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Open Access Publications from the University of California

In Search of the Fullest Freedom: Contemporary Black Internationalist Feminist Writing

  • Author(s): Bailey, Yelena
  • Advisor(s): Johnson, Sara E.
  • Blanco, John
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the life, work and writing of four radical black feminists throughout the Cold War period and into the twenty-first century. Specifically, I look at the way these women engage the state, how they theorize and practice black nationalism and internationalism, and how writing functions as a form of praxis for all four women. My methodology involves close readings of poetry, autobiography, popular media and novels, as well as analyzing the links between cultural production, historical context, political movements and ideologies. Through my analysis I have found that despite the growing dominance of black liberalism, black internationalist feminists have not abandoned their radical politics, but rather they have adapted them in accordance with the changing socio-political context of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. While these changes have meant the decline of overt participation in radical organizations, they have also meant the emergence of new ways of thinking about radical black collectivism and the mediums through which it is practiced today.

Chapter one examines Assata Shakur’s representation of Western capitalist state power and racial violence, as well as the way she is labeled as a “domestic terrorist” by the FBI and a misunderstood activist by the liberal media. These attempts to control her narrative reflect a greater fear; that Shakur’s brand of radical black feminism is a threat to Western hegemony today. Chapter two looks at the context of Cuba as an example of what radical black feminist practices look like within the context of a Third World socialist nation-state. Through my analysis of AfroCuban poet Georgina Herrera’s work, I argue that this particular black feminist formation prioritizes the needs and experiences of working class black women as central to any and all revolutionary practices. Chapter three examines the poetry of British Guyanese author Grace Nichols. Her focus on the politics of tourism and black women’s bodies emphasizes the need to direct anti-imperialist politics toward the state, while also theorizing new mediums for practicing radical black feminism. Finally, in chapter four I examine Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work as a counter to liberal black feminism. Instead of encouraging individualism and capitalist materialism, Adichie theorizes the role hair and cyberspace play in fostering a twenty-first century black international community. I argue that the way these writers utilize their work is particularly relevant to the black community today.

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