Black Feminism and The Combahee River Collective

I was reading a bit about how amazing Harriet Tubman is when I came acrossed The Combahee River Collective, which is a collective of Black feminists who have been meeting together since 1974. I read their 7 page statement and felt like writing about some of the important things they had to say. I’m going to do this quick because I’ve got stuff to do but it’s one of those things I didn’t want to put off.

One of the things that was talked about was how most of the Black women in this collective had been labelled as “smart” and therefore also received the label of “ugly” early on in their lives. It was as if they had to choose one or the other, as if they were 2-dimensional beings.

The danger in biological determinism mindsets was also addressed. You know, the false belief (that has plenty of bogus ‘scientific studies’ supporting it) that differences in mens and womens biologies cause some of the social differences we see: women staying home with children, men more represented in positions of power and decision making, etc etc (we could think of hundreds of stereotypes couldn’t we?). Instead of taking a lot at the pressures in our society that encourage very gender stereotyped behaviors the scientists with a sizable voice love to conduct little studies that they then claim prove what intended to be proven. There are plenty of books that show the scientific bias in these studies that then go on to be largely cited in every major news venue but that’s another post. The Collective says “We have a great deal of criticism and loathing for what men have been socialized to be in this society: what they support, how they act, and how they oppress. But we do not have the misguided notion that it is their maleness, per se- i.e., their biological maleness- that makes them what they are.”

They go on to talk about how isolating it is to be a Black feminist in that they are essentially against the world, something I certainly did not fully grasp. They don’t have “racial, sexual, heterosexual, or class privilege to rely upon…If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” The Collective talks about how it is almost taboo to bring up any ideas of feminism in the Black community as it is often seen as being anti-Black male and therefore against what many have been conditioned to see as the greater movement. Because of this, support from Black males is often nonexistent. This made me think about a twitter comment by @YoloAkili “#BlackPowerisForBlackMen Becuz I can’t think of ONE national march that black men organized becuz a black woman was raped or killed.” This just blew my mind because it was something I’ve never thought about and it opens the door on some unjust discrepancies. Not enough people have been asking what if Trayvon Martin had been a female? The fact of the matter is, I’ve read a lot about other female Trayvon Martin’s, not in any mainstream media venues however. Black female victims to police brutality get swept under the rug.

“The reaction of Black men to feminism has been notoriously negative. They are, of course, even more threatened than Black women by the possibility the Black feminists might organize around our own needs. They realize that they might not only lose valuable and hardworking allies in their struggles but that they might also be forced to change their habitually sexist ways of interacting with and oppressing Black women. Accusations that Black feminism divides the Black struggle are powerful deterrents to the growth of an autonomous Black women’s movement.”

The 7 page Combahee River Collective Statement can be found here:

Brother’s writing to live has replied to some of these “BlackpowerisforBlackmen” tweets and I have included two here:

“I vow to stay open to being checked, but I will not wait on you to check me. I will work to check myself too, because I understand that feminism isn’t just about your liberation, it’s about OUR liberation.”


Dear @BougieBlackGurl, You tweeted the following: “I am supposed to give a cookie to the BM who are involved in their children’s lives while Single BW carry the blame #blackpowerisforblackmen”


When my daughters were babies—they are now 10 and 14—I used to relish the attention that I received when I was with them in public. The expectations held out for Black fathers have often been so low, that Black men who even show a small amount of attention to their children are lauded; I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy being thought of as special.Yet being at daycare, or volunteering at school, I was also able to witness the women—often single mothers—who don’t parent for the prestige of it, but because it’s what they are supposed to do. Save Mother’s Day and the Hip-Hop Awards Show shout-out (often uttered after rhetorically bashing a “baby-mama”), there is very little attention to those women who put in the work, because if they don’t, nobody else will. And of course if they don’t, these women are blamed for failing, not only their children or their family, but the “Race” itself.And this is one of the ways that male privilege functions—that which is ordinary and mundane is deemed as exceptional when done by men. When these everyday activities are done by women, they are demeaned and devalued—and all we have to do is look at what we pay folks who work in so called “women’s professions” or the fact that we so devalue parenting that we think that those women who are raising children on their own, and perhaps on Federal or State assistance, should be required to work outside of the home, because apparently parenting is not really work.

Mark (@NewBlackMan)

Dear @YoloAkili, “#BlackPowerisForBlackMen Becuz I can’t think of ONE national march that black men organized becuz a black woman was raped or killed.”

I must have reread your tweet a hundred times today. I understood fully, maybe for the first time, that black men who profess a love for black women can’t have it both ways. The truth is too true and the stakes are too high. We can’t, as I did, call Kendrick’s verse one of the dopest lyrical performances of the year when the song is bubbling with spectacular disses of black women and black femininity, then wonder why we never organized around the killing or rape of a black woman.


Photograph by: Darnell Moore (NYC March for Trayvon Martin 2013)

We can’t watch and participate in the national obliteration and shaming of Rachel Jeantel and wonder why we never organized around the killing or rape of a black woman. We can’t lie, cheat on, or manipulate black women while convincing black women it’s so hard for us then wonder why we never organized around the killing or rape of a black woman. We can’t literally and figuratively kill and rape black woman for fun, for free, for checks, for claps from our niggas, and wonder why we never organize around the killing or rape of black woman.

No art, no person, no relationship, no sexual fantasy that kills and rapes black women is going to stop black women from being killed, hurt, and raped. If our consumption and creation doesn’t affirm, accept, and explore the complicated lives of black women, we can’t be bout that life. No exceptions. Never. Shameful that after all this life, and education, and art creation, your tweet made me know that we really ain’t been bout shit. We really been encouraging black women’s death while leaning on black women for survival. Sorry ain’t enough.

Kiese (@KieseLaymon)





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