Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Salon Essay Obscures the Work of Black Feminists

May 28th, 2007 by Ajuan Mance

Never one to bring a particularly complex analysis to her engagement with issues of race, Debra Dickerson has now turned her focus to Michelle Obama’s decision to scale back to a 20% workload at her own job in order to be more available to assist in her husband’s presidential run.

Though Michelle Obama herself “expresses no regret about scaling down her job,” commentator Dickerson is in a state of mourning: “My heart breaks for her just thinking about it. Being president will be hard. So will being first lady for the brilliant Michelle — imagine, having to begin all your sentences with ‘My husband and I…'”

And Dickerson has a lot more to say on the subject. If you would like to read her entire article, you can access it at this link on the website.

I am especially offended by this statement: “Most important, though, I hope Michelle will bring feminism to black women.”

If we go all the way back to Isabella Baumfree (a.k.a. Sojourner Truth), we could say that she invented Black feminism, and she did so as a former slave living in the 19th century. And what about the great numbers of African American feminist women (and some men) who have written books (like Ain’t I a Woman) and essays (like “A Black Feminist Statement“) defining their own Black feminism as woman-centered, socio-political discourse wholly distinct from privileged white women’s feminism. And Black feminism is not simply the domain of African American writers. Dickerson also overlooks the scores of  Black women who have disseminated their feminism through activist work in the classroom, on the streets, in their art, music, and dance, and in their work both against and within the houses of state and federal legislatures.

If Dickerson is unaware of the existence of large numbers of Black feminists, then she is certainly not likely to call attention to the womanists, those who follow Alice Walker’s lead by naming their Black woman-centered politics with a term whose distinctness is in and of itself a statement of African American women’s rejection of the narrow terms and concerns of white bourgeois feminism. A key component in all forms of Black feminism

The problem with Debra Dickerson is that her own deeply conflicted feelings about being African American cloud her perceptions of Black people. She does not see what is actually happening in Black communities. Rather, she processes all data that she takes in about Black folks,  Black opinions, Black progress, and Black shortcomings through her lens of guilty/repulsed/confused/alienated/sometimes embarassed curiosity.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in African Americans, Black Feminism, Debra Dickerson, My Favorite Blogs, Obama, race, Womanist

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