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209 Chapter 14 “OTHERPEOPLES’KITCHENS” INVISIBLELABORANDMILITANTVOICEDURINGTHEEARLYCOLDWAR Jennifer Keohane “Goodbye Mammy, Hello Mom,” announced popular African American magazine Ebony in 1947. The magazine ambitiously declared the postwar years to be a new beginning, when black men would continue working wellpaid industrial jobs, so black women could return home to mother. The reality was different. Because black men were still paid far less than white men after the war, black women continued to work outside of the home in far greater numbers than white women (J. Jones 3–4). For black women seeking change, there were few activist groups attuned to their experiences. Even though the era’s primary radical organization, the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA), had long foregrounded the unique problems facing African Americans and was slowly coming into its own feminist consciousness, that feminism was profoundly white.1 Betty Millard’s 1948 pamphlet Woman against Myth had awakened the CPUSA to the possibility of feminism’s compatibility with the class struggle, but it wove a racialized narrative that erased black women almost entirely. Partly in response to Millard’s pamphlet, America’s highest-ranking black communist woman, Claudia Jones, published an article titled “An End to the Neglect of the Negro Woman!” in the party’s leading theoretical journal, Political Affairs. In this 1949 essay, Jones used militant critique to argue for the uniqueness of black women’s oppression and to convince the CPUSA to recruit and develop black women as leaders. In seeking to persuade the leadership of the party to expand their understanding of oppression, Jones waded into challenging rhetorical territory that required an expert negotiation of dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, informed by the party’s practical and theoretical commitments. Primarily, she had to build her own authority while levying a critique of the leadership’s ideological hypocrisy for its privileging of class over race. To overcome these obstacles, Jones used strategic representations of black women. Specifically, Jones made visible black women and their invisible 210 Jennifer Keohane work. This tactic evidenced the variety of forces—Marxist theory, the postwar “return to domesticity,” and burgeoning (white) feminist narratives—that erased black women’s difference. To convince the party to take her seriously, however, Jones developed her own voice using the conventions of CPUSA theoretical discourse: the passive voice, distance from her object of study, and militant tone. Using these strategies allowed Jones to push the boundaries of CPUSA class critique. Jones showed the home to be a site of waged labor and oppression and demonstrated that labor organizing and understandings of work needed to be understood in what we would today term intersectional contexts—suggesting that aspects of social identity like race, class, and gender overlapped to produce interlocking forms of oppression. Jones’s Political Affairs article set forth an argument that had a major influence in black left feminist circles (McDuffie, Sojourning 171) and helped lay the foundation for the emergence of an intersectional second-wave feminist consciousness in the 1970s. Foremost among the enduring contributions of Jones’s 1949 essay is the concept of “triple oppression.” Using her unique perspective as a woman of color and an immigrant, Jones articulated a clear argument for the importance of black women in the struggle against capitalism and provided language to talk about the way race, gender, and class intersected to oppress. She deployed the term “triple oppression” or “super exploitation” to describe these unique forces that combined to oppress black women. In the immediate wake of her 1949 publication, the party put Jones’s ideas to work as it organized African Americans. “Triple oppression” became a common term in the Communist Party press, and the party attempted to more clearly respond to oppression as a series of interlocking phenomena (McDuffie, “‘New Freedom Movement’” 85). Jones deserves to be recognized, then, as a “proto-intersectional” theorist . As Kathryn T. Gines notes, proto-intersectionality sees race, gender, and class not merely as separate systems of oppression but as mutually reinforcing ones (14). While Jones would not have used the terms “intersectionality” or even “feminism,” her sophisticated analysis illustrates the ways that race, gender, and class combined to constitute black women’s unique experiences . Although I have analyzed Jones’s rhetoric within the contours of CPUSA feminist thought elsewhere (Keohane, ch. 3), taking “An End to the Neglect of the Negro Woman!” on its own terms here provides the opportunity to more closely consider Jones’s rhetorical strategies in the context of CPUSA theorizing on African Americans...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780822987185
Related ISBN
9780822945888
MARC Record
OCLC
1113898346
Pages
303
Launched on MUSE
2019-08-28
Language
English
Open Access
No
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