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Lost in Translation? Black Feminism, Social Justice and Intersectionality
Apr 13, 2012
from 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM
|Where||Foster Auditorium, Paterno Library|
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PATRICIA HILL COLLINS
Distinguished University Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland
Professor Collins is a social theorist whose research and scholarship have examined issues of race, gender, social class, sexuality and/or nation. Her first book, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, published in 1990, with a revised tenth year anniversary edition published in 2000, won the Jessie Bernard Award of the American Sociological Association (ASA) for significant scholarship in gender, and the C. Wright Mills Award of the Society for the Study of Social Problems. Her second book, Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology, 6th ed. (2007), edited with Margaret Andersen, is widely used in undergraduate classrooms in over 200 colleges and universities. Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism (Routledge, 2004) received ASA’s 2007 Distinguished Publication Award. Her other books include Fighting Words: Black Women and the Search for Justice (University of Minnesota Press, 1998); and From Black Power to Hip Hop: Racism, Nationalism, and Feminism (Temple University Press in press for 2005). She has published many articles in professional journals such as Ethnic and Racial Studies, Signs, Sociological Theory, Social Problems, and Black Scholar, as well as in edited volumes.
"Lost in Translation? Black Feminism, Social Justice and Intersectionality"
Late-twentieth-century social movements in the United States challenged racism, sexism, class exploitation, and heterosexism as unjust systems of power. Though their specific agendas and political strategies often differed, the civil rights, Black power and Latino movements against domestic and global racism, the women's movement and its emergence as a force within global feminism, the persistence of a labor movement despite sustained opposition by global corporations, and the refusal of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people to stay in the closet all opposed social inequalities as unjust. By focusing attention on the structural inequalities produced by race, class, gender and sexuality as systems of power, these social movements also catalyzed a more robust understanding of the interconnectedness of these systems. Moreover, this insight that these systems of power mutually constructed one another had major significance for rethinking the social justice ethos of individual social movements as well as a social justice ethos that might lie at their core.
U.S. Black feminism emerged in this social movement context of structural inequalities, mutually constructing systems of power and the centrality of an ethos of social justice. Yet when Black feminism travelled into the academy in the 1980s and 1990s, it faced the challenge of having these and other ideas translated in a very different intellectual and political context. The shift in social location from social movement politics to the increasingly corporate politics of higher education, and the increasing acceptance of the term by a new set of social actors necessarily required a range of translations, some better than others. Specifically, the term intersectionality emerged as the one most often applied to the critical insight that race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and age operated not as unitary entities, but rather as mutually constructing phenomena.
Given the visibility now granted intersectionality, one might ask how contemporary scholarly understandings of intersectionality compare with those advanced within social movement politics. I explore this issue in my presentation by asking: How has U.S. Black feminism's ethos of social justice fared within scholarly interpretations of intersectionality? What, if anything, has been lost in the current translation? What, if anything, might be gained via a new translation?