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Black Internationalist Feminism

Black Internationalist Feminism: Women Writers of the Black Left, 1945-1995

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Black Internationalist Feminism
    Book Description:

    Black Internationalist Feminism examines how African American women writers affiliated themselves with the post-World War II Black Communist Left and developed a distinct strand of feminism. This vital yet largely overlooked feminist tradition built upon and critically retheorized the postwar Left's nationalist internationalism, which connected the liberation of Blacks in the United States to the liberation of Third World nations and the worldwide proletariat. Black internationalist feminism critiques racist, heteronormative, and masculinist articulations of nationalism while maintaining the importance of national liberation movements for achieving Black women's social, political, and economic rights. Cheryl Higashida shows how Claudia Jones, Lorraine Hansberry, Alice Childress, Rosa Guy, Audre Lorde, and Maya Angelou worked within and against established literary forms to demonstrate that nationalist internationalism was linked to struggles against heterosexism and patriarchy. Exploring a diverse range of plays, novels, essays, poetry, and reportage, Higashida illustrates how literature is a crucial lens for studying Black internationalist feminism because these authors were at the forefront of bringing the perspectives and problems of black women to light against their marginalization and silencing. In examining writing by Black Left women from 1945 to 1995, Black Internationalist Feminism contributes to recent efforts to rehistoricize the Old Left, Civil Rights, Black Power, and second-wave Black women's movements.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09354-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION. Black Internationalist Feminism: A Definition
    (pp. 1-30)

    In 1971, an unlikely trip took place. An African American delegation to the Soviet Union followed in the steps of Harry Haywood, Claude McKay, Maude White Katz, W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Louise Thompson Patterson, Dorothy West, Paul Robeson, Claudia Jones, and numerous other Black radicals who, since the Bolshevik Revolution, had journeyed to see firsthand the country that claimed to have abolished racial oppression along with economic exploitation. The 1971 tour was organized by George B. Murphy Jr., the Left editor and journalist who was a leading figure at the Afro-American newspaper chain run by his family....

  5. 1 The Negro Question, the Woman Question, and the “Vital Link”: Histories and Institutions
    (pp. 31-56)

    Feminism, Marxism, and Black nationalism have had contentious relationships with each other, to say the least. How is it, then, that the Communist Party’s theory and tactics of African American nationhood gave rise to the Black internationalist feminist tradition that came into its own in the post–World War II era? This chapter investigates the histories of African American involvement with the Communist Left that shaped Black women writers’ strategic commitments to national liberation as they strove to represent emancipatory enactments of gender and sexuality. I begin by discussing the intertwining of Black nationalist and Old Left movements in the...

  6. 2 Lorraine Hansberry’s Existentialist Routes to Black Internationalist Feminism
    (pp. 57-81)

    Soon after arriving in Harlem, Lorraine Hansberry began writing for Paul Robeson’s anti-imperialist and anticapitalist newspaper Freedom. With offices in the same building as the Council on African Affairs, the most visible anticolonial organization in the first years after World War II, Freedom put Hansberry in the midst of a vibrant Black Left network that included Robeson, W. E. B. Du Bois, Louis Burnham, Shirley Graham Du Bois, and Alice Childress.¹ For Freedom, Hansberry covered the outrage of African and Asian attendees at a World Assembly of Youth convention marred by paternalism; the trip to Washington, D.C., the Sojourners for...

  7. 3 Rosalind on the Black Star Line: Alice Childress, Black Minstrelsy, and Garveyite Drag
    (pp. 82-111)

    In 1951, as Alice Childress was securing her reputation within the Left as one of the foremost playwrights and promoters of Black drama, she published an essay, “For a Negro Theatre,” in the left-wing journal Masses and Mainstream and in the Communist Party’s newspaper The Daily Worker (where it was more radically titled, “For a Strong Negro People’s Theatre”). Drawing on her own efforts to establish Black theater at Harlem’s Club Baron with the support of the leftist Committee for the Negro in the Arts, Childress articulated crucial aspects of the nationalist aesthetic that would be developed over ten years...

  8. 4 Rosa Guy, Haiti, and the Hemispheric Woman
    (pp. 112-133)

    To frame the Black feminist intervention of Rosa Guy’s The Sun, the Sea, a Touch of the Wind (1995), I want to discuss a contemporaneous novel that shares with Guy’s the theme of African American female rejuvenation and empowerment through Caribbean romance—Terry McMillan’s bestseller and pop culture phenomenon, How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1996). Because McMillan is one of the most widely known authors who defines Black feminism today,¹ it is worthwhile to consider how her work takes up Carole Boyce Davies’ salient questions: “How do United States Black women/women of color, often the most dispossessed on the...

  9. 5 Audre Lorde Revisited: Nationalism and Second-Wave Black Feminism
    (pp. 134-157)

    Let me begin by juxtaposing Audre Lorde with another Black revolutionary whose nationalist investments have been misunderstood and repressed. In “On National Culture,” Frantz Fanon reflects that

    humanity, some say, has got past the stage of nationalist claims. The time has come to build larger political unions, and consequently the old-fashioned nationalists should correct their mistakes. We believe on the contrary that the mistake, heavy with consequences, would be to miss out on the national stage. If culture is the expression of the national consciousness, I shall have no hesitation in saying, in the case in point, that national consciousness...

  10. 6 Reading Maya Angelou, Reading Black Internationalist Feminism Today
    (pp. 158-176)

    In reflecting on the relevance of African American women writers of the postwar anticolonial Left today, it is useful to look closely at the work of Maya Angelou. Not only has she attained the most mainstream visibility and commercial success of all the women affiliated with the African American Left, but her Black internationalist feminist autobiography, The Heart of a Woman (1981), has become part of U.S. mass culture. Although this attests to the co-optation of radicalism, Angelou’s autobiographical series (composed of five other volumes) should also be examined as a site of contestation over national identity, race, and the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 177-222)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-242)
  13. Index
    (pp. 243-250)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 251-253)