Blogging the Theoretical

Knowledge by Emily Marvin

September 21, 2011 · No Comments

Epistemology is a consistent subject matter throughout Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought. Collins argues that knowledge is frequently influenced by the politics of race and gender. She supports a common theme throughout the book that Black feminist thinkers are alone in maintaining their social theory, which “reflects the interests and standpoint of its creators” (Collins 269). Historically, what Black women know has not been considered knowledgeable because of the power relations and their control over who is believed in society and why. Collins looks into the subjugated epistemology and the validation process that must exist for a powerful group to be overcome in our society. African American women spent decades waiting for an epistemology that included their own beliefs until the arrival of Black feminist theory.

In her book, Collins discusses the differences between group knowledge and collective identity and its relation to epistemology. She makes a clear point to distinguish these two subjects and their relation to Black feminist theory. She argues that epistemologies are built upon experiences rather than learned positions, which is why many Black feminist thinkers support the theory based on their own knowledge and experiences. However, there is a particular strain in this standpoint. In discussing the common challenges, Collins says, “despite the fact that U.S. Black women face common challenges, this neither means that individual African-American women have all had the same experience nor that we agree on the significance of our experience” (Collins 29). However, in order to convince others that Black feminist theory is justifiable, the convincing must come from a group other than Black females themselves who may have emotional or moral connections.

In order to influence empowerment, Black feminist thinkers have created their own way of thinking through dialectical and dialogical relationships. The dialectical relationship “link[s] oppression and activism [while] a dialogical relationship characterizes Black women’s collective experiences and group knowledge” (Collins 34). These particular types of knowledge influence Black feminists and their individual understanding of the knowledge surrounding their unique epistemology. They also pay attention to the ethics of caring and personal accountability and their impact on Black feminist theory.

The presence and importance of wisdom and knowledge is shown throughout Collins work, especially when she says, “living life as Black women requires wisdom because knowledge about the dynamics of intersecting oppressions has been essential to U.S. Black women’s survival” (Collins 275). The shared experience of oppression can lead to a source of familiar resistance. Collins makes a point that many Black women’s experiences cannot be solely measured by empirical means. It is based from the institutionalized racism they have faced from slavery to our contemporary system of inequality. These types of relationship are what form Black feminist theory and give Black women their own way of thinking to create knowledge.


Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. Routledge, 2009. Print.

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