Monday, February 01, 2021

Causes for Concern

Listed below are brief descriptions of five of the major causes of concern for Black women that we covered in my course on Womanist Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. I compiled this information from my class notes as my classmates presented on these topics.

1. Intersectionality/matrix of domination

"Intersectionality" was first used by legal scholar, KimberlĂ© Williams Crenshaw, and it refers to “overlapping and intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.” As Crenshaw explains in her Ted Talk, "The urgency of intersectionality,”  discrimination can be multiplied or overlooked when it happens at these intersections of oppression. A white woman may face discrimination because of her gender. A black woman may face discrimination because of her race and her gender. A black queer woman may face discrimination because she is queer and black and a woman. 

The “matrix of domination” is a theory that explains interconnected issues of oppression dealing with race, class, and gender, and how power relations are organized. Patricia Hill Collins introduced this theory in her book, Black Feminist Thought. She says that in society, power relations are organized by four interrelated domains to maintain the status quo: 

  • Structural (organizes societal oppression) - Large-scale interlocked institutions perpetuate the subordination of Black women.
  • Disciplinary (manages oppression) - Government/surveillance technologies shape social organization through policies and rulings. 
  • Hegemonic (justifies dominance) - As society changes over time, old ideas that support a dominant group are refashioned throughout time in society.
  • Interpersonal (affects us all in everyday life) - Routinized micro-level daily interactions support the subordination of others.  
2. Violence and domestic abuse

"Domestic violence occurs when a person uses physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, stalking, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or economic abuse to control another partner in a relationship. Domestic violence can be a single act or a pattern of behavior in relationships, which encompass dating, marriage, family and roommate relationships.” - University of Michigan

For Black women, sexual assault and violence are incredibly pervasive issues that routinely go unreported and under-addressed:
Why do so many choose not to report?
  • History of abuse from law enforcement
  • Black women are less likely to be believed
  • George Town University: “Black women are seen as less innocent”
  • 91% of Black women are assaulted by Black men. Internal and external pressure to not report.
  • Pressured to stay in the relationship
  • Religious spaces or convictions (terrible theology) can be a contributing factor for staying with the abuser.
3. Black female poverty
  • In 2018, 21.4% of Black women lived in poverty (3.4 million)
  • Black female-headed families: Nearly 2 in 5 (38.8%)
  • There is a lack of income mobility - people get trapped in poverty.
  • Poverty dehumanizes people. It suffocates, removes agency, and puts people in survival mode. It destroys innocence, makes women invisible, takes away their voice, causes an inferiority mindset (like Hagar to Sarah in Genesis), causes exploitation (in the workplace and otherwise), causes parental absenteeism (because they don’t have a choice about how much they have to work to put food on the table).
4Underrepresentation or bad representation of Black women (in STEM)
  • Underrepresentation is when members of a group are not consistently present in representative bodies in the numbers roughly proportionate to their numbers in the general population.
  • Underrepresentation coincides with the access to and exercise of power.
  • African American women are underrepresented in STEM fields. Only 29% of women are involved in science and engineering fields and minority women represent fewer than 1 in 10 employees in science and engineering jobs.
  • Why are they so severely underrepresented? Because of ongoing racist and prejudiced ideology that persists in American society.
  • Watch Raven the Science Maven's  TedX talk: You Don't Look Like A Scientist! 
5. Politics of respectability
  • An effort towards enacting social, political, or legal change by creating narratives about marginalized people that are intended to show that they share similar morals and values with the dominant or mainstream culture.
  • This phrase was first coined by Dr. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in her book, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920 (1993).
  • Higginbotham was awarded the National Humanities Award by Barack Obama in 2014.
    “When I was writing about it, I was interested in how these people who were primarily maids and teachers, for the most part this is a movement made of low-income women, how do they fight for their civil rights? How do they fight for greater voice in their own communities and especially in the churches with these men? As I listened to them in my head give their speeches, as I read their minutes, as I look at the words that they use, I came up with this concept of the politics of respectability, because it is political.”  – Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, 2015 Interview
  • The problem with respectability politics is that it demands that marginalized people force themselves to fit with respectability narratives in order to receive fair and just treatment.
  • It does not address the systemic issues of prejudices that lead to the problematic narratives.
  • It puts the responsibility of avoiding harm or inequality on the marginalized group.
  • The dominant group can change the meaning of “respectability” to suit their agenda.
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