Dark Continent Of Our Bodies

Dark Continent Of Our Bodies: Black Feminism & Politics Of Respectability

E. Frances White
Series: Mapping Racisms
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Dark Continent Of Our Bodies
    Book Description:

    In this provocative book, a black lesbian feminist looks at black feminism -- its roots, its role, and its implications. From Charles Darwin and nineteenth-century racism to black nationalism and the Nation of Islam, from Baptist women's groups to James Baldwin, E. Frances White takes on one institution after another as she re-centers the role of black women in the United States' intellectual heritage. White presents identity politics as a complex activity, with entangled branches of race and gender, of invisibility and voyeurism, of defiance and passivity and conformism.White's powerful introduction draws on oral narratives from her own family history to illuminate the nature of narrative, both what is said and what is left unsaid. She then sets the historical stage with a helpful history of the inception and development of black feminism and a critique of major black feminist writings. In the three chapters that follow, she addresses the obstacles black feminism has already surmounted and must continue to traverse. Confronting what White calls "the politics of respectability," these chapters move the reader from simplistic views of race and gender in the nineteenth century through black nationalism and the radical movements of the sixties, and their relationship to feminist thought, to the linkages between race, gender, and sexuality in the works of such giants as Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. No one who finishesDark Continent of Our Bodieswill look at race and gender in the same way again.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0544-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    Some time after my parents died, my brother Earl found in our attic an oral history of my motherʹs life. As part of a larger oral history project on older black people in Wilmington, Delaware, a student had interviewed my mother and then published the findings in a school publication. Few of the facts were right. The oral history told of a black woman who was fortunate enough to have married a professor and had the opportunity to rear their four children on a college campus. Well, my mother did have four children.

    In fact, my mother raised us in...

  5. 1 Black Feminist Interventions
    (pp. 25-80)

    Black feminism emerged at the juncture between antiracist and antisexist struggles. In this space, black women turned—and they continue to turn—their marginalization in both arenas into a vital political force. Too often, if this feminism is not overlooked altogether, it is treated as alien to black cultural traditions. At best, feminism is acknowledged in the fiction of writers such as Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker, and Toni Cade Bambara. But these authors have been in dialogue with a small, though important, cadre of women who have taken up their pens to construct the theories that have helped us understand...

  6. 2 The Dark Continent of Our Bodies: Constructing Science, Race, and Womanhood in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 81-116)

    In the ʺscientific mindʺ no less than in the ʺpopular imaginationʺ of the nineteenth century, Africa represented an unknown and frightening place. It was a continent that needed exploring and controlling. So, too, was the psychology and biology of women. Through the privileged discourse of social evolution, these concerns came together. The acknowledged great thinkers, increasingly scientifically trained men, developed a discourse that simultaneously helped place women and people of color at the bottom of social hierarchies. Indeed, ideas about women and people of color were interdependent.

    In this chapter I explore the ways nineteenth-century scientists used intertwined concepts of...

  7. 3 Africa on My Mind: Gender, Counterdiscourse, and African-American Nationalism
    (pp. 117-150)

    The African past lies camouflaged in the collective African-American memory, transformed by the middle passage, sharecropping, industrialization, urbanization. Few material goods from Africa survived this difficult history, but Africans preserved a memory of how social relations should be constructed that has affected African-American culture through the present. Although the impact of this African heritage is difficult for historians to assess, today few deny its importance to African-American culture.

    The memories I seek to interrogate in this chapter, however, have little to do with ʺrealʺ memories or actual traditions that African Americans have passed along through blood or even practices. Rather,...

  8. 4 The Evidence of Things Not Seen: The Alchemy of Race and Sexuality
    (pp. 151-184)

    Toni Morrison asks of literary discourse, ʺWhat are the strategies of escape from knowledge? Of willful oblivion?ʺ (1989:11). She seeks to determine in what ways African-American presence gets erased from discussions of American literature. The erasure takes place on several levels: African-American literature is ignored or undervalued; Euro-American writers either fail to write black people into stories or when they do, use our presence to define whiteness; and when blacks are present in Euro-American literature, literary critics fail to recognize that presence.

    In the first part of this chapter, I take the tools that Morrison has developed for understanding race...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-194)