“Contemporary Black feminism is the outgrowth of countless generations of personal sacrifice, militancy and work by our mothers and sisters.”
“We have found it difficult to organize around Black feminist issues, difficult even to announce in certain contexts that we are Black feminists.
-quotations from the Combahee River Collective Statement, 1977
Can Black Feminism be quantified?
I do not dream in numbers. I am one of those word-lovers who even disdains scrabble because I find the transmutation of words into unequal numerical values such as “triple word score” somewhat sacrilegious. So when I read the title of Part III of Duchess Harris’s Black Feminist Politics from Kennedy to Obama that asks “Can Black Feminism Be Quantified?” my knee jerked. No. I said to the waiting pages. Measure love. Measure the universe. Measure God. Black Feminism cannot be quantified.
And then I realized that all of these things had already been done. Numbers are hiding everywhere, declared or undeclared. Every quilt has a certain number of stitches, took a certain number of hours and days to make. Oppressed people travelling under night have been numbering the stars for generations. My mother calls me a certain number of times during any given week.
What an evocative question. Can Black Feminism be quantified?
Black Feminism: A State/ment
Miriam (Duchess) Harris has a major accomplishment in her book Black Feminist Politics from Kennedy to Obama, a featured book in the Contemporary Black History series co-edited by the late Manning Marable for Palgrave Macmillan publishers. Harris provides background on Black feminist discourses of the late 20th century, including debates over films, texts, and the iteration of Black feminism as a category of analysis and organizing, in a number of contexts. Focusing her study on the life of Black feminism as a possibility and a critique within presidential administrations from Kennedy to Obama in the United States, Harris begs the question of the impact of Black feminist politics on the structures of the state.
Keeping the question of state power more complicated than state recognition, Harris uses the work of commissions and the treatment of Black women within presidential administrations as an opportunity to point out the consistent lack of accountability to Black women (even those with high level political positions) within every presidential administration between late 20th to early 21st century (yes, including the Obama administration). Harris’s analysis of Black women’s political participation, relationship to the Democratic party, treatment within the political structure, and expressed opinions in validated political forums (presidential commissions) that have included them is fertile ground for a few statements and more questions about whether the United States has the capacity to be accountable to Black women as a group or Black feminism as a practice.
So in what terms can Black feminism be (articulated)? When and why is it strategic for Black feminism to manifest itself in the terms of the state, a state, what state?
I am a Black feminist poet. Except as a poetic proof of how the repetition of enslaving language frames the laws and mechanisms of the United States, the electoral and legislative structures of the United States have not attracted my specific and passionate attention. I have made a political decision to prioritize the revolutionary work of creating our own institutions and building self-determination over the ongoing, related, and sometimes intersecting project of gaining recognition from the state. Right now I am a reluctant participant in a genocidal political unit (the United States of America) that truly should not exist. The question of state power and the symbolic power of the electoral process in the United States are complex questions for me to navigate as a queer abolitionist troublemaking Black feminist with anarchistic interplanetary tendencies.
I am a Black feminist poet with a line-break relationship to the death sentence of the state. I am cultivating a life-making relationship to the statement. For example here is a statement:
a Black Feminist
Ruthie Gilmore, abolitionist visionary, said at the 2011 Critical Ethnic Studies Conference that “we need to imagine an abolitionist state.” In my understanding and practice, abolition is the political approach that says that enslaving institutions, centrally the prison industrial complex and the systems of surveillance and policing that keep it in place, cannot be improved, and must be destroyed, and that it is our collective responsibility to create structures that provide the preconditions of justice and freedom, i.e. a just and loving world where everyone has space, love, food, light, water and inspiration. So being a Black feminist and an abolitionist seem almost redundant to me at this point, except as a poet invoking, repeating, and referencing my inspiration.
As a Black feminist abolitionist, the abolitionist state that I imagine when a Black woman genius named Ruthie Gilmore says to imagine a abolitionist state…is a Black feminist state. For me the relationship between Black feminism and state power is the question of what kind of a loving, reparative, healing, and transformative state would a Black feminist consent to, nurture, co-create?
And how poetic would we have to be to even imagine it? How many times a day would we think about food? What would be the average intervals between hugs and declarations of love? What would be the median ages in our intergenerational conversations? What would be the ratio of trees to people?
(to be continued…stay tuned for Black Feminism: A Stat/istic? next week!)