Review: Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism

Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's much to say about this book and my guess is that it has already been said by way more eloquent people than me. But having read it, I would be remiss if I did not comment on this as a powerful text for everyone. The central argument of hook's book is that black women have nearly uniformly ignored by both the women's and African-American Civil Rights movements in US history in ways that are intended and mute their unique struggles of navigating the intersection of sexism and racism. She demonstrates this through a history of both group's movements over the last two hundred years, pulling on specific examples where black women were told to be quiet about their challenges in order to advocate for the rights of black men and similar results during the white suffrage movements. If the book just focused on the historical nature of these challenges, it would still be a classic text in American history and cultural studies. But what I appreciate about hooks is how she does not make this simple. Yes, she makes direct arguments about the intentionality of leaving out black women in various battles for rights, but she doesn't stop there. Rather she highlights a variety of past folks who spoke to this double-oppression and the failure to redress it (the first and foremost being Sojourner Truth, whose famous line is the title of the book). Yet she also highlights that this was not simply an "us vs. them". She shows how internalized sexism and racism also existed within black women and how that complicated progress even further. In total, hooks' work provides an insightful and powerful understanding of intersectional feminism, well before it was popular, and with a critical eye to understanding how easily intersectional oppression is upheld in modern society.

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