24 2 / 2012

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.

Grade: A

25 1 / 2012

"…we had all been born into a situation in which it was continually brought home to us that there was only one acceptable standard of womanhood.: Doris Day, housewife and mother - pretty, attractive, sexy even, yet inaccessible and virginal; married to a prince who never cursed his wife, never raped his children, and always brought home more than sufficient bacon. The circumstances of our lives made that standard not only impossible to achieve, but masochistic to hope for. First of all, we were black and therefore we could never be Doris Day. Second, our needs were really quite different. We lived in a dangerous environment, the black community, which did not protect its girl children, and beyond that the United States of America, which viewed black women as beasts of burden and sex toys. To be innocent AND sexy was nothing less than suicidal. We needed to stand up for ourselves, think for ourselves, formulate and maintain our own standards …all of us were sure to encounter a great many refutations of the fantasy. What would we do when we met with reality? Be destroyed by it?"

Michele Wallace, Black Macho and Myth of the Superwoman, pg 104

24 1 / 2012

"Perhaps the single most important reason the Black [Power] Movement did not work was that black men did not realize they could not wage struggle without the full involvement of women. And in that sense they made a mistake that the blacks of the post-slavery period would have been least likely to have made. Women, traditionally, want more than anything to keep things together. Women are hard workers and they require little compensation. Women are sometimes willing to die much more quickly than men. Women vote. Women march. Women perform tedious tasks. And women cannot be paid off for the death and suffering of their children. Look at how important women have been to the liberation struggles in Africa. By negating the importance of their role, the efficiency of the Black [Power] Movement was obliterated. It was just a lot of black men strutting around with afros."

Michele Wallace, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, pg 81