The relationship between the Black Church, as an institution, Black intellectuals and the Black Feminist Movement is indeed beginning to draw interest from Black intellectuals, religious leaders and other prominent figures throughout the nation.
Feminism, by definition, is a principle that a woman should have political, economic and social rights equal to those of men; the movement to win such rights for women.
Black Feminism, on the other hand, is a little more intricate than ‘regular’ or White Feminism.
There is not a concrete definition for Black Feminism. Black feminists and scholars such as bell hooks, Audre Lorde and Toni Morrison have varying definitions of what it means to be a Black feminist in their scholarly works.
At any rate, Black Feminism – according to a number of leading Black female intellectuals – could be loosely defined as a school of thought or movement that argues that sexism, class oppression, gender identity and racism are inextricably bound together. Comparatively, Black Feminism is characterized as a movement focusing on the interconnectedness of the many prejudices facing Black Women, including racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, etc.
As the Civil Rights Movement began to subside, the Feminist Movement began to pick up steam, which was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some of the most influential Black women activists at that time, including Angela Davis and Assata Shakur, are considered among the pioneering Black feminists in recent history.
The National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO) was arguably the most robust organization ever targeted specifically and exclusively for Black feminist liberation.
The late Margaret Sloan chaired the NBFO, which was founded in May 1973 and officially announced on Aug. 15, 1973. Sloan invited Black women throughout the U.S. to join, and drew interest from a number of women.
NBFO’s first meeting was held in December 1973 in New York City, and its membership grew from an estimated 30 women in May 1973 to more than 2,000 members in 1974 with 10 chapters. The organization’s statement of purpose, drafted in 1973, stated the establishment was formed “to address ourselves to the particular and specific needs of the larger, but almost cast-aside half of the black race in Amerikkka, the black woman,” according to an article written by Kayomi Wada, a scholar based in Everett, Wash.
However, due to internal dissension on what the most viable strategy was to employ in pursuing and achieving Black feminist liberation, a lack of support from larger sister organizations and personal and regional disputes between members, among other issues, the NBFO was a short-lived organization, disbanding in 1976.
The Black Church, known as the longest running and most fortuitous Black institution in American history, has ostensibly been at odds with the Black Feminist movement since its inception because of the contrasting stances on the social issues facing the Black community. Black clergy have labeled the movement as an ungodly, unscriptural agenda that promotes the polar opposite of biblical womanhood.
Likewise, the Black Feminist movement has been a subject of harsh criticism by numerous Black scholars and those of the Black conscious community – like Tariq Nasheed and Umar Johnson.
Johnson, a native of Philadelphia, is known as the “Prince of Pan Africanism” and has grown in popularity over last several years as he has provided thought-provoking, hard-hitting commentary on various social issues facing Black Americans. Also an esteemed author, psychologist, political scientist and Pan Africanist, Johnson had the opportunity to deliver his assessment of Black Feminism and its effects on Black America in an interview.
“Well one of the things that concerns me at present, is it seems we have a growing subset of the African female community – the sisters – who are man-haters… there’s a growing energy out there that’s very self-destructive that a lot of sisters are being influenced to join that has reduced [the Black man] to nothing more than a useless criminal who exists to hurt women,” Johnson said of the Black Feminist movement.
“The Black Feminist movement grew out of the White Feminist movement which had nothing to do about the needs of Black women, but it was about a war between the white woman and the oppression she was receiving from her man. It had nothing to do with any oppression that Black women were receiving from Black men because Black men have never really been in the position to oppress Black women – except domestically, as it relates to abuse and violence, which is serious.
“But economically, we have no control over the Black woman. Educationally, we have no control over the Black woman. Militaristically, we have no control over the Black woman. But the White woman’s movement used Black women to bring in the numbers. See we always get used by White liberals to increase their numbers which gives them more power and leverage to fight for what they want. White women can’t stand Black women; but they will use them. And they did just that,” Johnson added.
Shawn James, a Black author, freelance writer and Christian blogger, sides with the stance that much of the Black Church has towards feminism. As dubious as his uncited statistics may appear, James unapologetically and confidently gave his thoughts on race, feminism and religion in a recently posted YouTube video wherein he discussed feminism, Black Christianity and “Negro female dysfunction.”
“Over 80 percent of Black women subscribe to White feminism, and 80 percent of Black women say they are Christians. Unfortunately, many Black women don’t see how these two ideologies pretty much contradict each other, and how a Black person can’t be a feminist and a Christian at the same time,” said the Bronx, N.Y., native.
“And the reason why a Black woman can’t be a feminist and a Christian at the same time is because, again, these two ideologies, these two belief systems are diametrically opposed to one another. When you look at the ideologies and concepts of White feminism, they do not fall in line with the ideologies of word of God.”
In spite of the seemingly harsh stigma from Black religious figures and intellectuals, among others, there are a number of Christian women who have unabashedly pledged strong support for the feminist movement.
Carol Kuruvilla of the Huffington Post authored an article entitled, “15 Christian Women Get Real About The Role Of Women In The Church.” The piece was published March 30, 2016 in honor of Women’s History Month, and was about various women in religious circles who shared their ideas on what feminism meant in a religious context.
McGriggs, a Mormon and proclaimed Christian, said she thinks Jesus was a feminist. “Feminism for me as a Christian means I am working toward being more like Christ; I see the Savior as the ultimate intersectional feminist. He was always concerned and working for ‘the least of these’ he looked to the margins and created spaces that were inclusive to all. That is what intersectional feminism aims to do,” McGriggs said.
Correspondingly, Monica A. Coleman, a scholar, activist and minister mused on what a woman’s perspective and questions can bring to the church: “For me, feminism in religion is about voice and power. It’s about what I notice and what kinds of questions I ask: Where are the women in the story? Who has voice? Who doesn’t? What might she have said? Who is in leadership in churches? Whose voices and perspectives have the loudest voice and influence? I try to answer these questions when I preach and teach. I want them to feel natural to my daughter’s faith.”
To conclude, I leave a bloggable question for readers: As viewpoints collide, as the Feminist movement evolves, as the tension seems to grow between Black Feminism, much of the Black Church and a great deal of the Black conscious community, what does all of this mean for Black America in its pursuit of liberation and a brighter future?