(Re)constructing multiracial blackness: women’s activism, difference and collective identity in Britain

(Re)constructing multiracial blackness: women’s activism, difference and collective identity in Britain

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 24, Issue 1 (January 2001)
pages 29-49
DOI: 10.1080/014198701750052488

Julia Sudbury, Professor and Department Head of Ethnic Studies
Mills College, Oakland, California

This article analyses the (re)construction of black identity as a multiracial signifier shared by African, Asian and Caribbean women in Britain, from the framework of recent social movement theory. The collective identity approach calls attention to naming as a strategic element of collective action, but has overlooked the experiences of black women at the intersection of multiple systems of oppression. A focus on the process of constructing black womanhood allows us to move beyond static and unidimensional notions of identity to question how and why gendered racialized boundaries are created and maintained. I argue that multiracial blackness should be viewed as an oppositional identity, strategically invoked by black women activists in order to mobilize collective action. Drawing on everyday theorizing by black women, the article examines the shift from the policing of authenticity claims, to a more open and fluid collectivity, and suggests that explicit interrogations of identity are a prerequisite for effective and sustainable alliances between diverse movement participants…

…For African Caribbean women, the ‘pure and narrow defnition’ of blackness (see Faith above) was personified through the figure of the ‘conscious’ or ‘I-tal’ black woman. The ‘I-tal’ woman was a direct refutation of hegemonic constructions of beauty and thus established an alternative ideal of womanhood. She was assumed to have dark skin, unprocessed hair and African phenotype features. In seeking to revalorize these denigrated characteristics, black women activists reified a rigid conceptualization of distinct ‘races’.  One unintentional outcome of this approach is the marginalization of mixed race women (Ifekwunigwe 1997). Exclusionary notions of belonging and community were therefore inherent in women’s oppositional constructions of beauty.

Similar processes characterized a whole array of characteristics and behaviours as black or non-black. A prime area of contestation was that of sexual relationships. Few of the interviewees appeared to view ‘mixed’ relationships as a valid family structure. It was assumed that women who were politically aware would engage in black on black relationships. Accordingly, women who had a white partner were held in suspicion. For example where a woman brought a picture of her new fiancé to a centre, she was at first surrounded by excited women. On seeing the photograph of a white man, the crowds quickly dissipated and women subsequently ignored her…

Read the entire article here.

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