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African American Women, black women, womenism etc.,

In literature portraits of women had figured but so they had reflected only man’s view of what women should be. What women had actually felt and experienced had not been heard in literature. Traditionally in most fiction, men were the central characters and women just played a background figure. When male writers depict female characters, they often write from a fiercely male perspective. Women were seen primarily in relation to male protagonist who occupied the works. Generally Africans – American male writers in the depictions of the above stated observation.

Women of African origin in the United States were keenly aware of the impact of race, class gender and oppression upon their lives. Since slavery they had struggled individually and in groups to eradicate the multiple injustices which their community’s face. The history of black women in United States began with the forced migration of millions of African women from the interiors of the west coast of Africa. They were transported as human cargo across the Atlantic Ocean to plantations in the West Indies. The enslaved Africans were then sold to European colonies.

Black women faced misery and suffering in redefining themselves. The slave black women were not given proper medical care because black were assumed to be less fragile; who gave birth easily and therefore needed less care than white women. The women were made to work as lumberjacks and turpentine producers in the forest of Georgia and Carolina. They hauled logs by leather straps attached to their shoulders. They plowed using mule or ox and sometimes worked with heaviest implements available.

Black men under slavery were equally powerless so the women could not depend upon them for protection but at time even they poured out their frustration on the black women. There fore the black women had to protect themselves against the white men. Some were bold enough to rebel and fight against their masters; some even murdered them while they managed to escape. By the end of nineteenth century numerous clubs and organizations came to support woman suffrage and gave priority to social and political issues that affected black community as well as black women specifically. The national association of colored women formed in 1896 brought together more than one hundred black women’s club.

Many movements like Civil Rights Movement (1955), started by Martin Luther King came up to rebel against racism Black Panthers, students Non violent co-coordinating committee and others came up black liberation. The Black feminist movement grew out of and in response to the Black Liberation Movement and Woman’s Movement in an effort to meet the needs of black women who felt they were being racially oppressed in women’s movement and sexually oppressed in the black liberation movement.

In the 1930s and 1940s, African-American is the southern states of the USA were treated with contempt by the majority of white people. There was segregation. Black people were not allowed to have good school, good jobs, good housing or medical treatment. They were kept poor and ignorant. They had to treat white people with respect and show great humility. They were employed by whites, but were paid very little. The Ku Klux Klan which still exists there today was an organization of white men who took the law into their own hands and attacked, and killed, Black people who they thought deserved to be treated like animals or worse. The Klan members always attacked at night. They wore white robes and tall white hats, and carried burning torches. Sometimes they burned down houses, with the family inside.

Segregation breeds hostility and fear, superiority and inferiority. Black children feared whites, and in fact, as in the case of the author, did not think of them as being human. At that time in America, women had a lower place in society that man, both for whites and Blacks. So being a black woman was as low in society as one could be. They were servants to whites and servants to men. However, things were different in the north. Blacks had a much easier time than those in the south. During the times of slavery, the order of importance in American Society was clearly mapped out. First the white males, next white women, then black males, and finally black women. They would suffer the same harsh and unbearable treatment from black men, as they would white, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual assault were all a part of the everyday lives of African American women during the age of slavery.

Many writers defined Black feminist movement but the most notable is Alice Walker, defining black feminist movement as “Womanism”. Alice Walker in her acclaimed womanist prose In Search Of Our Mother’s Garden defines it as “Womanist” is “a black feminist or feminist of color”.

Three main writers heralded the rise of a new black women’s creative activism. Michelle Wallace’s controversial Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (1978). Ntozake Shanges’s explosive play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf (1975) and Alice Walker’s powerful and provocating novel The Color Purple (1982).
“The Black Women” says Alice Walker “is one of America’s greatest heroes… Not enough credit has been given to the black women who have been oppressed beyond recognition”. Almost all of Walker’s novels, short stories, essays, and poems focus on issues of civil rights, emphasizing especially the plight of black women, who suffer the dual oppression of racism and sexism.

The black feminist writers through their works aim at demolishing the negative portrayal of black people by the white writers. They presented their people as complete, whole and independent and not as the downtrodden people who were suppressed for hundreds of years. Though black feminist writers wrote of a particular race yet they had a universal appeal because the oppression of women exists in all communities, male-female relationships, emotions, feelings were same for all human beings.

Toni Morrision, Maya Angleou, Jamaica Kincaid and Rita Dove were the feminist writers who talked about the sufferings of black American women in their writings.

Toni Morrison’s novel was revolved round the theme of isolation and identity, tales of the disposed and disillusioned black voice. Toni Morrison’s novel revealed the black women’s life that lived for children, for parents, brefet always of an autonomous self. Toni morrison’s novel stresses the need for self-discovery and self- identity leading to self- actualization. Hurston was serious cataloger of African American folk stories, dialect and religious practices. The credit of Hurston’s recognition goes to Alice Walker. In her works, Walker found African American people were presented as complete and complex individual undiminished by the negative stereotypes of the characterizations depicted by the society. Hurston was rejected by society for picturing African American people as whole and complete in themselves instead of downtrodden, oppressed people.
Published: 2009-03-16
Author: Hiltrud Eve

About the author or the publisher
COMPLETED M.A., Mphil. And have six years experience

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