(NOTE: THERE IS A CHANGE IN THE SYLLABUS FOR THE READING FROM WITHIN THE CIRCLE FOR THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2009. WE WILL NOT BE READING HORTENSE SPILLERS. INSTEAD WE WILL BE READING ALICE WALKER’S “IN SEARCH OF OUR MOTHERS’ GARDENS.”)
Smith’s main point in this essay lays a foundation for the explosion of both Black feminist critical theory and the creative writings of Black women in the 1970s and 1980s. Her argument exposes the flaws of considering literature through either the exclusive lens of race, as Black literary criticism tends to do, or the exclusive lens of gender, as predominantly White feminist criticism tends to do. She suggests that it is Black women who are in the best position to create an effective criticism that provides an integrated consideration of the roles played by race, gender, class, and sexuality in literature. She argues that this critical move is necessary not only for the impact it will have on literary criticism generally, but also to offer a deeper understanding of the literature of Black women specifically.
When black women’s books are dealt with at all, it is usually in the context of black literature which largely ignores the implications of sexual politics. When white women look at black women’s works they are of course ill-equipped to deal with the subtleties of racial politics. A black feminist approach to literature that embodies the realization that the politics of sex as well as the politics of race and class are crucially interlocking factors in the works of black women writers is an absolute necessity.
She wraps up her essay by doing a “Black feminist” reading of Toni Morrison’s novel Sula. Her application of Black feminist criticism in this instance, while relatively interesting, seems like a confusing way to demonstrate the efficacy of Black feminist criticism, especially when she states “What I have tried to do here is not to prove that Morrison wrote something that she did not, but to point out how a black feminist critical perspective at least allows consideration of this level of the novel’s meaning.” In the end, is it the opportunity for consideration that Smith finds important, or the meaning?
How do you think that Barbara Christian’s argument against “the race for theory” might respond to Smith’s proposition?