Alex Deschamps

Women's Studies, 208 Bartlett, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA. 01003
Office: Bartlett 7B » Office Hours: Mo 1:00-4:00pm & By Appointment
Telephone: (413) 545-1958 » Fax: (413) 545-1500 » Email:

Womensst 394H Theorizing Black Feminisms Spring 2003
  Tu & Th: 1:00-2:15pm at Bartlett 205  

Course Information

Description, Goals and Objectives

To understand Black Feminist thinking, it is important to explore the context out of which it emerges. We will analyze the evolution of Black Feminist consciousness and thought in the U.S. from the 1930s to contemporary time, since the struggle for black women's liberation which emerged in the mid-1960s is a construction of both intellectual and activist tradition during slavery and during the anti-slavery movement. This course will also be an interpretative analysis of the work and thought produced by a range of leading black women writers, scholars and intellectuals in everyday and alternative locations for knowledge production. For purposes of this course, Black Women encompasses all women of African descent/heritage.

   This seminar is designed to introduce to, and familiarize students with, the theoretical contributions of African American and African Diasporan feminists working in a variety of disciplinary fields. These women all rely upon the notion that issues of race, gender, sexuality and social class are central, rather than peripheral to any history, analysis or assessment of life. During the course we will outline the basic principles and practices of Black Feminism, contextualize the emergence of contemporary feminist work in historical perspective and also examine the written and spoken texts of nineteenth-century feminist foremothers. We will identify and characterize the major issues which black feminists address as well as the various forms of resistance to social structures. Black women will be viewed as producers of knowledge and as transforming agents. We will study the works and contributions of early feminists as well as later and contemporary scholars and activists.

   Once an understanding of black feminist traditions is established, we will revisit the question of Black Feminism, as well as the continuities and discontinuities in the various definitions and analyses as they have emerged over time. We will discuss the theoretical and methodological assumptions underlying the intellectual and political traditions upon which these scholars rely. And most importantly, the course will also explore (a) realistic obstacles Black women encounter; (b) ways in which Black women have (re)defined self and community; (c) building a community by explicating the interface between the feminist struggle of women of color in the U.S. and outside the U.S.; (d) examining feminist expressions in the African Diaspora; and (e) identifying ways in which we can serve as social change agents. Special attention will be given to linking Black Feminist thought and Black Feminist activism (theory and practice).

Requirements and Grading

Guidelines for Content and Critical Analysis Response Papers

Your discussion questions and occasional critical analysis/response papers are suggested as a way to promote critical thinking, to monitor comprehension of the readings, to challenge your own thinking, and to help you engage in intellectual and practical discussions. Suggestions for writing the papers include (a) choose two or three points to help focus your response or critique and (b) take risks and incorporate your ideas about the subject, but remember this is not only about your opinion. You must include content from the readings, you must comment on the contributions of the work, critically examine the "soundness" of the arguments, discuss insights gained or limitations to the analysis. Essentially, I want to know that you have read, understood, and analyzed the readings. Grades will be based on the quality and clarity of your arguments as well as the organization of your ideas.

Academic Honesty and Other Undergraduate Policies

My assumption is that students are generally honest. You are responsible for knowing and following the University of Massachusetts Academic Guidelines. Please read and familiarize yourselves with the University Policy Statement on Academic Honesty, Course Requirements, Attendance, Religious Observances, and other relevant policies, in the Undergraduate Rights and Responsibilities Booklet or at website Necessary action, in compliance with official guidelines, will be taken against students who commit academic dishonesty. Caucus with me about resources for learning needs.

Required Books

Katie Geneva Cannon:
Kate's Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community. Continuum, New York, 1996.
Patricia Hill Collins:
Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2000.
Audre Lorde:
Sister Outsider. CA.: The Crossing Press, 1996.
Margo V. Perkins:
Autobiography as Activism: Three Black Women of the Sixties. Mississippi: University Press, 2000.
Kimberly Springer:
Still Lifting, Still Climbing: African Women's Contemporary Activism. New York University Press, 1999.
E. Frances White:
Dark Continent of Our Bodies: Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability. Temple University Press, 2001.
Handouts and other assigned readings

Books are available at Food For Thought Bookshop, North Pleasant Street, Amherst and also on reserve in the library.

Recommended Books

Angela Davis:
Blues, Legacies & Black Feminims. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.
Beverly Guy-Scheftal:
Words of Fire. New York: The New Press, 1995.
bell hooks:
Feminism is for Everybody. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000.
bell hooks:
Ain't I A Woman. South End Press, 1981.
bell hooks:
Feminist Theory: Margin to Center. South End Press, 1984.

The above texts are on reserve in the Library and are highly recommended for additional analysis and assignments.

Course Calendar

Tue January 28

Black Feminisms: Definitions, Objectives, Frameworks

Introductory Exercises, Syllabus, Goals, Expectations, Definitions

Thu January 30

Lifting as We Climb: Early Expressions of Black Feminism


[Handout]-Maria W. Stewart, "Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality, the Sure Foundation of Which We must Build, and Lecture Delivered at Franklin Hall", (Guy-Scheftall), pp. 23-33.

[Handout]-Ana Julia Cooper, "The Status of Women in America", (Guy-Scheftall), pp. 43-49.

Black Women (Re) Naming, (Re) Writing, (Re) Claiming Feminism

Tue February 04

Black Women Claiming Space: Contributions to the Rhetoric


[Text]-Patricia Hill Collins, Part 1, "The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought", Chapters 1 & 2.

[Text]-E. Frances White, "Black Feminist Interventions", pp. 25-80.

[Handout]-Michael Awkard, "A Black Man's Place in Black Feminist Criticism", (The Black Feminist Reader), pp. 88-108.

Thu February 06

Black Feminist Theory as an Epistemic Site


[Text]-Patricia Hill Collins, Part 2, "Core Themes in Black Feminist Thought", Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6.

***Critical Analysis Paper 1 Due***

Intersectionalities, Interdisciplinaries, Conflicts, and Tensions: Always, Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality and More

Tue February 11

Conversations: Social Construction of Whiteness & Theorizing Black Feminisms.

Video Screening: Stuart Hall - Race, A Floating Signifier


[Handout]-Barbara Christian, "The Race For Theory", (The Black Feminist Reader), pp. 11-22.

***Critical Autobiography Paper Due***

Thu February 13

Not Just Race, Not Just Gender


[Text]-Patricia Hill Collins, Part 2, "Core Themes in Black Feminist Thought", Chapters 7, 8, 9.

Tue February 18

No Class-Monday's Schedule

Thu February 20

Sexuality, Historicities, Identities: Refuting Black Women as Spectacle

Video Screening: The Hottentot Venus


[Text]-E. Frances White, "The Evidence of Things Not Seen: The Alchemy of Racer and Sexuality", pp. 81-114.

[Handout]-Anne Fausto-Sterling, "Gender, Race, Nation. The Comparative Anatomy of "Hottentot" Women in Europe" 1815-1817, in J. Terry & J. Urla (Eds.), Deviant Bodies, 1995, Indiana University Press, pp. 19-48.

Tue February 25

Community Silences and Tensions: (Re) Framing Race and Sexuality: Black Feminist Expansions and Queer Theory


[Text]-E. Frances White, pp. 151-182.

[Handout]-Paula Giddings, "The Last Taboo", (Guy-Sheftall), pp. 414-428.

***Critical Analysis Paper 2 Due***

Thu February 27



[Text]-Audre Lorde, pp. 13-109.

Tue March 04



[Text]-Audre Lorde, pp. 110-189.

Thu March 06

Sisterhood(s)-Dialogues and Conversations.

Small Group and Roundtable Discussions

Tue March 11

Writing the Personal, Writing the Political


[Text]-Margo V. Perkins, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4.

Thu March 13

Writing the Personal, Writing the Political: Biomythography


[Text]-Margo V. Perkins, Chapters 5, 6.

***In-Class Assignments***

March 15-23

Spring Break Recess

Black Feminism/Womanism, Liberation Theology and Praxis

Tue March 25

Womanist Norms for Emancipatory Praxis


[Text]-Katie Geneva Cannon, Chapters 1-7.

***Biomythography Paper Due***

Thu March 27

Thinking Through Theological Conformity and Liberation Theology


[Text]-Katie Geneva Cannon, Chapters 8-13.

Tue April 01

Theory Outside the Box.

Guest Lecture

Thu April 03

Theorizing Blues, Legacies and Contemporary Black Music


Selections From Angela Davis, "Blues, Legacies and Black Feminism".

Tue April 08

Conversations: Social Construction of Whiteness & Theorizing Black Feminisms

Video Screening: Spike Lee's Bamboozled


[Handout]-D. Wellman, "Minstrel Shows, Affirmative Action Talk, and Angry White Men: Marking Racial Otherness in the 1990s", in R. Frankenberg, Displacing Whiteness, 1997. Duke University Press, pp. 311-331.

[Handout]-Susan Gubar, "Spirit Murder at the Movies", 1997. Oxford University Press, pp. 53-94.

***Critical Analysis Paper 3 Due***

Still Lifting, Still Climbing, and then Some

Thu April 10

African American Women's Political Voice


[Text]-Kimberly Springer, Part One, Chapters 1, 2, 3.

Tue April 15

The Continuous Struggle


[Text]-Kimberly Springer, Part Two, Selections From Chapters 4-9.

Thu April 17

Contemporary African Women's Activism


[Text]-Kimberly Springer, Part Three, pp. 189-273.

Tue April 22

Contemporary African Women's Activism


[Text]-Kimberly Springer, Part Three, pp. 275-339.

Thu April 24

A New Generation of Activism: Further to Fly

Panel Discussion - Women of Color Leadership Network

***Cultural Theoretical Critique Due***

Tue April 29

Counter Discourses: Nation and Nationalism


[Text]-E. Frances White, "Africa On My Mind. Gender, Counterdiscourse and African American Nationalism", pp. 117-150.

[Text]-Kimberly Springer, "Engendering the Pan-African Movement: Field Notes from the All-African Women's Revolutionary Union" by M. Bahati Kuumba, pp. 167-184.

[Handout]-Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, "African Feminism: A Theoretical Approach to the History of Women in the African Diaspora".

Thu May 01

Knowledge as Power


[Text]-Patricia Hill Collins, pp. 227-290.

Tue May 06

Conversations: Social Construction of Whiteness & Theorizing Black Feminisms


[Handout ]-Nellie Y. McKay, "Acknowledging Differences: Can Women Find Unity Through Diversity?", (James & Busia), pp. 267-282.

Thu May 08

Synthesis and Summaries.

In Class Exercises/Discussions/Presentations

Tue May 13

Synthesis and Summaries

***Final Assignment Due***