The first historical study of the relationship, in America, between racism and sexism--broad-ranging, occasionally plodding,...


WHEN AND WHERE I ENTER: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America

The first historical study of the relationship, in America, between racism and sexism--broad-ranging, occasionally plodding, generally sound and insightful. ""The means of oppression differed across race and sex lines, but the wellspring of that oppression was the same. Black women understood this dynamic. White women, by and large, did not."" Early chapters cover largely familiar ground--from poet Phyllis Wheatley to slave owners' attitudes toward female slaves. Post-slavery, many black women reconstituted their families, while others rejected mates forced on them. Black club women and other reformers sought essential rights and protections, yet found themselves held at a distance by white feminists--who failed to realize ""that black women were providing them with a means for their own liberation."" (""Inherent in the black women's defense of their integrity was a challenge to the Victorian ideas that kept all women oppressed."") Much of the book's news is in the second two thirds, where Giddings artfully interweaves individual achievements and social trends. Though the 1920s represented a retreat from activism for many young women (who ""embraced the beauty ethos of the times""), the 1930s saw Mary McCleod Bethune emerge as a black braintruster--and adoitly use her National Youth Agency position to establish black women among the new groups with legitimate demands on government. Similarly, if the 1950s found many black women ""worried about how they were perceived as women"" (when their white peers ""were staying at home, having children, and scanning the shelves for the latest appliances""), the 1950s and 1960s saw the emergence of Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Angela Davis, Jean Wiley, and others at the fore of the civil rights movement. It's interesting, also, to have Giddings' comments on the '60s race/sex dialectic. Artswering Sara Evans (Personal Politics), she writes that most black women in SNCC ""saw the race issue as so pressing that they had little attention to spare for questions of sex""; but she herself spares few words (or egos) in delineating the sexism of ""the Masculine Decade,"" when ""both Black men and radical-chic White men--women too--applauded the machismo of leather-jacketed young men, armed to the teeth, rising out of the urban Ghetto."" The future? Unclear--save for the demonstrated strength of black women, the closer parallels between black and white women than heretofore. A welcome survey, and overdue at that.

Pub Date: May 16, 1984


Page Count: -

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1984