In chapter 5, Angela Davis discusses black people’s history with domestic work and specifically how domestic work has never been liberatory for black females because it has always been their only option. She also draws a parallel between slavery and the jobs that black people were expected to do. She starts with a quote from the bible that has historically been used to justify slavery. As a result of slavery, black people are no longer able to view housework as libratory or something associated with free will. The only jobs that have been available for black women have been fieldwork and housework where they were subjected to exploitation. Those who managed to escape housework ended up in the industry where they worked the lowest paying jobs that no one else wanted because it was deemed below them. It has been set up so that black people have a hard time progressing past ‘menial labor’. It is very hard to own land if one is not allowed to have a good-paying job regardless of the skill they may possess. They were always going to expect them to do the same jobs they and their ancestors had to do during slavery. Davis expressed that “sharecroppers, who ostensibly owned the products of their labor, were no better off than the outright peons”. Regardless of the efforts of black people, the system will always find ways to exploit them because the system was not made to protect nor benefit them. Things such as high-interest rates for rent are proof because a sharecropper could barely make enough to afford the high rent or basic necessities before they could harvest crops. Davis claims that the most humiliating aspect of domestic service is that a black person must be associated with a white person to temporarily defy Jim Crow laws. It had to be a relationship in which the black person is viewed as being owned and they provide menial labor for their white ‘superior’. There is also the issue of sexual assault and abuse black women are forced to accept when performing housework for a white family. Similar to slavery, white men feel entitled to the black servant’s body because they “own” them. Davis proclaims that “housework is considering degrading for black women because it has been disproportionately performed by black women, who in turn are viewed as ‘inept’ and ‘promiscuous”. Davis also touches on the high incarceration rates of black people in the past. Black people were thrown into jail for the slightest offenses or whatever could be deemed an offense under the Jim Crow era in order to exploit them for free labor similar to slavery. Black people were not looked upon as people but as a matter of convenience. Prisons were and still are able to profit off of the forced labor. In the past, chain gangs could be rented out by southern planters. Chain gangs were a group of prisoners, most often associated with black prisoners, chained together and forced to perform menial tasks as a form of punishment. Southern planters in the past have relied heavily on convict labor because it was often the cheapest and most efficient way to make money. It was said that whoever rented the chain gang could force them to work until they dropped dead.
In chapter 6, Davis discusses black people’s relationship with education, liberation, and white solidarity. She expressed that most black people view emancipation as the ‘coming of the lord’. However, black people did not just expect things to magically become easier for them. They knew it would be a long struggle similar to the struggle for freedom. Once emancipated, black people immediately knew what they wanted. They wanted land, the right to vote, and education. Education was harshly forbidden during slavery. It was said that “learning will spoil the best nigger”. Education would give the power of knowledge to enslaved people which would be dangerous to slave owners. Davis disproves racism by proving it to be illogical and irrational. She claims that the prohibition of learning wouldn’t be needed if black people were actually inferior and did not have the desire to learn. Especially since many were willing to suffer for their child’s education. She also touches on the solidarity of black women and white women on the basis of the struggle for black people’s education. She believes that solidarity can exist as long as it is built on something that is concrete such as education.
In chapter 7, Davis covers the suffragettes’ role in racism. This includes the relationship between Ida B. Wells and Susan B. Anthony is discussed. In addition, Susan B. Anthony’s exclusion of black people from the suffragette movement is discussed. Wells criticized Anthony for not making her personal distaste for racism a public issue of the movement. Anthony excluded many great black allies and contributors for the support and recruitment of white women. She chose to remain ‘neutral’ because she was scared to make enemies with her white female supporters. She also did not speak out against the decision to adopt women’s suffrage as a way to combat the ‘negro problem’.
1.What similarities/differences do you see between Davis, and Hooks, ideologies thus far?
2.It is said that white women were “determined to wipe out illiteracy among former slaves” after the civil war. Based on the reading, do you think this was an accurate depiction? Was this a genuine stance or did something lie below the surface?
3.What were you taught about Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells? Does it align with what was discusses in these chapters?
In both Hooks and Davis’ works, we see the agreeance upon the fact that African- Americans being forced into domestic servitude strips them of feeling any sympathy when white privileged women complain. Both women talk about the underlying racism and classism that is within the predominantly white feminist movement. The coverage of how white feminists would gladly sacrifice their strong ties to abolition for the self-serving purpose of only allowing white women to vote is alarming in both texts. These reasons both women present affords understanding to the black people who are skeptical of the feminist movement. I have had relatives of mine from older generations tell me that feminism is a “white woman’s issue” and seeing how white feminists treated black people allows me to further grasp what they mean. Although I still believe the women’s liberation movement is a worthwhile endeavor for all, I do understand how people could become jaded when older generations of white feminists used the race card.
White women wanted to educate former slaves to serve their own purposes. The white feminists of earlier generations wanted to gain traction and to do this they used the untapped resource of newly freed black people.
I believe that Davis, like hooks, have similar ideologies in the sense that black women have been exploited, and white women ran the feminist movements and ignored issues that did not apply to middle class heterosexual white women. Davis also speaks about the dynamic between white women and black students. Davis says that by black and white women working together, the struggle for education resulted in many post-Civil War educational institutions. However, the theme of black and white women working together is not always true. For example, well known early feminists Susan B. Anthony and Ida B. Wells always put gender at the forefront of their agenda, sometimes ignoring issues of race.
While there were white women who were “determined to wipe out illiteracy among former slaves,” many consciously and unconsciously sought it as a way to stay in power. Education is a powerful tool that allows someone to develop the ability to think and act for themselves in a manner that can cause a greater impact. On the other hand, education serves as a tool to the one providing the education. Through education, groups can push their agendas and incorporate them into the thinking practice of individuals. For white women, they could implement both their ideologies around feminist thinking but continue it within the filter of white supremacy. In addition, this desire to “wipe out literacy” may be associated with the white guilt many of the more liberal white feminists experienced. To understand the motivation, you must recognize where the individual is from and what groups they are associated with whether it is the mainstream women’s rights movement or the smaller groups working to expand women’s rights to overlap with other identities (e.g. class, race, labor, etc).