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A spirited and provocative engagement of black feminism

Dark Continent of Our Bodies

Black Feminism and the Politics of Respectability

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E. Frances White

"...a contentious act of writing that shakes us out of our twentieth century complacencies—in matters of race, class, gender, and sex. White reveals her subtle and original thinking on an expanse of issues from the discursive world of black feminism to the 'deep misogyny of African-American public discourse.' For anyone who reads Dark Continent of Our Bodies, the experience will be liberatory."
Cheryl Clarke, poet and author of Living as a Lesbian

In this provocative book, a black lesbian feminist looks at black feminism—its roots, its role, and its implications. From Charles Darwin and nineteenth-century racism to black nationalism and the Nation of Islam, from Baptist women's groups to James Baldwin; E. Frances White takes on one institution after another as she re-centers the role of black women in the United States' intellectual heritage. White presents identity politics as a complex activity, with entangled branches of race and gender, of invisibility and voyeurism, of defiance and passivity and conformism.

White's powerful introduction draws on oral narratives from her own family history to illuminate the nature of narrative, both what is said and what is left unsaid. She then sets the historical stage with a helpful history of the inception and development of black feminism and a critique of major black feminist writings. In the three chapters that follow, she addresses the obstacles black feminism has already surmounted and must continue to traverse. Confronting what White calls "the politics of respectability," these chapters move the reader from simplistic views of race and gender in the nineteenth century through black nationalism and the radical movements of the sixties, and their relationship to feminist thought, to the linkages between race, gender, and sexuality in the works of such giants as Toni Morrison and James Baldwin. No one who finishes Dark Continent of Our Bodies will look at race and gender in the same way again.

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Excerpt

Read the Introduction (pdf).

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Reviews

"E. Frances White's analysis of Black feminism is a most welcome contribution that should increase and enhance the necessary dialogue between Black studies and gender studies. White's insightful and occasionally provocative readings of African American discourses of race, gender and sexuality, and her brilliant and balanced critique of the strengths and limitations of black nationalism and Afrocentrism make Dark Continent of Our Bodies an indispensable guide for scholars and activists seeking to overcome the fears and blindnesses that divide us from one another."
Kevin K. Gaines, Associate Professor, Center for Afro-American and African Studies, and Associate Professor, History Department, University of Michigan

"Dark Continent of Our Bodies is the most cogent, insightful, provocative black feminist text I have read in a very long time. Sure to be controversial because of its critiques of other black feminist intellectuals, black nationalists, and major African American literary figures, such as James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, this book is an important contribution to contemporary American intellectual thought. Historian E. Frances White has written boldly, courageously, incisively, and passionately about persistent fault lines in the American body politic. Her project of critically engaging black feminist discourse from the vantage point of an 'insider' will surely provoke strong responses. This is precisely what black feminist theorizing should do!"
Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women's Studies, Spelman College

"White has written an accessible text, which generates questions for audiences interested in the politics of identity, communication within and between marginalized communities, and Black feminist discourses. ...White clearly reminds the reader throughout the text that the stories we refuse to tell do matter."
Women's Studies in Communication

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Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Black Feminist Interventions
2. The Dark Continent of Our Bodies: Constructing Science, Race, and Womanhood in the Nineteenth Century
3. Africa on My Mind: Gender, Counterdiscourse, and African-American Nationalism
4. The Evidence of Things Not Seen: The Alchemy of Race and Sexuality
Bibliography

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About the Author(s)

Historian E. Frances White is Dean of the Gallatin School of Individualized Study of New York University.

Subject Categories

Women's Studies
African American Studies
Gender Studies


In the series

Mapping Racisms, edited by Jo Carrillo, Darrell Y. Hamamoto, Rodolfo D. Torres, and E. Frances White.

The books in Mapping Racisms, edited by Jo Carrillo, Darrell Y. Hamamoto, Rodolfo D. Torres, and E. Frances White, assess the changing nature and meaning of racialized social relations in the United States. Although many of the works in the series are expected to be cultural, socio-economic, and historical studies devoted to a single ethnic group, the editors are especially interested in manuscripts that explore comparisons among these groups and analyze contemporary expressions of racialized relations and identities in the context of demographic shifts, changing class formations, and new forms of global dislocation. The aim of the series is to publish books that are analytical and rigorous, but at the same time appealing to a general audience.

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