- Black Internationalist Feminism: Women Writers of the Black Left, 1955-1995 by Cheryl Higashida
In her ambitious book, Black Internationalist Feminism: Women Writers of the Black Left, Cheryl Higashida interrogates internationalism, feminist politics, and African American culture and thought in the works of proclaimed writers Claudia Jones, Lorraine Hansberry, Alice Childress, Rosa Guy, Audre Lorde, and Maya Angelou. Higashida encourages readers to read their works by what she terms Black Internationalist Feminism. Black Internationalist Feminism challenges "heternormative and masculinist articulations of nationalism while maintaining the importance, even centrality, of national liberation movements for achieving black women's social, political, and economic rights" (2). In this description, Higashida supports her thesis by examining internationalist black leftist politics that black women activists such as Jones, Hansberry, Childress, Guy, Lorde, and Angelou participated in and were influenced by during the 1950s and through the 1990s. Higashida discovers two purposes that led to the influence of black women being international activists for feminists' rights through a social, political, and economic lens. The first purpose "held that self-determination for oppressed nations would bring about socialism for the working classes of all nations" (3). Following, the second purpose "linked the struggles of African Americans in the United States to the struggles for national self-determination in the Caribbean, the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia" (3). These purposes served as platforms for Jones, Hansberry, Childress, Guy, Lorde, and Angelou that shaped their black feminist politics as well as other political and social affiliations such as gender, sexuality, black nationalism, socialism, and queer identity. Higashida ends the introduction with alerting her readers that she is reconstructing the narrative of black leftist feminism. In addition, she asserts that "revolutionary nationalism continued to shape Black feminist and queer politics well into the late twentieth century—and that radical Black women writers reshaped revolutionary nationalism" (9).
The book is split into six chapters that address the feminist leftist politics of each writer/activist mentioned above. Higashida does a solid job of giving a critical understanding of the literature through biographical, political, and social platforms of each woman and providing a critical analysis of each writer's works. In addition, there are instances found in the literary criticism where Higashida gracefully defines her Black Internationlist Feminism through each woman's prose and activism. However, there are other instances where Higashida becomes longwinded in her descriptions of certain [End Page 210] women's biographical information and the historical significance of each woman's life.
For example, chapter 1, "The Negro Question, the Woman Question, and the 'Vital Link': Histories and Institutions," examines the general history of African Americans and their involvement in communist and leftist politics that shaped black women writers. Higashida begins with an overview of black nationalism and leftists movements during the interwar years. To articulate her point fluidly, Higashida utilizes the activism and writings of Claudia Jones, for example, who challenged the restrictive constructions of gender and sexuality in post-World War II politics. In this chapter, Higashida focuses far too much on the historical and biographical information of Jones. By doing this, the reader becomes lost in the historical moment rather than focusing on the literary works that also made Claudia Jones notable. In Higashida's conclusion of the chapter, she ends with Hansberry, Childress, Guy, Lorde, and Angelou, making clear that each of these women made the effort of engaging in "internationalist projects" that challenged race, gender, and sexual categories of African American and Caribbean female identity. This portion of chapter 1 was more engaging because it connects back to Higashida's argument regarding the seldom-examined black women's international politics mentioned in the introduction.
The strongest utilization of Black Internationalist Feminism is discussed in chapter 3, "Rosalind on the Black Star Line: Alice Childress, Black Minstrelsy, and Garveyite Drag." Higashida engages with Alice Childress's play Gold Through the Trees (1952). Childress's play captures the "African, West Indian and African American dance and music to depict a pan-African history of struggle" (88). Exploring Childress's pan...