As we conclude the official celebration of Black History Month and move toward March as Women’s History Month, I pause to celebrate the undeniable contribution black women have made to the black community and American society.
When one thinks about the bold, assertive black women who gave voice to the black struggle from a woman’s perspective, we are thinking of womanists in our midst. Alice Walker’s definition according to Encyclopedia.com defines a womanist as a “‘Black feminist or feminist of color’ who is bold and assertive, who relishes African American culture, and is committed to the flourishing of the entire African American community.”
Womanism arose as a movement in the 1980s. The term womanism/womanist was first coined by Alice Walker in 1979 in her short story “Coming Apart.” Since then, womanism has grown as a social, religious and political critique of oppressive systems that affect black women in a unique manner. The womanist analysis is both historical and contemporary. It gives voice to the concerns of black women, as well as celebrating their strength and creativity. Womanism, therefore, is a resistance to the injustices black women have experienced and are experiencing.
You can find three main critiques in the womanist analysis. First is a critique of the patriarchy found in the black community. It draws attention to how black men called for equal justice and liberation from oppressive systems, but have practiced patriarchy in various arenas of black life — within the family and the black church in particular.
Second, womanism challenged white feminism for its racism and its failure to understand that America treats women of color differently than white women.
Third, white power structures reflect a lack of appreciation of class struggle women of color endure and experience. The oppression black women experienced is qualitatively different than that of white women. Womanists point to the three-headed monster they face daily: racism, sexism and classism.
The goal of womanism is developing a strategy that will lead to justice, revising the “narrative” (social and religious) by making it more inclusive and connecting with other oppressed communities.
We all know of the great womanists of history: Ida B. Wells, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and so many more. I think however that we ought to celebrate the womanists in our own community, like Muriel Battle and Almeta Crayton, just to name two. Columbia has known some powerful black women who were assertive and bold. They loved the black community and hated the systemic racism that plagued “Little Dixie.” They tirelessly worked for the common good of black people in this community. We remember you, sisters. Thank you for your work to make Columbia and America better.
The Rev. C.W. Dawson Jr. was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy at MU. He teaches at Columbia College and Moberly Area Community College and writes for the Missourian.