Resource: Black British Feminisms

By Heather Marks

This resource is an indicative collection of texts that relate to black British feminism. The reason why this resource is titled ‘Black British Feminisms’ is to indicate the plural possibilities of black British feminist thought, as shown in the diverse range of works presented here. This resource seeks to suggest various works on the topic of black British feminism, by providing what might now be labelled classic texts as well as those concerned with more contemporary developments. This list is by no means complete, but should serve as a starting point for those interested in learning about black British feminism. Of course there are many names who are essential to exploring black feminist thinking that emanate from the United States – bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Davis – and from the Caribbean- Sylvia Wynter, Francoise Lionnet, Honor Ford-Smith, Carolyn Cooper, Rhoda Reddick – and many more. However, the aim of this resource is to provide a distinctly British perspective, to lift up the voices of feminists who have been doing the work here in the UK. Many of the women mentioned in this resource have embedded their feminism in their respective fields, e.g. literature, sociology, and psychology.

There is debate as to whether the concept of political Blackness* is appropriate for today’s current climate. While inequality persists along gendered lines in relation to race, class, religion and social institutions, this resource aims to encourage readers to pursue their own questions and perspectives remembering that heritages of the past are frequently disregarded, unknown or forgotten – even as they should automatically lead us into the future.

*The use of Black with a capital ‘B’ was understood to refer to persons of African, Caribbean and Asian descent who experience discrimination based on the colour of their skin. It is a unifying concept which arose in Britain in the 1970s as part of the anti-racist movement, and served to unify multiple ethnic groups in their anti-racist solidarity.

Contemporary colourism debates about who is included under the term of ‘Black’ has meant that a category of political Blackness has emerged wherein mixed-heritage women of African and Caribbean descent, and women of Asian descent, have had their presence problematised in the discussions about Black Feminism. The right to self-term (which was a resistance to pejorative labeling, stereotyping and oppression) is thus often at odds with new perceptions of who can speak with agency and authenticity about being black. This debate should be recognised as part of the historical continuum of black feminisms in Britain and the texts listed hope to convey this legacy.

 

Classic

Many Voices, One Chant: Black Feminist PerspectivesFeminist Review, 17, Issue —  (1984)

This special issue of Feminist Review in 1984 brought together Black women’s political, academic and creative writing in Britain, highlighting the central themes of Black feminist thinking at the time, and is symbolic of the early Black Feminist movement in Britain which unified women of African, Caribbean and Asian descent. It is a powerful record of Black women’s organising and creative power, which was celebrated in a 30th anniversary edition of Feminist Review in 2014 (which is also included in this list).

The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain – Stella Dadzie, Suzanne Scafe and Beverley Bryan (1985)

This landmark text provides an account of black women’s lives in 1980s Britain, looking at education, the workplace, childcare, housing, and grassroots organising in the Black Feminist movement. Co-authored by Beverly Bryan, Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe, The Heart of the Race is an important piece of writing which represents black feminist thought from a distinctly British perspective.

Charting the Journey: Writings by Black and Third World Women – co-edited by Shabnam Grewal, Jackie Kay, Gail Lewis, Pratibha Parmar (1988)

This collection of poems, essays, interviews and stories offers a reflective view on the early black feminist movement in Britain, evaluating the worthiness of political Blackness, and presenting a hopeful vision of continual development in black feminist thinking.

Racialized Boundaries: Race, Nation, Gender, Colour and Class and the Anti-Racist Struggle Floya Athias, Nira Yuval-Davis (1993)

This book examines race in relation to the social divisions of ethnicity, gender and class, and opens up a compelling explanation of the way race, gender, class and nation overlap and collide in the modern world.

Shifting Identities, Shifting Racisms: A Feminism and Psychology Reader edited by Kum Kum Bhavnani, Ann Phoenix (1994)

This collection makes an important contribution to feminist and psychological debates on identities and racisms. Leading feminists examine the ways in which psychology has produced racism, and the need to problematise and unpack whiteness.

Talking Black: Lesbians of African and Asian Descent Speak Out – edited by Valerie Mason-John (1995)

This collection of essays is a critical study of the lives and experiences of Black lesbians in Britain, discussing issues around mental health, coming out, discrimination, and the representation of Black lesbians in both mainstream and independent lesbian culture, through an examination of film, photography and literature.

Reconstructing Womanhood, Reconstructing Feminism: Writings on Black Women – edited by Delia Jarrett-Macauley (1995)

This anthology examines the concepts of womanhood and feminism within the context of race and ethnicity. The book highlights ways in which constructions of womanhood have traditionally excluded black women’s experience, and proposes a reconsideration of terms such as ‘feminist’. The anthology discusses a wide range of social and cultural issues including the position of black women in the church, lesbian identity in film, contemporary African feminism, and British immigration law.

Black British Feminism: A Reader –  edited by Heidi Safia Mirza (1997)

The first anthology of feminist writing to define itself in terms of ‘Black British’, this unique collection of essays represented a new development in black feminist scholarship. It covers a wide range of topics including white feminism, mixed-heritage and lesbian identity, postcolonial spaces, black beauty and many other postmodern reflections on gendered and racialised exclusion.

‘Other Kinds of Dreams’: Black women’s organisations and the politics of transformation – Julia Sudbury (1998)

This book provides invaluable insight into the political activity of black and Asian women in the UK both inside and outside the black and Asian communities. It broke new ground by destroying the misconception that black and Asian women lack political involvement, and integrated gender into the study of black and Asian political participation in Britain.

Contemporary

What is Black British Feminism? – Lola Young (2000)

Lola, Baroness Young’s millennial essay argues for the legitimacy of black British feminism, posing the question ‘what is…’ to critique the overrepresentation of American voices in the discussion of black feminism, and the whiteness of feminism and the academy.

Write Black, Write British – edited by Kadija Sesay (2005)

This collection of essays and interviews, edited by literary activist Kadija Sesay, examines a selection of black British writers and the themes of alienation, belonging, gender, sexuality, race and identity that permeate their work. Though the book is not entirely about women writers, it does feature critical reflections on the writing of Zadie Smith, Dorothea Smartt, Patience Agbabi, Jackie Kay, Leone Ross and Andrea Levy, providing insight into an overlooked area of black feminist creativity in British literature.

Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones – Carole Boyce Davies (2007)

Carole Boyce Davies assesses the activism, writing and legacy of Claudia Jones (1915-1964), a pioneering radical intellectual, dedicated communist,feminist, and founder of the Notting Hill Carnival. This book establishes Jones as a significant figure within Caribbean intellectual traditions, black feminism, and the history of communism.

Black British Feminisms – Feminist Review 108, Issue 1, November 2014 (2014)

This special issue of Feminist Review celebrates the 30th anniversary of the 1984 edition, Many Voices, One Chant: Black Feminist Perspectives, bringing together academics, creatives and activists once more to discuss black British feminism across a variety of topics including eco-activism, political blackness, colourism, intersectionality, and more. (To access the whole of this journal, follow these steps: All Volumes and Issues > Browse Volumes and Issues > Volume 108 November 2014)

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge (2017)

Reni Eddo-Lodge’s provocatively titled debut book is essential reading for a modern black feminist perspective in Britain. She explores untold black histories, provides critiques of white feminism, and demonstrates the links between class, gender and race. Eddo-Lodge’s commentary is a searing account of how intersectionality for black women is not mere feminist theory, but lived experience.

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