by Sherri Barnes
African American Feminism
Developed/maintained by: Kristin Switala (Virginia Tech University); Center for Digital Discourse and Culture
Last Updated: Unknown (copyright 1999)
Reviewed: October 5, 2001
Womanist Theory and Research: A Journal of Womanist and Feminist-of-Color Scholarship and Art
Developed/maintained by: Barbara McCaskill (Department of English, University of Georgia) and Layli Phillips (Women's Studies Department, Georgia State University), editors; The Institute for African-American Studies, University of Georgia
Last Updated: Unknown (copyright 2000)
Reviewed: October 5, 2001
Black Feminist/Womanist Works: A Beginning List
Developed/maintained by: Joya Misra, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Public Policy; Joan Korenman, University of Maryland-Baltimore County
Last Updated: August 1, 1999
Reviewed: October 5, 2001
Black Cultural Studies Web Site
[URL change June 25, 2002]
Developed/maintained by: Black Cultural Studies Web Site Collective--Nimmy Abiaka; Tim Haslett (M.A. NYU, UC Berkeley Ph.D. candidate); Paula Lee
Last Updated: February 12, 2000
Reviewed: October 5, 2001
Women in the Black Arts Movement: An Annotated Bibliography of Online Sites
Developed/maintained by: Jennifer Palmer, Pennsylvania State University student
Last Updated: November 12, 2000
Reviewed: October 5, 2001
Women of Color Web
Developed/maintained by: Global Reproductive Health Forum, Harvard School of Public Health
Last Updated: Unknown
Reviewed: October 5, 2001
Scholars cite the early nineteenth century as the origin of a Black feminist tradition in the United States. The tradition continues. Today the body of African American feminist scholarship is vast and located in the social sciences, humanities, and sciences. The terms Black feminism, African American feminism, and womanism all challenge traditional bodies of knowledge, which tend to perceive Black women superficially and in a limited manner. I distinguish between the three terms, with Black feminism referring to feminist thought regarding Black women all over the world, and African American feminism and womanism representing feminist thought stemming from Black American women's experiences in the U.S. For the purposes of this review I will be focusing on websites that provide access to useful resources for teaching, researching, and studying African American feminism--that is, the Black feminist tradition in the U.S. The geographical distinction is also necessary given the increasing volume of literature on African feminism, the feminist movement in the Caribbean, and Black feminism in Britain. (On the other hand, the term "Black feminist" just feels good. "Black" seems more empowering than "African American," for it represents a collective consciousness that transcends borders and ethnicity and is unique to the Black race worldwide.)
African American feminism is widely discussed in women's studies classrooms and feminist literature, but it has yet to make significant inroads into popular culture or mass media, even in the one-dimensional manner in which feminism and race are handled. The latest cultural and media phenomenon, the World Wide Web, doesn't seem to be an exception. Given the vastness of the Web and my own inability to stay abreast of all of the African American feminist thought being published--articles, chapters, and books--I expected there to be numerous websites featuring African American feminism. But beyond the avalanche of course syllabi and book reviews, a mere six sites stand out as the most valuable for academic research, teaching, and study. Lifelong learners outside of the academy can also appreciate them.
The website probably linked to the most is the Feminist Theory Website's (http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/enpo.html) African American Feminism page (http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/AfAm.html). The organization and layout of the page are clear, concise, and attractive. It is mostly bibliographic, citing academic writings on African American feminism in general and in the areas of aesthetics, history, literature, politics, and psychology. Quality sources are cited, but the list is extremely limited, including only books. Twenty-three references comprise the entire bibliography for all the categories, and there is no evidence that the page has been updated since its 1999 copyright date. Significant books such as Jacqueline Bobo's Black Feminist Cultural Criticism (Blackwell, 2001) and Joy James' Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics (St. Martin's Press, 1999) are omitted. Black Feminist Cultural Criticism would be a nice addition to the one other title listed under aesthetics (bell hooks, Reel to Real: Race Sex and Class at the Movies). In contrast, there is an exhaustive bio-bibliography on the artist Adrian Piper. Cited are books; articles by and about Piper, listed by subject; videos; exhibitions; and more.
The page includes links to external sites that contain information on individual African American feminists. The fifteen feminists listed range from nineteenth-century African American feminist thinkers like Anna Julia Cooper and Sojourner Truth to turn-of-the-century feminists like Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell and expected contemporaries like Angela Davis and bell hooks. Feminists less known outside the academy, but well respected within, include Ann duCille, Hazel Carby, Hortense Spillers, and others. This list alone could be a valuable resource for a researcher looking to identify African American feminists, especially since the information under the links that aren't broken (four of the fifteen are) ranges from completely inaccurate (in the case of Barbara Smith, where the link points to a Barbara Smith other than the influential African American feminist), to of little value (in the case of Hazel Carby, where the link points to the Yale African American Studies Program homepage, the program she chairs), to very useful (in the case of Hortense Spillers, for whom there is a bibliography (last updated 1997), references to forthcoming work, and a recent interview). The strength of this page is the diverse list of African American feminists and the bibliography of major books in African American feminist studies.
The free online journal Womanist Theory and Research: A Journal of Womanist and Feminist-of-Color Scholarship and Art, at http://www.uga.edu/womanist/ (available in print also), is a publication of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Georgia and published by the Womanist Studies Consortium at the University of Georgia (http://www.uga.edu/~womanist/wsc.htm). It purports to be a biannual, international journal on "women of color." However, as I went through all of WTR's issues (a total of four, from the first in 1994 through the latest in 1999), I didn't encounter one article that was not about women of African descent. The journal's twice-a-year publication schedule is also irregular. Since 1994, WTR has been published only once a year, and the latest issue came out in 1999.
Despite these shortcomings, the journal publishes a wealth of free, peer-reviewed African American feminist thought from across the disciplines. Contributors include both junior and senior scholars. The handsome design and well-organized layout provide easy access to full-text articles of every issue published, except the first, for which only the table of contents is available. Outside links are significant and link to notable academic organizations, programs, research centers, periodicals, and more of interest to African Americanists and feminists. One piece of vital information not available is who comprises the advisory board; that link remains cold. Topics covered include gangster rap, slave narratives, anthropology and womanist theory, womanist science, sexuality, the miniseries Queen, Chinua Achebe's women, the Sisterlove Women's AIDS project, and much more. Readers can browse the table of contents of individual issues or search all the issues simultaneously using the WTR search engine. There is a help screen for the search engine, but it doesn't indicate whether the citation or full text (there are no abstracts) is being searched or whether it is searching word-for-word or select words. My sample searches produced inconsistent results. For example, searching on the word kinship (chosen for its appearance in one article) produced a reference to the word in another article, but not the one the word was taken from. The indexing is not at all apparent. However, because of the limited number of issues published, browsing individual issues is easy and pleasurable.
For an extensive list of African American feminist writings, Black Feminist/Womanist Works: A Beginning List (http://research.umbc.edu/~korenman/wmst/womanistbib.html) gives one a better sense of the African American feminist universe in print. This site is a product of the women's studies email list WMST-L (http://research.umbc.edu/~korenman/wmst/wmst-l.html). Since its conception in 1991, the list has collected and made available online numerous files on discussion topics. The files (http://research.umbc.edu/~korenman/wmst/wmsttoc.html), of which Black Feminist/Womanist Works is one, are made available through Joan Korenman's widely known and well-respected University of Maryland-Baltimore County Women's Studies website: http://research.umbc.edu/~korenman/wmst/wmsttoc.html. The bibliography cites "black feminist thought within the U.S." Nearly 200 articles and books, fiction and nonfiction, published from 1969 through 1995, are included. The emphasis is on the social sciences. The bibliography is arranged alphabetically, by author, with the fiction integrated with the nonfiction. Although not annotated or current, it is a good source for researchers interested in foundational, influential, and groundbreaking women's studies texts and authors. Many of the works of Gloria T. Hull, Barbara Christian, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, and Alice Walker are cited. Significant omissions are Hazel Carby, Joy James, Jill Nelson, and Michele Wallace, to name just a few.
What the Black Feminist/Womanist Works site lacks in coverage of current African American feminist thought in the humanities is made up in the very well-thought-out Black Cultural Studies Web Site(http://www.blackculturalstudies.org/), which provides bio-bibliographic information on "cultural workers working in such areas as Black literary criticism, Black popular culture, critical race theory, and film theory." At present, eighteen theorists are profiled, including African American feminist thinkers Barbara Christian, Ann duCille, Mae Henderson, Valerie Smith, Hortense Spillers, Claudia Tate, and Michele Wallace. There is a bibliography of each scholar's work and, in some cases, a brief biographical sketch.
This is a site to keep an eye on, for three reasons: First, the list of cultural workers that they intend to add is extremely impressive, not to mention extensive, in particular with regard to African American feminists. Forthcoming are Jacqui Alexander, Tricia Rose, Jacqui Jones, Hilton Als, and Michael Awkward, just to name a few. Second, a "Black Feminist Intellectuals Interview Project" is in development at the site. A fascinating interview with Hortense Spillers kicks off the project. The interview is currently posted and gives wonderful insight into her provocative work. Thus far, African American feminists Jacqui Alexander, Evelyn Hammonds, Adrian Piper, Tricia Rose, and Michele Wallace have been interviewed, and the Black Studies Web Site collective is in the process of transcribing them. Finally, watch for the inclusion of abstracts and full-text articles on this site in the future. Updates to the site aren't regular, but those I've seen over the few years that I've been following it have been worth the wait. There is no institutional or other support for this site. It is a testament to African American feminism's influence on disciplines and interdisciplinarity and is representative of forward-thinking African American feminist thought.
A unique generation of African American feminist thinkers, poets, and playwrights are the focus of Women in the Black Arts Movement: An Annotated Bibliography of Online Sites (http://www.personal.psu.edu/users/j/l/jlp345/index.htm). The site is a critical review of websites that feature women of the Black Arts Movement, specifically Lorraine Hansberry, Adrienne Kennedy, Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde, and Sonia Sanchez. In the introductory essay, the author, a Pennsylvania State University student, claims that most online sources about the figures do not responsibly represent the women's individual and unique contributions to history and feminism. Most websites are accused of being superficial and limited in their analysis without examining how Hansberry, Kennedy, Brooks, Giovanni, Lorde, and Sanchez both successfully and unsuccessfully treat particular themes in their work. In addition to links to the websites in question, Women in the Black Arts Movement has a "Research Topics" section to encourage further critical study of the women and their ideas. The section lists study questions related to each woman and her work. The page is neat in its arrangement, very easy to navigate, and aesthetically appealing. The level of critical analysis is sophisticated and is a good example of how to propose research questions and interrogate one's sources, especially Internet sources.
Women of Color Web (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/grhf/WoC/index.html) addresses the interests and concerns of women of color from different races and ethnicities. The emphasis of the site is on feminisms, sexualities, and reproductive health and rights. Access is provided to valuable writings and resources for African American feminist teaching, learning, and activism. The site is organized under two categories: "Writings" and "Resources." The selected writings reprinted here are in full text. Scholars representing the African American feminist perspective are some of those at the top of the field: Patricia Hill Collins, Kimberle Crenshaw, Angela Davis, and bell hooks. Because Latina, Asian, and American Indian feminist writings in these areas are also cited, the page makes a great resource for a comparative study of women-of-color feminisms. Faculty developing and students taking courses on women of color, sexuality, or reproductive health and rights will discover useful readings. The resources section includes external links to teaching tools (bibliographies, research centers, academic departments, library research guides, and syllabi), organizations, and discussion lists. Few explicitly African American feminist resources are included; most of the links in this section lead to resources that deal with Chicana feminism or with race, gender, and class in a broader context. Nonetheless, there's much to discover here.
Most of the sites reviewed in this essay are bibliographic, with links to outside resources, primarily research institutions and organizations, for further study of African American feminist thought. Course syllabi, book reviews, pages profiling individual African American feminists and research guides on African American women's studies (feminist or otherwise), and related materials can also be explored on the Web. As African American feminist thought has grown richer and more forceful since the early 1800s, may the same become true of its presence on the Internet.
[Sherri Barnes (http://www.library.ucsb.edu/people/barnes/) is Associate Librarian for Women's Studies, U.S. History, and the Writing Program at University of California-Santa Barbara.]
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Mounted February 22, 2002.