spotlight on Jena

The past week was a busy one in Jena. Thursday’s Day of Action drew thousands of supporters for the six young men who have been subjected to Jim Crow style injustice. While charges against Mychal Bell of aggravated second-degree battery have been thrown out, the young man remains in jail, where he has been since December of last year. Additionally, the families of the Jena 6 have received a series of threats, including a white supremacist website that has been set up and purportedly reveals the addresses of these families. Two other “noose” incidents, in Louisiana and in North Carolina, are continuing to fuel interracial antagonism and violence. Suddenly it’s feeling like the 1950s all over again.

21st century agenda

The previous post about the torture and rape of the young black woman in VA (which authorities are refusing to prosecute as a hate crime) speaks to the need for a contemporary organized black feminist movement. In class this week, I asked my grad students what a “third wave” agenda entails. All the 3rd wave/hip hop/”postfeminist” essays we read by Kristal Brent Zook, Joan Morgan, Kimberly Springer, Rebecca Walker, and Lisa Jones agreed that our black feminist agenda is not necessarily our mother’s agenda, though we need cross-generational conversations and alliances. They also put forth a feminist movement fluid enough to embrace the many flows that the end of the 20th century and the turn of the 21st has brought about: migratory flows, consumer capitalism, varied forms of cultural integration, more fluid racial and sexual identity categories …

So the question I posed to my class is “What can we agree upon?” Given that most self-proclaimed feminists desire a movement that will not require us to become fractions of ourselves, what constitutes a 21st century agenda?

There was a general consensus among our class that today’s black feminist movement must be an alliance between women and our male allies and must address class differences, colorism, gender and sexuality, the choice to marry (and to parent or not to parent) or remain single (with or without children). We also agreed that it is important to form coalitions with other black feminists in the black Atlantic/transnational sphere.

Some issues we decided a 21st century black feminist movement would need to address include:

  • the prison industrial complex (our sentiment is echoed by the work of Angela Davis and Joy James)
  • reproductive health and education, including access to birth control as well as safe and legal abortion
  • empowerment
  • intimate relationships among women, between women, and/or between women and men
  • the needs and lives of immigrant women
  • religion
  • violence against women

Some of these issues are a continuation of the rights fought for by our black feminist foremothers. Others, particular the rising numbers of black women and other women of color in prisons, are unique to our generation.

What other dilemmas does this generation of black feminists working, writing, and creating in the US face?

mob violence

I’ve been doing research on mob violence against black women, an underacknowledged trauma in black history and cultural memory. When I read this headline in The NY Times, Woman, 20, Was Imprisoned and Tortured, Police Say,” my instincts told me she was black, even though the headline didn’t say so. It will be interesting to follow this case and to see how much support antiracist activists and feminists will offer this young woman.

“What about our daughters?” has a detailed write-up on the case as well as the heinous gang rape of a mother and her son in West Palm Beach, Florida.

looking back: looking feminist, looking black

Last Monday was the first meeting of my Black Feminisms grad seminar. We introduced ourselves to one another and I explained the schema of the course. Nervous that the class wouldn’t attract enough students to “make” or at least to offer stimulating dialogue, I was happy to enter a filled room with students from my home departments (English and AF-Am) and also from the other side of campus (psych, soc, anthro).

I devised the schema for my course based on a post-civil rights movement/post-soul/”third wave” black women writers course I taught a couple of years ago. I decided to begin by focusing on black feminism in the 21st century. Kimberly Springer’s “Third Wave Black Feminism?” and responses to that piece are going to ground next Monday’s discussion as is Veronica Chambers’s first novel Miss Black America.