A Black Woman's View Of Women's Liberation
SS: How did you first get interested in women's liberation?
Brenda: For as long as I can remember I've been a feminist, even when I didn't know that word existed. My brother is very close to my age, and when we were growing up I couldn't understand the benefits he got. If he had been older then I might have understood, but he wasn't that much older than me. For instance, he got the top bunk bed because he was a boy, even though I wanted it. Then we both wanted a bike and our family had only enough money for one, my brother got it. Also, living in the city, I had housework to do but my brother had "no soil to till.
I really got involved in women's liberation by reading about the National Black Feminist Organization in the May, 1974, MS magazine. Before reading that article, I didn't know any other black woman felt the way that I did about feminism. I knew white women who were my friends, but they didn't have the added oppression of race. A lot of black groups were macho. I couldn't completely identify with any group. Anyway, all I need to know was that one woman anywhere who felt like I did. I got busy organizing the National Black Feminist Chapter in Chicago.
SS: What problems do you face as a black woman?
Brenda: From the standpoint of being black, black women live in neighborhoods with lots of crime. Also, the guilty of goods and services is poor. For example, clothing stores don't have much selection or good quality clothes. Black women shop in groceries that stock poor quality food at high prices. Black women have less chance to pick up a good book or magazine to find out what's happening at the drugstore because they have a poor selection mainly, "True Confessions, etc." All the time you are aware of the very heavy security in stores.
Black women are discriminated against in schools, jobs and health care. If you are on welfare, you receive bad treatment. Most blacks must wait hours in line before seeing a doctor. For years white upper and middle class women could afford to get safe abortions. Black women either had a child or had an unsafe abortion. Some black women have been sterilized against their will or without even knowing what is being done to them. Puerto Rican and black women were used as guinea pigs to test the "pill" before it was marketed. Black women often are unknowing guinea pigs in medical research. Black women have special health problems, like a high rate of hypertension and an increasing suicide rate (80% in the last 20 years).
From the standpoint of the black woman, black men come out of a macho orientation. Many black men feel that black women should stand behind them, not beside them. This is hard to fight because black men are easily threatened by women's independence. This is because society has a pecking order and when a black man needs to vent anger or anxiety he'll take it out on the one group lower than he is - the black woman. The NBFO is setting up consciousness raising groups (rap groups) for black men. Black men and women have to learn to live and work together with respect. We also work with predominately white groups if we have the same goal.
SS: What can black women do?
Brenda: Get into an organization like the NBFO. You have to work with other women to change things. If black women don't stand up and do together what we've been trying to do individually, we will only get small successes like a college degree, a house, or a good job. These small successes make some black women feel that they're better than others. In this way, the space between people is widened when we should be closing it. This is how we are kept oppressed.
SS: How has NBFO changed your life?
Brenda: I met really great women I couldn't have met anywhere else. I could never have this great a relationship with another woman as I do with women in NBFO. I get high knowing that black women, the most oppressed group in America, can be a powerful force when we get together. When we work together we're unlimited - we can't be divided.
The National Black Feminist Organizations Chicago Chapter welcomes all black women. They have a monthly meeting that rotates around the city, also, a monthly newsletter, consciousness raising groups and workshops. NBFO will help you with childcare and transportation so you can attend.
(Editor's Note: The National Black Feminist Organization no longer exists.)