- Revisiting "What's in a Name?":Exploring the Contours of Africana Womanist Thought
Neither an outgrowth nor an addendum to feminism, Africana Womanism is not Black feminism, African feminism, or Walker's womanism that some Africana women have come to embrace. Africana Womanism is an ideology created and designed for all women of African descent. It is grounded in African culture, and[,] therefore, it necessarily focuses on the unique experiences, struggles, needs, and desires of Africana women. It critically addresses the dynamics of the conflict between the mainstream feminist, the Black feminist, the African feminist, and the Africana womanist. The conclusion is that Africana Womanism and its agenda are unique and separate from both White feminism and Black feminism, and[,] moreover, to the extent of naming in particular, Africana Womanism differs from African feminism. (emphasis in original)Clenora Hudson-Weems, Africana Womanism
Although Africana womanism is a growing academic and political identification, scholars have yet to adequately explore its relationship to Black feminism. Current interest in whether various types of Black women's intellectual production should be named womanism or Black feminism mirrors the pre-occupation with questions of individual versus group identity and crosscutting versus consensus issues that take place within Black civil society today. While some scholars conflate womanism and Black feminism, others insist the two are inherently incompatible. The uncertainty and controversy surrounding naming practices reflect a concern with differences among individual Black women who wish to emphasize the primacy of their racial identity, particularly nationalists,1 and others who do not. At the heart of this debate, which involves such Black women intellectuals as Patricia Hill Collins, Alice Walker, and Clenora Hudson-Weems, is a struggle to authoritatively name a political identity [End Page 67] for Black women: Black feminism, womanism, or Africana womanism.2 Such a question forces Black academics, intellectuals, and activists to reconsider long-standing notions of race loyalty and the hierarchy of interests within Black communities relative to the prioritization of race, class, and gender.3
Notably, Black feminist sociologist Patricia Hill Collins addresses the above set of concerns by arguing that the controversy over naming is a political distraction. In her book, Fighting Words, Collins discusses the various meanings and uses of the terms Black feminism and womanism.4 While she recognizes that womanism's affiliation with nationalism exaggerates out-group differences and minimizes in-group variation by assuming a stable and homogenous racial group identity, she also acknowledges that Black feminism's connection with women's liberation, domestically and globally, cultivates its rejection on the grounds that feminism is perceived as a for-Whites-only affair. More important, she argues that the politics of naming and the controversy that follows it draw critical attention away from the very circumstances that limit the life chances of Black women and undermine the struggle to overcome racist and sexist oppression.
Rather than focus our attention on the politics of naming and individual labels that often polarize rather than unify grassroots activists, Collins suggests that Black women academicians bypass the debate by concentrating on matters of practical concern. She suggests that this dialogue is largely elitist, since discussions about feminism and womanism often occur within academic spaces—colleges and universities—away from nonelite actors.5 By asserting that we should sidestep the politics of naming to deal with real world issues, however, Collins underestimates the importance and political implications of such an exercise as naming.
In this essay, we carefully examine the key tenets underpinning Africana womanism. Africana womanism contrasts sharply with Black feminisms and womanisms, offering a unique read of the political world as it relates to identity. Challenging the theoretical and historical foundations of Africana womanism, we argue that the master narrative and characteristics upon which it is based ignore and distort Black feminist thought and history, fail to join theory with practice, and depend on an ahistoric, monolithic view of African cultures.6 For the purpose of this study, we concentrate on second-wave Black feminism as conceived by the Combahee River Collective and theorized by Patricia Hill Collins, among others, and on Africana womanism as posited by Clenora Hudson...