Before the term “Intersectionality” was coined in 1989, by Kimberlié Crenshaw. Identity politics; much misconstrued in today’s society, was presented to us by The Combahee River Collective. Stating, the most radical politics comes from the identity of one’s own self and not working to end someone else’s oppression.
The Combaheee River Collective was a Boston based Black feminist lesbian organization, active from 1974-1980.
The Combahee river is a short river in South Carolina, named after the Native American Combahee tribe. The river provided water for rice fields of local plantations before the Civil War, and the Union army had occupied a nearby territory during it.
The Collective’s name is in reference to a resistance action led by Harriet Tubman, who was asked to organize a raid in order to free slaves in the occupied area of the Carolinas. Successful in all her endeavours, Tubman helped free more than 750 slaves in South Carolina.
It is said,the Collective’s name was chosen by Barbara Smith; one of the primary authors of the their most notable publication; The Combahee River Collective Statement (1977). Disappointed, with the lack of inclusion in the second wave of American feminism from the 1960s, and the relegation of women in the Civil Rights Movement. The founders decided to start a platform of their own in 1974. One which would include struggles against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression.
Demita Frazier, Beverly Smith, and Barbara Smith, were the main authors of the Combahee River Collective Statement released in 1977. In it, they expressed their grievances with previous movements, who had placed a hierarchy on their fight for liberation, as opposed to the simultaneous work towards freedom together. Emphasizing, that major systems of oppression were interlocking. Having experienced racism amongst the white feminist who were allegedly fighting for equality, and sexism, amongst the Black men who supposedly understood unwarranted retribution.
The Collective’s politics was about inclusiveness. They were concerned with any situation that infringed upon the rights of women, the developing world and working class people. They clarified this in their statement. The statement, rejected the notion ‘the end justifies the means’. Highlighting, many reactionary and destructive acts have been carried out based off of this kind of thirst to achieve the “correct” political goals.
The statement pushed back against the rumor implying identity politics divided the Black struggle. It denounced the claim that is was important to put some of one’s politics on the back burner in order to achieve what seems like a high numbers game for limited movements.
‘Black women are inherently valuable, that our liberation is necessary, not an adjunct of someone else’s‘
It expounded on the complexities of a Black woman knowing, racism and sexism exist. However, due to everyday constrictions of their lives, sometimes believing they could only pick one to combat. It lamented on brilliant Black thoughts lost in the abyss due to sexism and racism. The document stressed the need to break class barriers, expressing the patriarchy, imperialism and capitalism were direct killers of this thought process. It spoke on the problems in organizing with lack of racial, sexual, heterosexual or class privilege to rely on.
We highly recommend the Combahee River Collective Statement, as it is such an empowering piece of written history.
The Combahee River Collective disbanded in 1980. Before that however,(among a plethora of things) they sponsored 7 Black feminist retreats between 1977-1980, drawing out thousands of women from all walks of life. They held meetings geared towards raising consciousness and also used it as a platform for people who worked in isolation prior, to share and gather information, generating support for women who needed it.
The impact of The Combahee River Collective can still be felt today. Among the notable Kimberlé Crenshaws of our time. And, the younger invigorated Miski Noor; a grassroots organizer at the forefront in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, the Collective’s issues with exclusion in popular movements can also still be observed. Black lives matter; including women and especially, queer lives. Say all!
‘As Black women, we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face.’