Womanism or Black Feminism

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Essay

Afro-American Literature
Womanism or Black Feminism?

Black women started to speak up in 1970s and during the 1980s and 1990s black womanhood started to be an important point of debates and since then African American women´s thoughts and ideas are a very significant part of literature. Gender studies are taught at universities and black women writers are known of. Their books are studied and researches done. They took a long and hard journey from slavery until today and it was not easy. Despite all disadvantages, critiques, obstacles and problems, they managed to get a word in the world which had only three categories: White men, White women and Black men. In this essay I would like to deal with two terms which are topical in current debates: Womanism and Black Feminism. Womanism is described in the first paragraph, Black feminism in the second followed by the conclusion.

First I will focus on Alice Walker´s multiple definitions of “womanism“ in In Search of Our Mother´s Gardens. She offers several meanings. She sees the term as rooted in history which was full of racial and gender oppression. “You acting womanish“ taken from the black folk tradition meant that the girls acted in outrageous, courageous and willful ways – it freed them from conventions. They behaved like white women could not, they wanted to know more than was good for them. To understand what she means we have to know that the history of black women and white women is different. Not only as a history of events but history of language. The conventions for black women were different, they were supposed to behave differently and the society took them less serious. But Alice Walker in her definition says that “womanish“ is also being serious, grown up, responsible – which is an opposite to white understanding of black women. Walker somehow implies that black women are superior to white women because of black folk tradition. Also Walker´s much cited phrase “womanist is to feminist as purple to lavender“ - black women are womanists and white women are only feminists. Then, we have to think about the colours purple and lavender. According to my opinion purple is almost red, full, and shining with energy. It is a colour darker, more lovely, and richer than lavender. Lavender is pale, poorer, and relaxing. It is an opposite to purple, yet there is a similarity. Both are connected to violet as violet would be something which connects them. I would say that this something could be a metaphor to humanity. They are different but both human, different race but still human. Walker also presents a visionary meaning for womanism. As part of her second definition, Walker has a girl asking a question “Mama why are we brown, pink and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige, and black?“ The response is “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.“ It criticizes the colorism within African American communities and broadens the notion of humanity to make all people people of color. Women and men coexist in the same garden but retaining their cultural distinctiveness. Womanism provides a space for Black women and women of color to create a dialogue in a non threatening environment. According to Katie Cannon, womanism is always in the making – it is not a closed fixed system of ideas but one that continually evolves through its rejection of all forms of oppression and commitment to social justice. Another definition concerns wholeness “A woman is committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female,“ which proposes that males are not the enemy whereas in feminism they are. Walker also sees womanist as a woman who loves other women, which implies that womanists could be lesbians but it remains unacknowledged in the work of African American writers (Collins 10).

Secondly I would like to comment on feminism and Black feminism. According to Pearl Cleage, feminism is the belief that women are...
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