Africana Womanism

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Africana womanism is a theory developed by scholar Clenora Hudson-Weems in the late 1980s to deal with African women's issues from an Afrocentric perspective. Indeed, at the heart of the Africana womanist theory lies the assertion that a true understanding of the nature of the relationship between African men and women requires a thorough understanding of and grounding in African culture and history. In fact, Hudson-Weems coined the term Africana womanism in 1987 out of the realization of the total inadequacy of feminism, and like theories (e.g., black feminism, African womanism, or womanism), to grasp the reality of African women, let alone give them the means to change that reality.
According to Hudson-Weems, there are two problems with the adoption of feminism by African women. First, she argues, feminism is fundamentally a European phenomenon. As such, it is loaded with European metaphysical principles, such as the problematic, conflictual relationship between the genders, with men seen as the primary enemies of women. Such an antagonistic view of men is understandable in the context of white male hegemony and the subsequent relegation of white females to inferior and subordinate status in their own societies. Second, feminism as it developed in the 1880s was blatantly racist. The feminist movement, which started as the women's suffrage movement, was initially concerned with the abolition of slavery and social equality for all, irrespective of race, class, or gender. However, it eventually became quite conservative at the time of the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, which granted voting rights to African American males but not to white females. For these reasons, HudsonWeems argues, feminism does not and cannot reflect the beliefs or interests of African women. She points out in particular how, historically and culturally, African women do not apprehend African men as their enemy.
Hudson-Weems insists on the necessary complementarity of males and females always posited by African culture as an imperative for the continuation of life itself. In addition, she asserts that it would not be in the best interest of Africans as a people to allow themselves to be divided along gender lines, as African women and men both face the same evil of white supremacy. Hudson-Weems recognizes that there are issues plaguing the relationship between African women and men, and she addresses this in the following two remarks: On one hand, such issues have often been the result of living in a racist and highly patriarchal society, creating at times unhealthy behaviors and attitudes in African women and men; on the other hand, due to their lack of institutional power in a highly racialized and racist society, African men have never been in the position to oppress African women to the same extent that white people have.
Hudson-Weems asserts that the cooperation of African men and women against white supremacy is in fact necessary for the survival and well-being of African people as a whole. In place of feminism, then, Hudson-Weems proposes a theory that stems from African culture and focuses on the very unique experiences and needs of African women, a theory she calls Africana womanism. Furthermore, the first step toward true liberation, as Hudson-Weems sees it, entails the freedom and power to name oneself. In that respect, the term Africana womanism, which seeks to give African women the means to name their own reality and to define an agenda for themselves and the entire race, is a first and necessary step toward defining what it means to be an African woman setting goals that are consistent with African culture and history. In other words, it is the first step toward existing deliberately and consciously on African terms—certainly a most profound and revolutionary act in a world dominated by Eurocentrism. It is precisely this new, revolutionary aspect that is the appeal of the refreshing theory of Africana womanism.

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Further Reading

  • Husdon-Weems, Clenora. (1993). Africana Womanism: Reclaiming Ourselves. Troy, MI: Bedford. This is the reference text on Africana womanism, in which Hudson-Weems lays out the rationale and major tenets of her theory.