Black Feminism: History, Theory, Practice

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). Summer 1. 2021

Course Title: “Introduction to Critical Theory”
Duration: Six Weeks
Course: Summer 1 of 2021
Dates: April 23-May 28, 2021
Time: Fridays 3:00pm-4:45pm

Course Description:
Black Feminism largely developed out of the writings and speeches of nineteenth century black women abolitionists like Ida B. Wells and Sojourner Truth. Since then, it has developed into an academic form of study that focuses largely on the systems of power that structure the institutions of our society: the economy, the state, culture, race and gender. This series will familiarize attendants with the writings and teachings of black feminists like Truth and Wells. At the root of Black Feminism is the notion that lived experience is itself theory. We will trace the historical and rhetorical development of black feminist practice and theory by discussing the work of scholars like Claudia Jones, M. Jacqui Alexander, Barbara Smith, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Patricia Hill Collins, Angela Y. Davis, bell hooks, and Hazel V. Carby, along with writers like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Roxane Gay, Claudia Rankine and musical and cultural artists like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Beyoncé, Janelle Monáe, Nicki Minaj, Young M.A., Megan Thee Stallion, and SZA.

Suggested purchases (in order of importance):

  1. Seeking the Beloved Community: A Feminist Race Reader by Joy James (2013)
  2. Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis (1981)

Schedule (readings are meant to be done before the class during which they will be discussed)

April 23 – What We Don’t Know We Don’t Know: Black feminism during Slavery


  • Ch 1-2 & 5 of Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis
  • Ch. 6 of Seeking the Beloved Community

April 30 – From Emancipation to Women’s Suffrage: How Racism Got Into the Women’s Movement


  • Ch 3 & 7 of Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis
  • Ch 2 of Seeking the Beloved Community
  • “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference” by Audre Lorde

May 7 – From Claudia Jones to the Combahee River Collective 


  • Ch 9-10 & 12 of Women, Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis
  • Ch. 4 of Seeking the Beloved Community
  • The Combahee River Statement
  • Introduction of How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

May 21 – The Peak of Theory: Black Feminism from 1974-1990


  • Ch 1 & all of Part III from Seeking the Beloved Community
  • “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” by Hortense J. Spillers
  • “The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought” by Patricia Hill Collins
  • “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics” by Kimberlé Crenshaw

May 28 – The Long 1990s


  • Ch 1-2 of Resisting State Violence: Radicalism, Gender, and Race in U.S.Culture by Joy James
  • Ch 5 & all of Part II from Seeking the Beloved Community
  • “Sisterhood: Beyond Public and Private” by bell hooks and Tanya McKinnon
  • Ch 1-2 of Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis
  • 13th on Netflix

June 4 – Queer Black Feminism; or, Black Feminism in the 21st Century 


  • “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” by Cathy J. Cohen
  • “But Some of Us Are Brave Lesbians: The Absence of Black Lesbian Fiction” by Jewelle Gomez
  • Selections from Wayword Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals by Saidiya Hartman
  • “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” by Audre Lorde
  • “Queer Black Feminism: The Pleasure Principle” by Laure Alexandra Harris

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