Racial identity plays a strong role in the definition of self; Lorde recognized the importance of racial identity even in the struggle for gender equality. Her argument implicitly supports Jones' assertion that racial equality is "prior" to the cause of gender equality for African-American women. The implicit argument is that feminism could not be a united force because white women did not have the ability through their institutionalized advantages to cogently appreciate the tribulations of African-American women. As a result, there could never have been unity in the first place. In understanding this key point, the justification for African-American unity and the subjugation of the black feminist movement appears to be a more appealing strategy.
A final poignant comparison and relationship between the greater struggle for racial equality and black feminism rests in the internal conflict within African-American culture. One of the greatest ironies of the Civil Rights movement is that while Black leaders protested against the patriarchal dominances of the "white upper class," they were conducting the same type of castigation and suppression on black women. Bell Hooks, another noted author of black feminist literature notes in "Shaping Feminist Theory" that in reality the traditional African-American nuclear family was fraught with the same type of hierarchal dominance that blacks accuse the white ruling elite of. She explains, "growing up in a Southern, black, father-dominated, working-class household, I experienced (as did my mother, my sister, and my brother) varying degrees of patriarchal tyranny, and it made me angry, it made us all angry" (547). Hooks articulates the position inherent in the African-American women's movement that no male could understand the true depth of their subjugation. While men believed that the Civil Rights movement provided them wit the "the analysis and the program for liberation," the truth was far from this ideal. Hooks goes on to explain, "they do not understand, cannot even imagine, that black women, as well as other groups of women who live daily in oppressive situations, often acquire an awareness of patriarchal politics from their lived experience" (548). From the black feminist movement, a picture of internal struggle that mirrored the external conflict of the Civil Rights movement appears. In showing the oppression of women as a subclass of the greater conflict, Hooks reveals that the true nature of human oppression is a matter of perspective. Each group can only see their own problems and the injustices perpetuated against them, never being fully aware of the injustices they perpetuate onto others. The Civil Rights movements struggled with identity, because it had to merge many different disparate groups each having an opposing agenda because each had a different set of perpetuated grievances. In the end, black feminists had to take a backward seat to the dominant claim of an entire race. However, the fact that contradictory standards were being applied internally by the African-American social and cultural agenda reveals an implicit hypocrisy. The struggle for black feminism reveals how hard it is to fully find acceptance and equality for those who are traditionally marginalized. In its comparison to the Civil Rights movement, one can see how Hooks and others draw the comparison and the need for unity as the crucial elements for the development of greater freedoms.
In the final analysis, the black feminist movement identified within section five of "Let Nobody Turn Us Around" reveals strong correlations to the actual Civil Rights movement. Just like the Civil Rights movement, this movement is one about breaking free of social and cultural shackles; it is about tackling foundational inequality and creating liberty in defense of natural rights. The reason for the enduring pains of the black feminist movement from both a historical as well as contemporary perspective is that they had to subjugate their cause for the greater good of their ethnicity. Since their conflict occurs as a sub-conflict to the one of race, they had to marginalize and silence themselves in order to provide priority for the greater Civil Rights movement. In contemporary society however, there is no such need, the next step has been taken as far as creating a strong and egalitarian society. As the needs of the entire African-American people are beginning to be met, and acceptance on a wide social scale has become the standard, African-American women no longer have to silence their voices. Even now however, they face many challenges in the fight for gender equality. Not only must they break through their own traditional barriers erected through a predominantly patriarchal system, they must also do so devoid of mainstream feminism. The inability of white women to sympathize with the racial consciousness of the black feminist movement means that unity will be extremely hard to attain. Even with these challenges, the strength of the black feminist movement continues to grow; now more than ever, the rights of the African-American people are being perpetuated through diverse channels. The fight to overcome gender bias as becomes the primary focus of a group that was always marginalized, but no more. Black feminism has never been stronger, and the above narratives all speak to the strength of the African-American women.
Marable, Manning and Leith Mullings, eds. Let Nobody Turn Us Around: Voices of Resistance, Reform, and…