“Black nationalist women ‘on the margins’ struggled to make their way to the center—that is, the forefront of political movements for global black liberation. These women, representing a subordinate group within the global racial and gender hierarchies, advocated immediate social changes and in so doing laid the political groundwork for a new generation of black activists and intellectuals…Often with limited material resources and in the face of much opposition, these women attempted to transform American society and sought to improve the conditions for people of color all across the globe.”
– Keisha Blain, Set the World on Fire, 10
From Pan-Africanism and Black nationalism to Puerto Rican and Native American nationalist politics, women have been central as political protagonists of movements that in seeking liberation for oppressed groups, have sought to transcend the U.S. state. This section explores how these nationalist movements were gendered and emphasizes the women of color who were at their center. The section explores how arguments in the 1970s for a Third World feminist politics recognized both transnational bonds and nationalist projects as a rejection of the U.S. internal and external colonialism.
Challenging the commonly-accepted historical narrative that after the 1927 deportation of Marcus Garvey, Black nationalism in the U.S. and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) declined, Blain shows that this was a productive and even revolutionary moment for Black nationalist women who became the backbone of a transnational movement. These women spearheaded new organizations and increased agitation “for racial unity, black political self-determination, and economic self-sufficiency” and for Black women’s leadership, in the U.S., Central America, the Caribbean, and Africa (3). Blain follows Mittie Maude Lena Gordon, Ethel Waddell, Celia Jane Allen, Ethel Collins, Amy Jacques Garvey, Amy Ashwood Garvey, Maymie Leona Turpeau De Mena, and other women who powered anti-colonial Black nationalist movements from the 1920s to the 1960s. Some promoted Black emigration to Liberia. Many articulated and acted upon explicitly feminist ideas. Black feminists in the 1960s and 1970s would remember these goals in their own movements.
This book rethinks the history of Black Power from the perspective of the radical women who powered it, demonstrating how they redefined Black womanhood. In the process, Farmer expands the chronology of the Black Power period. The book traces the continuities between Garveyite and Popular Front activists of the 1930s and 1940s like Dorothy Thompson, Alice Childress, and Claudia Jones who promoted a vision of the “militant Negro domestic” to the activists Gwendolyn Patton and Frances Beal who by the mid to late 1970s had spearheaded the Third World Women’s Alliance, and advocated a new model of the “Third World Black Woman.” “In reimagining black womanhood,” Farmer notes, “postwar women radicals developed and sustained ‘Black Power-style radicalism’ before and alongside the civil rights movement of the 1950s...and...after 1975 and the demise of well-known Black Power organizations” (13).
Hightower Langston explores women's roles in three Red Power events during the 1960s and 1970s: the occupations of Alcatraz and of Wounded Knee, and the Fish-in movement in Washington. The Native American movement (which the author contrasts with other civil rights movements) has focused on maintaining Indigenous cultural integrity, gaining enforcement of treaty rights, empowering tribes and not just individuals, and pursuing bonds with elders. At Alcatraz, women were essential to the daily running of the island, though men held most of the public roles and were better known. Women were key to the Fish-in movement, carrying rifles and comprising a majority of the protestors. Female elders originally conceived of the occupation of Wounded Knee and were critical to the siege and negotiations. Since the 1970s, Native American women's groups have been central to organizing around land and resource struggles, tribal rights, sterilization, child removal, and high infant mortality.
This chapter looks at women in the New York Young Lords, the Puerto Rican activist organization founded in 1969 that works for self-determination and community empowerment. Wanzer-Serrano explains how these women organized and demanded more than theoretical equality in the Young Lords during the 1970s. Women challenged inequality within the party, and transformed the organization by confronting male leaders, organizing their own caucus, and resisting discipline by male leaders until the mandates were finally met. The Young Lords then advanced equality outside the organization, advancing a Third World protofeminist critique through published papers as well as actions, participating in revolutionary gender politics, decolonial politics, and politics of liberation.
Trask deconstructs conceptions of nationalism, challenges the idea that Native Hawaiians want to be American citizens, and explains the central role of women’s leadership in the sovereignty movement. She argues that American colonization and government control have taken away the sovereignty of Indigenous citizenship, governing, and self-determination. She articulates many violations of Native Hawaiians' human rights, including dismissal of sovereignty with private ownership of land, cultural imperialism with Christianity and closing of Hawaiian language schools, and lack of recognition as Indigenous people by governments. She also traces how historians, anthropologists, and the tourism industry are agents of colonialism, including in how they have eroticized and objectified Native Hawaiian women. Indigenous women work to decolonize the minds of Native Hawaiians, organize communities, protect wild areas and ancestral remains, run dance academies, organize politically, and call for self-government.
Teves and Arvin articulate distinctions between Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans and between Pacific Islander and Asian American feminisms. Pacific Islander feminism is committed to the decolonization of the entire Pacific; in contrast, Asian American feminism seeks recognition from or inclusion in the state. The authors also offer a series of recommendations for Asian American studies to implement into their teaching and analysis: acknowledge that they are on Indigenous land and take seriously the critiques of settler colonialism, stop using terms like "Asian Pacific Women," recognize hula as revered knowledge, do not just invite Pacific Islanders to dance, reconsider their use of hapa (a Hawaiian language word that literally means "part"), and expand Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander curricula. The authors argue that Asian American feminists need to recognize how they participate in Pacific Islander erasure and cultural appropriation and to change particular behaviors.
Ellen Joshua, UNIA activist, published this article in the Panama Workman, by and for the West Indian community there. West Indians in Panama, most of whom were from Jamaica and Barbados (and included people from Trinidad, Montserrat, and St. Lucia), sat at the intersection of both the British and U.S. empires, which controlled the canal that West Indian labor had helped build. West Indians in Panama also faced an often hostile mestizo Panamanian community. Here, Joshua calls attention to the work that West Indian men and women gave to World War I, and the little they received in return. “Ham” in the title refers to the name used for some North African people and centers the contributions of Africa to world civilization. As Keisha N. Blain explains in Set the World on Fire, “black nationalist women writers...centered their writings on acknowledging and celebrating the historical accomplishments of black men and women across the diaspora...and exalted the nobility of African civilizations” (141). Joshua calls for the “girls” in Panama to tap into this global Pan-Africanist movement and “rise up” with each other.
This publication was produced by UC Berkeley students, with articles and art submitted by Asian women across the United States. Asian American female activists in colleges used the publication to express their opinions and share experiences.
Morales describes her activist work, including her involvement with the Young Lords. She recounts how women critiqued sexism and machismo within the organization. She explains her exit from the organization and her continued activism and organization-building efforts.