Blogging the Theoretical

Black Feminist Politics in the Theory of Patricia Hill Collins

September 16, 2011 · 1 Comment

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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