Decolonizing the Wave: Black Feminism & The 3rd Wave
LaLa Drew (Progressivism)
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”
*Note: “women” in this piece refers to anyone who identifies as feminine of center.
Third Wave Feminism is a white supremacist concept used to track the evolution of feminism over the generations. At it's core, it quite literally sweeps over the ocean of experience and resistance which is true feminism. For centuries First Nations and Black women have been battling the forces of white supremacy, sexism, and cultural genocide. When Christopher Columbus first landed on Turtle Island he brought with him a reign of terror which would decimate populations and leave their survivors vulnerable and systemically subjugated. White men raped the women and nations of Turtle Island in order to dominate and control the land and population. They went on to use the same tactics to uphold and perpetuate the inhumane treatment of enslaved Africans. Within these chasms of destruction, women resisted.
In The Cycles of Violence Against Native Women: An Analysis of Colonialism, Historical Legislation and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, Genevieve Le May discusses a journal entry from a friend of Columbus who encountered a “Carib woman” he sought to take ownership of:
"I conceived desire to take my pleasure. I wanted to put my desire to execution, but she was unwilling for me to do so and treated me with her nails in such a wise that I would prefer never to have begun. But seeing this…I took a rope-end and thrashed her well, following which she produced such screaming and wailing as would cause you not to believe your ears. Finally, we reached an agreement such that, I can tell you, she seemed to have been raised in a veritable school of harlots."
This white man’s mentality was by no means rare and it has never been dismantled and so is still pervasive today. Black women battled with the white man’s mentality and the horrors which arise from enduring plantations, sharing contraceptives, keeping their babies, and warding off sexual assault when able (both from white slavers and Black men). Black men internalized the white slavers view of Black women due to the systematic abuse of black women and themselves. This morphed into a deep hatred which poisoned Black communities. In her essay “Heart of Darkness” Barbara Omolade states:
"To the slave master, the Black woman “was a fragmented commodity whose feelings and choices were rarely considered: her head and her heart were separated from her back and her hands were divided from her womb and vagina. … Her vagina … was the gateway to the womb, which was his place of capital investment -- the capital investment being the sex act, and the resulting child, the accumulated surplus, worth money on the slave market." (Words of Fire 366)
White feminism would have us believe that feminism found its beginning during the women’s suffrage movement when white women fought for the right to vote. After gaining inspiration from egalitarian indigenous community structures, and sailing on the backs of black abolitionists, white women began their battle for equality.
Choosing the moment in history when white women decided to stand up for themselves, further upholds the principles of white supremacy. The wave analogy holds that the 60's/70's defined the 2nd Wave and that the Third Wave occurred from the 80's to early 2000s.
During the period of white feminism’s Third Wave, Black feminism was doing serious work to create understanding around the issues which harass the Black feminine experience - namely the consistent erasure of the Black woman through policy, policing, sexual violence, racist movements and sexist movements. Black women have been consistently degraded, then discarded.
In a 1989 paper, Professor Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” as a method to explain the relentless oppression black women experience. Crenshaw went on to assist Anita Hill’s case in 1991 when Hill pushed back on the gender violence, which has plagued Black women for centuries, by accusing Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
Though the 1970s gave birth to terms like “Black is Beautiful”, Black women were still under the thumb of sexist slave behaviors from Black men and white men both in and outside of movement work. One month before his assassination in 1965 Malcolm X wrote to his cousin-in-law, Hakim Jamal:
“I taught brothers not only to deal unintelligently with the devil or the white woman, but I also taught many brothers to spit acid at the sisters. They were kept in their places - you probably didn’t notice this in action, but it is a fact. I taught the brothers that the sisters were standing in their way…I did these things brother. I must undo them." (530)
Malcolm X speaks to the way Black women were treated inside the Black Panther Party, the civil rights movement, and the culture as a whole. This energy of awakening helped set the stage from Black feminism’s pushback during the “Third Wave”. Audre Lorde gave us wisdom that the “master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” which Black feminism took to heart. Not only did it create a new language and publicly push back on sexual oppression, but Black feminism gave life to a resurgence of energy and art. This inspired Black women to push back on slave mentality and declare not only their self-worth, but their resistance to being denigrated and misused.
The Black “Third Wave” gave Black women gifts like U.N.I.T.Y by Queen Latifah in which she declares, “Every time I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a ho/Trying to make a sister feel low/You know all of that gots to go”. TLC informed us they know their worth and they don't want No Scrubs. They also told Black men to stop "chasing waterfalls" which lead to early graves. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill asked us "how we gon’ win when we ain't right within?", and India Arie declared her perfection in video.
Black women have endured savage treatment over the ages. And within movements for equality they are forced to fight to be seen, valued, and counted. Black “Third Wave” feminism has created a means to question feminism, push back on racist sexist systems and ideologies and envision a future free of limiting terms which, at their core, disregard the torture and genocide of countless millions. A genocide and torture which still persists today in Black and Indigenous communities. These feminists are swimming together on the current of intersectionality and are making long strides in a deep ocean of experience toward a future that is representative of all bodies who inhabit it.
ARIE, India. “Video.” Acoustic Soul.
Cleage, Pearl. Mad at Miles: a Black Woman's Guide to Truth. Cleage Group Publication, 1990.
Hill, Lauryn. “Doo Wop (That Thing).”
Latifah, Queen. “U.N.I.T.Y.”
Le May, Genevieve M. “The Cycles of Violence Against Native Women: An Analysis of Colonialism, Historical Legislation and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.” 2018, pp. 5–6.
Omolade, Barbara. “Hearts of Darkness.” Words of Fire: an Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought, by Beverly Guy-Sheftall, The New Press, 1996, p. 366.
Ransby, Barbara, and Tracye Matthews. “Words of Fire: an Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought.” Words of Fire: an Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought, by Beverly Guy-Sheftall, The New Press, 1996, pp. 530.
LaLa Drew (they/them) is a black, queer, non-binary, adoptee poet, writer, and activist raised and still living Maine, which is demographically the oldest and whitest state in the US. La does the most, including being the Organizer and Creator of Bloodletting, a reoccurring poetry event dedicated to uplifting and amplifying Queer, trans*, and femme PoC; Co-leader of weekly PoC Meditation: Feeling the Body, Healing the Heart; Organizer and Collaborator of the For Us, By Us Fund which builds capacity and community for POC in Maine; writes a monthly column for the Portland Phoenix, Unpacking the New Normal, in which they explore the many anxiety-inducing issues of today; Facilitator for the Maine Humanities Council; volunteer Teaching Artist with The Telling Room, and was chosen as a Press Printers Without Margins Pickwick Fellow in 2018. At the base of each of LaLa’s accomplishments is the spirit of community and creativity.
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