On Wednesday, February 13, dozens of students and faculty members filled the Ruth S. Harley University Center's Thomas Dixon Lovely Ballroom to hear the day's guest speaker, Premilla Nadasen, Ph.D., who informed them, “If you all have come here to hear how black feminism will save us, you've come to the right place."
On Wednesday, February 13, dozens of students and faculty members filled the Ruth S. Harley University Center’s Thomas Dixon Lovely Ballroom to hear the day’s guest speaker, Premilla Nadasen, Ph.D., who informed them, “If you all have come here to hear how black feminism will save us, you’ve come to the right place.”
Dr. Nadasen, a professor at Barnard College, was at Adelphi to present “Black Feminism Will Save Us All”—how the black feminist model has been successful for social transformation and how the method could be used by other groups to create a future of more equality for all. The event was sponsored by The John Hope Franklin Distinguished Lecture and the Center for African, Black and Caribbean Studies.
As a black woman, I was eager to learn what people who look like me had done not only for black women but for other underrepresented groups. With two award-winning books that focus on the ways working-class women of color have fought for social justice, Dr. Nadasen was the expert to enlighten me.
Dr. Nadasen began her presentation by reviewing the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative (MLICCI), a program dedicated to serving low-income working parents. She and her students spent their spring break working with MLICCI Executive Director Carol Burnett, whom Dr. Nadasen called “a fierce advocate for the black community.”
They saw firsthand the work Burnett was doing in her community by educating high school students of color. They discussed the hierarchy of education, the effects income has on education and what they can do to help. They also volunteered at the Nollie Jenkins Family Center, a “community activism center, domestic violence shelter, economic development center and more,” Dr. Nadasen said.
Dr. Nadasen spoke highly of activists such as Burnett, Jenkins, Ellen Reddy and Johnnie Tillmon. She emphasized how their efforts imprinted change in their communities.
“They were inclusive with their politics,” she said. “If black women were free, that means everyone would be free, since black women’s freedom would end all systems of oppression.”
These women weren’t just changing their communities. They were spearheading social change for all underserved communities.
Taking a step back, she brought up parts of the history of black feminism such as the National Welfare Rights Organization, which fought for welfare rights. Johnnie Tillmon was an eminent example of black feminism in this movement through her efforts to make sure black women weren’t forgotten in welfare conversations. Dr. Nadasen mentioned the Combahee River Collective, a black feminist lesbian organization. I was unaware of all this. Tying her points to the present, she reminded us that the Black Lives Matter movement was created by three black women in California.
“Linking radical black feminism to the present is not only the politics of the people but to liberation,” she said. “Intersectionality must be taken into account when thinking about inclusion.”
For me, intersectionality was an unfamiliar term that was usually grouped with words such as gender, disability and race. Dr. Nadasen compared intersectionality to a street intersection where one road represents gender while the other represents race. “It’s the multiple ways one identifies…when racism and sexism are looked at independently, black women are excluded.”
I was astounded by how her metaphor perfectly described a feeling I encountered frequently. I couldn’t help but lean in. “It used to be one black person, one woman, one Muslim…intersectionality could improve corporate culture.” She argued how people who identify with more than one underrepresented community could “confront social inequalities.” It could lead to conversations, add perspective and make the voices of the underrepresented heard.
She concluded by citing recent examples of racial violence—such as those perpetrated by white supremacists—and emphasized that black feminism could be the solution.
“We have to be mindful that our saviors will not be elected. The power to save is in each and every one of us,” she said.
Along with being president of the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, Dr. Nadasen is collaborating with the Institute for Policy Studies and the National Domestic Workers Alliance on the We Dream in Black project to mobilize black domestic workers in the South and recently launched a curricular initiative with a low-income advocacy organization in Mississippi.
“Black women have proven to be a rock of social justice, freedom, freedom of speech and power,” said Perry Greene, Ph.D., Adelphi University vice president for diversity and inclusion, in his opening remarks. “We have a long way to go but we’re on our way there.”
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