Discussion In this discussion offer your in-depth thoughts on the readings from each of the following sections in this module Blackfeminist, womanist, Afr

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In this discussion offer your in-depth  thoughts on the readings from each of the following sections in this module Blackfeminist, womanist, Afrocentric perspectives, cultural competence, and Race identity. How might you specifically infuse these perspectives when working with Black or African American Families? Articles Attached

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Cultural Competence:

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Journal of Family Issues

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The online version of this article can be found at:

DOI: 10.1177/0192513X06297330

2007 28: 452Journal of Family Issues
April L. Few

Family Studies Research
Integrating Black Consciousness and Critical Race Feminism Into

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452

Integrating Black
Consciousness and Critical
Race Feminism Into Family
Studies Research
April L. Few
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg

The author examines the advantages and challenges of using Black feminist
theory and critical race feminist theory to study the lives of Black women and
families in family studies. The author addresses the ways in which these per-
spectives, both of which are intentional in their analyses of intersectionality and
the politics of location, are also distinct. She provides empirical examples from
how family researchers have used Black feminist theory or a critical race fem-
inist lens to examine the lives of Black women and families, and suggests ways
for colleagues to embrace an explicit integration of Black consciousness and
critical race feminist perspectives in family studies.

Keywords: Black feminism; Black women; critical race feminism; intersec-
tionality; theory

Understanding race, ethnicity, and culture in family processes remains adifficult and precarious undertaking for family scholars. The infamous
Moynihan Report of 1965, The Negro Family: The Case for National
Action, cast a long shadow on the viability of Black family studies and the
credibility of Black family scholars. Against the backdrop of the Black
Power Movement, blaxploitation films, the resurgence of political conser-
vatism, and the dismantling of domestic social programs, Black family
scholars in the 1970s and 1980s offered poignant critiques of the prevailing
pathological cultural deviant models predominately being published in
mainstream family studies and sociological journals (W. Allen, 1978;

Journal of Family Issues
Volume 28 Number 4
April 2007 452-473

© 2007 Sage Publications
10.1177/0192513X06297330

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Author’s Note: I gratefully acknowledge Stacey Floyd-Thomas, Harriette McAdoo, Katherine
Allen, Fred Piercy, Sally Lloyd, Stephanie Mitchem, Norma Burgess, Edith Lewis, and Libby
Balter Blume for their thoughtful reviews of this article through its various stages of development.

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McAdoo, 1988; McAdoo & McAdoo, 1985; Peters, 1988; Stack, 1974;
Staples, 1971). They also provided cultural relevance models to explore
hidden resiliencies and strengths of Black communities. In the process,
Black family scholars laid down a foundation for Afrocentric revisionist
history in family studies while discrediting the normative standard posed by
the Moynihan Report and carving out a political space in the National
Council on Family Relations.

In this struggle to redefine the realities of Black women and families,
Black family scholars found kindred allies in feminist family scholars who
also were blazing a path to revolutionize how we think about family and the
experiences of women. Through active collaboration, these groups strate-
gized to establish sections, and thus political voice, in the National Council
on Family Relations. In doing so, the beginning of an invigorating dis-
course that was cognizant of the interacting, sometimes-indivisible influ-
ences of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexual orientation on family
dynamics occurred. Ethnic studies and women’s studies were intersecting
in family studies. Nearly 15 years later, in 2001, the Journal of Marriage
and Family published a special section edition, “Race, Ethnicity, Culture,
and Family Processes,” that demonstrated how far family scholars have
come in addressing race, ethnicity, and culture in our research. In 2005,
DeReus, Few, and Blume provided an overview of the utility of multicul-
tural and critical race feminist theoretical frameworks in family studies
research methods and praxis.

This article serves as a tangible articulation of DeReus et al.’s (2005) argu-
ment for greater use of multiethnic and critical race theories in family stud-
ies. Black feminism and critical race feminism provide sociohistorical lenses
to the experiences of Black women and their families in the United States. In
applying these frameworks to family studies research, I enrich our analyses
of intersectionality—the politics of location—that is negotiated from the
standpoint of Black women. By lending this critical lens to my analyses, I
give to Black women an authoritative voice about their experiences rather
than impose a normative gaze (e.g., Western, White, male, middle-class lens
is defined as normal and the standard to compare others; West, 1982) or pos-
itivist presumption (e.g., essentialized, uninterrogated notions of identity or
difference). Critical race feminist theory is particularly useful in focusing the
researcher on the examination of how various institutions with which Black
women must interact daily reinforce social inequalities.

In this article, I examine how family scholars (including myself) have
applied and incorporated Black feminism and critical race feminism into
family studies research. I postulate that to conduct research that adequately

Few / Integrating Black Consciousness 453

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addresses how Black women negotiate interlocking social locations in their
lives and in their relational and familial processes, there are two major fac-
tors to consider. First, as social scientists, we must examine how Black
women come to understand themselves through the development of Black
female subjectivities, as can be articulated through Black feminism and
critical race feminism. Subjectivities are those identities that become most
salient to an individual in different social contexts (hooks, 1984). Second,
we must examine the tools—methods, methodologies, data interpretation
styles—that we use to produce, reproduce, and disseminate knowledge in
family studies research. In doing so, one is able to identify the compatibil-
ity of these theories with family theories and, thus, integrate a Black con-
sciousness into family studies. Family scholars need to be more explicit
about how they use and develop race-consciousness theory in their research
processes.

As a Black woman scholar, I contemplate how family scholars represent
the lives of Black women in family studies and how family scholars can
manifest “conscious and inclusive family studies” (K. R. Allen, 2000).
First, I describe the tenets of Black feminism and critical race feminism as
frameworks falling within Black feminism. Second, I discuss the strengths
and challenges of using Black feminism and critical race feminism as guid-
ing frameworks in family studies. Finally, I provide examples from my own
research using Black feminist theory to advance my understanding of the
lives of Black women.

Black Feminism: A Standpoint of Black Consciousness

Black feminism is a standpoint theory. It is, however, a standpoint theory
that transcends the arguments of mere identity politics and actively exam-
ines the politics of location in the lives of Black women and the groups of
which they are a part. In other words, Black feminism allows a creative
space where according to one’s own social location or station in life, Black
women can “legitimately” place a foot in two or more realities—what one
individually and/or collectively may perceive of what it is to be “Black” and
what it is to be a “woman” simultaneously (Martin, 1993). Black women
exist within an intersectionality matrix. An intersectionality matrix is a spe-
cific location where multiple systems of oppressions simultaneously cor-
roborate and subjugate to conceal deliberate, marginalizing ideological
maneuvers that define “Otherness.” In this unique location within the
matrix, specific “historical, geographical, cultural, psychic, and imaginative

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boundaries” (Mohanty, 1992, p. 75) influence how Black women have
come to define their shared and diverse experiences. The strategies that
Black women use to politicize their specific situatedness in respect to
unjust hierarchal social relationality are the politics of location. Black
women “do” identity politics out of necessity for survival. In Yearning,
hooks (1990) argued that marginality is not necessarily an imposed exis-
tence but rather a dynamic, multivocal, and transformative space that is
self-determined and self-defined in the language and memories of diverse
groups. Such a multifaceted analysis of identity and the politics of location
within the framework of Black feminism enables family scholars to move
away from narrow or essentialized definitions of Black subjectivity (i.e.,
generalization of Black experience).

Black feminist theory resulted from Black feminist activists and schol-
ars feeling far removed from White, middle-class, liberal feminist dis-
courses. As articulated by the Combahee River Collective (1977) and
Patricia Hill Collins (1991), Black feminists (a) acknowledge Black
women’s historical struggle against multiple oppressions; (b) examine how
Black women and their families negotiate the intersections of race, ethnic-
ity, gender, sexual orientation, and class; (c) eradicate malignant images of
Black womanhood; and (d) incorporate an activist perspective into their
research through the cocreation of knowledge with informants, conscious-
ness raising, and empowerment within the context of Black women’s lives.
Black feminism is also about acknowledging the common struggles that
Black women have with Black men—institutional racism and classism—
and that Black men and women can work together in liberating ways to
meet the criteria of Black feminism’s tenets. Doing Black feminism is to
balance a gender consciousness with race consciousness (e.g., race identi-
fication, power politics, system blame, and collective action orientation; see
Gurin, 1985). Methodologically, Black feminists and womanists use a vari-
ety of traditional (e.g., interviews, surveys, ethnographies) and nontradi-
tional (e.g., poetry, diaries, creative art, photography) data to examine the
lives of Black women and their families (Bell-Scott, 1995).

Black feminism is also the birthmother of womanism, coined by Alice
Walker. Walker (1983) defined a womanist as a “Black feminist or feminist
of color” (p. xi) and as a Black woman “committed to the survival and
wholeness of an entire people, both male and female” (p. i). Walker also
coined the phrase: “Womanist is to [Black] feminist as purple to lavender”
(p. xii). Some womanists, like Hudson-Weems (1993), would prefer to
sever the feminist–womanist tie by locating womanism in the words of
Sojourner Truth (i.e., Ain’t I A Woman) and Afrocentric cultural values. In

Few / Integrating Black Consciousness 455

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her book, Fighting Words, Collins (1998) discussed the multiple meanings
and uses of the terms Black feminism and womanism. Significantly, Collins
argued that the politics of labeling draw critical attention away from the
very circumstances that undermine Black women’s struggle to overcome
multiple oppressions.

How Critical Race Feminist Theory
Intersects Black Feminism

Before examining how family scholars can incorporate critical race fem-
inist theoretical perspectives in their research, I must first discuss critical
race theory, an influence on the development of critical race feminism.
According to legal scholar Adrien Wing (1997), critical race theory, as a
theoretical genre, officially emerged as a self-conscious entity in 1989. The
basic tenets of critical race theory that are pertinent to understanding the
genesis of critical race feminism are: (a) (racial and/or ethnic) identity is a
product of social thought and is not objective, inherent, fixed, or necessar-
ily biological; (b) individuals have potentially conflicting overlapping iden-
tities, loyalties, and allegiances; (c) racial and/or ethnic individuals and
groups negotiate intersectionality simultaneously in their lives in relation to
other groups and within the groups with which individuals are affiliated;
and (d) minority status presumes a competence for minority writers and
theorists to speak about race and the experiences of multiple oppressions
without essentializing those experiences (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001).

Critical race feminist theory emerged from critical race theory as a result of
racial and/or ethnic legal women scholars feeling excluded by their male peers
and White feminist legal scholars. It should be noted that critical race feminists
depart from some critical race theorists by rejecting blanket essentialization
of all minorities (Wing, 2000). As Wing stated, “our anti-essentialist premise
is that identity is not additive. In other words, Black women are not white
women plus color, or Black men, plus gender” (p. 7). They are antiessential-
ists in that they recognize the multiple locations and identities that women
inhabit (DeReus et al., 2005; Wing, 2000). Renowned critical race feminists
include Adrien K. Wing, Kimberle Crenshaw, Mari Matsuda, Angela Harris,
Lani Guinier, and Berta Esperanza Hernández Truyol.

Critical race feminists are also multidisciplinary scholars, pulling from
a variety of feminist theoretical scholarship. For example, critical race fem-
inist theory has been informed by the writings of Black feminists and
multicultural feminists such as Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, Chandra

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Few / Integrating Black Consciousness 457

Talpade Mohanty, M. Jacqui Alexander, Angela Davis, Cherri Moraga, Gloria
Anzuldúa, and Audre Lorde. Most critical race feminists, however, will not
readily identify themselves in the mainstream feminist movement. Their rea-
sons resonate with some womanists and third-wave Black feminists, who
believe that second-wave Black feminism is compromised by its association
with White, middle-class mainstream feminists. Critical race feminists are
interested in how domestic and international legal and social policies (e.g.,
welfare, education, health, child care and custodial rights, domestic violence,
immigration, and other aspects of family policy) assist or oppress racial
and/or ethnic women and their families (Crenshaw, 1993; DeReus et al.,
2005). Indeed, these topics are researched within family studies and can be
expounded on using a critical, revisionist lens.

Critical race feminists are also interested in conducting activist research
that has a social justice agenda. Thus, they choose methods that foster some
kind of political, social, or economic transformation that benefits the people
they study. Methodologically, they use nontraditional data such as life nar-
ratives, poetry, fiction, and revisionist histories in their research (Wing,
2000). Although critical race feminism is a distinct theoretical perspective,
in its evolving form, it can be considered a theoretical extension of Black
feminism when examining Black experiences.

Making Distinctions in the Two Critical Approaches

There are similarities and differences in how scholars use Black feminism
and critical race feminism to interpret informant experience. The similarities
between Black feminism and critical race feminism outnumber the differences.
For instance, both theories emphasize that identity politics and the politics of
location are contingent on difference and that differences can have strategic
value to empower or marginalize individuals and groups. Identity needs differ-
ence to be “identity.” Both theories emphasize the intrinsic and authentic value
of racial and/or ethnic scholarship in representing the lives of groups of which
researchers are a part. Black feminists and critical race feminists contribute to
the ongoing process of revisionist histories or herstories. They do not merely
offer a “story” that depathologizes the experiences and choices of their infor-
mants, for in doing so, they would misrepresent experience by hiding “dirty
laundry” or validating unhealthy behaviors. Instead, Black feminists and criti-
cal race feminists offer multiple “partial truths” from within-group experience
with the intent of accurately contextualizing choices and outcomes while bal-
ancing the ability of informants to tell their experiences.

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458 Journal of Family Issues

There are dissimilarities between the theories. One difference between
critical race feminism and Black feminism is one of disciplinary “birth-
place.” Critical race feminism emerged specifically out of legal studies and
critical race theory, whereas Black feminism emerged as a product of grass-
roots activism and social science and humanities scholarship. Black femi-
nism represents an enmeshment of efforts by community activists and an
articulation of those efforts by scholars for a diverse audience. Critical race
feminists may not identify themselves as being Black feminists (or any
multicultural feminists). Black feminists specifically speak to the experi-
ences of African American women and women of the African diaspora.
Critical race feminists contextualize the sociohistorical experiences of any
racial and/or ethnic group and tackle global legal and economic problems
for those racial and/or ethnic groups. Another noted difference as evidenced
by the scholarship of critical race feminists is the extensive examination of
legislation and case law while interweaving personal stories of their infor-
mants or documented testimonials (Wing, 2000).

In summary, both theoretical trajectories constitute a particular orienta-
tion and belief system to approaching family studies research. To claim the
identity of a Black feminist or a critical race feminist is to commit to a spe-
cific worldview and social justice agenda when designing a study, inter-
preting results, and developing implications that make sense to members of
a community who are studied. Both theories offer critical lenses that place
not only behavior under scrutiny but also the sociohistorical context of a
specified group or community.

Doing Critical Theory

In the Sourcebook of Family Theory and Research, edited by Bengtson,
Acock, Allen, Dilworth-Anderson, and Klein (2005), the editors postulated
that family scholars must recognize the contextual limits of traditional
family theory and research knowledge. The editors validated contextual
approaches, including multicultural and critical theories in family studies
research. A question that surfaces for family scholars is: If we should con-
sider these theories, what are the advantages and challenges of using criti-
cal race feminism and Black feminism in family research?

Advantages of Using Critical Theories

Eliminating marginalization while centering experience. One advantage
that critical race feminism and Black feminism bring to family research

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Few / Integrating Black Consciousness 459

is a context to center authentic voices or standpoint through the process of
contextual critical thinking. Both theories demand that the research cocreated
by informants be centered, critical, and empowering for the informants. Both
standpoint theories focus on how individuals and groups negotiate the politics
of location and the complexity of interlocking institutional oppressions.
Politics of location enable us to examine “the specificities of the ‘partial story’
without losing sight of the macro structures which locate and illuminate those
details” (Sudbury, 1998, p. 32). When we focus on location (i.e., those histor-
ical, geographical, cultural, psychic, and imaginative boundaries and axes of
self-definition), we emphasize the standpoint of our informants without essen-
tializing experience or privileging one voice above others within and outside
of the margins (Sudbury, 1998). Critical race feminism and Black feminism
inform us that “truth” of experience is multiple, contingent, partial, and situ-
ated. By using critical race feminism and Black feminism, we examine the
politics of decision-making processes to reveal hidden agendas and power
centers (Thomas, 1993) as well as hidden and emergent mediating and mod-
erating variables not captured fully by surveys.

Compatibility with family theories. Another advantage is that Black fem-
inism and critical race feminism fit well with several family theories. For
the purposes of this discussion, I discuss fitness with symbolic interaction-
ism and ecological theory. For symbolic interactionists, individuals are
pragmatic actors and creative informants who construct their social worlds
(see LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993, for extensive discussion). Society is a lin-
guistic or symbolic construct arising out of meaningful social processes.
These processes include the continuous negotiation of identities, roles, and
privileges at the intra- and interpersonal levels in contexts. As people inter-
pret events and contexts, they confer meaning to their situations and then
react according to that interpretation. Examining these interactions requires
getting at language and cocreated meanings concerning the social loca-
tions of individuals (Herman & Reynolds, 1994). It is within these premises
of symbolic interaction that Black feminist and critical race feminist theo-
ries are compatible. Black feminism and critical race feminism presume a
standpoint that is informed by a group’s shared history; these theories expli-
cate the parameters that influence the ontologies, epistemologies, and
worldview of individuals. Using a critical lens, researchers are able to
scrutinize the subjective world of informants and the normative gaze, the
symbolic context for reproduction of heteronormativity (Ingraham, 1996)
and Eurocentrism. Heteronormativity is a dualistic ideological framework
that privileges patriarchal systems of social organization over egalitarian
gender relations, heterosexuality over other forms of nonreproductive sexual

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460 Journal of Family Issues

expression, and family relationships formed through biological ties over
those resulting from fictive kinship (Oswald, Blume, & Marks, 2005). In
other words, systems that are androcentric, heterosexual, and biological are
considered to be the “natural” state of being and most authentic among
other variations. Eurocentrism is also a type of ideology and worldview that
includes practices that privilege Western historical and cultural experiences,
values, and concerns of peoples of European descent at the expense of oth-
ers (e.g., minority groups; West, 1993).

Ecological theories emphasize that the interaction between factors in
relationships among the individual (i.e., microsystem), the individual’s
immediate family and community environment (i.e., mesosystem), and the
societal landscape (i.e., macrosystem) fuels and steers an individual’s devel-
opment (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1986). Changes or conflict in any one
system will ripple throughout other layers. To study an individual’s devel-
opment, a researcher must look not only at the individual and her immedi-
ate environment but also at the interaction of the larger cultural environment.
Black feminism and critical race feminism require a critical analysis of these
multiple layers as they relate to the individual and to the groups of which
individuals are a part. An examination of the mesosystemic and macrosys-
temic levels may reveal not only historical institutional discrimination but
also, to an extent, the evolution of collective identity development (i.e.,
standpoint) and adaptative group response. Thus, the utilization of ecologi-
cal theories helps researchers to place into historical context individual and
group standpoints, a vital component of critical race feminism and Black
feminism.

Whereas most critical race feminists and Black feminists purport that
racial and/or ethnic researchers have unique competencies to speak about
the negotiation of intersectionality, I also recognize critical interpretive
jumps can be successfully made by “cultural outsiders” who integrate an
Afrocentric critical race lens into their work. In using a Black feminist or
critical race feminist theoretical lens, how the standpoint is articulated
matters more than the color of the researcher. I do not advocate epistemo-
logical appropriation but rather explicit integration of unique standpoint
when majority family scholars study racial and/or ethnic families. I see this
integration as particularly valuable when it increases the visibility of minor-
ity scholarship in a field where we are just beginning to value ethnic femi-
nisms. As an example of this possibility, Brown, Brody, and Stoneman
(2000), non-Black researchers, carefully incorporated a Black feminist lens
to ground their investigation and interpret their findings with depressed
rural Black women. In their literature review, the researchers identified
stereotyping in the literature on depression as it relates to Black women and

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Few / Integrating Black Consciousness 461

ethnic families. Ecological theory, with its flexibility to multiple methods
and additional theoretical approaches, allowed the researchers to examine
how rural Black women negotiate contextual factors at the microsystemic,
mesosystemic, and macrosystemic levels. In their discussion, Brown et al.
brought to our attention how larger socioeconomic processes as they relate
to depression affect familial factors and dynamics.

Creative culturally sensitive intervention approaches. A third advantage of
Black feminist and critical race feminist theories for family studies is that they
are particularly helpful in developing interventions or prevention strategies
that are culturally accessible and relevant to targeted informants or communi-
ties. Two studies by family scholars provide examples of the integration of cul-
tural nuances to inform intervention approaches. My first example is the use
of African American female sexual scripts in sex education programs and
reproductive policies that target African American youth and communities.
Stephens and Phillips (2003) identified eight African American female sexual
scripts that appear in African American Hip Hop youth culture: the Diva, Gold
Digger, Freak, Dyke, Gangster Bitch, Sister Savior, Earth Mother, and Baby
Mama. As schema used to categorize norms regarding appropriate sexual
beliefs and behaviors, sexual scripts may be useful for identifying the ways in
which this population gives meanings to and values race, ethnicity, gender,
sexual orientation, and interpersonal relationships in the context of sexuality.

Stephens and Phillips’s (2003) findings were applied to Stephens and
Few’s (in press) research on African American adolescents’ attitudes about
physical attractiveness and sexual behaviors in interpersonal relationships.
Using a Black feminist–womanist lens, we discussed the influence of Hip
Hop sexual scripts on adolescents to provide a framework for understand-
ing the tensions between Afrocentric and Eurocentric values on African
American female adolescent sexuality. We deconstructed historical stereo-
typical depictions of Black womanhood to contextualize contemporary Hip
Hop female sexual scripts. Using readily accessible, culturally relevant
symbols (i.e., images found in Hip Hop), we observed that female and male
adolescents were able to articulate their experience of how social construc-
tions of race and gender simultaneously intersected to maintain expecta-
tions of sexual identity and behaviors. In the current study, we identified
Hip Hop …

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