5 Books on Black Feminism

While feminism seeks the political, economic, personal, and social equality of all sexes and/or genders, it also recognizes that these things are also influenced by parts of ourselves that are not gender. Our level of equal treatment with those around us is also influenced by race, color, sexual orientation, age, disability, ethnicity, caste, class or some combination of these along with gender. Most of the time, when we see “feminism” labeled on something, it’s “white feminism”, meaning that it deals with just gender or it’s about white women who face inequality on the basis of gender alone. At least, the information is often portrayed that way.

I’ve seen plenty of women going back and forth about the involvement of black women in the women’s rights movement and how much Black women have been involved in or been allowed to be involved in the fight for equality among genders. Black feminism isn’t necessarily segregating from the whole of feminism or the feminist movement (though there is also talk about that and where it fits), but that there are more and sometimes different concerns for feminists who are Black.

While some may say that it’s wrong or derisive to separate the experiences of Black women from white women when talking about experiences that are based on their being women, I’d say that there are things that are universal to women, universal to Black women, universal to white women and universal to different sets of women based on those other influences listed above. The same way I wouldn’t expect to know everything a Black feminism goes through, I wouldn’t expect her to think she knows everything about me as a half-Cuban woman who somehow grew up in two ethnicities with two versions of the world.

These five books introduced me to and then helped me further understand the difference in the way that I experience the world and the way that black women experience the world. In Colonize This, that difference also extends to women living in vastly different cities and circumstances and even more ethnicities and races than my own as well.

At the Dark End of the Street details the history of black women in the Civil Rights Movement. We learn about Rosa Parks at school, usually during Black History Month, but we don’t learn the intricacies of her involvement and that she was so much more than a woman who was tired at the end of a long work day. We don’t learn that there were other women before her that were accused of the same thing or about the realities of respectability politics. This book opened that whole world up for me and made me start asking myself if my problem with someone else’s behavior in public is based on what I perceive to be respectable or on the behavior I expect of someone who looks like them. It’s a world changing question when we’re honest with ourselves and about our desire to change things. 

You Can’t Touch My Hair is a deep dive into those behaviors of white people toward black people. It talks about literally being asked to touch her hair, being called uppity and an angry black woman. Robinson is absolutely hilarious, so it’s done in an entertaining way, but the message is clear. Don’t do that and other things covered in the book. This is one is for that point when you’re wondering if you’re really all that obnoxious toward black people. If you aren’t black, the answer is probably yes. I know there’s solidarity in being another minority, I’ve experienced it as a hispanic, but I think there’s still a good chance that the answer is yes. Either way, it wouldn’t hurt you to check. 

The Fire This Time is a book that I was barely prepared for even after reading the rest of these and a few other books on black experiences. The thing is that I don’t think anyone is ever really prepared to be faced with their own inaction and lack of empathy. It’s because I wasn’t anywhere near the target audience. It doesn’t seek to explain the plight of the black or African American person in America to anyone else. It talks about the experiences within the community and the feeling of life since the events that began the Black Lives Matter Movement. It does this without extra explanation for the understanding of those outside of the community and I don’t expect that it should have. The book is written in a space that was not for me and did make me feel like an intruder in some times. Still, it’s a book I’d recommend to people seeking to quantify what was happening in that time and to hear from black voices about the feeling of it. I’d just also include that it’s better to have read or be familiar with some of these other books first along with Between the World and Me, or Reimagining Equality, or The New Jim Crow.

Sister Outsider is a book that all feminists must read. It directly addresses black feminism, though not in so many words, and the divide between white feminists and black feminists. It’s just everything and she’s amazing and everyone should read it. 

Colonize This! was definitely an interesting read and one that goes beyond black/white. As you can see from the cover there are a few races and colors represented and even some mixing if I recall correctly. I had never really understood gentrification before reading it and was horrified after. It widened the scope of feminism is and what it can do. It may be a little outdated at times, but it’s still an important book to read to understand Black feminism and the larger range of issues that are present when we remember that women of every intersection have some extra things to fight against than those who are discriminated against on the basis of gender alone.

There are always more books to read and to help us understand each other but these really helped me out. They helped shape the ways that I can start out by changing my viewpoint and start working toward better interactions and being a better feminist.

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