Excerpt from “The Black Feminist Reader”
Blackwell Publishers, 2000
Edited by Joy James and T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting
From Chapter 10, Radicalizing Feminism, by Joy James
Despte agitational movements, the concept of African Americans participating in political decisions has historically been translated through corporate, state or philanthropic channels. A century ago, the vision and resources of the American Baptist Home Missionary Society (ABHMS) allowed wealthy, white Christian missionaries to create the black elite Talented Tenth as a shadow of themselves as influential, liberal leaders, and to organize privileged black Americans to serve as a buffer zone between white America and a restive, disenfranchised black mass. Funding elite black colleges such as Spellman and Morehouse (named after white philanthropists) to produce aspirants suitable for the American ideal [I can't help but thiink here of "The Invisible Man," by Ralph Ellison. -SG], the ABHMS encouraged the development of race managers rather than revolutionaries. To the extent that it followed and follows the founders’ mandate, the Talented Tenth was, and remains, anti-revolutionary. The formation of the Talented Tenth — supported by white influential liberals — historically included women. It therefore liberalized the proto-feminism of historical flack female elites. Contemporary black feminist politics as pursued by elites eveince an anti-revolutionary tendency reflective of the bourgeois ideology ofg “race uplift.” Vacillating between race management and revolutionary praxes, black feminisms are alternately integrated into, or suppressed within, corporate-consumer culture.
Yet as [Ella] Baker noted, the 1960s ushered in a more democratic, grassroots-driven form of leadership. The “new wave” of black feminisms originating from the 1960s invariably connect with historical anti-racist struggles in the United States. Black women created )and continue to create) feminism out of militant national liberation or anti-racist movements in which they often functioned as unrecognized organizers and leaders. Equally, their contributions to American feminism are inadequately noted, even among those who document the history of contemporary radical feminism. Emerging from black militant groups, Afra-Americans shaped feminist politics. A critical examination of these sites of emergent feminism and their embedded contradictions reveals black feminism’s more radical dimensions. For instance, the Combahee River Collective traces its origin to political formations now generally considered as uniformly sexist…
…The Combahee River Collective took its name from the guerrilla foray led by the black revolutionary Harriet Tubman on June 2, 1863. This freed hundreds of enslaved people in South Carolina’s Port Royal region, and was the first and only military campaign in the United States planned and executed by a woman.