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Women of color such as Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga,

bell hooks, and Carol Boyce Davies actually laid the foundation for third-wave

feminism in the late 1980s. The term was first used by Rebecca Walker

(Alice's daughter) in an article



 Books by Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Daughters of the Diaspora: Afra-Hispanic Writers (2003  / Singular Like a Bird: The Art of Nancy Morejon (1999)

  The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells (1995) / Erotique Noire/Black Erotica  (1992) / Homespun Images ( 1989)  /

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Third Wave Feminism

By Miriam DeCosta-Willis


In the "Debate Between Gloria Steinem and Melissa Harris-Lacewell,"  there are certain terms like "second-wave feminism" and "third-wave feminisim" that are all new to me. Something seems to have happened that I missed. Melissa took more of a scholarly approach to questions of feminism, whereas Steinem stood for Old Guard feminism in which white women like herself set the agenda. Can you clarify these distinctions in first wave, second wave, and third wave?—Rudy

Some of these distinctions are complex and difficult to explain in a brief description, but I'll give it a try. Many people think of feminism as a monolithic movement, but in the past 15 or 20 years, feminist scholars have thought in terms of feminisms, because there are so many strains within the ideology.

First-wave feminism (or suffragism) refers to the movement that emerged in the 19th and early 20th century, with women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who were concerned primarily with the enfranchisement of women. This movement culminated in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Now, the reason why we should think in terms of the plural "feminisms" is that Black women launched a feminist movement much earlier, a movement that was closely tied to the abolitionist movement and, later, the temperance movement.

Its earliest proponent was Maria W. Stewart, a domestic worker, who called, in the 1830s, upon "Daughters of Africa [to] awake! arise! distinguish yourselves." Other important voices that emerged are those of Sojourner Truth, Frances Harper, and Ida B. Wells. Initially, Black women worked with White women on common issues, but, once Black men were enfranchised, White women severed their ties with women of color in order to attract Southern White women to their cause.

Second-wave feminism emerged—significantly on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement—in the late 1960s and 1970s, and it is associated with such women as Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinham, Shirley Chisolm, Barbara Jordan, Eleanor Holmes Norton; landmarks such as The Feminine Mystique, Roe v Wade in 1972, MS Magazine, Report on the Status of Woman, and the National Organization of Women; and issues such as reproductive rights, equal pay for equal work, legal rights of women, and consciousness-raising about rape, incest, and violence against women.

I intentionally included such Black women as Chisolm, Jordan, and Norton, who were very active, initially, in the Feminist Movement. The publication of Toni Cade Bambara's anthology The Black Woman in 1972, however,  articulated the concern of many Black feminists that the Feminist Movement was not inclusive, that it reflected the views and concerns of middle-class White women and did not deal with the intersection of gender with race, class, and sexual orientation.

Besides Bambara's book, other landmarks of the Black Feminist Movement were Sturdy Black Bridges, which included the voices of Caribbean & African women, All the Women Are White . . . But Some of Us Are Brave," the first Black feminist manifesto, and the Combabee River Collective, which included the voices of Black Lesbians.

Women of color such as Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, bell hooks, and Carol Boyce Davies actually laid the foundation for third-wave feminism in the late 1980s. The term was first used by Rebecca Walker (Alice's daughter) in an article that she published in 1992, after the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearing. Walker and other young activists, some of whom did not use the term "feminist" to describe themselves, maintained that second-wave feminism basically essentialized women; in other words, posited a biological determinism that limited the concept of "gender." (The same argument was used by Skip Gates and other post-structuralists with regard to the concept of "race.")

These young women, like the 1980s women of color, were more concerned with the intersection of gender, race, class, and sexual orientation; they believed that the earlier movement had become too academic and too theoretical, that it did not deal with the day-to-day issues of poor and working-class women, of Lesbians and transgendered women, and of ethnic groups (Latinas, Natives, and Asian-Americans, for example). They were very critical of the elitist and anti-male image that was, fairly or unfairly, associated with earlier feminists.

Gloria represents second-wave (Old Guard) feminism, while Melissa reflects the views of third-wave feminists.

posted 28 January 2008

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Other Aspects of Feminisms—You might mention that there have always been politically-minded black males (e.g., Frederick Douglas) and scholars who supported the various waves of feminism directly through their activism or indirectly through their writings. 

I think it’s important to mention that Pauli Murray was one of the founders of NOW.  The second President was Aileen Clarke Hernandez, a black woman.  In fact, the idea of NOW came from Pauli, who mentioned to Friedan that women needed an NAACP to work on their issues. 

Alice Walker coined the term “womanism” to describe black women’s feminism in the 1980s.  She recognized that the term feminism had become a barrier for women of color who sought to address gender discrimination.—Patricia Bell-Scott, editor of All the Women Are White . . . But Some of Us Are Brave and SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Women  

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The Race and Gender DebateI just feel that we have got to get clear about the fact that race and gender are not these clear dichotomies in which, you know, you’re a woman or you’re black. I’m sitting here in my black womanhood body, knowing that it is more complicated than that. African American men have been complicit in the oppression of African American women. White women have been complicit in the oppression of black men and black women. Those things are true.

And so, to pretend that we can somehow take them out of the conversation when a white woman runs against a black man, when she tears up at being sort of beat up by him, when her husband can come in and rally around her and suggest that we need to sort of support her because she’s having difficulties, while Barack Obama is getting death threats, basically lynching threats on him and his family, these are—for a second-wave feminist with an understanding of the complexity of American race and gender to take this kind of position in the New York Times struck me as, again, the very worst of what that feminism can offer—in other words, division. . . .

You cannot both claim this sort of role as independent woman making a stand on questions of feminism and claim that your experience begins as First Lady of Arkansas.

You know, you simply have to stand on your own or not. There are dozens of white women in this country who I would be a huge supporter of for the American presidency. The president of my own university would be at the top of that list, but not someone who is making this claim towards being president as her right as a result of a relationship with a former president. I think that’s exactly what we don’t need in third-wave feminism.—Melissa Harris-Lacewell

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Friedan Demystified Women's Middle-Class Malaise—In the late 1950s, Betty Friedan, journalist and mother of three, surveyed her sister graduates of Smith College and found them frustrated.
Her 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, analyzed and documented what has by now become a cliché: the plight of the educated white suburban housewife in post-World War II America, trapped in domesticity, consumer of a bill of goods that valued mothering and vacuuming above all else for those whom French author Simone de Beauvoir had already dubbed The Second Sex. Friedan's book, with its incisive analysis of Madison Avenue and the very women's magazines that the 43-year-old Friedan had been writing for, touched many nerves.

While Friedan articulated a malaise felt but not yet named, women in the labor movement were already organizing against gender inequality. Since 1961, women in labor unions, doing double duty as working women and housewives, had been calling for an end to sex discrimination in hiring and wages and for subsidized child care. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy also had established the Commission on the Status of Women, with Eleanor Roosevelt as chair. . . .

When Friedan founded the National Organization for Women in 1966, her allies came largely from the ranks of labor women and members of the president's commission.
Although Friedan, who died in 2006, was considered a radical by the press after her book's publication, a generation of mostly younger women paid her little mind. The new "problem that had no name," in Friedan's phrase, may have applied to their mothers, but not to them. . . . . If that generation had a Feminine Mystique, it was the 1970 anthology Sisterhood Is Powerful, edited by Robin Morgan, an underground press writer and one of the organizers of the 1968 Miss America pageant protest.Louise Bernikow

Source: Women's eNews,

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Hillary's Scarlett O'Hara Act—Black women voters are rejecting Hillary Clinton because her ascendance is not a liberating symbol. Her tears are not moving. Her voice does not resonate. Throughout history, privileged white women, attached at the hip to their husband's power and influence, have been complicit in black women's oppression.  Many African American women are simply refusing to play Mammy to Hillary.

The loyal Mammy figure, who toiled in the homes of white people, nursing their babies and cleaning and cooking their food, is the most enduring and dishonest representation of black women. She is a uniquely American icon who first emerged as our young country was trying to put itself back together after the Civil War.  The romanticism about this period is a bizarre historical anomaly that underscores America's deep racism:

The defeated traitors of the Confederacy have been allowed to reinterpret the war's battles, fly the flag of secession over state houses, and raise monuments to those who fought to tear down the country.  Southern white secessionists were given the power to rewrite history even as America's newest citizens were relegated to forced agricultural peonage, grinding urban poverty and new forms segregation and racial terror. Mammy was a central figure in this mythmaking and she was perfect for the role. The Mammy myth allowed Americans in the North and South to ignore the brutality of slavery by claiming that black women were tied to white families through genuine bonds of affection. Melissa harris-Lacewell

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Corporate vs Grassroots, Global FeminismThe sense of progress unraveling is profound. "What happened to the perspective that the failures of feminism lay in pandering to racism, to everyone nodding that these were fatal mistakes—how is it that all that could be jettisoned?" asks Crenshaw, who co-wrote a piece with Eve Ensler on the Huffington Post called "Feminist Ultimatums: Not in Our Name." Crenshaw says that, appalled as she is by the sexism toward Clinton, she found herself stunned by some of the arguments pro-Hillary feminists were making. "There is a myopic focus on the aspiration of having a woman in the White House—perhaps not any woman, but it seems to be pretty much enough that she be a Democratic woman." This stance, says Crenshaw, "is really a betrayal."

Frances Kissling, the former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, attributes this go-for-broke attitude to the mindset of corporate feminism. "There's a way in which feminists who have been seriously engaged in electoral politics for a long time, the institutional DC feminist leadership, they are just with Hillary Clinton come hell or high water. I think they have accepted, as she has accepted, a similar career trajectory. They are not uncomfortable with what has gone on in the campaign, because they see electoral campaigns as mere instruments for getting elected. This is just the way it is. We have to get elected."

The implications of all this for the future of feminism depend significantly on the outcome of the primary, says Kissling. "If Clinton wins, the older-line women's movement will continue; it will be a continuation of power for them. If she doesn't win, it will be a death knell for those people. And that may be a good thing--that a younger generation will start to take over."

Many younger women, indeed, have responded to the admonishments of their pro-Hillary second-wave elders by articulating a sophisticated political orientation that includes feminism but is not confined to it. They may support Obama, but they still abhor the sexism Clinton has faced. And they detect—and reject—a tinge of sexism among male peers who have developed man-crushes on the dashing senator from Illinois. "Even while they voice dismay over the retro tone of the pro-Clinton feminist whine, a growing number of young women are struggling to describe a gut conviction that there is something dark and funky, and probably not so female-friendly, running below the frantic fanaticism of their Obama-loving compatriots," wrote Rebecca Traister in Salon.

It's not just young feminists who have taken such a nuanced view. Calling themselves Feminists for Peace and Obama, 1,500 prominent progressive feminists—including Kissling, Barbara Ehrenreich and this magazine's Katha Pollitt—signed on to a statement endorsing him and disavowing Clinton's militaristic politics. "Issues of war and peace are also part of a feminist agenda," they declared.

In some sense, this is a clarifying moment as well as a wrenching one. For so many years, feminists have been engaged in a pushback against the right that has obscured some of the real and important differences among them. "Today you see things you might not have seen. It's clearer now about where the lines are between corporate feminism and more grassroots, global feminism," says Crenshaw. Women who identify with the latter movement are saying, as she puts it, "'Wait a minute, that's not the banner we are marching under!'"

Feminist Obama supporters of all ages and hues, meanwhile, are hoping that he comes out of this bruising primary with his style of politics intact. The Nation

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Notable Black Memphians (Miriam DeCosta-Willis)This biographical and historical study by Miriam DeCosta-Willis (PhD, Johns Hopkins University and the first African American faculty member of Memphis State University) traces the evolution of a major Southern city through the lives of men and women who overcame social and economic barriers to create artistic works, found institutions, and obtain leadership positions that enabled them to shape their community.

Documenting the accomplishments of Memphians who were born between 1795 and 1972, it contains photographs and biographical sketches of 223 individuals (as well as brief notes on 122 others), such as musicians Isaac Hayes and Aretha Franklin, activists Ida B. Wells and Benjamin L. Hooks, politicians Harold Ford Sr. and Jr., writers Sutton Griggs and Jerome Eric Dickey, and Bishop Charles Mason and Archbishop James Lyke—all of whom were born in Memphis or lived in the city for over a decade. . .  .

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The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Foreword by Mary Helen Washington. Afterword by Dorothy Sterling

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#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
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#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


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#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.”

Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.WashingtonPost

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Sonata Mulattica: Poems

By Rita Dove

This 12th collection from the former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize recipient is her third book-length narrative poem: it follows the real career of the violin prodigy George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (1780–1860), a former pupil of Haydn, as well as the grandson/ of an African prince, or so his promoters and teachers in England said. Moving to Vienna during the Napoleonic Wars, the violinist met and befriended the famously moody Beethoven, who was prepared to dedicate his famously difficult Kreutzer Sonata to Bridgetower until a rivalry for the same woman drove them apart. Dove tells Bridgetower's story, and some of Beethoven's and Haydn's, in a heterogenous profusion of short poems, some almost prosy, some glittering in their technique. In quatrains, a double villanelle, what looks like found text, short lines splayed all over a page and attractive description, Dove renders Bridgetower's frustrated genius: Music played for the soul is sheer pleasure;/ to play merely for pleasure is nothing/ but work. Dove does not always achieve such subtleties—those who loved her early work may think this book too long: few, though, will doubt the seriousness of her effort, her interest at once in the history of classical music and the changing meanings of race.—Publishers Weekly

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Season of Adventure

By George Lamming

First published in 1960, Season of Adventure details the story of Fola, a light-skinned middle-class girl who has been tipped out of her easy hammock of social privilege into the complex political and cultural world of her recently independent homeland, the Caribbean island of San Cristobal. After attending a ceremony of the souls to raise the dead, she is carried off by the unrelenting accompaniment of steel drums onto a mysterious journey in search of her past and of her identity. Gradually, she is caught in the crossfire of a struggle between people who have "pawned their future to possessions" and those "condemned by lack of learning to a deeper truth." The music of the drums sounds throughout the novel, "loud as gospel to a believer's ears," and at the end stands alone as witness to the tradition which is slowly being destroyed in the name of European values. Whether through literary production or public pronouncements, George Lamming has explored the phenomena of colonialism and imperialism and their impact on the psyche of Caribbean people.

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.” 

His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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Faces At The Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

By Derrick Bell

In nine grim metaphorical sketches, Bell, the black former Harvard law professor who made headlines recently for his one-man protest against the school's hiring policies, hammers home his controversial theme that white racism is a permanent, indestructible component of our society. Bell's fantasies are often dire and apocalyptic: a new Atlantis rises from the ocean depths, sparking a mass emigration of blacks; white resistance to affirmative action softens following an explosion that kills Harvard's president and all of the school's black professors; intergalactic space invaders promise the U.S. President that they will clean up the environment and deliver tons of gold, but in exchange, the bartering aliens take all African Americans back to their planet. Other pieces deal with black-white romance, a taxi ride through Harlem and job discrimination.

Civil rights lawyer Geneva Crenshaw, the heroine of Bell's And We Are Not Saved (1987), is back in some of these ominous allegories, which speak from the depths of anger and despair. Bell now teaches at New York University Law School.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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