Archive for the ‘Sociology’ Category

Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix of Domination
January 30, 2007

 The advent of the contemporary women’s movement became strong and widespread after the 1960s. Although few period of mobilization for the feminist cause existed prior to the 1960s, those causes were primarily around issues of suffrage and employment. Contemporary feminist writers like Patricia Hill Collins and Lemert hall drew their ideas from the works of early sociological theorists, most particularly Marx, Engels, and Freud. Collins (1990) for instance, reworks their ideas of these writers by analyzing gender differences, inequality and oppression. For example, Collins Matrix of Domination gave us path-breaking and deep theoretical understanding of African-American women and portrays them self-reliant individuals confronting race, gender and class oppression. Collins (1990:536) suggests that “Black feminist thought fosters a fundamental paradigmatic shift that rejects additive approaches to oppression.”

Black feminist thought’s in the matrix of domination emphasis the ongoing interplay between Black women’s oppression and Black women’s activism and presents the matrix of domination as responsive to human agency. Such a radical feminist thought as presented by Patricia Hill Collins views the world as a dynamic place where the goal is not merely to survive or to fit in or to cope; rather, as a place where black women will feel ownership and accountability. This existence of Afro centric feminist thought suggests that there is always choice, and power to act, no matter how bleak the situation may appear to be. Viewing the world as one in the making raises the issue of individual responsibility for bringing about change. It also shows that while individual empowerment is the key, only collective action can effectively generate lasting social transformation of political and economic institutions.

Collins reconceptualize race, class and gender as three interlocking systems of oppression. She argues that black feminist thoughts see those three distinctive systems as part of one overarching structures of oppression and domination. She views “any given sociohistorical content as being structured via a system of interlocking race, class, and gender oppression” (Collins, 1990:537). She argues that black woman’s experiences and the Afro centric feminist thoughts challenges prevailing definitions of community which stress community as arbitrary and fragile, structured fundamentally by competition and domination. Instead, Collins suggests that afro centric models of community which stress connections, caring, and personal accountability” (Collins, 1990:537).

Collins argues that the black female spheres of influence constitute potential sanctuaries where individual Black women and men are nurtured in order to confront oppressive social institutions. She argues that “Addictive models of oppression are firmly rooted in either/or dichotomous thinking of Eurocentric, masculinist thoughts” (Collins, 1990:538). She argues that in addition to being structured along race, gender, and social class, black feminist thought emphasizes three levels as sites of domination and as potential sites of resistance. Collins believes that the matrix of domination is structured on several levels. Collins suggests three levels by which people experience and resist oppression, “the level of personal biography; the group or community level of the cultural context created by race, class, and gender; and the systemic level of social institutions” (Collins, 1990:540).

Collins believes that domination operates by seducing, pressuring, or forcing African American women and members of subordinated groups to replace individual and cultural ways of knowing with dominant group’s specialized thought. She argues against traditional accounts which “assume that power as domination operates from the top down by forcing and controlling unwilling victims to bend to the will of more powerful superiors. But these accounts fail to account for questions concerning why, for example, women stay with abusive men even with ample opportunity to leave or why slaves did not kill their owners more often; the willingness of the victim to collude in her or his own victimization becomes lost” (Collins, 1990:540).

Collins argues that these assumptions also fail to account for sustained resistance by victims, even when chances for victory appear remote. She indicates that by emphasizing the power of self-definition and the necessity of a free mind, Black feminist thoughts now speaks of the importance and place of African-American women thinkers and their own consciousness as a sphere of freedom. Collins argues that black women intellectuals are now beginning to realize that domination operates not only by structuring power from the top down but by simultaneously annexing the power as energy of those on the bottom for its own ends. “In their efforts to rearticulate the standpoint of African-American women as a group, Black feminist thinkers offer individual African-American women the conceptual tools to resist oppression”(Collins, 1990:540).

Collins believes that, that each individual biography is rooted in several overlapping cultural contexts–for example, “groups defined by race, social class, age, gender, religion, and sexual orientation and that the cultural component contributes, among other things, the concepts used in thinking and acting, group validation of an individual’s interpretation of concepts, the “thought models” used in the acquisition of knowledge, and standards used to evaluate individual thought and behavior” (Collins, 1990:540). Viewing domination from a black women’s standpoint and those of other oppressed groups she suggests that because “black women’s ideas have been suppressed; this suppression has stimulated black women to create knowledge that empowers people to resist domination” (Collins, 1990:541).

Collins (1990:544) suggests that “Afro centric feminist thought represents a subjugated knowledge and that a Black women’s standpoint may provide a preferred stance from which to view the matrix of domination because, in principle, Black feminist thought as specialized thought is less likely than the specialized knowledge produced by dominant groups to deny the connection between ideas and the vested interests of their creators. In conclusion Collins argues that “portraying Black women solely as passive, unfortunate recipients of racial and sexual abuse stifles notions that Black women can actively work to change their own circumstances and bring about changes in their own lives. She argues that by presenting African-American women solely as heroic figures who easily engage in resisting oppression on all fronts minimizes the very real costs of oppression and can foster the perception that Black women need no help because we can “take it.”

Work Cited

Collins, Patricia H. 1990. Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix of Domination.

Social theory: the Multicultural and Classic Readings. Charles Lemert (Eds.)

Third Edition.




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