Resolving the tension between these two extremes involves reassessing the centrality Black women intellectuals assume in producing Black feminist thought.
Who Can Be A Black Feminist?: The Centrality Of Black Women Intellectuals To The Production Of Black Feminist ThoughtI aim to develop a definition of Black feminist thought that relies exclusively neither on a materialist analysis--one whereby all African-American women by virtue of biology become automatically registered as "authentic Black feminists"-nor on an idealist analysis whereby the background, worldview, and interests of the thinker are deemed irrelevant in assessing his or her ideas.
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In assessing the sexism of the Black nationalist movement of the 1960s,Black feminist lawyer Pauli Murray identifies the dangers inherent in separatism as opposed to autonomy, and also echoes Cooper's concern with the solidarity of humanity:
Dialogues among and coalitions with a range of groups, each with its own distinctive set of experiences and specialized thought embedded in those experiences, form the larger, more general terrain of intellectual and political discourse necessary for furthering Black feminism.
Bell Hooks offers a solution to this problem by suggesting that we shift from statements such as "I am a feminist" to those such as "I advocate feminism." Such an approach could "serve as a way women who are concerned about feminism as well as other political movements could express their support while avoiding linguistic structures that give primacy to one particular group" (1984, 30).
The dilemma is that Black women intellectuals must place our own experiences and consciousness at the center of any serious efforts to develop Black feminist thought yet not have that thought become separatist and exclusionary.
Thus the primary guiding principle of Black feminism is a recurring humanist vision (Steady 1981, 1987).7Alice Walker's preference for the term womanist, a term she describes as "womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender," addresses this notion of the solidarity of humanity.
While being an African-American woman generally provides the experiential base for an Afrocentric feminist consciousness, these same conditions suppress its articulation.
Criticism by black feminists must reaffirm this principle." (1986, 162)Black feminist thought cannot challenge race, gender, and class oppression without empowering African-American women.
In discussing Black women's involvement in the feminist movement, Sheila Radford-Hill points out the connections among self-definition, empowerment, and taking actions in one's own behalf:
Such coalitions are essential in order to foster other groups' contributions as critics, teachers, advocates, and disseminators of a self-defined Afrocentric feminist standpoint.