Theory by Black women emerges from a standpoint that asks us to consider what we might learn when we center Black women as our primary way of analyzing the world. Thus, Black feminist theories find subjectivity an important way of situating knowledge. Through the lens of Black women and Black feminism, we can envision new ways of seeing Black womanhood.
Most of our social norms derive from Victorian and colonial practices that remain a primary organizing feature of modern social hierarchies. During the colonial era, of course, Black women across the globe had the status of colonized persons. Discourses about Black women prevalent during the colonial remain prevalent today and limit the way the general public sees them.
Black theory guides most of my work, especially the knowledge projects created by Black women. When Jessica Marie Johnson, a professor at John Hopkins, started a thread called #BlackTheory, I knew there would be a few gems about for, by, and about Black women. This list is inspired by the hashtag, but I encourage you to visit the hashtag on Twitter to contribute and also suggest more.
20 Theories by Black Women
- Rememory – Toni Morrison
- The matrix of domination – Patricia Hill Collins
- Illicit eroticism – Mireille Miller-Young
- The theory of triple consciousness – Claudia Jones
- Politics of respectability – Evelyn Higginbotham
- Reproductive justice – RJ Founding Mothers
- Intimate justice – Shatema Threadcraft
- Epistemic oppression – Kristie Dotson
- Black maternal grief as analytic – Rhaisa Kameela Williams
- The digital barbershop – Catherine Knight Steele
- The human being as praxis – Sylvia Wynter
- Dark sousveillance – Simone Browne
- Homeplace – bell hooks
- The Combahee River Collective Statement – Combahee River Collective
- Ratchet politics – Nadia E. Brown & Lisa Young
- Homemaking – Zenzele Isoke
- The dialectics of Black womanhood – Bonnie Thornton Dill
- Slavery as a sexual economy – Adrienne Davis
- Saffron-Sable Venus alter/natives – Shirley Anne Tate
- Erotic subjectivity – Audre Lorde
This is by no means an exhaustive list. The majority of these women identify as cisgender, straight, and come from the United States. Further, the majority of these women move in academic or other elite circles. Writing this list and reading these theories helped me realize I need more postcolonial perspectives on Black womanhood in my reading lists.
The theories of Black women start in the home, as many of these women do attest. As always, we do not know the theories of our ancestors unless we maintained their narratives through the oral history of our lineages. Still, I think it suffices that Black women of various backgrounds theorized selves, Black womanhood, and a world outside of academia. For example, Black women musicians, from blues singers to rappers, theorize Black women’s sexual agency, labor, and gender roles with their lyrics.
This list doesn’t focus on the theories that I am well-versed in because I wanted to highlight the work of women I hadn’t discussed frequently or at all.
This list is inspired by #BlackTheory started by Jessica Marie Johnson. Check out more theories here.
Update 4/12/19 – Thank you to Toni M. Bond Leonard for providing correct attribution for Reproductive Justice to the RJ Founding Mothers