Women, Race and Class by Angela Y. Davis
Written by Ashley Kelmore, Posted in Reviews
Best for: Readers interested in learning more about the history of the women’s movement from a race and class perspective (it’s right there in the title).
In a nutshell: Brilliant academic and activist Angela Y. Davis provides a thorough history of the women’s movement, with a focus on the contributions of Black women and men and a deep analysis of the ways that white women in particular failed to support the needs of their Black sisters.
Line that sticks with me: “Yet there were those who understood that the abolition of slavery had not abolished the economic oppression of Black people, who therefore had a special and urgent need for political power.” (p73)
Why I chose it: Angela Davis is amazing. Also, I wanted to learn more about the history of the women’s movement outside the white lens.
Review: This book. I need to read this book again. Maybe twice a year. There is so much within it to unpack, to think about.
Ms. Davis starts with slavery and the entire concept of womanhood, looking at how the Black experience of womanhood in the U.S. differed from the experience of the white woman. She continues on through abolition and suffrage, focusing a large portion of her time on the 1850s-1930s. Each chapter feels like it could have been the start of a seminar on the topic; I assume there are (or at least could be) entire graduate-level courses constructed around examining each of these essays.
I didn’t really learn much about the U.S. suffragettes in school, so when I saw this article (http://the-toast.net/2014/04/21/suffragettes-sucked-white-supremacy-womens-rights/) a few years ago, I remember thinking ‘oh fuck.’ You may have seen a few of the more recent articles – like during the election – pointing this same thing out. But Ms. Davis gives so much more context to this, providing a detailed history, full of great original source material from speeches and other documents. It is frustrating and fascinating and infuriating, all at the same time.
She also focuses chapters near the end on the racial implications of rape (“Rape, Racism and the Myth of the Black Rapist”) and on how racism factored into and colors how Black women view birth control and reproductive right. Holy shit, people. These chapters are SO GOOD. Rage inducing, but critical to understanding this nation’s race relations history.
Not that I’m in any position to disagree with Ms. Davis on anything, but I did have a bit of a problem with the final chapter, on housework. Once you read it, you might understand when I say that I don’t disagree with her, but I think that she missed a big part of the picture. In that chapter, she takes issue with the fight for women to earn wages doing housework. She raises valid points, but in this area, I think fails to take into consideration what could bridge the gap between the current (bad) situation and the ideal situation.
But that’s one minor issue – and one I might change my mind about once I think on it more. The whole book is just fantastic. Go get it.