Black Feminism, Intersectionality and Democratic Possibilities

Black Feminism, Intersectionality and Democratic Possibilities


[ Music ]>>Bess Vincent:
Welcome, everyone, and happy International
Women’s Day. My name is Bess Vincent. [ Applause ] And I’m an Associate
Professor of Sociology here at the Takoma Park campus. And I have the honor of introducing our distinguished
guest this evening. Before doing so, though, I
have a few practical notes. If you’re a student and you
need a certificate of attendance or you’re a faculty
looking for your equity and inclusion goal
certificate they’re on the table out between the two theater
doors and you can grab one, if you didn’t already
do so, on your way out. We do ask that you silence your
cell phones, but all students or anybody in the audience
is welcome to snapchat live, twitter, anything that you want. Dr. Hill Collins even came up with this hashtag
right before the talk, so please help us
get it going, okay? This is a way to engage
the rest of our community that wasn’t able to come
tonight in our conversation. There’ll be an opportunity
for questions and answers following
the presentation and we have two mikes,
maybe one mike, set up and you’ll be
able to come forward. So think about if you
might have a question so you can plan accordingly. We also invite everyone to
continue the conversation after the talk in the
lobby with refreshments. We’ll also have several of Dr.
Hill Collins’ books for sale and she’s graciously
agreed to sign copies, and I’ll tell you there’s
something else special that will happen, but I’m going
to save that for the very end. So don’t leave early because
you might miss the opportunity to get something. I’d also like to take the
opportunity to thank some of the people who collaborated to make this event
happen tonight. I’d like to thank the Education
and Social Sciences area and our Dean Darrin Campen
for sponsoring this event, as well as the women in
Gender Studies program, the Takoma Park Student Life
Office, and Siobhan Quinn and Chris Campanella
and the rest of the Cultural Art
Center staff. I feel very honored to work
with such great people, and I thank you all for helping
to make this event possible. tonight we’re very fortunate to have Patricia Hill
Collins here with us. Dr. Collins is a Social
Theorist whose research and scholarship have examined
issues of race, gender, social class, sexuality
and nation. Her research is regarded
as essential reading for sociologists, but also
spans into other disciplines, including women’s studies
and African-American studies. Her first book, Black
Feminist Thought, Knowledge, Consciousness and the
Politics of Empowerment, won the Jesse Bernard Award of the American Sociological
Society for significant scholarship
and gender and the C. Wright Mills
Award of the Society for the Study of
Social Problems. Her second book, Race, Class
and Gender and Anthology edited with Margaret Andersen,
is widely used in undergraduate classrooms in over 200 colleges
and universities. Black Sexual Politics,
African-American’s Gender and the New Racism received
ASA’s 2007 Distinguished Publication Award. Her other books include
Fighting Words, Black Women and the Search for Justice, From
Black Power to Hip-Hop, Racism, Nationalism and Feminism,
Another Kind of Public Education,
Race, Schools, the Media and Democratic Possibilities,
The Handbook of Race and Ethnic Studies
edited with John Solomos, and On Intellectual Activism. In 2008 she became
the 100th President of the American Sociological
Association, the first African-American
woman elected to this position in the organization’s
104-year history. Currently she’s a Distinguished
University Professor at the University of Maryland. Professor Collins also
holds an appointment as the Charles Phelps Taft
Emeritus Professor of Sociology within the Department of
African-American Studies at the University of Cincinnati. Tonight Professor Hill Collins
will deliver a presentation titled, Black Feminism,
Intersectionality and Democratic Possibilities. Her talk is very timely since when we first began
discussing her coming to speak here at MC we could not
foresee the current political and social climate, January’s
Women’s March, or even the Day Without a Woman Strike
scheduled for today. Even today, the day that we
call International Women’s Day, is interesting when we consider
Professor Hill Collins’ research because what she teaches us
is that what we see so clearly when we look at these
global demonstrations and that there’s no
singular woman’s experience. Our experiences are punctuated
by our relations to power and those vary greatly
depending on our gender, but also our race,
nationality, social class, sexuality and legal status. This resonates here
at Montgomery College since we have an extraordinarily
diverse community with 178 countries represented. The personal biographies of
those students vary widely and make our particular
institution a great audience for Professor Hill
Collins’ message and we thank her
immensely for coming. Fellow members of the
Montgomery College community, Professor Patricia Hill Collins. [ Applause ]>>Patricia Hill Collins:
Well, they wouldn’t let me look at you before I started,
so I began to worry that maybe you were a little
iffy in terms of a group. But, no, you look
pretty good, all right. So I don’t know why
they were doing that. Good evening. I’m going to really try
not to keep us until Friday because sometimes
when I get started on a topic I get really
enthusiastic and I sort of don’t want to
stop, all right? But I also want to encourage
you to use this hashtag that we just got together behind
stage because for those of you who are not comfortable asking
questions in public or you want to post anything, what I
would like to do is come back and read some of your
comments afterwards. So I will also use this as a
way of archiving your ideas if I don’t get a
chance to talk with you. I’ve had a difficult month, I
should probably tell you this, I’ve had a difficult
month since last November. And I shouldn’t really –
I’m not going to fill in and connect all the dots
for you, but I almost feel like I’ve been knocked backwards
by many, many, many years. Some time ago I wrote
this book, Another Kind of Public Education, and it’s
about democratic possibilities because I’ve been thinking
about the questions of democracy and the future for a
very, very long time. It’s really something that
has shaped my life as a person and I think in many ways
is an American story, if I could say it that way. But these are trying
times and I’m still trying to make sense of it all. So what I’d like to do
tonight is read a little bit, going back in time to kind of
help me ground myself and also to talk to you about the
question of imagining a future, a different future and all
the things that are in the way of getting to that point. I then want to move on to
the substance of my talk, which is black feminism
intersectionality and democratic possibilities, to ask the question
how does black feminism and intersectionality
shape our imagination around democratic possibilities? So can you go there with me? I might feel like I’m
jumping around and if it feels like I am you should say you’re
jumping around, all right? You can be like my students,
they yell at me all the time. But this is a chapter,
the beginning of a chapter that I wrote some time ago, and
I think it really sets the stage to tell you about me, and
I don’t know about you but it tells you about me. And the title of
this chapter is, What Does the Flag
Mean to You, right? So it’s a question about
what does this country mean to you, all right? How do you envision
being in this country? As a young person, perhaps
as a person of color, perhaps as a person who
is in a sexual minority, perhaps as a person who is
Muslim or of a different faith, or a person who is differently
abled, what does the flag mean to you, what does this
country mean to you in terms of its current moment
and its promise? And I was asking myself
that question when I was in high school, so
we’re going to go in the way back machine
now, all right, because I’ve been
at this for awhile. This isn’t even the go back
machine, this is the way, way back machine, when I was
in high school, all right? By the time I began
my senior year at the Philadelphia High School for Girls my public
school education had almost silenced me. The days of playing the lead
in my preschool’s pageant or chattering away with my
elementary school friends were distant memories, all but erased by my school district’s tracking
policies that left me marooned in overwhelmingly
white settings. I rarely spoke in
any of my classes. As a working class
African-American girl I knew my place in a school that catered
to middle class white girls. I could stay if I
didn’t make waves. So I sat and I listened. Given my chronic
silence I was surprised when my 12th grade English
teacher asked me whether I would be willing to deliver the Flag
Day speech at Independence Hall? What an honor to sit on the
dais erected at the site of the Liberty Bell and the
Declaration of Independence and to participate in a
ceremony held at this birthplace of American democracy. I had no doubt about my
ability to write a speech or to deliver it, all I had to do was answer
one simple question, what did the flag mean to me? Now I thought writing
the speech would be easy, yet when I got home
crafting it turned out to be far more
difficult than I expected. When it came to issues
of the American flag and its black American citizens, growing up in my
African-American neighborhood had apparently raised more
issues than I anticipated. What did the flag mean
to my father, I wondered? Despite serving in a
racially segregated Army, his service in World War
II left him a proud veteran with a strong commitment
to the flag. Risking his life to
defend the flag, however, did not shield him from
racial discrimination at home. Despite his status as
a veteran banks refused to grant him the
low interest loans that were routinely
offered to white veterans, which would have enabled
my family to buy a house in the burgeoning
suburbs of Philadelphia. We didn’t get to move there. What did the flag
mean to my mother? She rarely mentioned
anything to do with politics. By the time I was in high school
she had given up her dream of attending college and
becoming and English teacher. Her secretarial job
at the Department of Defense helped pay the bills, yet she was never
recommended for promotion. Instead, as I discovered
years later, she spent years training her
bosses, all of them white men who routinely started
out as her subordinates. Year after year she got up
and simply went to her job, reading a book on the subway
as respite from and reminder of her unceasing work
and her dream deferred. You see the problem I’m
beginning to have here with writing this talk? All right. What could the flag mean
to me in this context? I was doing all that I
could do to be ready if and when the doors of
opportunity that had been closed to my parents were
opened for me. I got good grades,
was a church organist, a Sunday school teacher, played
the trumpet – yes, I did – played the trumpet in my high
school band and orchestra, and I even made all my clothes. I was on the path to success. Yet I was also plagued by
the growing recognition that the American ideal of
Ameritocracy was a myth. How was it, I asked, that
the flag could signify such lofty ideals of democracy, suggested by my public school
education, yet my parents and others like them struggled
so hard to improve their lives, with many like my mother
never achieving their dreams? Why was I having such a difficult time
writing this simple flag talk, I wondered? Despite my misgivings, I wrote
what I thought was a muted, respectful speech that
expressed my true feelings. My speech was no kneejerk
tribute to Old Glory. Can I add a little line in here? It was no kneejerk shout out
to make America Great Again. Okay, that’s not
actually in here, but I just wanted
to put that in. All right. Instead, it aimed to breathe
life into the principles that the flag seemingly
represented. My speech stated my commitment
to the democratic ideals that the flag engendered,
in particular, fairness, equal opportunity
and justice for all. Yet it also tentatively
questioned the contradictions that surrounded the flag. Unlike now, when I speak of
racism and many other isms so openly, I said nothing
about race in that talk, but I remember that
race was on my mind. I took my speech to
my English teacher and waited anxiously
while she read it. After a few minutes she
calmly remarked, Patricia, we need to make a few changes. Out came the red pen. When she was done she said,
I’ve made a few minor changes, please look them over and once
you make them your speech will be fine. When I got home I
reviewed her comments. I had expected her to correct
my grammar, yet I was stunned to see that with the strokes of her red pen my teacher had
completely changed the meaning of my entire speech. Gone was my ambivalence
about the meaning of the flag and by implication the
meaning of democracy. The speech that she expected me to give was an uncritical
celebration of American patriotism. So what do you think I did? I’m not going to tell you
till the end of the talk. [laughter] Because now I’m
going to give my speech because I couldn’t give
that speech in high school. Ever since then I have
tried to reclaim my voice and give the speeches
that I want to give because you cannot
snatch words back from the air you’ve said
them, they are out there, they affect lives, they matter. And what is amazing to
me is that the speech that I’m thinking about
tonight was one that I wrote about 10 years ago and
that happened to me when I was in high school. This is a long struggle to think
about democratic possibilities that are about fairness,
equal opportunity and justice. And I’ve shared with you one
moment of how the pressure is on me and many of us to not
speak, to not think, to accept. However, I was fortunate enough
to be born a black woman. [ Applause ] Now a lot of people think they
want to feel sorry for me, you know, they want to
make me into a victim. Oh, it must be so hard
being a black woman. You all are just
singing all the time. Oh, I’m so glad I’m
not a black woman. Can I help you? The song is can I help you,
you know, can I help you? You know, all right. [laughter] Now this was
always amazing to me, as a person who grew up
in a black working class neighborhood, and this is also
amazing to many young women who find themselves
strong figures in their own communities,
all right? How they’re actually
treated and perceived when they leave, all right? Young woman in the hajib
saying, why are they looking at us like we’re victims? We’re clearly agents
about what we’re doing. All right, that’s a
whole another talk, I’m not giving that tonight. But, anyhow, I’m giving
my talk tonight just to ask the question, looking at
the kind of work that I started to do, which was on black women, asking the question the
black women I knew were ones who were committed to democratic
ideals, they were committed to something bigger
than just themselves. They were committed to their
children, they were committed to their communities, but
they were not stupid about it, it wasn’t blind faith, it
wasn’t blind commitment, it was something else. And that something
else could not be found in my high school nor could
it be found in my colleges, it wasn’t written yet. So I set out to study black
women’s intellectual work, wondering I wonder if there
are lots of other black women who have a lot to say but
they have not been allowed to say it in certain settings? They have not gotten the jobs
that allowed them to say it, they haven’t been able
to go to the schools where they could
give those talks? And that’s where
I started my work. And that’s why I want to
pick up the speech tonight around this particular
topic of black feminism and intersectionality, to
give you a sense of how some of the ideas of black feminism
speak to the moment that we’re in today perhaps and to open
up some space for conversation about the moment that we’re in. So we have to go
into the back machine of black women’s intellectual
activism, and I’m going to talk about two ideas from black
feminism – intersectionality and something called
flexible solidarity. These are two big ideas that
I think are really crucial. Now if you’re familiar with
my work on black feminism, I’ve written a lot of stuff,
and I’m not the only person, so there are many, many places
where you can get a good history and a good overview, but I’m
going to pick out two big ideas that I think have come
from black feminism, that really begin to
address this whole issue of the democratic possibilities
and us imagining a new future. And the second part of my talk
I’m going to move on and talk about intersectional
solidarities and democratic possibilities. I really want to work
with the whole notion of not a Rodney King version
of can’t we just all get along. You’ve heard that after
the riots and all that, like all we need to do is
look into each other’s eyes and give each other a
big hug and, therefore, we will have a happy
day, all right? Now that may happen in a march,
but if you’re really trying to do something politically
effective that’s going to last over time it is lots of hard
work, it is not just a moment. It’s building institutional
structures that last. So I want to spend some
time, spending a little bit of time talking about
that before I come back and tell you what I did, okay? All righty, so this is
part one of the talk, black women’s intellectual
activism, black feminism, intersectionality and
flexible solidarity. So the first person I
want to tell you about, I want to contrast two figures
from black feminism just to quickly give those of
you who are not familiar with black feminism
a bit of just a heads up about what it is, all right? Although this might be a
pretty well-read group, you all look pretty, like you
know a lot, so I’ll just kind of pick up the pace apparently. All right, but we’re looking at
the leader, Ida Wells Barnett. How many of you have heard
of Ida Wells Barnett? That’s very good, because a lot
of us have struggled for many, many years to get the names of
these towering figures out there and their stories out there. Ida Wells Barnett was an
antilynching advocate. She was – her parents
were slaves. She did her work in the
late 1800s, early 1900s. She took care of her siblings
when her parents died. She was one of those
people who went to school, she was a teacher, she tried to
do well as a teacher in Memphis. She hated the teachers
she worked with, she thought they were just
too, you know, they just bowed down too much to
the powers that be. But Ida Wells Barnett was living
a pretty ordinary life in a lot of ways until some friends
of hers were lynched. This was in Memphis, Tennessee. She was out of town at the time. And when she found out
that they had been lynched, and these were people she
knew well, these were men who had stores, they
were competing sort of with the white
power structure in Memphis, she wrote about it. She was a journalist. We now these days we know that
journalists are under attack, and she certainly was
one that was under attack because the citizens of Memphis
said to Ida Wells Barnett, if you come back we
will lynch you, too, so she could not go home and they burned the
paper down, all right? So it was not a really good
response that the citizens of Memphis had to Ida Wells
Barnett’s antilynching material. And she was very savvy
because she drew upon the work that was actually printed in
Southern papers and reprinted it so that everybody – she didn’t
do this individual research that people would say, oh, she’s discredited
because she’s biased. She actually was printed in the
White Press, lynching tomorrow at two o’clock, come and
bring a picnic basket, that kind of thing, all right? So my point here is that very
often what gets people started are experiences that they have
or experiences that they witness or the empathy that they
develop for a social issue or a social problem around them
that they cannot push away. And very often those
types of social issues and social problems
have to do with violence because violence is a
critical point of how systems of domination work, whether
it’s racial domination, gender domination,
sexual domination, whatever we’re talking
about, violence is key. When we look at racism, racial violence is just
embedded in the system. Now that was something
that became a catalyst for Ida Wells Barnett, and
she began to do analyses of the patterns of
lynching that were there. And she began to come up
with arguments about race, gender, sexuality and class. And she was really
swimming upstream because the arguments then were that black men were
just animalistic and they were lusting after
white women and, therefore, to protect the white women
we have to kill the black men and let everybody know that
this cannot be tolerated. So in some ways lynching
was projected or put forth as a rational response
to the sexuality and the inherent
violence of black people, and she knew this wasn’t true. Because just like when I was in school I didn’t even
recognize the black women, how people saw me
as a black woman. So she began to make very
provocative arguments about race and sexuality that were
way ahead of her time. If you read, in fact, she
made arguments about sexuality of white men lusting
after black women, that was unheard of at the time. So here’s Ida Wells
Barnett early on presenting an intersectional
analysis that is directly tied to a social problem that she
saw, and she had to think about that social problem
outside of the box. She had to think about
it outside of the boxes that were provided to her, that
were designed to keep her down and those members of the
African-American community down. And it wasn’t enough just to
be an armchair intellectual, she did not have
that opportunity. She was a black woman,
but she went on the public speaking trail. This is what I like
about Ida Wells Barnett, she went to Europe, she found
allies, she really spoke out as much as she could
about this particular problem, trying to solve this
social issue, using her voice, being active. She’s quite an important figure
for us all to know about. Now I can pull many, many
examples from the past with different issues, but where
you see this whole beginning of social issues or why
people do this kind of work – anybody that’s doing
social justice work it’s not because it’s just
cool to do, all right, but because there’s
something out there that needs to be addressed. Intersectionality, it
was not called that but the issue is it was
an intersectional analysis that she puts out and actions. And notice, by the way,
antilynching activism, but Ida Wells Barnett
also very much believed in women’s suffrage. The segregation of her time
was such that many white women in this country did
not want her to be part of the suffrage movement because
they thought it would somehow pollute the movement,
that they could do better if she just waited her turn. And intersectional analysis, not
very happy with wait your turn. You know, it’s not just the
question of let’s take care of class analysis first and when
we get rid of class oppression, okay, then you women, all right, so you poor women you
will be better off. Okay, then after we deal
with you women, after class and then women, then we’ll get
maybe to you people of color. And I mean, no, this
was just not an argument that made any sense to
her, either intellectually or politically, but she was bold
enough to do something about it. Fast forward, contemporary
period. We have a contemporary
African-American intellectual, a black woman who is involved in intellectual activism,
Angela Y. Davis. Now I put Angela Davis up here
because this country tends to have a very ahistoric view
of how politics come about and how ideas come about. We seem to think that somebody
woke up yesterday and said, whoa, intersectionality,
that sounds like a good idea, let me write that down. You know, as opposed to
there’s really been a long arc of visible political struggle
and intellectual struggle and the deepening of analysis
around intersectionality and around political activism
on the part of black women. Because unlike many people
I see black women as agents of knowledge, smart,
thinking, doing people, not two-dimensional
cardboard figures you see. So here we have Angela Davis who
was building on the foundation of many people who
came before here. All of this, by the
way, is still hidden to the general public. You know, in the US it was
just assumed that, oh, no, let’s just look and let’s just
see who is playing the maid in the movie and that’s who the
black women are kind of thing. Angela Davis, the issue that
very much she was concerned with was state violence. She first witnessed the state
violence because of the kinds of things that were
going on in California. This is the, if you come
for you in the morning. But then she became a target
of state violence in terms of ending up on the
FBI Most Wanted List. So if you look at her work
throughout her entire career it has very much been around prison
abolition and pushing back against rootinized violence in
the state, not the antilynching of Ida Wells Barnett,
but for our own era, what we’re currently calling
mass incarceration, all right, or the new Jim Crow,
Angela Davis was talking about that rootinized
police state way back in the day, you see. So here and that’s when
she had that nice big Fro that everybody thinks,
oh, Angela Davis, radical. It’s not so much the picture, it’s actually what’s
in her head. What you see on the righthand
side is her analysis of race, class and gender in her
book, Women, Race and Class, where she is one of the early
people who talks about the kind of analysis that has
emerged as intersectionality. But we have to be careful
that Angela Davis’ version of intersectionality does not
get ignored in favor of many of the current iterations
of intersectionality, which are so pale
compared to that. And in the middle, actions. She chose the podium and
she also chose writing and intellectual work as
her terrain of action. And one of her most recent
books, The Meaning of Freedom and Other Difficult Dialogues,
speaks to this whole issue of thinking about the
systems that we’re in and the context of our times. All right, so you’re feeling like you have a little
bit of context here? Did you live? Did I kill anybody yet? Check the person next to you
just to make sure because every so often people’s
eyes glaze over. [laughter] And if you hear
that little silent snore next to you could you please poke
them really nicely before their head drops back and they start
showing the back of their mouth? That would be embarrassing
to them, all right? I am not here to put
anybody to sleep. All right, so these two
ideas begin to work together. This whole idea of
intersectionality and the idea of a solidarity, which I haven’t
talked about very much yet, but that’s the idea I’m going
to spend most of my time on. And I bring to you one
quote from June Jordan, who I think symbolizes this. June Jordan was, she’s
a poet and an essayist. She was spending time, I
believe this was at Berkeley, and one day there was
an antiracism rally. And June Jordan says,
okay, we need to go to the antiracism rally. And the next day there was a
rally in favor of LGTQ folk, I mean anti-heterosexism
rally, if you’d call it that. And there were different
people at each rally. And what very much
bothered June Jordan, who herself was bisexual,
all right – what very much bothered her was
the fact that the communities that should have been
supporting each other were so distinct and separate. That’s a social problem that
really caught her attention. So in beginning to think about
her analysis and her actions around this this quote, to me,
really speaks to the essence of what intersectionality
is as it comes from a black feminist
experience. She says, freedom – and
this is a very black thing, the fact that you’ve
been enslaved, all right, so if you’re coming from a place
of where you’ve been enslaved, emancipation, these kinds
of terms really matter. It’s not just equality, it’s
freedom, it’s very deep. She says, freedom is indivisible
or it is nothing, at all, besides sloganeering and
temporary, shortsighted and short-lived advancement
for a few. Freedom is indivisible
and either we are working for freedom or you are
working for the sake of your self-interests
and I am working for mine. Now can you remember
this for a couple slides? Because when I talk about coalitions this is
a really important idea, all right? This is solidarity, but it’s a
solidarity that is now attending to issues of race and class and
gender and sexuality, all right? So that’s how they
begin to go together. Oops, oh, oh, bad
things just happened. Okay, here we go. Hit the wrong button there. All right, so let me talk a
little bit about core ideas of black feminism and one core
idea is intersectionality. I have just finished
a book coauthored with Serma Bilsh [Assumed
Spelling], who is my colleague in Canada, and it is
on intersectionality. And we decided that it was
really important to just kind of get some of these ideas on paper even though
this field is still under construction
and developing. But here are some
bullets to orient you around what intersectionality
in my mind is about. It isn’t just race,
class, gender identities, it’s about other stuff that’s
tied to black feminism. First of all, one main idea, intersectionality examines
how social inequalities are organized, endure,
change and resisted. There would be no reason
to have intersectionality if there were no
social inequalities. So if people are just talking about intersecting identities
there’s no power involved or no social inequality. I think that happens, but I also
think that’s moving quite far away from Ida Wells
Barnett, from Angela Davis, from June Jordan, and
from a long list of people who are not just
African-American women, but many other women. I’m talking about
black feminism today. A second bullet, it investigates
how race, class, gender, sexuality, age, ability,
religion and citizenship constitute
intersecting systems of power that mutually construct
one another. This is a set of ideas that says
you cannot solve your problems by yourself. You can try to, you
can sit around and make yourself the best
you you can possibly be, but you’re in a structure
that is going to provide opportunities
and constraints on you, and that’s what power is. So rather than looking at
power just as a unitary thing, racial power or gender power, an
intersectional framework looks at how those ideas,
those systems of power construct one
another, shape one another. And the third main point is that
intersectionality articulates with broader political and intellectual struggles
for social justice. There’s an ethical
component to this work. We’re not just doing it because
we want to get jobs, right? We’re doing it because
it matters because there is social
justice, injustice is a wrong that needs to be righted. So I have colleagues who
have wonderful analyses of social inequality, but
they don’t do anything, they just analyze. This is really saying your
ideas will have an impact. And what kind of impact
do you want them to have? And thinking explicitly about
issues of social justice. Some core ideas,
the second core idea of black feminism would be the
idea of flexible solidarity. Now many people have an
understanding of solidarity where it’s like group think. There are three principles
on the list, it’s almost like reading
the Bible, we all agree on three things and
then we have solidarity around those three things. Or perhaps waving the flag,
you know, Make America Great, here’s my program,
we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that. All right, sorry, I’m trying not to let things bleed
into my talk. [laughter] It just keeps
– it comes out sometimes and I say get back in
there, get back, all right? But this is a different
kind of solidarity, this is not group think. If we look at black
women in the context of African-American history you
see that women were clearly, you know, especially women
intellectuals, mothers, parents, all kinds of folk, were aware that there were gendered
differences around racism or gendered differences in
terms of class and money, but they were not in a position
to do as much about that as they would have liked because
it was too dangerous to do so. So when you’re facing an enemy
that will kill one of you or kill the next one of you, I mean this is what slavery
was all about, basically, sort of the disposability
of black bodies, all right? It doesn’t make any sense to
run around singing a chorus of I’ve Got To Be Me in the
face of your slaveowner – I’ve Got To Be Me,
don’t you see, I’m not like those other slaves. Yes, you’re a crazy one. All right, so let’s do
something about that. It makes much more
sense to band together because you have an external
threat that is quite significant in terms of your life and
the lives of your children. And in that context issues
that may seem internal to your community, like gender,
or like the class system, or sexuality, it’s not
that they’re not there, you’re flexible about when
it is politically reasonable to do something about those
in your own community. That’s the first thing. So then I’ve got here,
flexible solidarity within black activist projects,
I’ll use an example in a minute, working with black men, working
across social class differences, navigating sexuality
and nationality. All of these things have
happened in the context of African-American history. For example, when there was
a broad Caribbean migration in the ’20s, the
Garvey movement, the largest of the
black movement in this country was
African-Americans and was immigrants, Caribbean
immigrants, all right? And that becomes a
really interesting theme of nationality, how you
bring nationalities together in a movement for the
good of both groups. Now that was all internal. Let’s say you get here and you
thought of yourself years ago as Jamaican in 1920
and you get here and people say you just black, you can tell me you’re
Jamaican all you want, I don’t care, all right? That creates a certain
kind of black solidarity, but that doesn’t mean that
solidarity is uniformity. So when I talk about flexible
solidarity that’s what I’m referring to. Black women having a
vested interest in taking on the hierarchies
within black communities, particularly the
gender hierarchies, but not necessarily
using the tools that we would normally
think of to do so. How you going to
protest your brother? Let’s have a march against the
black men, that sounds like – this doesn’t make any
sense historically. When the times change,
when desegregation comes in it becomes much
more reasonable, there are more options
for everybody, those are the times
we’re in now. But the second part of
flexible solidarity, what it does is it
positions black women for coalition building with
other social justice projects. So black women are
predisposed not to cooperate, maybe it’s cooperation but to
really see that they will have to think about networking
with others outside of African-American communities
because that is what’s needed for that bigger project,
social justice, democracy, that’s what needs to happen. All right, so you still there? I’m going to give
you an example. Okay, here we are,
Black Lives Matter. And this is Patrisse
Cullors Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi Are most of you familiar
with sort of the history of Black Lives Matter from
2012 to today, from the hashtag in terms of – they
started a hashtag. When George Zimmerman was
acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin, for the
killing of Trayvon Martin, I believe that was in 2013,
the hashtag came along. I’ll have to look at my notes. But we’re not talking about
anything that’s really like decades old, this
is just a few years old. And it just caught
on, all right? Black Lives Matter,
it caught on. And what was interesting
about Black Lives Matter is that it broke the fiction that
you couldn’t talk about black. Because we, under President
Obama, were not supposed to talk about black, we were
not supposed to talk about race, it’s post-racial. You have a black man
in the White House, what more do you want? Isn’t everything wonderful? And against that backdrop there
are police killings, again, notice the same catalyst,
a different form. The killing of young black men
and women, but through lynching but through unauthorized and
unsanctioned police presence. Even Zimmerman thought he was
a police person, you know, from neighborhood
watch, all right, in terms of vigilante
type stuff. And protest against that. So when these women who none of whom experienced this
themselves, but who had friends and relatives and witnessed
this and were distraught by this said Black Lives Matter, hashtag Black Lives
Matter, that catches on. That becomes very powerful
as a way of pushing back against a democracy
that was, quite frankly, neglecting large
segments of its citizenry. And in this case
its black citizenry because it felt it could do that and so there are many
arguments to that. However, the part I want to pull out that I think is
important for tonight is this. Black Lives Matter, to me,
has a direct connection to intersectionality and
to flexible solidarity. I see this movement as very much
influenced where it started, by the way, because
now the struggle is where it will go
and where is it now. But where it started initially
was claiming that vision within black feminism
yet again in relationship to the current period
that we’re in, to inform the current
period that we’re in. So I pulled from their website
their mission statement – Black Lives Matter
affirms the lives of black, queer and trans folks, disabled
folks, black undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all black lives along
the gender spectrum. It centers those that
have been marginalized within black liberation
movements. This is clearly a statement that says we recognize all the
texture within this community and we can no longer have
these permanent hierarchies where one group stands
as the best black and everybody else has
to wait their turn. Intersectionality
provides an analysis of why that’s a bad idea, but it also provides
some political tools around strategically being
in solidarity but flexible around that whole
thing, all right? And flexible solidarity within
and among organizations, if you look at their particular
structure this is the way they work. People get really upset,
where is your leader, we want your leaders,
who are the leaders? And even putting up these
three as the head would be kind of like why are you doing that,
they’re not really the leaders? But the way it is organized, the notion of a network
social movement, right, that isn’t hierarchical, that really has a
different way of working. It’s more flexible
in relationship to the challenges
that it confronts. So I think there’s some
real legs here about this. So the Black Lives
Matter movement, the initial vision draws upon
black feminists’ understandings of intersectionality
and flexible solidarity. Black Lives Matter means
that all black lives matter, not just some black lives matter
more than other black lives. That’s another piece that
often isn’t talked about. And it constructs what I would
call a political blackness across social divisions in black
communities around ethnicity, class, age, sexuality, immigrant
status, religion and ability. So rather than saying
blackness is this finished thing or race is this finished thing, and of course you can
extrapolate this argument to other categories, all right? It says that a lot about
blackness is political, it isn’t just ethnic, it isn’t
cultural, it isn’t we can sing and dance, it’s not –
that’s all in there. But within the context of intersecting power
relations one has to think about the categories
one is using. So how you doing? Are you doing okay? All right, we’re at part two. [laughter] Let’s all get
happy about that, all right? We’re making progress here. Because, and this is a book
that I actually read from, Another Kind of Public
Education, because this question that I would now ask you is
that’s all been the internal argument that I’ve
presented to you, sort of the black
feminist argument. But now what I want to
look at is this notion of intersectional solidarities. How do we actually take these
ideas around intersectionality and flexible solidarity
and think about what we do with them? How do they inform our
questions for today? How do they facilitate
democratic possibilities? How do they help us think
about the moment that we’re in? Gee, I don’t know if I can do
that in just one little talk, but I’m going to take a
stab at it, all right? So intersectional
solidarities in the US, I want to talk briefly
about three sites. There are many others,
but I’m just going to talk about these three because
I think they illustrate the challenges of coalition
building, of solidarity. I think it’s an important
moment, this really comes from the women’s
movement, excuse me, the women’s march the day
after the inauguration and everyone said, well, now
what are they going to do? They all just showed up
and did all this stuff – like now what are
they going to do? The hard work of continuing
to build the solidarities that are there or the coalitions
that are already there and building new ones
that were not there. So we’re at a really interesting
moment where we have a President who seems to have antagonized
so many people who now feel that they have common interests that they hadn’t
perhaps seen before. So you get a gift
from strange places and this is a strange gift. [laughter] But, you
know, I’m trying to look at the opportunity of
this particular moment because as a person who has been
working on these connections for quite some time and
thinking about the connections that are intersectional and
political, not just personal but political for some time,
and thinking about questions of political solidarity
for quite some time and social movements, I didn’t
quite think this would be the catalyst but I’m
going to work with it as best I can, all right? So let me talk about these three
groups and then wrap it up, and these three sites of
intersectional solidarities, and then open it up to you. So the first one is within black
communities, this is the notion of expanding the
notion of a community. I could be talking about
Latino, Latina communities, I could be talking about
certain women’s communities, I could be talking
about gay communities, I mean I could be picking
a lot of constituencies, but I’m working with
my particular expertise because this is what
I study, right? I’m not in any way saying this
is the universal, the best, the only, but I think it’s
an important one, all right, because I think we have a lot
to learn from black people. That would be my
personal perspective, but you can think otherwise. Of course, you’re not going
to think otherwise, are you? [laughter] All right, that
was kind of a rhetorical kind of statement, that wasn’t – yes,
ooh, let me think otherwise. Let me stop having
conversations with myself so I can have some with you. All right, so that’s
within black communities. And then intersectional
solidarities among people of color – I think this
is really crucial – that this country is not white. I don’t know where people get
this whole idea it’s white, it really isn’t. In fact, most of the
white people aren’t white. You just check ancestry.com,
all these people on television, I discovered I was
Native American and now I’m going
to get a thing. You know, you just want to say
this is so weird, all right? [laughter] But the whole notion of creating a political
solidarity among people of color. However people define I
think is really crucial. This is an important
moment for that, so we do not eat each
other, all right? So you do not kill
off your young. So you do not mis-recognize
who your allies and your foes are, all right? And the third category
is with white allies. And as much as I
love my white allies, you notice how I put
them last, all right? [laughter] Any of
my white – you know, I’m comfortable calling people
white and black and Latina, I mean I’m comfortable
with that language, but some people get a little
ancy, but I’m not really white. Okay, I’m going to get to
you in a minute, all right? We’re not starting with
you, however, all right? So intersectional solidarities
within black communities, these are tensions that
have always been there, but there’s major tensions now that I think African-Americans
are just working their best to deal with. And you get a sense of how
an intersectional analysis and flexible solidarity
can work to create yet again new understandings
of blackness. The boundaries of blackness
now are far more fluid than they used to be. We have many folk, this is not
a country with the one drop of blood that makes you, one drop of black blood
makes you black, it was crazy to begin with, it
was crazy science, but we’re no longer
there, all right? We have the same enemies outside
of African-American communities, but the boundaries are
such that it’s harder to tell who they are. But also there are new
allies, it’s harder to tell who those people are, too. So it’s an interesting
period of time that points us in the direction
that communities and solidarity are constructed. You have to make them work. So what I put up here for
you around this whole issue of religion and sexuality
is a film I’m a big fan of. The filmmaker is Yoruba Richen and the film is entitled,
The New Black. Have any of you seen
this documentary? Okay, well, if you haven’t
it’s out there somewhere. But what’s really good
about this documentary, it’s about the marriage
equality fight in Maryland, so it talks about – I
believe it was P.G. County — but it’s about this area. And what’s really interesting
is how the black LGBT folk who were trying to get
marriage equality through, there was a vote,
didn’t just give up on all the other black people who said they don’t know what
it is, they don’t like it, this, that and the other. It wasn’t like they just
said we’re the smart ones, we’re the ones who
have all the answers, we’re the progressive ones,
and unfortunately the rest of my people are so backward. Oh, poor them, they’re all
in church praying needlessly, you know, that kind of thing. They actually went and
talked to their relatives, their friends, they
found a pastor. I mean some of these
conversations were really difficult that people had
around these issues of sexuality and religion because
these are hard things to talk about in general. But what was really nice about this particular
documentary was seeing how solidarity was constructed. Some minds were never changed, but many minds were
clarified, they didn’t know. It didn’t set up the church and everybody else is
the backward church and then the progressive
atheists, that kind of thing. It wasn’t set up that way,
it was really a question of thinking people and how
do thinking people engage one another. This is all within an
African-American community and this is the kind of
conversation that I would love to see within many communities
because you cannot engage in coalition with other groups
if you have no idea about how to talk to each other
in your own group. Then the arguments become who
is speaking for the group, and yet another fight. So that said to me
that the possibilities of political blackness, and
I’m putting up here a person who is technically
not a black person. How many of you have
heard of Grace Boggs? [laughter] Well, Grace
Boggs, as Angela Davis says, is blacker than a lot of
black people that she knows. Because Grace Boggs really
gives you the potential of political blackness. A person who didn’t claim to be
black, didn’t claim to be Asian, is Chinese-American, I
believe, from a well off family, had a topnotch Ivy
League education. Went to Chicago and
discovered that in her apartment where she lived there were
black people in the neighborhood because that’s what
she could afford. She couldn’t get the
jobs that she wanted because she was female, right,
so there’s a gender text here. But then Grace looked around
and she said, you know, I like these black people. So she moves to Detroit, you
know, falls in love, marries. There she is, and
here’s her quote. Now this documentary is
called, American Revolutionary. This woman did more for
black people in Detroit than I can even imagine. Planting herself for decades
to work on behalf of the city, through the times when that
city went through decline, till she was interviewed
near the end of her life, and talked about the
possibilities for Detroit. So in many ways I just saw
Grace Boggs as a black person who didn’t know she was black,
all right, but she really is. And then the Asian community
discovers her and says, well, Grace, how does your Asian
identity affect how you did things? And she says, not at all,
I didn’t think about it, it’s not a big deal for me. You know, it gives you a sense
of how there are other ways of having political
solidarity that are not just all around being so worried about
our identities, you know, the communities we came from and
the communities we have joined, that there are bigger
principles. So I like this one up
here where she says, there are times to
grow our souls. Growing your soul, how
is your soul doing today? This is the kind
of thing she’d say. Each of us is called upon
to embrace the conviction that despite the powers
and principalities bent on commodifying all our human
relationships we have the power within us to create
the world anew. Those are powerful ideas
from somebody who is really up in age, but those
are powerful ideas for someone who is 15 or 25. To look around you and to say,
I have the power within me to create the world anew. And, in fact, anyone
that wants to convince me that I don’t probably doesn’t
have my own best interests at heart, whether that’s a
loved one or a President. Oh, darn it. [laughter] All right,
I’m moving on. He got in there again,
he just slid in. All right, let me move
on to this moment. Intersectional solidarities
among people of color. This term, people of color, has
bothered me because it initially in my mind started off as
an administrative category within universities, at least
that’s how it was popularized, that said we can’t
talk about the Latinos and the indigenous
folk and we can’t talk about the ethnic folk, we can’t
talk about – we need something – we don’t want to remember
all that distinction. People of color, yes, that’s it, let’s make them people
of color, all right? The students of color. And, of course, this raises the
question what is the unifying substance of color? What does that mean? So it means something different
if it’s imposed from the top, down than if it’s developed
from the bottom, up. So I’m talking about
now is thinking about developing this
notion of people of color, which is already there, as
a political identity, right? And I’m going to argue, ah, you
ready for the radical statement? That anti-black racism
is a touchstone for many of the intersecting oppressions
that other groups encounter. I am not arguing that there’s
this one undifferentiated racism, but I am arguing that
there are multiple stories that are interconnected
and intertwined and that without an anti-black racism
those other stories would not make any sense. So we have to really go for
some of the root stories when we’re talking about
American democracy, whether it’s slavery
and African-Americans or whether it’s indigenous folk. Now I’m going to get
to gender, don’t worry, I know this is the year of
the woman, but the first half of the talk I talked about
black feminism, right, so you got your – just
wanted to let you know, I’m still here, all right? But the point here is that
we have multiple stories that really need to develop,
need to be researched, need to be internally developed
so I can learn from people who are saying we have
asked similar questions about how we have experienced
similar social issues and how an intersectional
analysis works differently for us but it’s there, and
how solidarity has worked differently for us
and it’s there. All right, that’s the space of
the moment that we’re in now, and I really do think that flexible solidarity
gives us some space. Just to break things
up a little bit, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. This is not just cross – this is
not just – what is this called? Multiracial casting. We’re in a theater
building, yes. This is not just
multiracial casting of the same old story,
all right? Let’s put on the show of
whatever it is and let’s just – ooh, Romeo and Juliet,
let’s make Juliet, ooh, let’s make Juliet Latina,
let’s make Romeo, ooh, let’s make him Sikh,
that will be interesting, you know, kind of thing. I mean just sort of
that kind of thing. Instead, what Lin-Manuel Miranda
in Hamilton had the nerve to do was write a Hip-Hop opera about the founding
myth of America. He went right to the belly of
the beast and took on democracy in terms of the cherished myths
about Hamilton, Jefferson, Aaron Burr, all those
people you fell asleep in school learning
about, all right, that you have forgotten about. He has made this stuff hip
and in again, all right? And it’s on – I think
on Broadway, maybe that’s just off Broadway. Off Broadway? On Broadway, okay,
he’s on Broadway. I remember the theater, but I can’t tell you whether
it was on Broadway or not. All right, and I pulled out some
of these graphics so you can see that there, I believe, is Thomas
Jefferson down on the bottom with a big old Fro, you know,
strolling around the stage. I mean you get this
really different story about America being an
immigrant story, all right, and being a multiethnic story
and multigendered story. And that is really
quite something to do. So in this moment of we
don’t know what to make of it I think the possibilities,
there’s many people that are jumping out, to
begin to think about what kind of coalitions or what kind of
solidarity is really possible under the heading
people of color, and they’re not necessarily
doing that, just marching to the beat of a political drum
and politics and all of that. Look to the artists, they
usually got there first. But I do have a fairly
tortured slide about this. How are you doing, you fading? [laughter] Because all I
want to comment on here about these coalitions, when
we’re looking at any coalitions, but this is particularly
important if you’re thinking about coalitions among groups
where the tendency is going to be to try and pit
them against one another, is to ask about the notion
of when are you involved in a coalition of convenience? In a short term, it’s
around a specific issue, it’s politically
strategic for you to work with this other group. We women are going
to get together because it’s politically
strategic, we’re going to get the straight
women and the gay women, we’re going to get various
groups of women together because it’s politically
strategic. And when is it a coalition
of conscience it is organized around a long-term issue that
will not go away, like freedom or Ida Wells Barnett saying
that that was a lifelong passion for her that she worked
on, antiviolence work. And I’m not saying that one
is better than the other. What I am saying is the
disappointment occurs when you think that you’re in
coalition with people who care as passionately about something
as you do, where it’s conscience and you discover that
it was convenience. So what we may find is that
different constellations of conscience and
convenience are going to arise. This is a moment where there’s
going to be a lot of talk about coalition politics
and solidarity, but what people are going to
mean, a lot of them are going to mean is it’s convenient
for us to do it, it’s strategically
good for us to do it, not that we deeply
know we’re going to fight this fight our
entire lives even if we lose, that’s conscience, right? Black-brown solidarity, I
think that’s really important. We’re running out of
time, but there it is. Okay, Houston, very good
book, racial politics and the new gulf south I’m very tired of the story
that starts circulating, well, you know, blacks and Latinos
don’t have anything in common, blah, blah, different story. Highlighting the
differences as opposed to asking what are the points of
overlap and what are the points of difference, all right? And I’m happy to talk about
that in question and answer if you want, but let’s
get to the white people because I know many white
people have been waiting. [laughter] Now you
need to know that some of my best friends are white. [laughter] All right, just
so you know, all right? I don’t want anybody going out
of here, Collins was so racist and I thought she was
humanistic and I don’t want to hear any of that, all right? I’m just being really clear
about what I’m trying to say. So I think it’s important
to think about what kind of coalitions are possible among
all groups, but with whites. Whites have a special challenge
here and whites are not all cut from the same cloth,
there are many, many different kinds of whites. So any time I hear people saying
white people, so I just want to know which white people are
you talking about, all right? And politically which ones
are you talking about? There are white allies
distributed across multiple groups,
including poor whites. This rap that working class and
poor whites are getting now, that they’re the, oh,
everybody neglected them, well, maybe a lot of people
got neglected, all right? But the point of just saying
that poor whites are somehow, or working class whites
are somehow backward or not progressive just misreads
history, that’s just not – lots of things have happened,
there’s texture there. LGBTQ folk, whites who
are white, you know, you can’t just be LGBTQ
non-raced, all right? Catholic whites, there’s
an interesting group. Immigrant whites,
Semitist whites, you know, I mean if I had to come up
with all different kinds of white people this list could
continue to grow, all right? Beginning to ask the question
how are white people dealing with their own whiteness,
all right? So decentering and redefining
whiteness by reclaiming and, or developing understandings
of whiteness that reject white supremacy. If you are a white person who is not rejecting white
supremacy why would I be in alliance with you? I mean I may be in a
coalition of convenience and I certainly recognize that,
that’s how government works, but I wouldn’t mistake
that for a coalition of conscience, you see. So there’s this notion that,
and there are a lot of people out there working very hard,
many of them are feminists. Women have really been at
the front of the line here, and I have to hand it to
my white feminist sisters because they have taken a
lot of grief, all right? But they have maintained that movement toward
intersectionality. Now so we have the possibility
for new solidarities. But let’s look at an
old one for a minute. I want you to know that
I have white friends who are really good friends. All right, white activists
for racial justice, this is a book I love, it’s
called Fire in the Heart. If you’re not familiar with
this, the work of Mark Warren, who is white, he
knows he’s white. Mark is white, he says, I know. Okay, we’re cool with
it, it’s all right. How white activists
embrace racial justice. We need another research
tradition like this that gives us much more
heterogeneity around whites who accept and promote
white supremacy, and they will remain
unnamed tonight but a lot of them are kind
of down the street, won’t have to drive
too far, all right? [laughter] And whites who don’t,
who have really said, you know, white supremacy is not me,
I don’t want to be that kind of white, I want to
redefine white, all right? So this is where I think we
have an interesting issue today, the changing contours of
feminism this particular day, the 2016 Presidential Election
and the 2017 Women’s March. To me, it’s a turning point,
today is a turning point, last month it was
a turning point, November was certainly
a turning point. Very, very important, not
all feminists are white women and not all white
women are feminists, and if you just repeat
that mantra that will help tremendously in
understanding what’s going on. There has been among
many of my students, they are just mad
as all get out. These are the black
students with white women. If those white women went and
voted that, well, look at that, look at what they
did, kind of thing. Not recognizing that there, if you have an intersectional
argument you have no illusions that people are all homogeneous. You are really looking
at the heterogeneity within a particular
group and how that heterogeneity
works politically. So not all feminists
are white women. This is what I love
about these marches, to see all this just range
of who the feminists are. Some of the feminists
are not even women, they are men, all right? And they’re at the march, the
feminist men are out there, too, with their little girls
going this is my baby, I don’t want her to be like
– whatever, I mean, you know? Really, this is just
very, very good. Out of all the sort of the
upset and upheaval we’ve had to live through,
this is very good. So the potential visible
intersectional solidarities through coalition
building in support of women’s issues is really
a wonderful moment right now to not squander, all right? Intersectional analyses
of gender, we have a lot of work that’s been
done on that. It’s time to really
look at that work. The march, to me, was a sight of inclusive intersectional
feminism, both domestically
and transnationally. That march in January managed
to reach around the world and it also managed to
highlight support by groups in alliance with women’s issues. My fear was that I would get up
the day after the inauguration and there would be a tiny
little group singing, We Shall Overcome, you know? And that is not what
happened, at all. I was completely shocked,
the support by men. I was really amazed by the
scientists in Antarctica, did you see that picture? This little group, they had
parkas on, they’re standing up there, you know,
women’s solidarity. And I’m thinking, oh, that’s so
sweet, you know, they’re so far. But they felt they
had to do something in all those sister marches. So I think this is a really
interesting moment around issues of flexible solidarity and
intersectional solidarity, and that hopefully
intersectionality will give us some tools to deal with that. Now I was going to end the talk
here and say, yay, but would you like to hear what happened? Oh, got you, that worked, huh? A little pedagogical trick. [laughter] I’m going to read
to you, just sort of end up with reading a little bit and so you have some
come-down from that. Looking back at the dilemma of my Flag Day speech I see how
it constituted a turning point in my intellectual development. Clearly more was at work
than a simple disagreement between a teacher and student
about the meaning of the flag. The invitation to deliver the
Flag Day speech constituted an important opportunity. After years of silencing
that was the cost of my public school
education I thought that my speech constituted
an opportunity for me to break this silence. So when my English
teacher said to me, no, you can’t say what you
think, I faced a dilemma. At the time or at that time
I had no adequate framework for thinking through the
issues in my situation or possible solutions
to my dilemma. Instead, I was left
with a visceral reaction that something was profoundly
wrong with the situation. You’ve been in that situation,
you know something is wrong but you don’t have the words
yet to figure out how to think about it or say something
about it, it’s just sort of like this ain’t right but
you don’t know why, okay? But years later upon reading
the Great African-American Abolitionist, Frederick
Douglass’ classic speech. Now you do know Frederick
Douglass is no longer alive, right? [laughter] Okay. Titled, What to the Slave
is the Fourth of July. I discovered that I was
not alone in my reactions. Douglass’ 1852 speech began
by saying, they asked Douglass to speak on the occasion
of the 4th of July, a very similar situation. Tell us what the
4th of July means to you, Frederick Douglass? He says this – Fellow
citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask why am I called
upon to speak here today? What have I or those
I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles
of political freedom and of natural justice
embodied in the Declaration of Independence extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon
to bring our humble offering to the national altar and
to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude
for the blessings resulting from your independence to us? Ben Carson. I say it with a sad sense
of the disparity between us. Am I not included
within the pale of this glorious anniversary. Your high independence only
reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this
day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of
justice, liberty, prosperity and independence bequeathed by your fathers is
shared by you, not by me. You may rejoice, I must mourn. So Douglass could not bring
himself to celebrate the 4th of July when his
people were enslaved. Had I known about his 4th of July speech I might
more easily have seen the contradictions of my situation,
but I had no way of knowing about Douglass at the time. Such is the consequence
when we remain alienated from our own experiences
and what they might teach us about our democratic
possibilities. What choice did I make? Despite the opportunity my
English teacher provided for me I just could not
see myself giving her Flag Day speech. Because I could see no other
options I went back to her and said, I’m really sorry,
I can’t give this talk. On that day I could not find
a way to speak truth to power that was riddled with
so many contradictions. Instead, power silenced
my fledgling efforts to articulate my truth. My teacher nicely thanked me
and promptly found someone else. A few days later I read about
the event in a big spread in the major Philadelphia
newspaper. A photograph of the Flag
Day dignitaries accompanied the article. There she sat among
the local luminaries, the one African-American girl
on a dais who was surrounded by smiling white male faces. She was identified by
name as giving a talk on what the flag meant to her, yet because the article did not
report her ideas I do not know what she actually said. All I know is that in that published picture
she was smiling. I did not smile that day,
but I’m smiling for you today because I got to give the
talk I wanted to give today. Thank you. [ Applause ] All right, so if you have a
question you can come on down to this mike or if you
feel like shouting it out maybe we can –
we’ll work it, okay? but I also want to ask you,
make sure to hang tight because there’s still
another surprise coming. [laughter] Is that it? Any questions? Can you hear me? Is this working, first of all? Yes? Good, all right. Yes? Would you stand up
when you ask your question? Can I get you to stand up? Yes? It’s easier for
people to hear you if they can see you, too. [ Inaudible ]>>Patricia Hill Collins:
Because I think we’re often – I have to be really careful
how I say certain things because when you have
the power of the mike or the podium you can easily
be discredited by being biased. I have to construct my
arguments really carefully, but also find a way to signal
to you that I’m not just writing in some objective space of La
La Land, where we’re just going to have two points of view, pro
and con, that kind of thing. We have been so seduced
into forms of thinking that do not help us, all right? It’s either pro or
con, it’s good or bad, we’re sort of stuck
in that binary. And what I’m doing is a
bit more sophisticated around this particular election. So I don’t want to be
pigeonholed into hate, hate, hate, let’s all go out and
protest, because I think that sometimes this
isn’t necessarily going to work, all right? But nor do I want
to be pigeonholed into not saying anything
because I want people to know that I am genuinely
distressed by this. But I also want people to
know that you can be rational and emotional at the same time. Those two things are
not contradictory. So I have to really – I’ve been
giving talks for quite some time in my career, so that’s
helped me a lot in terms of having a skillset
about how much to say. And it was a little odd for me not knowing what
the audience looked like until I came out because
usually I can like eyeball you for like 10 minutes beforehand
and I can think about it. That one looks a little
scary back there, you know, I can kind of think about
how I want to handle you. But I had to walk out
and go, whoa, okay. So, yes, it would be really
nice if we, as faculty members and researchers and scholars,
could be private citizens. But we are also researchers and
faculty members and scholars and we have to be
aware of the fact that there will be many people
who will not agree with us or who hadn’t thought about the
things the way we’re presenting them to them. So I always try and find a way
to be welcoming and hard-hitting at the same time, all right? I want you to listen
to what I’m saying, I want you to hear
what I’m saying. You may agree, you may disagree,
but I want you to hear it and then make your
own conclusions. So I never quite know
the best way to frame that when it’s one-to-one,
if it’s actual people. When I’m writing, when
I know I’m publishing, I know those words. Once they go somewhere
they’re gone, I can’t get them back, right? So that would be me and my ethical teacherly
mode, all right? Now if we were at the bar down the street this would be a
totally different conversation, I’ll just say that, too. Meet me afterwards, some
of you, we can – yes?>>Good evening, Dr. Collins. My name is Evangeline. I’m a Communications
student here. And I just want to appreciate
being here at this time, it’s a moment in history
for me, being face-to-face with you it’s a great time. And I just want to appreciate
what you have shared with us. And the thing is one issue I
have observed is there is a degree of animosity between I
would say women in America now, especially against the migrant
women from migrant communities. There is that degree
of animosity which is still present. And I’m seeing kind
of detachment. That’s one thing I would want to hear what are
your views on that? And the other thing is
there’s been a lot of talk about the wage gap for the
women in the workplace. A lot think that women
have to suffer being on an unequal platforms
in the workplace and in addressing in
the social strata. What would you say in
addressing those issues?>>Patricia Hill Collins:
I think the first issue when you’re asking a
question about migrant women, immigrant women, I think we
just need a whole another way of talking about everything. So, for example, I heard a talk
– let’s pick a social issue and then ask how
people would experience that social issue differently? The refugee, I’ll just
start with that, all right? Many people who are refugees
are women and children and they are fleeing violence,
they’re fleeing a certain kind of violence, whether it is
military state violence, whether it is domestic violence,
whether it is gang violence, right, in home countries. And we all seem to realize that
a lot of women in this country who are domestic citizens
are also fleeing violence. This is very much
a feminist issue. I heard somebody give
a talk about a week ago about black women in a
neighborhood that she studied, a really poor neighborhood,
who were afraid all the time in their neighborhood in
terms of the kind of violence that they were exposed to. So we don’t necessarily see
the linkages around issues that link women who are
similarly vulnerable but have very different
histories about how they got
there, all right? And that’s because the tools that we’ve been given
automatically divide people into ethnic groups and assumes
certain things about women in those groups in terms
of what they care about, what they are like. We just don’t know enough,
and I think we don’t do as good a job as we could. So I’m saying to beginning to
think about the kinds of ways – it’s not a question of our
experiences are all the same, they’re all different,
but they’re interconnected and that’s the type of
thinking that what we need to do around issues of
changing the perceptions of each other, right? The wage gap is really
much harder because I’m much more optimistic
about women figuring out a way to learn about each other. I mean that’s really what a lot of feminist organizing has
been doing for decades, both domestically
and transnationally, all right, lots more to do. This wage gap is all about money
and any time you start talking about capitalism
and money that’s when you get serious pushback. So there’s a lot at stake
to keep poor people poor, to keep women being paid less. The problem that I see is
we don’t understand money. We understand money
when we don’t have it, but we don’t understand
the system that creates why we
don’t have it, all right, and why others have it
inter-generationally and how that works. And that is totally by design, and that’s not even just poor
people, that’s really people in this country in general
do not understand money. So this wage gap and even
referring to it that way, how much of that
is discrimination, how much of that is the
type of job that you’re in? It’s not that women
are worse workers, they’re not – it’s
discrimination. We’ve lost the language of
discrimination, all right? We talk about wage gap, doesn’t
that sound benign and friendly? It’s a gap. Oh, the gap when you
go to the subway. Okay, you know, that
kind of thing. We don’t talk about
discrimination, we talk about racial profiling. Now that sounds kind
of cool, you know, profiling so I can sell
you a product, all right? I’m going to get your profile. You know, so the language has
been really stripped of power and it’s been replaced by terms
that while they’re very neutral and objective and we need to
know that there are such things as wage gaps, the wage gap
analysis isn’t necessarily going to tell us the solution based
on how it’s been analyzed. So now we know it,
we can go home and be depressed about that. It’s left us, like do
something else, all right? So can we analyze this
another way, all right, that would give us more options
about how to talk about it? Because this is not new, the
gap for some reason seems to be incredibly
resilient, all right? So I’m just going to stop there because those are two really
big and good questions. Thank you very much.>>Thank you.>>Patricia Hill
Collins: I’m afraid, I’m afraid, it’s the Provost. [laughter] Oh, gosh. Okay, hello.>>Darrin Campen:
I’m Darrin Campen. I’m the Dean of Education.>>Patricia Hill Collins:
The Dean, oh, he’s a Dean. All right. [laughter]>>Darrin Campen: And you
talked about having white allies and the importance
of that group. I think you have several
here in the audience today.>>Patricia Hill Collins: I
think I have a lot here today.>>Darrin Campen: And I was kind
of curious about your thoughts about white allies who go a
little too far and do more harm in their attempt to do well and what your thoughts
are on Rachel Dolezal? [laughter]>>Patricia Hill Collins:
Do you know – wait a minute, did you see my PowerPoint? Because that’s the
slide I took out. You’re channeling me
there on that one. I don’t know, I think
this Rachel Dolezal, is that how you say her name? Is the woman who was passing
as black and was, right, I think she headed up the NAACP. Well, she still does. She’s African now, okay. All right, so, well, the bottom
line is what was so offensive to her about whiteness that
she could not do those things and be white? So I mean she’s taking a stand. She’s not Grace Boggs. I had them together. I was talking about sort of the
potential of political blackness and then the limits of
political blackness, all right? And this particular case
is really curious to me. So people were really upset
because it was not flattering for someone to pass as you,
all right, it just wasn’t. So all I do is chuckle when
I think about that one. I hate to say it, I don’t have
this big analytical framework on what was going on because that involves getting
in her head. And I think if her own parents
hadn’t outed her we wouldn’t even know, all right? But she certainly has been
very good for raising questions about what are the
boundaries of blackness and what are the
criteria for being black? Because there are some
people who are in the tribe who are a problem, right,
you want to put them out and make them not be
black anymore, all right? [laughter] But here we have
somebody fighting to get in and I just don’t even know
what to think about it, so I’m just going to stop
right there because I’m going to get myself into
trouble if I keep talking. All right, we’ll take one more.>>Hi, my name is Yvonne. I’m a Philosophy student. I had a question related to
solidarity among people of color because I have heard
conversation that it’s a myth, and within the scope of
like the Black Panthers and the Brown Berets obviously
there was solidarity there. You gave the example
of Grace Boggs, but what does solidarity
among people of color look like to you like right now?>>Patricia Hill Collins: I
think it’s under construction, it’s basically what I said. You know, you can’t
assume that there is such a thing that’s
true or it’s not true, it’s there or it’s not there. I think that there’s a
lot of people working on this right now, all right? And what I would not want
solidarity among people of color to be thought of is just
one-on-one, you know, I’m hanging out with you,
you’re hanging out with me, we’ve got it together. I mean that kind of
individualistic argument, to have that substitute for. I’m talking about
political solidarity. I’m really talking about
coalitions that where groups – we have to do a better job of
thinking about our own groups and how they are
positioned in US society and then how we are going to
think about those connections so we are not exploited. So the first thing is really
to have an analysis that speaks to that and that really
means that people who are in communities – not everybody
is in a community of color, there are lots of
people on the borders who straddle all those space. This is a notion
of poorest borders. But there are a lot of
centers in communities, we just don’t talk about
them as much as we used to. To say what is in
the best interests of this particular
community, this population, my people, my population? And we’re going to have to
argue about what that means, but unless we have that conversation we’re not
positioned to have any kind of solidarity among
people of color. The moment that we’re in now,
here’s the overlap for me, I always argue that in the ’90s
structural analyses became much more minimized, all right? We used to talk about
groups, structures of power, wage gap, all of that. And it was displaced by a focus
on individual subjectivity. So in a lot of ways
people think this phrase, the personal is the political, they think that that’s
all you need to do to be political is the personal. When actually the personal
is actually a starting point for a broader collective
political. That’s kind of how I
interpret that phrase to mean. So until somebody is actually
studying this, you know, this is where I have to be
a scholar, I mean I’m going to have to say where
is the evidence, what does the evidence say? And I don’t consider the
evidence that my girlfriend and I are hanging
out, I don’t consider that sufficient evidence. I want to see somebody
do scholarly work on this so we can really get – and it
may be there, I haven’t looked for it yet, so I don’t want to
discredit what people have done. This is exactly the kind of
thing I’m actually looking for. What I brought you today
is somewhat cutting edge, what I’m working
on now, all right? So the whole second part of the
talk is what I’m working on now, trying to think about flexible
solidarity, trying to think about intersectionality,
trying to think about how these ideas
shape where we are at this political moment. To use them as diagnostic
tools so that you can see where you want to
go next with it. So maybe that’s a
better honest answer. And so my answer
is I don’t know.>>Okay. [laughter] [ Applause ]>>Bess Vincent: Can we give
one more round of applause for Dr. Collins spending
her evening with us? [ Applause ]

7 thoughts on “Black Feminism, Intersectionality and Democratic Possibilities

  1. Thank you Patricia Collins for clarifying the topic of intersectionality in such a humourous and interesting way. It brought the point home in such a simple and thought provoking way. That speech is out of this world, good job ma'am

  2. Dear Dr. Hill Collins and Montgomery College — thank you! I showed this to my students today. It really helped understanding of intersectionality and solidarity! Thank you!

  3. Patriarchy is White Supremacy and neither could exist without the capitulation/complicity of the White Woman. We need a space to talk about white women as the perpetrators of race-based violence.

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