Women's Studies - Contemporary African-American Feminist Thought and Identity, 1970-1995

Course Description - This course is an exploration of the major themes in African-American feminist consciousness of the past twenty-five years. We will begin with Sojourner Truth's famous speech, "Ain't I A Woman?", in Akron, OH in 1851, and use it as a springboard to discuss African-American feminism in the 1970s (the decade of the ERA and the International Year of the Woman), the 1980s (the age of rapacious capitalism), and the 1990s (the period of great prosperity and deep cynicism). We will take a cultural studies approach to this topic, as we incorporate popular culture, widespread images of African-American women, documentaries, and novels in our discussions on the particularities of African-American feminism. This course has a medium to heavy reading load, but we will examine our readings' arguments on many levels. I recommend a background in American feminism, recent American history, and/or African American history, as we will discuss African-American feminism within a larger context of the transformation of women's roles in the last two decades.
Course requirements - Weekly reading responses (no more than two paragraphs, single space) on the previous week's assignment; one 12-15 page paper on a topic of your choice which relates directly to African-American feminist identity.

Pre-semester reading - Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I A Woman"

Week 1 - Organization and Introduction. Discussion of Truth's Speech. For consideration: Who and what comes to mind when we think about African American feminism?
Please read for Week 2 - Copy of "Now Statement of Purpose," Pauli Murray, "The Liberation of Black Women"; Combahee River Collective, "A Black Feminist Statement."

Week 2 - Discussion of the Black feminism of the early 70s.
For week 3, Angela Davis. Women, Race, and Class

Week 3 - Discussion of Davis' text, and the class/economic component of African-American feminism.
For week 4, Elaine Brown, A Taste of Power.

Week 4 - Discussion of the Black Panther Party, and African-American women's roles in cultural nationalism.
For Week 5, no reading. Viewing of "Eyes on the Prize: Part II." Article on Shirley Chisolm from Notable American Women.

Week 5 - Discussion of African-American women and political reform.
For Week 6: Audre Lorde, Sister, Outsider (specific essays to be announced)

Week 6 - Discussion of gender and sexuality in the construction of feminist identity.
For week 7, Ntosake Shange, Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo.

Week 7- Discussion of the family network and myths of African-American matriarchy and womanhood.
For week 8, Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights.

Week 8 - Discussion of African-American women and legal citizenship.
For Week 9 - No reading,. viewing of "The Color Purple."

Week 9 - Discussion of the longevity and veracity of the image of the indomitable African-American women. To consider: How does the film posit African-American men?
For Week 10, Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought.

Week 10 - Discussion of African-American feminism and the politics of empowerment.
For week 11, "The Thomas Hearings, " and Anita Hill, Speaking Truth to Power (specific chapters to be announced).

Week 11 - Discussion of the Thomas-Hill hearings, and the professional advancement of African-American women.
For Week 12, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, From a Sharecropper's Daughter to Surgeon General of the United States. To consider: popular images of African American women and whether they represent models of feminism.

Week 12 - Discussion of the African-American feminists in the mainstream.
For week 13, bell hooks, "Ain't I A Woman" Chapter 2.

Week 13 - Conclusion. After our semester's readings, how do we conceive of African-American feminism? What are the trends to watch for in the next decade? Who are the current, well-known African-American feminists? Who are our role models? Has our reading changed your assumptions or opinions of what feminism is?