This year, I decided to sprinkle non-fiction focused on the history and issues within Black America in to my reading list. It was only fitting that I start off with Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman by Michele Wallace. This book has been on my TBR list for years, and since I’ve some what strayed from the Black feminist ideology that I fully embraced in my college years, I figured this might be a great refresher.
Boy was I correct!
Originally published in 1978, this book caused a storm of controversy as Michele Wallace blasted the masculinist bias of the black politics that emerged from the sixties. She described how women remained marginalized by the patriarchal culture of Black Power and the ways in which a genuine female subjectivity was blocked by the traditional myths of black womanhood.
I have a starry eyed affection for the Black Power movement. Much of it has to do with my fascination with Malcolm X (who is credited for inspiring much of the movement) and the influence of my hometown, Oakland, the birth of the Black Panthers. But Wallace makes a point to bring reality to the fantasy of Black power: Black women had little to none of the power within the movement that was so profusely lauded as the way to equality, something that was the complete opposite during the civil rights movement. She shines a light on the duties relegated to women, which were administrative at best, but most times, nothing at all. Adding insult to injury, were the many male leaders within the movement who set patterns of becoming involved with white women, establishing the message that Black women within the movement just werent good enough. Much of her critique blames the men for being drunk on their own power, their ego getting in the way of what could have been a powerful shift in America.
The second half of the book focuses on the myth of the strong Black woman, and how damaging it is to our psyche. She makes it plain that though the myth of the Black woman who can handle any obstacle in her way may appear to be a positive image, it has disastrous affects on our families and how we are treated outside of our communities.
I was shocked at how she pointed the finger at Angela Davis, and Nikki Giovanni as the originators of such destructive attitudes that permeate our culture today: Davis, who in today’s terms would be classified as a ride or die chick, and Giovanni, initially promoting motherhood as a form of support to the movement, because at the time, any other stance would have brought death to her career. I may not agree with these two women having such an impact on our culture in that particular way, that Black women began to neglect themselves for their men and children (because when has that not been the case), but the proof presented in her argument opened my eyes to a lot about Davis and Giovanni that I had never known.
Wallace also delves into the consistent images of beauty and sophistication in America that very rarely include Black women, and the lack of concern for the safety and healthy development of Black girls.
Even though this book is centered more on my mother’s generation, it was extremely helpful in understanding why Black feminism (or womanism) is needed, and what it really means.
I’d recommend this for anyone interested in the Black woman’s role within major Black movements, and anyone wanting to get a better understanding on Black feminism.