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In this discussion offer your in-depth thoughts on th


In this discussion offer your in-depth  thoughts on th


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



Afrocentric Perspectives:

Cultural Competence:

Race Identity:

Journal of Family Issues 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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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 hosted at

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

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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

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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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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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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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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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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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