October 11, 2018
Reading Response 1
Word Count: 740
“Knowledge, Conscious, and the Politics of Empowerment” by Patricia Hill Collins addresses the question of the intersectionality of oppression. Collins’ thesis can be found towards the end of her chapter where she writes, “African-American women have been victimized by race, gender, and class oppression. But portraying Black women solely as passive, unfortunate recipients of racial and sexual abuse stifles notions that Black women can actively work to change our circumstances and bring about changes in our lives” (1991, p. 237). Her main points revolve around the analyzing of black women’s experiences to deconstruct levels of oppression and to empower Afrocentric feminist knowledge. One way she breaks down her argument is by describing “a system of interlocking race, class, and gender oppression [to] expand the focus of analysis from merely describing the similarities and differences distinguishing [them]” (p. 222). She goes on to explain the negation of importance when more than one category of discrimination is used to describe an individual. Here, Collins mentions the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as cited in Scarborough 1989) and how the execution of it contradicts the purpose of its creation when multiple identifiers of discrimination become involved (p. 224). Another important claim Collins makes in her argument is about the role of contradictions and re-evaluations - specifically when there is a clash between being oppressed in one identifier but privileged in another, and the efforts to redefine higher education through the translation of “Eurocentric masculinist” ideas into “Afrocentric feminist epistemology” (p. 2229 & 233).
Collins supports her claim of Black women experiences revealing the realities of domination matrixes by detailing the essential role of Black women in their communities. She also uses the perspectives of scholars such as June Jordan and Elsa Barkley Brown to further her own objective by building off of what was said before. She even ends this chapter with a quote by Maria Stewart, thus physically manifesting her goal of empowering Black feminist thought. However, Collins does take the time to challenge the scholars she brings in. An example could be found when she talks about Audre Lorde and Toni Cade Bambara and how far the power of the privilege takes people when it comes initiating social change.
Based on the tone that feeds the end of the chapter, the intended audience is made out to be aspiring and current Black women scholars. Collins writes that:
The style of the writing expects a higher level of language comprehension from the reader, so it would make the most sense for this piece to be geared towards Black feminists with an academic background.
This approach allowed [her] to describe the creative tension linking how sociological conditions influenced a Black women’s standpoint and how the power of the ideas themselves gave man African-American women the strength to shape those same sociological conditions. (236)
As for my own thesis about the reading: in this chapter, Collins argues that the Black-woman experience can be used to explore how the categories of discrimination intersect because they are the embodiment of multiple distinctions. The foundation of the chapter’s main idea relied on what was said previously by Black feminist scholars who serve as role models for the intersectionality of oppressive groups. However, aside from the brief mention of Title VII, this chapter lacked specificity in the examples used. This could be due to the fact that it was published in 1991, but I personally felt that the conviction in the author’s tone was too dependent on the quotes by these female scholars while shying away from concrete situations that can firmly illustrate the points that were being made. For instance, Collins states how Black women are denied access to the podium, and are empowered by their community roles as mothers and educators, but she does not mention a specific woman who was told ‘no’ or a specific mother who rose to power with her community’s support.
It is clear that a significant amount of research was done prior to writing this chapter. Going back to Mary Beltrán’s chapter, “Representation”, I believe Collins really forwards the notion with her introduction and promotion of more than a handful of Black feminist scholars. Beltrán wrote how the politics of representation is mainly about “how representation matters for social groups and for society as a whole,” which Collins is able to illustrate through quotes by June Jordan, Alice Walker, and several others (2018, p. 97).
Beltrán, M. (2018). Representation . In The Craft of Criticism: Critical Media Studies in
Practice (p. 97). New York, NY: Routledge.
Collins, P. H. (1991). Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment . In Black
Feminist Thought (pp. 221-238). Routledge.