Gail Lewis discusses black feminist texts



Gail Lewis talks about the different standing and reception of black feminist texts in the USA and Britain.

The work of black feminists was significant in the development of feminist theory as well as literature and history, the humanities and social sciences. This was particularly true in the USA, whereas in Britain the black women’s movement was more closely associated with activism than academia. One reason for the different recognition and status of black women’s writing in the USA and Britain is that more women in the USA went to university during the 1960s and ‘70s. Another is the role that civil rights played in the American feminist movement. For more on civil rights see Race, Place and Nation.

We have given some examples of where theory and practice of feminism work together above. Listening to other extracts in this oral history, can you find others?

Is it sufficient to be an activist without engaging with theory and, conversely, is it possible to engage with theory without being an activist?



It was an important volume and what’s interesting about Charting the Journey is, it’s so little known in this country, and yet in the States it was taken up much more, much more. Even now when I go all these years later, I can go to events and people say, oh yeah, you did Charting the Journey didn’t you, that was really important, it gave us a sense of what stuff was going on in Britain. But I think that’s absolute testimony to the ways in which, the limits to which black women’s work could be seen coming out of Britain, was seen as central to feminist politics in this country by feminists, by white feminists and when they went into the Academy and formed all of this women’s studies network, which of course is under siege and now very in demise in terms of independent departments or units within universities, when they went in there they looked to the US for their women of colour scholarship and not to Britain and they’ve not picked it up and I feel very resentful about it actually. Not so much on a personal level, but for it being a sign of the way in which the limits to which the Movement here could really take us on as part of the Movement, I think was shown in what happened in the Academy in this country. Because the fact that we’re much more known, I mean all of us in all of our work, in the States, as a body of thought. You got called out as voices and living examples of activism, you weren’t called out as voices of and living examples of scholarship and theoretical development. We just weren’t given that kind of recognition and I think that’s an example of it really.

Gail Lewis discusses black feminist texts
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Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project
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Women’s Studies as a subject allowed feminists to discuss and develop their ideas and theoretical arguments and it started to become accepted within academia. But as the subject grew, some feminists felt that the gap between theory and practice had become too wide.

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