Third World Women's Alliance. Black Women's Manifesto.
NY: Third World Women's Alliance, n.d.
Black Woman's Manifesto
Racism and capitalism have trampled the potential of black people in this country and
thwarted their self-determination. Initially the physical characteristics of those of
African descent were used to fit blacks into the lowest niche in the capitalist hierarchy
- that of maintenance. Therefore, black women and men of today do not encourage
division by extending physical characteristics to serve as a criterion for a social
hierarchy. If the potential of the black woman is seen mainly as a supportive role for
the black man, then the black woman becomes an object to be utilized by another
human being. Her potential stagnates and she cannot begin to think in terms of self-
determination for herself and all black people. It is not right that her existence should
be validated only by the existence of the black man.
The black woman is demanding a new set of female definitions and a recognition of
herself of a citizen, companion and confidant, not a matriarchal villian or a step stool
baby-maker. Role integration advocates the complementary recognition of man and
woman, not the competitive recognition of same.
Role integration encourages a broader mental and emotional growth in black women
and men as they share the responsibility of working towards liberation. Neither of
them should be relegated to a narrow experience in life. Neither of them should have
their potentiality for self-determination controlled and predetermined by the opposite
sex. That is a type of slavery that will not deliver us as a people. That is a form of
bondage which is an integral part of the racist and capitalist system which black
women and black men must work to oppose and overthrow.
*Linda La Rue, The Black Movement and Women�s Liberation, The Black Scholar,
Vol. I. May, 1970. p.42
TABLE OF CONTENTS
FOR SADIE AND MAUDE------1
by Eleanor Holmes Norton
BLACK WOMEN AND THE STRUGGLE FOR LIBERATION ------9
by Maxine Williams
DOUBLE JEOPARDY: TO BE BLACK AND FEMALE------19
by Francs Beal
THE BLACK MOVEMENT AND WOMEN'S LIBERATION------35
by Linda La Rue
This pamphlet distributed by:
The Third World Women�s Alliance
346 120th St. New York. N.Y. 10011
FOR SADIE AND MAUDE
BY ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON
Some subjects are so complex, so unyielding of facile insight, that it will not do to
think about them in the ordinary way. Black women, their lot and their future-is for
me such a subject. Thus, the new crop of literature concerning women - attuned to the
peculiar relationship between white women and white men in America - has inspired
me much, but less than the poetry of the great black poet, Gwendolyn Brooks, who
writes for me and about me. Take, for example Miss Brooks' poem, "Sadie and
Maude," * a sad ballad that in a few stanzas touches in some intimate respect all of us
who are black women:
Maude went to college.
Sadie stayed at home.
Sadie scraped life
With a fine-tooth comb.
She didn't leave a tangle in.
Her comb found every strand.
Sadie was one of the livingest chits
In all the land.
Sadie bore two babies
Under her maiden name.
Maude and Ma and Papa
Nearly died of shame.
When Sadie said last so-long
Her girls struck out from home.
(Sadie had left as heritage
Her fine-tooth comb.)
Maude, who went to college,
Is a thin brown mouse.
She is living all alone
In this old house.
*Gwendolyn Brooks, Selected Poems, Harper & Row, N.Y. 1963
Sadie and Maude are blood sisters, each in her own way living the unrequited life of
the black woman. Sadie has two children out wedlock, but the Sadies of this world
also include black women who have been married but have lost their husbands in
America's wars against the black family. Maude "went to college" - or wherever black
women have gone over the years to escape the perils of living the nearly predestined
half-life of the black woman in this country. Maude, the "thin brown mouse" lives
alone rather than incur Sadie's risks or risk Sadie's pleasures.
The difference in the lives of those two women cannot conceal the over-riding
problem they share - loneliness, life lacking in the chance to develop a relationship
with a man or satisfactory family relationships. The complexities of the problems
facing black women begin to unfold. Not on1y must we work out an unoppressive
relationship with our men; we must - we can at last - establish a relationship with
them de novo.
In this respect, we conceive our mission in terms that are often different from the
expressed goals of many white women revolutionaries. To be sure, our goals and
theirs in their general outlines are same, but black women confront a task that is as
delicate as it is revolutionary. For black women are part of a pre-imminent struggle
whose time has come - the fight for black liberation. If women were suddenly to
achieve equality with men tomorrow, black women would continue to carry the entire
array of utterly oppressive handicaps associated with race. Racial oppression of black
people in America has done what neither class oppression nor sexual oppression, with
all their perniciousness, have ever done: destroyed an entire people and their culture.
The difference is between exploitation and slavery. Slavery partakes of all the worst
excesses of exploitation - and more - but exploitation does not always sink to the
miserable depths of slavery.
Yet black women cannot - must not - avoid the truth about their special subservience.
They are women with all that that implies. If some have been forced into roles as
providers or, out of the insecurity associated with being a black woman alone, have
dared not develop independence, the result is not that black women are today liberated
women. For they have been "liberated" only from love, from family life, from
meaningful work, and just as often from the basic comforts and necessities of an
ordinary existence. There is neither power nor satisfaction in such a "matriarchy."
There is only the bitter knowledge that one is a victim.
Still the stereotypic image of matriarchy has basic appeal to some black men who, in
their frustration may not see immediately the counter-revolutionary nature of such a
battle cry. To allow the white oppressor to share the burden of his responsibility with
the black woman is madness. It is comparable to black people blaming Puerto Ricans
for competing with them for jobs, thus relieving the government of the pressures it
must have to fulfill its duty to provide full employment. Surely, after hundreds of
years black men realize that imprecision in detecting the Enemy is an inexcusable
fault in a revolutionary.
But our problems only begin with the reconstruction of the black family. As black
men begin to find dignified work after so many generations, what roles will their
women seek? Are black people to reject so many of white society's values only to
accept its view of woman and of the family? At the moment when the white family is
caught in a maze of neurotic contradictions, and white women are supremely
frustrated with their roles, are black women to take up such troubled models? Shall
black women exchange their ancient insecurity for the white woman's familial
cocoon? Can it serve us any better than it has served them? And how will it serve
There is no reason to repeat bad history. There is no reason to envy the white woman
who is sinking in a sea of close-quartered affluence, where one's world is one's house,
one's peers one's children, and one's employer one's husband. Black women shall not
have gained if Sadie and Maude exchange the "fine-tooth comb" and the "old house"
for the empty treasures white women are today trying to turn in.
We who are black have a chance for something better. Europeans who came to this
country struggled to be accepted by it and succeeded. Occasionally they changed
America - for the better and for the worse - but mostly they took it as it was, hoping it
would change them. Black people imitated this process pitifully, generation after
generation, but were just so much oil on all that melting pot water. Today we are close
to being true outsiders, no longer desiring to get in on any terms and at any cost.
Racial exclusion has borne ironic fruit. We are perhaps the only group that has come
to these shores who has ever acquired the chance to consciously avoid total
Americanization with its inherent, its rank faults. On the road to equality there is no
better place for blacks to detour around American values than in foregoing its
example in the treatment of its women and the organization of its family life.
With black family life so clearly undermined in the American environment, blacks
must remake the family unit, not imitate it. Indeed, this task is central to black
liberation. The black male will not be returned to his historic strength - the foremost
task of the black struggle today - if we do not recreate the strong family unit that was
a part of our African heritage before it was dismembered by the slave-owning class in
America. But it will be impossible to reconstruct the black family if its central
characters are to be crepe paper copies acting out the old white family melodrama. In
that failing production, the characters seem set upon a course precisely opposite to
ours. White men in search of endless financial security have sold their spirits to that
goal and begun a steady emasculation in which the fiscal needs of wife and family
determine life's values and goals. Their now ungrateful wives have begun to see the
fraud of this way of life, even while eagerly devouring its fruits. Their even more
ungrateful children are in bitter rejection of all that this sort of life signifies and
produces. White family life in America today is less than a poor model for blacks.
White family life is disintegrating at the moment when we must reforge the black
family unit. The whole business of the white family - its softened men, its frustrated
women, its angry children - is in a state of great mess.
But it would be naive to think that the temptations aspects of this sort of life are
incapable of luring black people into a disastrous mockery. The ingredients are all
there. We are a people in search of what for us has been the interminably elusive goal
of economic security. Wretchedly poor for 350 years in a country where most groups
have fattened, we could come to see the pain of much of white family life as bearable
when measured against the tortures we have borne. Our men, deliberately emasculated
as the only way to enforce their servile status, might easily be tempted by a family
structure which, by making them the financial head of the household, seemed to make
them its actual head. In our desperation to escape so many suffering decades, we
might trip down the worn path taken by so many in America before us.
If we are to avoid this disaster, the best, perhaps the only, place to begin is in our
conception of the black woman. After all, the immediate tasks of the black man are
laid out for him. It is the future role of the black woman that is problematical. And
what she is allowed to become - or relegated to - will shape not simply her future but
that of the black family and the fate of its members.
If she is forced into the current white model, she is doomed to the fate of the "Empty
Woman" about whom Miss Brooks has also written:
"The empty woman had hats
To show. With feathers. Wore combs
In polished waves. Wooed cats."
If so she will be unfit for the onerous responsibilities she must meet if the struggle for
black freedom is to bring us out of our ancient bondage into a truly new and liberated
In any case it is too late for any group to consciously revert to old familial patterns of
male dominance and female servility. Those roles have their roots in conditions of life
that are rapidly disappearing, and especially so in this country. If the woman's place
has historically been at home, it was at least in part because there was much work to
be done there, and as the natural custodian of the children, it seemed logical for her to
do it. But today there is neither so much work to be done there, nor so many children.
Doitall appliances and technology are making housework a parttime job, freeing
millions of women to do something else. An increasing array of birth preventatives
has released women from the unwanted multiples of children it was difficult to avoid
in the past. The effect on the family of these work and child liberating phenomena will
reverberate in ways we still cannot foresee.
Yet it is certain that the institution of the family will under": radical alteration largely
through the new roles women will have to seek. With birth preventatives and with
world overpopulation, many couples will rethink whether it is wise to have children at
all. And even though most may choose to have children, it is doubtful that it will any
longer be Prestigious or wise to have very many. With children no longer the
universally accepted reason for marriage, marriages are going to have to exist on their
own merits. Marriages are going to have to exist because they possess inherent
qualities which make them worthy of existing, a plane to which the institution has
never before been elevated. For marriage to develop such inherent qualities, the
woman partner heretofore oriented toward fulfilling now outmoded functions will
have to seek new functions. Whether black or white, if American women are to find
themselves, they must begin looking outside the home. This will undoubtedly lead
them into doing and thinking about matters now pretty much reserved for men.
Inevitably, women are going to acquire new goals and a new status.
We who are black are taking up the longdelayed work of familybuilding at an historic
moment in history. We embark upon this goal at a time when the family institution in
America is in a state of great flux. This is fortunate happenstance, for had we been
about this task in the years immediately following World War II, we might have fallen
into the mold which today traps white families, and especially white women.
As it is, we have a chance to pioneer in forging new relationships between men and
women. We have a chance to make family life a liberating experience instead of the
confining experience it more often has been.
We have a chance to free woman and with her the rest of us.
Black Women and the Struggle for Liberation
BY MAXINE WILLIAMS
In the early part of the sixties, social scientists became more and more interested in
the family structure of blacks. Unemployment and so called crime among Blacks was
increasing and some of these "scientists" decided that the problems of the Black
community were caused by the family pattern among Black people. Since Blacks
were deviating from the "norm" more female heads of households, higher
unemployment, more school "dropouts" these pseudoscientists claimed that the way to
solve these problems was to build up a more stable Black family in accord with the
American patriarchal pattern.
In 1965, the U.S. government published a booklet entitled "The Negro Family The
Case for National Action." The author (U.S. Dept. of Labor) stated, "In essence, the
Negro community has been forced into a matriarcal structure which, because it is so
out of line with the rest of American society, seriously retards the progress of the
group as a whole." According to this theory, the institution of slavery led to a
breakdown in the Black family and the development of a socalled matriarchy, in
which the Black woman was "dominant." This "matriarchal" structure was held
responsible, in turn, for contributing to the "emasculation" of the Black man. In other
words, as these people would have it, the oppression of blacl people was partly caused
by the chief victims of this oppression, Black Women!
This myth of the Black Matriarchy has had wide spread influence, and is even widely
believed in the Black community today. It is something we have to fight against and
expose. To show just how wrong this theory is, let's look at the real condition and
history of the socalled dominant Black woman.
Under slavery, once arriving on American soil, the African social order of Black
people was broken down. Tribes were separated and shipped to different plantations.
Slaves underwent a process of de-socialization and had to adopt a new culture and
language. Black men greatly outnumbered Black women. Sociologist E.F. Frazier
indicates in his book The Negro Family In the U.S.,that this probably led to
"numerous cases of sex relations between Negro slaves and indentured white women."
The "marriage" rate between Black men and white women became so high that
interracial marriages were banned.
Prior to this time, Black men were encouraged to marry white women in order to
enrich the slavemaster's plantation with more human labor. The Black man in some
instances was able to select a mate of his choice. However in contrast, the Black
woman had little choice in the selection of her mate. Living in a patriarchal society,
she became a mere breeding instrument. Just as Black men were chained and branded
under slavery, so were Black women. Lying nude on the slave ship, some women
gave birth to children in the scorching hot sun.
There were economic interests involved in the Black women having as many
offspring as she could bear. After her child was born, she was allowed to nurse and
fondle the infant only at the slavemaster's discretion. There are cases of Black women
who greatly resisted being separated from their children and having them placed on
the auction block even though they were subject to flogging. And in some cases, the
Black woman took the life of her own children rather than subjit them to the
oppression of slavery.
The Master's Household
There are those who say that because the Black woman was in charge of carin for the
slavemaster's children, she became an important figure in the household. Nothing
could be further from the truth. The Black woman became the most exploited
"member" of the master's household. She scrubbed the floors, washed dishes, cared
for the children and was often subjected to the lustful advances of Miss Ann's
husband. She became an unpaid domestic. However, she worked outside as well. Still
today, many Black women continue to work in households as underpaid domestics.
And as W.E.B. DuBois stated in his essay The Servant in the House, "The personal
degradation of their work is so great that any white man of decency would rather cut
his daughter's throat than let her grow up to such a destiny."
In this way arose the "mammy� image of Black women an image so embedded in the
system that its impact is still felt today. Until recently, the mass media has aided in
reinforcing this image of portraying Black women as weighing 200 pounds, holding a
child to her breast, and/or scrubbing floors with a rag around her head. For such a one,
who was constantly portrayed with her head to the floor and her behind facing the
ceiling, it is ludicrous to conceive of any dominant role. Contrary to popular opinion,
all Black women do not willingly submit to the sexual advances of white men.
Probably every Black woman has been told the old myth that the only ones who have
had sexual freedom in this country are the white man and the Black woman. But, in
many instances even physical force has been used to compel Black women to submit.
Frazier gives a case in his book where a Black woman who refused the sexual
advances of a white man was subdued and held to the ground by Black men while the
"Master" stood there whipping her.
In some instances, Black women stood in awe of the white skin of their masters and
felt that copulation with a white man would enhance her slave status. There was also
the possibility that her mulatto offspring would achieve emancipation. Her admiration
of white skin was not very different from the slave mentality of some Blacks which
caused them to identify with their master. In some cases, the Black woman who
submitted herself sexually played a vital role in saving the life of the Black man. If
she gave the master a "good lovin'," she could sometimes prevent her husband from
being horsewhipped or punished.
The myth that is being perpetrated in the Black community states that somehow the
Black woman has man aged to escape much of the oppression of slavery and that all
avenues of opportunity were opened to her. Well, this is highly interesting, since in
1870 when the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed citizens the right to vote, this right
did not apply to the Black woman. During reconstruction, those Blacks who served as
justices of the peace and superintendents of education, and in municipal and state
governments, were men. Although the reconstruction period was far from being an era
of "Black Rule," it is estimated that thousands of Black men used their votes to help
keep the Republicans in power. The Black women remained an the outside.
To be sure, the Black man had a difficult time exercising his right to vote. Mobs of
whites waited for him at the voting booth. Many were threatened with the loss of jobs
and subjected to the terror of Klan elements. The political activity for the Black an
was relatively ephemeral, but while it lasted, many offices fox the first time were
occupied by them. The loose ties established between Black men and women during
slavery were in many cases dissolved after emancipation. In order to test their
freedom, some Black men who remained with their wives began flogging them.
Previously, this was a practice reserved only for the white master. In the later part of
the 1860s and early 70s, female heeds of households began to crop up. Black men
who held Jobs as skilled craftsmen, carpenters, etc., were being driven out of these
occupation. Since the Republicans no longer needed the Black vote after 1876, the
"welfare" of Blacks was placed in southern hands. Black men found it very difficult to
obtain jobs and in some instances found employment only as strikebreakers. Black
men, who were made to feel "less of a man" in a racist oppressive system, turned
toward Black women, and began to blame them for the position they occupied.
The Black woman, in some cases, left to herself with children to feed, also went
looking for employment. Many went to work in the white man's kitchen. DuBois in
the same essay mentioned earlier, The Servant In the HOLLY, gives a vivid portrayal
of the exploitation of domestic workers. He speaks of the personal degradation of their
work, the fact that they are still in some instances made to enter and exit by the side
door, that they are referred to by their first name, paid extremely low wages, and
subjected to the sexual exploitation of the "master." All this proves that because the
Black woman worked, it did not make her more "independent" than the white woman.
Rather, she became more subject to the brutal exploitation of capitalism as Black, as
worker. as woman.