How Hazel Carby Called Out White Feminists’ Racist Sisterhood in the ’80s
A scathing indictment of white feminists’ perpetuation of racism proves that contributions to Black feminism are still relevant 40 years later
In the early years of the Women’s Liberation Movement, Black lives didn’t exist. When they did, they were only used as props and disposable objects to further the ideologies of “universal” (read: white) feminism. Hazel V. Carby, scholar and pioneer of Black feminism, reflects this idea in an article appropriately entitled “White Woman Listen! Black Feminism and the Boundaries of Sisterhood”, in which she calls for white feminists to consider race in their theorizing of women’s oppression in a patriarchal society. As Carby draws attention to the lack of inclusion of Black and Asian women in contemporary feminist theory, she questions the sisterhood white feminists claim to promote.
Carby reviews history through a Black feminist lens and exposes a crucial fact: White feminists benefit from racism and the oppression of Black women. Of course, white feminist theory ignored that part, so Carby and other Black feminists put pen to paper to address the dismissal of Black women’s narratives. This work was important because this oversight normalized racism even among feminists.
By pointing to the triple oppression of gender, class, and race, Carby invokes an anti-colonialist approach to feminism. This leads her to criticize the contemporary use of the term patriarchy, a word used as a blanket statement for a society that favors men over women. This oversimplification forgets that Black men don’t benefit from the patriarchal system the way white men do because of colonialism. A more complex definition of patriarchy that accounts for Black narratives allows Black feminists to burst open the gates that kept them out of the feminist movement. For example, straight Black women were often heads of households because they couldn’t financially rely solely on their Black husbands because of how the economic system structured Black male unemployment.
Carby doesn’t outright deny that our patriarchal society and its ideals of family and female sexuality aren’t a source of oppression for Black women, but she asks…