- Intimate Justice: The Black Female Body and the Body Politic by Shatema Threadcraft
Intimate Justice: The Black Female Body and the Body Politic is a groundbreaking text. Shatema Threadcraft demonstrates not only that black women experience intersecting race and gender-based oppression but also that how they do so is "embodied." By this, Threadcraft means that racism and patriarchy are coconstitutive in ways that severely limit black women's ability to "use the powers and capacities of the black female body freely and equally" (6). The tangible result of this disturbing reality, Threadcraft explains, is that black women experience a range of oppressions including, but not limited to, "coerced sterilizations," "racially biased child removal policies," and "systemic sexual violence as a weapon of racial terror" (8–9). Threadcraft further demonstrates that Platonic, Rawlsian, and other traditional conceptions of freedom and justice—as that which is material and is realized in the public sphere—neither recognize nor acknowledge the intersectional, intimate dimensions of black women's subordination.
Intimate Justice is especially outstanding in three arenas. First, it provides a black feminist rereading of key moments in African American history. Thread-craft, in one such rereading, reveals that the race riots of the late 1890s and early 1900s were not about white hostility to black male soldiers or, more broadly, to many black males' "new status as agents of public authority" (78). The riots were also about racist whites' revolt against the many "newly liberated women [who] withdrew from the agricultural labor they had almost all performed within the plantation regime" and focused, instead, on caring for or "meeting the physical and emotional needs of the black body" (74). Threadcraft cites, as evidence, firsthand accounts of white male rioters' use of rape to coerce black women back to their "natural" role as servicers of whites' intimate desires, as well as fliers, produced by white male rioters, that demanded, "Negro women shall be employed by white persons" (72).
Threadcraft reveals, second, that like "mainstream" political theorists, past and present black male scholars also ignore black women's embodied oppression at the crossroads of race and gender. The difficulty, Threadcraft [End Page 293] explains, is that these scholars' conceptualization of liberation focuses not on the intimate capacities associated with black women's subordination, but rather on "blacks' capacities for controlling their political and material environment" in the traditionally masculine public or "civic" sphere (27). One result is W. E. B. Du Bois's assumption that cultivating black people's capacity for reason—as opposed to, say, sexual autonomy—is most crucial in the struggle against racism. Another result is Tommie Shelby's failure to recognize that blacks in the "dark ghetto" are oppressed not only because of their "relegation to low-wage menial jobs within an advanced capitalist consumer society" (118), but also because many of them are victims of racist child protective services officers, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and other forms of intimate injustice.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Threadcraft uses black male theorists' silence regarding black women's intimate, intersecting oppression as a departure point for determining what an empowering, gender-expansive understanding of black liberation looks like. The answer, Threadcraft concludes, lies in melding Afro-Modern conceptions of freedom and justice—as the ability to participate in civic life and the radical redistribution of material goods, respectively—with a more comprehensive, feminist understanding of these terms. Threadcraft draws on the work of feminists Iris Young, Martha Nussbaum, and Nancy Hirschman to make the more specific case that black freedom and justice are attainable when black women can (1) exercise intimate capabilities—such as making emotional attachments and controlling the movement of their bodies—and (2) do so in social and cultural contexts in which they, rather than men, have the "final say over the meaning of [their] sexual, reproductive, and caretaking actions" (60).
Intimate Justice poses two other important questions: (1) How do we recognize a black woman when we see her? And (2) how do we recognize black women's...