Women, Race and Class

by Angela Davis (1981)


This was a captivating, eye-opening general analysis of the intersection of feminist, race and class politics from the 19th century onward. It covers similar ground to Paula Giddings’ When and Where I Enter, but it’s both broader and more concise, and Davis has a natural interest in anti-capitalist ideologies that Giddings doesn’t really touch.

Probably the greatest value in the book is how Davis teases out the underlying historical tension between women’s movements and racial equality. The former has typically sacrificed the latter on the altar of expediency, and Davis illustrates this clearly by referring to suffrage, abolition, and birth control, among other issues. This historical abandonment of course undermines the trust that modern feminists continue to seek from the racial justice crowd, and it goes a long way to explaining the current simmering tension between white feminists and the intersectionalist crowd.

To a lesser extent, Davis shows the conflict between women’s groups and labor efforts, due mainly to the fact that feminist groups have historically been comprised of wealthy white women who are themselves out of touch with the working class. Some of these facts would be helpful for modern feminists and organizers to incorporate, as it would help them reach across class lines to build a broader coalition.

I don’t have much more to say about it that more qualified folk can’t/won’t say better. I can strongly recommend it to pretty much anyone, not only because it’s important to understand the historical context of civil rights movements — and Davis describes them well — but also because it’s short and accessible. It’s a better, more comprehensive starting point IMHO than Giddings’s similar effort.

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