Black Feminists Critically Redefining Culture
Updated: Feb 15
Professors in psychology Roy Moodley and Stephen Palmer (2006) explain, “the term culture covers a wide spectrum of meanings, from physical elements in a society such as buildings and architecture to abstract and metaphorical elements such as myths, values, attitudes and ideas about spirituality” (14). Meanwhile, professor and New Zealander Simon During (2005) places an emphasis on culture not as things or even systems, but instead as “a set of transactions, processes, mutations, practices, technologies, institutions, out of which things and events (such as movies and poems) are produced, to be experienced, lived out and given meaning to” (6). In this way the term culture is vast and continues to evolve as it is lived out, rearticulated, and contested.
For Nigerian feminist and writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (2015), culture does not necessarily (nor solely) make people, people make culture. We shape culture and are shaped by it (see also, Storey, 2009). Meaning that culture is both top-down and bottom up (Storey, 2009). What counts as world-making and knowledge production is not located only within the confines of the upper echelon, whiteness, the ivory tower, or even mainstream institutions such as different media houses.
Positioning Black women as knowledge producers capable of cultural production takes a departure from mainstream logic that devalues not only Black women but our labour, creations and creativity (Collins, 2001; 2000; Jones, 2019). This is particularly true in spaces of higher learning where conversations of race still tend to get stifled and negated. Individuals and institutions responsible for generating new knowledge and ideas are still subject to reproduce stereotypes of Black women as subjugated and less intelligent. For this reason, Black feminist theorist and trailblazer Patricia Hill Collins prompts us to consider what, how, where, and who we come to define as credible, intellectual, and culture.
Patricia Hill Collins (2000) states, “Black women intellectuals are neither all academics nor found primarily in the black middle class” (14). Differently situated Black women located in all sorts of communities including working-class women, poor people, those on the frontlines and at the grassroots, they are all equally responsible for shaping culture (Collins, 2000). In this sense, Black feminists of all kinds globally, redefine culture, re-imagine the world, and contribute to valid and critical world-making (Collins, 2001; 2000; see also, Ahmed, 2015; Jones, 2019). This is the third principle of Black feminist theory Patricia Hill Collins (2001:15) highlights. That the ideas produced by and for Black women are revolutionary in a world that suggests otherwise.
As Black cultural theorist bell hooks suggested, Black women taking control of what gets told about Black women and girls is important. Reclaiming how Black women are represented gives us ownership over our stories. This allows Black women to do what bell hooks (2005) writes, “appropriate mass media to present radically different images of Black women, actions [that] have been an intervention, moving ourselves from manipulatable objects to self-empowered subjects, black women have by necessity threatened the status quo” (xxxi). Threatening the status quo is not necessarily easy. But the third pillar of Black feminist theory asks that we do so, and as a collective.
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Until next time, in solidarity.
Paintings and Art: Ghanaian Artist: James Mishio
Mishio's Art is photographed by Dorothy Attakora-Gyan
Image Description: A series of artwork painted by James Mishio.
Image 1: The painting is a side-profile of a bald and beautiful Black African tribal woman looking to her right. She has her left ear stretched by a clay plate and is looking down. She is wearing blue, with a beaded necklace.
Image 2: The painting is of a beautiful Black tribal woman made up of vibrant colours. She is looking straight ahead. Her hair is covered by a pink scarf, as some locs fall down her left shoulder.
Image 3: A painting of a Black woman with her hair covered in a scarf made of blues, purples, and orange. She is wearing a hoop earring and her hand is held against the side of her face. She is wearing a beaded necklace. The artists’ signature can be seen to the left of the painting with the number 19. Signifying the year the painting was created.