Friday, September 05, 2008

When Heroines Speak...

Writer Sue Katz interviews the great Barbara Smith in the current issue of Colorlines magazine. Here is an excerpt:

You were one of the first feminists to develop an analysis about the intersection of gender, sexuality, race and class. Is it true that you were involved in inventing the term “identity politics”?

I was a co-author of the Combahee River Collective Statement where the term “identity politics” was used. I’ve tried to track it down, and that seems to be the first use. When we talked about identify politics we were talking about the legitimacy of asserting a political agenda that took into account the multiple identities that we ourselves experienced, including being Black, female, working-class and lesbian. The political perspectives of the Left, the Black male activists and the white feminists didn’t take into account that someone who was female could also be Black. We wanted a politics that addressed all aspects of our identity, which is what our 1982 anthology, All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave, was about.

The apparent conflicts around race and feminism that surfaced during the Democratic primary campaign seem to indicate that Black women are still not viewed in the entirety of their identity.

It’s déjà vu, the same thing all over again. We’ve seen some really negative responses to an historic primary campaign–with both a Black man and a white woman as frontrunners of the Democratic Party. The assertion that sexism is more pervasive or has worse effects than racism is not only invalid, but it sure alienates women of color from the dialogue. I want to be clear that Clinton was subjected to sexism and that Obama has been subjected to racism, and the recent attacks on Michelle Obama show that she was subjected to both.

The race/gender splits that we saw in the presidential primaries point to the lack of engagement with the complexities of how race plays itself out in the United Sates, especially in tandem with gender. Women from mainstream feminism never had any deep commitment to understanding issues of race or never felt any particular solidarity with women of color as women of color, instead of women painted colors. People who want to get past racism look at Black people as white people painted with color. They don’t look at history, 400 years of white supremacy and the impact that has on people of color to this day in this country.

You are also revered as a pioneer publisher. Why did Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga and you decide in 1980 to create Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press?

At that time there were few vehicles for women of color to bring their voices into print. It was the era of the “special issue” of a feminist publication. There were so many of them then; it was an incredibly heady cultural environment. Sometimes they’d produce a “women of color” issue, which was all well and good, but we wanted to have a “press of our own,” to paraphrase Virginia Woolf. Kitchen Table had a strong political stance.

Apparently, things have now improved. There are a lot of younger women of color writers who are getting published in mainstream contexts…but we were unique because of our political, activist, leftist perspective. I stopped being involved in Kitchen Table in 1995, although it continued for another year or so.

Rest of the interview is here

Additional reading:


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the cool info about Moraga and her fellow writers! Too Shy to Stop writer Ken Ward wrote an article about his experience listening to her speak at the University of Oregon. You can read the full article here.