This 21 year old book is awesome. I'd already read Giddings' "Sword Among Lions," her biography on Ida B Wells. That book made me curious about the Black Women's Club Movement that began to develope maybe 40 to 50 years after slavery among middle class black women. I was amazed to figure out that black women and black men of that time (late 1800s to 1920s) were so much closer to feminist equality in their approach to life than we are now.
It seems to me that slavery and the poverty immediately following slavery forced black men and black women to work as a team toward advancement without hard divisions in gender roles.
There was gender bias in the black community, don't get me wrong, but the black women of the time had fresh memory of slavery in their own heads from experience or from the oral history of their mothers to keep them from accepting or expecting their men to treat them like second class citizens - very much unlike white women. And the black women had to work to support the family just like the black men did.
Black women of the late 1800s and 1920s created their own clubs and political organizations and led the Anti-lynching fight. Ida B Wells did some of the first sociological studies in this country ON lynching. She traveled outside this country to where the primary cotton buyers were, England, and got anti-lynching resolutions passed there. As a result, whites in Memphis --a location that was a primary cotton producer of the world-- were shamed into stopping lynching flat -- no lynching at all for 20 years strait after Ida B Wells activism. And lynching was reduced across the country. The NAACP ( Ida B Wells one of the founders) copied her methods and used the anti-lynching issue to establish itself.
It was nothing short of amazing to read the history of the United States and suffrage from the perspective of black women.
It was also enlightening in that it made me understand how blacks are divided by class just like everybody else and how that had to be overcome. Music was one of the things used to bring different classes of blacks came together.
How sexism and poverty come together to create black women's achievement in school was made clear too. Black men quit school to support the family in blue collar jobs. Black women get more schooling to rise above being a domestic but still make less money than black men. Teachers and Social Workers are better off than domestics ( the only jobs that un-credentialed black women could get for decades) But black women as teachers and social workers don't make the same money as un-credentialed, male dominated long shoreman and construction worker jobs.
Regarding colorism, I know THIS wasn't about THAT but this book would have been a little more perfect if the author had been frank or detailed about linking middle class blackness and being light-colored, and how that came right out of house-slave/field hand. That class/color divide continued/continues through the 1960s to now. So many of the black female Civil Rights LEADERS were very pale. Without this knowledge it looks like whiteness adds IQ to the race, just like white racists who keep saying "Obama is part white ya know" seem to think. The class divide was also a color divide. We all need to know this. And since she covered so much of black perspective history in general in order to give context to black women's history, it just seems odd to have skipped over the colorism link to class like it didn't exist. She was brave in other areas of the book.
Paula Giddings explained so much about shifting gender roles, over time, for women and men. It never really occurred to me that men had a gender ideal shift that wasn't reactionary to women wanting equality (not sameness) with men. There was a shift from establishment corporate dude (1920s - 50s?) who did all for his family out of duty to independent dude who did what he wanted when he wanted (playboy magazine ideal guy objectifying women at will) And this shift in male consciousness in the country affect black men as well. Early in the Civil Rights Movement black women were respected as leaders but that shifted as a result of changing ideals in masculinity -- macho became good. Shutting women down became good. And Black Civil Rights groups lost power as they lost respect for black women's leadership.
The books also details the failings of white feminists. Through this book I understood decision by decision how white suffragists of the 1920s and white feminists of the 1980s turned to away from black women to court southern white women, to court anti-feminist white women (1980s) and even to court black men rather than black women for support on various issues. And because of white women's failures to be what we call now call "intersectional," they have failed at different efforts decade after decade after decade. But the author, and other black feminists quoted -- Angela Davis etc, make it clear that while our struggle is very different from white women. Because black women have had to work side by side with black men (not a step behind like white women) due to poverty and because black women are completely intolerant of chattel treatment from black men due to slavery, we have been "naturally" feminist in mindset before the word "feminist came to be.
The author makes the point that sexism is just as real as racism. After all, black women achieve higher education but still make significantly less than black men-- and are only slightly better off than white women as compared to white men (IN THE 1980s) BECAUSE black women have no expectation growing up that someone will take care of them. Black women were/are more dedicated to education and making a living. to sustain the self.
At the end of the book the author makes the point that both the civil rights movement stopped moving against racism in a significant way AND the women's movement stopped moving against sexism in a significant way when black women's needs were not taken seriously and black women withdrew. And I think the Black Lives Matter, created by three black women, might just prove she's right about this.
But the thing that's different about black women now as opposed to the black women in the late 1800s-1920 and early civil rights women is that 1) black women don't know BLACK WOMEN HISTORY and 2) they've bought into the scapegoating from both the white community (the Moynihan Report -- approved of by many Black Male Civil Rights Leaders at the time 1965-ish including MLK supposedly) and the black male community alike.
Black men and black women can be different AND still be dedicated to equality and overcoming sexism, just like black men and black women are dedicated to anti-racism but not dedicated to sameness with the dominant culture, whites. I know it can be done because in this history book I've seen that black men and black women have done it before -- right after they came out of slavery.
She states in the Preface to this 1984 book, "When and Where I Enter attempts to strike a balance between the subjective and the objective. Although it is the product of extensive research, it is not without a point of view or a sense of mission. A mission to tell a story largely untold. For despite the range and significance of our history, we have been perceived as token women in Black texts and as token Blacks in feminist ones... So I set out to write a narrative history of Black women, tracing their concerns---and what they did about them---from the seventeenth century to the contemporary period. It is thematic in approach, using a broad canvas to illustrate the nature and meaning of the Black woman's experience."
Here are some quotations from the book:
"It seems ironic that White women abolitionists would discriminate against Black women. For Whites, though, abolitionist activism was primarily a means of releasing their suppressed political energies---energies which they directed toward the goal not of Black liberation, but of their own." (Ch. II) "The support of the Fifteenth Amendment by Black women did not mean that they had less interest in their suffrage, economic independence, education, or any other issue that pertained to them. And their support certainly didn't mean a collective willingness to be oppressed by men, Black or White. But Harper and others understood that the rights of Black men had to be secured before Black women could assert theirs... But after the Fifteenth Amendment was assured, Black women continued their own struggle throughout the 1870's with renewed vigor." (Ch. III) "No matter how she characterized it, the Black woman's response to her historical circumstances made a certain feminist sensibility inevitable." (Ch. XI) "Black women were scolded for being too domineering and too insecure; too ambitious and too decadently idle, all in the same breath. Thus, despite the special socioeconomic circumstances faced by Blacks, Black men saw Black women in the same context that White men saw White women." (Ch. XIV)
Paula J. Giddings is Professor in Afro-American Studies at Smith College. Her research interest are African American issues, feminism, and historical research. Giddings is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
This powerful historical narrative is based on years of research and draws from speeches, diaries, letters, and other original documents from African American women. Giddings offers this testimonial to trace the influences of African American women on racism, sexism, and classism throughout American history. Definitive definitions of feminism, racism, sexism, classism, and political injustices on African American women are discussed. This is a complete history of activists that blazed a trail of heroic precedents to initiate social and political reform. Numerous African American female leaders are profiled. Those leaders include: Ida B. Wells, Mary McLeod Bethune, Fannie Lou Hamer, Anna Julia Cooper, Dorothy Height, and Mary Church Terrell. In addition to chronicling the history of African American women, Giddings discusses organizations that promote equality for women. Giddings provides inferences to the importance of sisterhood, cultural identity, and the need for African American women to participate in small groups that promote self-esteem, equal rights for women, and sharing history of the women’s movement.
Giddings says that African American women need the same power that prompted Anna Julia Cooper in 1892 to tell a group, "Only the black woman can say 'when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole . . . race enters with me'" (p. 13).
GREAT READ!! I recommend this for every Black woman/girl/teen to read so she can learn about the Black women in history that have made HUGE contributions towards civil rights, women rights, and America as a whole. Must have in your collection.
I bought this book because it was required reading for a training of which I am a participant. I was not looking forward to it but I loved it once I started!!!! I highly recommend this book for any person who is interested in growing as a leader or an advocate.