With “The Combahee River Collective Statement[i],” issued by the Combahee River Collective in April 1977, the idea is put forth that black feminism is “the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face” (264). This movement’s genesis arose out of its members’ dissatisfaction with other Black liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s: Civil Rights, Black nationalism, and the Black Panthers (265), which they view as racist toward their female counterparts. Also unafraid to address the history of white women’s groups failing to acknowledge or include the Black woman’s experience, the Combahee River Collective let their voice as a powerful group for social change concerning Black lesbians and all women of color to be heard. But this does not mean to say that they are excluding the possibility of allying their politics with white feminists or Black males as they welcome solidarity with these groups as long as their specific needs as queer Black feminists and socialists are being satisfied.
The Combahee River Collective likewise places an emphasis upon their own relationship to their oppression and how this has shaped their identities. Through this application of identity politics, particularly their queer experience, they encourage a politics that focuses upon the direct need to liberate Black women. At the same time, they do not take an elitist standpoint for their group, humbly stating, “We reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough” (267). In a positive manner, this proud yet non-elitist rhetoric celebrates each member’s personal narrative while telling the rest of the world that such identity reflection and coalitions do not rank their experience of oppression as greater than or superior to any other marginalized group’s.
At this point in their history, the Combahee River Collective is likewise unafraid to evaluate their politics. Through this commitment to self-criticism, they “question whether lesbian separatism is an adequate and progressive political analysis and strategy” and acknowledge that “the psychological toll of being a Black Woman and the difficulties this presents in reaching political consciousness and doing political work can never be underestimated” (269). If more political groups in America could follow the Combahee River Collective’s self-evaluating model, which is open to change and connecting with all other human beings, then we would not witness women, queer culture, and people of color being continuously oppressed and marginalized…
[i] Collected in Home Girls – A Black Feminist Anthology. Ed. Barbara Smith. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1983, 2000.
Thank you for this summary! One of the questions I hope we will address in class today is the term “identity politics,” which in the age of poststructuralist theory often appears as an insult. In this essay we can see its origin; elsewhere in queer theory we see it strongly critiqued. Is this a contradiction or has it just not been sufficiently understood? How do Cohen and Ferguson, both of whom take the Combahee River Collective Statement as a key source text, square that circle?