CURRENT BOOK:  Ain’t I a Woman by Bell Hooks

As I have admitted, when I took on this project I was dreading the books like this that were going to come up on the list, and I was glad when the book turned out to be a short one.  This is more because I just generally don’t enjoy nonfiction (unless you count dinner recipes or knitting patterns), not because I don’t care about the topic.  I took one look at this book and thought, “There’s no dialogue.  How am I going to read this?”

However, the book ended up being more engaging than I expected.  Hooks expresses early on in the book that her purpose is to explore sexism as it concerns black women.

Our silence was not merely a reaction against white women liberationists or a gesture of solidarity with black male patriarchs.  It was the silence of the oppressed — that profound silence engendered by resignation and acceptance of one’s lot.  Contemporary black women could not join together to fight for women’s rights because we did not see ‘womanhood’ as an important aspect of our identity.  Racist, sexist socialization had conditioned us to devalue our femaleness and to regard race as the only relevant label of identification.  In other words, we were asked to deny a part of ourselves — and we did.  Consequently, when the women’s movement raised the issue of sexist oppression, we argued that sexism was insignificant in light of the harsher, more brutal reality of racism.

As an almost shameless “prissy white girl,” I have considered the idea of a double minority but not the idea of one being subjugated in favor of the other, and that in the case of black women the issue of gender equality was suppressed in favor of the issue of racial equality.  As Hooks observes, both during the time of emancipation and during the Civil Rights movement, black women were faced with a choice of supporting sexist black men or racist white women.  She demonstrates the depth of society’s sexism towards black women through her observations that white men supported suffrage for black men before they supported suffrage for women, that even into the 1960’s there was an expectation by male activists that women would continue to conform to traditional gender roles, and that women’s liberation involved white women who rejected traditional gender roles while their black counterparts were celebrated for accepting those roles.

The author begins by exploring the experiences of female slaves during the colonial era, the many abuses inflicted upon them, and the differing standards for male and female slaves.  One thing I found particularly interesting was the experience of pregnancy for female slaves (much of whose value came from breeding), especially compared to the esteem and pampering they would have received from their tribe in their homeland.  Hooks also talks about how the oppression of slaves started immediately after their capture.

An important part of the slaver’s job was to effectively transform the African personality aboard the ships so that it would be marketable as a ‘docile’ slave in the American colonies.

Given this, it is no wonder that black women historically accepted oppression, whether because of race or because of gender.


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