffragists were regularly more tolerable with black male abolitionists, whilst protesting against the involvement of black women in many civil rights and feminist movements.

I consider Hooks book a crucial response to literature which, until recently, only highlighted white middleclass women and predominantly neglected black women of lower socio-economic status. Although Hook often strays from a steady argument around the role of black men in the oppression of black women, she excels in providing a clear comprehension of black women’s activities within the feminist movement, even to more present times. Hook delivers an intellectual theoretical framework for analysing the lives of black women in America. The book is genuinely inspiring and invigorating, and I would highly recommend this book to those interested in feminism and black history.

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