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Entries Tagged as 'Patricia Hill Collins'

Black Feminist Politics in the Theory of Patricia Hill Collins [Revisited]

September 23rd, 2011 · No Comments

Kate Aseltine

The prevailing logic for social subjugation is a simple truth: a thing can only exist in juxtaposition to it antithesis. This translates itself into a variety of dichotomies- light and dark, order and chaos, right and wrong – because an idea is easier to describe if we begin with what it is not. Invariably, we come to know something best by comparing it to “the other.”  When we examine this phenomenon more closely, and as it relates to political economy and the intersections of gender, race and class, we can better understand why the United States, as a capitalist economy, must facilitate a society composed of disparate levels. Disparate levels which result in what Patricia Hill Collins qualifies as a “matrix of domination.” Wealth does not exist unless until it can be contrasted to poverty, and as wealth exists as the primary form of “capital” in capitalist societies, the United States has a vested interest in protecting a system that is fundamentally oppressive. Oppression is political, and the creation of public policy involves a concerted effort to establish a binary that preserves “advantaged vs. disadvantaged” social categories, within the axes of: race, gender, class, and sexuality. This discourse is of particular significance to an examination of how United States’ politics shape the experience[s] of Black women.  The United States’ matrix of domination is constructed by those who with a positionality our society privileges (i.e. wealthy, white males) and is maintained through the intersection of four domains of power, which she distinguishes as structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal (Collins 294).By examining American political economy, through this matrix, we are able to better understand, and begin to diagnose, the plight[s] of Black females, who have a uniquely disadvantaged positionality within our transversal politics, which subjugates them on the basis of race, gender, and, arguably as the result of this intersection, class.

The pursuit of capitalist gains inspires a particularly oppressive set of structural conditions which are seminal to an understanding of Black women’s experiences. Structural conditions, Patricia Hill Collins explains, organize the oppressive systems that are maintained by the disciplinary domain (Collins 294). Black women are subject to this systematic suppression as their “definitions intermingle and become more salient: oppression via gender may be more prominent as a mother, race as a homeowner, class when applying for credit ”(Collins 265). This theory of subjugation is particular relevant to the politics of oppression because it interrogates the effects of public policy on the lives of Black women. What does it mean to be Black? What it means to be female? What it means to not have enough money to pay the bills? For Black women in the USA this intersection means housing discrimination, lower wages, higher rates of unemployment, the list goes on. The structural domain organizes transversal identities and assigns them value within a hierarchy of conditions. It is, in turn, aided and abetted by the disciplinary domain, the bureaucracy that enforces these modes of oppression. Historically, the United States upheld policies of de jure racism and sexism — laws that explicitly denied basic rights to women and to people of color. Today, the same inequalities exist, but as a result of de facto injustices, as our new “enlightened” Constitution declares that all citizens have equal rights, regardless of race and sex. These de facto inequalities are just as sinister as their more transparent, de jure forbearers, Collins argues citing the example of a resulting discourse, involving the intersection of the disciplinary and hegemonic domains. She begins with the now pervasive rhetoric of “color-blindness,” arguing it fosters discrimination by rewriting structural conditions but preserving an ideology of oppression that undermines the obvious disparities in the way people of color are treated in order to preserve the interests of the dominant group[s].  This intersects with the myth of the meritocracy, which suggests that the American political economy will assure that anyone who works hard will do well. This discourse, a “utopian” illusion, has no place within a capitalist system, and serves as a classic example of how dominant groups use their position to create “commonsense” social ideologies that allow them to maintain power. These discourses [“color-blindness” and the “myth of the meritocracy”] have been fused to justify new rhetoric that argues: if there are gaps between white people and people of color, within a system that treats all people as equals, these discrepancies must be the result of other inherent “cultural” inequities. Read: White people are disproportionally better educated, better treated, and wealthier because they deserve it. The hegemonic domain utilizes this argument to perpetuate controlling images of Black women, such as that of the “welfare queen” who relies on government handouts because she is indolent. This also feeds into images of Black women as “hoochies,” a refashioning of the historic “Jezebel” model of Black female sexuality as something wanton and insatiable, a controlling images that continues to invalidate the cases of Black women who are victims of sexual assault and violence (Collins 303).

Patricia Hill Collins emphasizes the interpersonal domain as the realm in which an individual can begin to deconstruct the matrix of oppression, by highlighting the importance of the dialectic relationship between structural conditions and the actions of the individuals who occupy these structures. As the root word “structure” suggests, structural conditions are constantly shaped and reformed by the individuals who inhabit the social/cultural contexts they outline. In this way, for better or worse, the relationship between the structure and the individual is symbiotic. “Dialectic approaches emphasize the significance of knowledge in developing self-defined, group-based standpoints that, in turn, can foster group solidarity necessary for resisting oppressions” (Collins 293). Patricia Hill Collins’ posits that this dialectic approach can be used for good as well as evil, and argues that we can deconstruct the matrix of domination from within the domains of power. To do so, we must begin at the individual level, by denying power to controlling images and oppressive discourses in our day-to-day lives and thereby reclaiming the interpersonal domain. Then, we seek solidarity, by joining together to brainstorm and disperse “counter-hegemonic knowledge.” Finally, as a movement, we can present egalitarian dominant discourses that will reconstitute the structural and disciplinary domains. This is the solution.

 

 

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge Classics, 2009.

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The Solution (Collins/Final)-Ahvang08

September 23rd, 2011 · No Comments

           The solution can’t be understood until the problem is addressed. African- American women in the United States are at the bottom of the domination matrix. They are continuously oppressed for not only their race, but their class, gender and sexuality as well. The matrix of domination is made up of four domains of power; structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal, which in turn organizes, manages, justifies, and influences oppression in to the lives of African-American women (Collins, 294). It is these domains of power in the U.S., which highlight the intersectionality of oppression. It is through empowerment, knowledge and experience that Patricia Hill-Collins believes will help Black women in the United States overcome oppression. If these three solutions are attainable, it means that slowly the Black women of the United States would have successfully broken down the four domains of power.

               In order to do so the Black feminist need to understand the four domains both independently and as a whole. The structural domain of power regulates citizenship and one of the biggest struggles for African- American women is to gain the same equal rights to citizenship other U.S. citizens have. In order for Black women to break down the structural domain of power law reform as well as new laws need to be established. In turn this would help restructure of institutional framework, allowing Black women more educational opportunities as well as job opportunities. The hegemonic domain “acts as a link between social institutions, their organizational practices, and the level of everyday social interaction (Collins, 299).” In other words the hegemonic power domain links the other three domains together. The hegemonic domain deals with ideology, culture and consciousness of a society (Collin, 302). Collins focuses a lot on the controlling images of Black women in the United States and the way in which the oppressive group uses these images to legitimize power and reaffirm dominance.

           A lot of progress has been made in our social institution allowing for more Black women in authoritative roles. But Collin’s says now the problem is “If you can no longer keep black women outside then how can they best be regulated once they are inside (Collins, 299).” This is where the disciplinary domain of power focus on “creating quiet, orderly, docile, and disciplined populations of Black women (Collins, 299)” with in our bureaucratic social organizations.  The last domain of power is the interpersonal which “functions through routinized, day-to-day practices of how people treat one another. Such practices are systematic, recurrent and so familiar that they often go unnoticed. (Collins, 306-307).” These four domains of power continuously oppress African-American women in the U.S., and the only way to stop the oppression is to break down the power matrix.

                   Collins believes that empowerment and knowledge are the two ways for Black women to end oppression, and that the two are interdependent. That through empowerment Black women are able to restructure and make new laws that allow for better citizenship, and better protection from the widespread discrimination that they have faced in the past (Collins, 297). It is through these new laws that Black women are able to further their education and get placed in higher end jobs. And from those positions of authority they can reform from the inside. Collins explains it as “capturing positions of authority within social institutions in order to ensure that existing rules will be fairly administered and, if need be, to change existing policies (300). In order for Black women to breakdown the hegemonic power domain they must “emphasize the power of self-definition and the necessity of a free mind (Collins, 304). She explains that gaining the critical consciousness to unpack hegemonic ideologies is empowering and the construction of new knowledge can only help to further dismember hegemonic power (305). And it is the unobtrusive yet creative ways that all sorts of ordinary people work to change the world around them which will help to break down the interpersonal. Ultimately, it is through the desire for change that Black women, will be able to empower and spread knowledge in order to make this world a better place.

References

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge Classics, 2009.

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Black Feminist Politics in the Theory of Patricia Hill Collins

September 21st, 2011 · 3 Comments

Kate Aseltine

The prevailing logic for social subjugation is simple: a thing can only exist in juxtaposition to it antithesis. This discourse is of particular significance to examining how United States’ politics shape the experience[s] of Black women. In order to function as a capitalist society, the United States must facilitate a political economy composed of disparate levels, resulting what Patricia Hill Collins qualifies as a matrix of domination. Wealth does not exist unless until it can be contrasted to poverty, and, as wealth exists as the primary form of “capital” in capitalist societies, the United States has a vested interest in preserving a matrix of domination. Oppression is political, and the creation of public policy involves a concerted effort to establish a binary that preserves “advantaged vs. disadvantaged” social categories, within the axes of: race, gender, class, and sexuality. Though our political rhetoric glorifies a myth of American meritocracy, this discourse is simply an example of how dominant groups use their position to create “commonsense” social ideologies that allow them to maintain power.  The United States’ matrix of domination is constructed and maintained by those whose axes our society privileges: wealthy, White males. An examination of the plight of Black females is of particular importance because their positionality within our transversal politics disadvantages them on the basis of race, gender, and, arguably as the result of this intersection, class.

The pursuit of capitalist gains has inspired a particularly oppressive set of structural “conditions” which are seminal to an understanding of Black women’s experiences. Patricia Hill Collins explains “ U. S. Black women’s definitions intermingle and become more salient: oppression via gender may be more prominent as a mother, race as a homeowner, class when applying for credit ” In this quote Hill Collins begins to tease out a form of oppression she categorizes as “structural domination of power:” oppression which is perpetuated via the social institutions maintaining Black women’s subordination (Collins 265). This theory of subjugation is particular relevant to the politics of oppression because it interrogates the effects of public policy on the lives of Black women. Historically, the United States upheld policies of de jure racism and sexism, which is to say the laws explicitly denied basic rights to women and to people of color. Today, the same inequalities exist, but as a result of de facto injustices as our new “enlightened” Constitution declares that all citizens have equal rights, regardless of race and sex. Collins argues that de facto inequalities are just as sinister as their more transparent, de jure forebears. She argues that the rhetoric of “color-blindness” that has resulted from this shift rewrites structural conditions but preserves an ideology of oppression that undermines the obvious disparities in the way people of color are treated in order to preserve the interests of the dominant group[s].

Patricia Hill Collins also seeks to emphasize the importance of the dialectic relationship between structural conditions and the actions of the individuals who occupy these structures. “Dialectic approaches emphasize the significance of knowledge in developing self-defined, group-based standpoints that, in turn, can foster group solidarity necessary for resisting oppressions” (Collins 293). As the root word “structure” suggests, Structural conditions are constantly being shaped and reformed by the individuals who inhabit the social/cultural contexts they outline. In this way, for better or worse, the relationship between the structure and the individual is symbiotic. Conditions can be altered by the individuals who seek to advantage themselves by forwarding a controlling ideology that will preserve the iniquitous status quo, but they can also be altered to empower Black women, and other minorities. By emphasizing and dispersing “counter-hegemonic knowledge” individuals have the power to create a more enlightened dominant discourse.

 

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Gender – a point of oppression in the matrix of domination

September 16th, 2011 · 2 Comments

Patricia Hill Collins Black Feminist Thought is centered on the idea of gender and gender differences because it is a study of black women’s feminism.  For Collins, the term “gender” has a specific role in the construction of black feminist thought. She puts forth the convincing argument that everyone has an individual standpoint on the world based on his or her specific place in the “matrix of domination”. Collins says; “U.S. black women encounter a distinctive set of social practices that accompany our particular history within a unique matrix of domination characterized by intersecting oppression.” (Collins, 26) What she means by this is that no two black women experience the exact same oppression but because all American black women share intersecting oppressions they can build a collective standpoint. In the U.S. the different oppressions that can intersect to build even greater oppression are race, class, sexuality, citizenship, religion, and gender. For Collins and the construction of black feminist thought the two most important and disadvantaging oppressions that all black women share are race and gender and it is based on these intersecting oppressions that a collective group standpoint is built.

Collins brings up some important distinctions between what it means to be white and female versus black and female and notes that gender construction is different for different races. Historically black women have never been able to split the spheres of their public and private lives because starting during slavery they have had a history of their privacy being violated. This poses a problem for black women and their gender ideology because “the public/private binary separating the family households from paid labor market is fundamental in explaining U.S. gender ideology.” (Collins, 53) It is generally assumed in our society “that real men work and real women take care of families.” (Collins, 53) This causes black women to be thought of as less feminine because they have to work outside their homes and are often the primary breadwinners for their families making their construction of the female gender different. “Framed through this prism of an imagined traditional family ideal, U.S. Black women’s experience and those of other women of color are typically deemed deficient.” (Collins, 53) What Collins is getting at is that of Black women’s sense of the female gender is forced to be constructed differently because of their shared intersecting oppressions of race and gender.

Patricia Hill Collins (2008) Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge

-Violet Batcha

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Conceptualizing Knowledge in Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins

September 16th, 2011 · 3 Comments

By Jenae Nicoletta

In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins asserts that within the U.S., Black intellectuals often struggle to justify the credibility of the knowledge they posses due to the oppressive processes by which knowledge is validated. She argued that knowledge validation processes work to suppress Black intellectual knowledge. These processes are oppressive because they tend to reflect the interests of the dominant group of elite White American males (271). In order to properly theorize knowledge, Collins suggests the importance of understanding the concept of epistemology. Collins defines epistemology as the investigation of “the standards used to assess knowledge or why we believe what we believe to be true” and also “the ways in which power relations shape who is believed and why” (270). Collins’ deconstruction of the ways is which knowledge is validated suggests that knowledge can be biased towards the dominant group. This gives the dominant group the power to silence the knowledge of the “Other”.

Collins identifies two political standards that serve to manipulate knowledge validation processes. First, knowledge is appraised by a scholarly community, which generally consists of “White avowedly heterosexual men holding U.S. citizenship” (271). Collins contends that no scholar can escape from the influence of his or her positionality on personal experiences. We reflect and analyze knowledge based on our experiences, which not only shape the ways in which we view reality, but also what we believe to be true. Second, any scholar or scholarly community advocating a claim in opposition of the dominant cultural ideologies may be in jeopardy of being discredited. Furthermore, the few Black women holding positions of authority within institutions where knowledge is validated are used to prevent the majority of Black women from collaborating in knowledge validation processes. One tactic used is to encourage these women to work within the dominant cultural ideologies surrounding Black female inferiority (272). This omission of many Black females from positions of authority leads to the rejection of many competing knowledge claims made by Black women.

U.S. Black women bump up against many walls when trying to validate knowledge through the dominant process. Therefore, they are forced to deviate from standard academic theory. Collins claims that “reinterpreting existing works through theoretical frameworks” is one way of developing Black feminist thought (17). Moreover, U.S. Black feminist thought can take the form of poetry, music and essays (Collins 11). For example, blues songs written by Black females during the 1920s and 1930s are considered a site of academia, as are hip-hop songs of the 1990s (Collins 19). Also, Black female writers and filmmakers are considered a site of academia (Collins 115). All of these outlets are considered site of academia due to the artist’s ability to reveal her awareness of herself and the issues concerning Black women’s oppression. “Through their words and actions, grassroots political activists also contribute to Black women’s intellectual traditions” (Collins 20).

Collins still provides hope toward reaching truth even though Black female knowledge faces such culturally embedded obstacles. She declares, “all U.S. black women who somehow contribute to Black feminist thought as critical social theory are deemed to be ‘intellectuals’ (17). However, in Strange Bedfellows: Black Feminist and Antipornography Feminism, Jennifer C. Nash criticizes the argument that “every cultural product black women create is a kind of theory” (Nash 57).  Nash reasons, “this incredibly expansive conception of the theoretical tends to overpoliticize black woman’s cultural production suggesting that we can distill theoretical meanings out of black women’s seemingly quotidian social practice” (57). Nash seems to be warning other Black feminists against claiming that every black woman’s reflection on her own experience is theoretical. Nash is calling for more meaningful engagements with issues pertinent to Black Feminism.

Yet, Collins does offer alternative validation processes. She believes that by being an advocate for her ideas, she then validates her knowledge claims. Not only does this validate her claims, but also it inspires her readers to resist oppression. Furthermore, Collins argues “Black women intellectuals best contribute to Black women’s group standpoint by using their experience as situated knowers” (22). Later she states that women who claim to be experts and have lived through corresponding experiences are more credible that those who simply read about and studied such experiences (276). Collins backs up this claim by differentiating between knowledge and wisdom. “Knowledge without wisdom is adequate for the powerful, but wisdom is essential to the survival of the subordinate” (Collins 276).

Although Black feminist thought is not as widely accepted and celebrated in comparison to the dominant “truths,” Collins believes it is important to understand systems of oppression in order to seek out one’s own “truths.” “Partiality, and not universality, is the condition of being heard; individuals and groups forwarding knowledge claims without owning their position are deemed less credible than those who do” (Collins 290). This empowering statement illustrates Collins’ conceptualization of what she believes is true validated knowledge, not simply the knowledge that bolsters dominant ideas. Furthermore, “the existence of a self-defined Black woman’s standpoint using Black feminist epistemology calls into question the content of what currently passes as truth and simultaneously challenges the process of arriving at the truth” (Collins 290). We all must question, analyze, and trace the origins of and the ideologies backing the claims that are deemed as “truths” to understand why we believe them to be true.

References

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge Classics, 2009.

Nash, Jennifer C. “Strange Bedfellows: Black Feminism and Antipornography Feminism.” Social Text. 26.4 (2008): 51-70.

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