Black Woman: An Anthology



Black Woman: An Anthology

This edition

"The Black Woman: An Anthology" . Ed. Toni Cade [Bambara]. New York: New American Library, 1970. 256 pp.

Other editions, reprints, and translations

• Repr. with Intro. Eleanor W. Traylor. New York: Washington Square, 2005, 2014. xxiii+327 pp.

Online access

Table of contents

Contents (1970 ed.):
• Toni Cade [Bambara] / Preface
• Nikki Giovanni / Woman Poem
• Nikki Giovanni / Nikki-Rosa
• Kay Lindsey / Poem
• Audre Lorde / Naturally
• Audre Lorde / And What About the Children
• Paule Marshall / Reena
• Alice Walker / The Diary of an African Nun
• Shirley Williams / Tell Martha Not to Moan
• Joanne Grant / Mississippi Politics--A Day in the Life of Ella T. Baker
• Joanna Clark / Motherhood
• Fran Sanders / Dear Black Man
• Abbey Lincoln / Who Will Revere the Black Woman?
• Kay Lindsey / The Black Woman as Woman
• Frances Beale / Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female
• Toni Cade / On the Issue of Roles
• Gail Stokes / Black Man, My Man, Listen!
• Jean Carey Bond and Pat Peery / Is the Black Male Castrated?
• Verta Mae Smart-Grosvenor / The Kitchen Crisis
• Maude White Katz / End Racism in Education: A Concerned Parent Speaks
• Nikki Giovanni / One Day I Fell off the Roof (A View of the Black University)
• Joyce Green / Black Romanticism
• Gwen Patton / Black People and the Victorian Ethos
• Ann Cook / Black Pride? Some Contraditions
• Toni Cade / The Pill: Genocide or Liberation?
• Helen Williams / The Black Social Workers's Dilemma
• Adele Jones and group / Ebony Minds, Black Voices
• Pat Robinson and group / Poor Black Women's Study Papers
• Pat Robinson and group / A Historical and Critical Essay for Black Women in the Cities
• Grace Lee Boggs / Black Revolution in America
• Helen Cade Brehon / Looking Back
• Carole Brown / From the Family Notebook
• Toni Cade / Thinking about the Play "The Great White Hope"
• Francee Covington / Are the Revolutionary Techniques Employed in "The Battle of Algiers" Applicable to Harlem?

Notes on the Contributors

Reviews and notices of anthology

1970 Edition:
• Walker, Tomannie T. "Recent Writings of the Women's Movement: Two Reviews." "American Journal of Orthopsychiatry" 41.5 (1971): 787-88.
Cade's anthology is "a collection of poems, short stories, essays, speeches, and round-table discussions by black women on their position and condition in contemporary American society. It is an important book because it does not confine itself to pathos and poignancy. The poems by Nikki Giovanni, Kay Lindsay, and Audre Lorde, as well as the stories of Paule Marshall and Shirley Williams, vividly and effectively communicate the feelings of black women forced into the most degraded position in American society. These pieces make evident the need for the essays that follow, which evaluate the factors in the oppression of black women, and weigh methods of destroying the racist elements that divest them of dignity, worth, respect and--most vitally--self-respect" (787-88).
"Two subjects heretofore seldom seen in print are contained in essays in this book: the relationship of black women to black men, and the relationship of black women to the women's liberation movement. These areas of thought are intertwined in many of the essays and are discussed from a number of diverse angles. The editor's own articles, 'On the Issue of Roles' and 'The Pill: Genocide or Liberation,' explore this little-understood relationship of black male and female. She scores the tendency, apparent in some militant organizations, of black men to seek the manhood stolen from them for generations in America, by oppressing and exploiting black women. She exposes the roots of the oppression of all black people and makes clear the generative tie between white oppression and black male oppression of black women. She says, 'Perhaps we need to let go of all notions of manhood and femininity and concentrate on Blackhood.'"
"Many of the articles are by angry young women willing to face and evaluate harsh facts. Their forthrightness makes it impossible to side-step or hide self-deceptively from a clear look at the actual condition of life for black women. The issues are sharply focused and help the reader to see beyond the limitations of the racist-produced blinders that circumscribe her vision, understanding, and life. This book stimulates thinking, motivates self-re-examination, and generates vital new ideas that both reflect the preoccupations of today's black women and project the issues relevant and contributory to tomorrow's understanding and action."
• Baumgardner, Jennifer. [On The Black Woman, ed. Toni Cade, 1970.] "Bitch Magazine" no. 38 (Jan. 2008): 74-75.
2005 Edition:
• Gibbs, Laurina. "A Classic Makes a Comeback." "Essence" 35.11 (March 2005): 136.
"In 1970 writer Toni Cade Bambara was frustrated by the lack of literature by, for and about Black women. Bambara, a feminist and activist, reached out to a cadre of women--academics Adele Jones and Francee Covington; actresses Abbey Lincoln and Verta Mae Smart-Grosvenor; authors Alice Walker and Audre Lorde--and asked them to share their stories of what it meant to be Black and a woman in America. The result was The Black Woman, a groundbreaking anthology of African-American women's thoughts on such issues as Black male-female relationships, motherhood, politics and sexuality. The Black Woman (Washington Square Press, $14) has just been reissued and will inspire a new generation of readers."

Commentary on anthology

• "Although some poems and stories by Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde, Paule Marshall, and Alice Walker are included in this collection, most of it is devoted to essays addressed to raising consciousness on women's issues" (Kinnamon 1997: 467).
• Charles Rowell. "An Interview with Farah Jasmine Griffin." "Callaloo" 22.4 (1999): 872-92.
Rowell remarks: "In your essay on Toni Cade Bambara's anthology "The Black Woman," you quoted her as raising the question 'How relevant are the truths, the experiences, the findings of white women to black women?' Toni Cade Bambara continues: 'Are women after all simply women? I don't know that our priorities are the same, that our concerns and methods are the same, or even similar enough that we may afford to depend on the new field of experts, white females.'" Rowell then charges that "a racist agenda drives many of the voices and actions of the white feminists," and asks Griffin, "Will you talk about some of the ways in which white feminist writing—creative and/or critical—is different from that of black feminists?"
Griffin responds, "There is so much in that question, Charles. Toni Cade Bambara wrote that for "The Black Woman," an anthology she edited. We need to resurrect and read again and again and again that anthology. I think it's out-of-print [in 1999], so we need to lobby to have it brought back into print. [It was reprinted in 2005.] When she wrote that essay, there was something that we might have identified as a white feminism and as a white feminist. That has changed; it has not necessarily fractured but certainly diversified. People were mostly talking about white liberal feminism, about the women who read "The Feminine Mystique" and realized through that book that they'd been oppressed. That is very different from socialist feminism, or very different from white lesbian feminism, or very different from working-class feminism. There were all these differences, even then in that // early feminism, but they have become even more apparent now. Dorothy Allison is very different from Gloria Steinem.
"Black feminists have always been liberationists . . . black feminism has always had black liberation as its core goal. . . . [But] black feminists have always [also] challenged [the view that black liberation is about the freedom of black men] within our own struggle and our own community, even as they have challenged the racism of white women, of white feminists. . . . But my concern is that there are factions of black women who have stopped talking to each other. As much as I think that we need to continue a critique of the racism of white feminism, we also need to recognize that there is an emerging model of global feminism whose face is not white—and that we need to be in dialogue with the women who speak in that voice. We now have a category of women of color—a category not evident in "The Black Woman" anthology but certainly one that Bambara presents in her novel "The Salt-Eaters" (my model of a black feminist novel). And even here, in this category of women of color, there are tensions. What do we gain and lose when we exchange black women for women of color? . . . We live in a very different world from that which gave birth to Bambara's anthology" (881-82).
Griffin adds, later, "In the Bambara essay, I am not saying we should stop challenging the racism of white feminism or of white patriarchy. I am saying that in addition to doing that we need to be as attentive to initiate a dialogue with black women who are not feminists. While they may be open to the arguments and concerns of black feminism, we have not always talked to them, particularly to non-elite black women. . . . the reality is that many black women would welcome the patriarchy of black men as a replacement for the conditions they currently face. Black feminists have got to find a way to address this" (883).
Griffin argues that part of the importance of "The Black Woman" stems from its "having both a chorus and a conflict: later anthologies would be more straightforward as black feminist, but there are some voices in that anthology, "The Black Woman," that we would never see again" (886). For instance, Abbey Lincoln's essay calls "for a kind of patriarchal protection . . . . that essay is not a black feminist one. It is one that continues to resonate with a lot of black women. It's an essay calling for black men to treat black women as feminine beings in need of protection and romantic love. There is a great roundtable discussion of college students where you hear one young woman saying, 'You know men are our leaders.' We have the voices of an emerging feminism , but we have other voices as well" (886).
• Griffin, Farah Jasmine. "Conflict and Chorus: Reconsidering Toni Cade Bambara's 'The Black Woman: An Anthology.'" "Is It Nation Time?: Contemporary Essays on Black Power and Black Nationalism." Ed. Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2002. 113-29.
(The essay is reprinted in Griffin's "In Search of a Beautiful Freedom: New and Selected Essays." New York: Norton, 2023. 239-57)
• "The key text of what might be thought of as Black Power/Black Arts feminism was Toni Cade Bambara's anthology "The Black Woman" (1970). Though it contained verse by such poets as Nikki Giovanni and Audre Lorde and fiction by Paule Marshall, Alice Walker, and Sherley Ann Williams, the bulk of the anthology was devoted to essays engaging the intersection of gender, politics, and culture from the perspective of black women writers" (James Smethurst and Howard Rambsy II. "Reform and Revolution, 1965-1976: The Black Aesthetic at Work." "The Cambridge History of African American Literature". Ed. Maryemma Graham and Jerry W. Ward, Jr. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. 415).
• Sorett, Josef. "Religion and Gender Trouble in the Black Arts: Remembering Toni Cade Bambara's The Black Woman." "Religion Dispatches" 7 March 2017. Web. [an excerpt from Josef Sorett's "Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics" (Oxford UP, 2016)]
"Toni Cade Bambara's volume 'The Black Woman: An Anthology' (1970) . . . revealed how a number of black women engaged religion to call attention to the [heteronormative hyper-masculine] gender politics of the Black Arts. . . . At the same time, the anthology did not entirely overcome the Black Arts movement’s gender troubles. While many of the selections attended to asymmetrical gender relations in black culture, the volume also put on display the investment, albeit an ambivalent one, of many black women in the cult of black masculinity. The Black Woman was not quite the constructive or systemic claim for black feminism of the likes of the soon-to-be-written Combahee River Collective Statement. Ultimately, the anthology complicated and crystallized the power of Black Arts masculinity, even as it offered evidence that a more explicit black feminism was in the making. . . . Where Larry Neal’s afterword to Black Fire advocated a spiritual integrity styled after the male preacher, Toni Cade Bambara called attention to the shortcomings of that model. Her own essay in the volume, “On the Issue of Roles,” took up the topic of religion both to illustrate the problem and propose some provisional alternatives. In doing so, she appealed to Africa to assert that Christianity was to blame for the current gender crisis. Bambara wrote:
"I am convinced, at least in my reading of African societies, that prior … to the introduction of Christianity, a religion fraught with male anxiety and vilification of women, communities were more egalitarian and cooperative. . . . There were no hard and fixed assignments based on gender, no rigid and hysterical separation based on sexual taboo."
Bambara’s argument was in keeping with a romanticized reading of precolonial African societies that was popular at the time: that the continent had fallen from an Eden-like state at the precise moment when European colonizers and missionaries reached it with the Christian gospel. The gender problem of the Black Arts was just part of the collateral damage.
Bambara argued that black communities in the United States remained deeply shaped by the colonial legacies of Christianity. Black Arts masculinity was, in this view, an effort to overcome the original trauma of colonization. Even still, it was not to be left unquestioned. She encouraged readers to “submerge all breezy definitions of manhood/ womanhood … until realistic definitions emerge through a commitment to Blackhood.” Although the “metalanguage of race” often served the interests of male privilege, here Bambara advocated abandoning gender talk in favor of a shared blackness. In the face of limited options, the appearance of gender neutrality was to be preferred over distorted definitions of manhood or womanhood."
"At the same time, Bambara’s anthology largely affirmed the means (i.e., images, myths, symbols) and substance of the revolution, social and spiritual, called for by Black Arts men.
Toni Cade Bambara’s call for a generalized “Blackhood,” rather than a specifically feminist program, echoed an appeal to “spiritual oneness” as a strategy for confronting racial oppression, which was a common refrain across the Black Arts movement. Closely related to this, she also advocated for a turn inward, another idea advanced by editors of both Black Fire and The Black Aesthetic. “Revolution begins with the self, in the self,” Bambara insisted. “The individual, the basic revolutionary unit, must be purged of poison and lies that assault the ego and threaten the heart.” The kind of inward work called for in the Black Arts movement was a new spirituality that sought to address the intramural dynamics of black life on its own terms.
Toward the end of “On the Issue of Roles,” Toni Cade Bambara clarified her push for “Blackhood” over manhood and womanhood. Myths engendered problems as well as possibilities, she suggested. New myths, made for all black people, might also help resolve gender divisions. As with so many others enmeshed in the Black Arts, here Richard Wright’s call—in his 1937 essay “Blueprint for Negro Writing”—for writers to replace preachers and create new myths to orient black life, loomed large. However, Bambara’s interest in myth-making led her to controversial figure from the recent past whom Wright most certainly would not have anticipated: Father Divine. Bambara reminded her readers about this charismatic, albeit unorthodox, religious leader who claimed an audience (all the while claiming to be God) during the same moment that a Harlem Renaissance was in bloom.
Recalling the massive following he acquired, she speculated: “When Father Divine launched his program, the Peace Mission Movement, the first thing he insisted upon from the novitiate was a shifting from male- hood and female- hood to Angelhood. If the program owed its success to anything, it owed it to this kind of shift in priorities.” Father Divine was distinguished, among other things, by his theology of racial transcendence and the Peace Mission movement’s interracial composition. Given the nationalist politics of the 1960s, highlighting Divine—who refused to use the word “Negro” and called for the end of racial classifications—was a surprising move, to say the least. Harlem’s “God” preached nothing that resembled the brand of black consciousness proclaimed by the likes of the Muslim minister Malcolm X or Albert Cleage, C. L. Franklin, and the scores of other clergy who took up the topic of Black Power during the 1960s.
Father Divine was certainly different from most of the models of spiritual integrity (i.e., Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X) celebrated during the 1960s. It must have been odd for readers to find Father Divine on the pages of The Black Woman in 1970, the same year that Toni Cade took the additional name Bambara as an homage to her African heritage. He was not, by any measure, the kind of black messiah typically conjured by the Black Arts. Yet it was there, in her essay “On the Issue of Roles,” that Bambara invoked the positive-thinking preacher as a potential resource for her pioneering black feminist writers and readers. This unexpected connection may have been made possible because Bambara also had access to local knowledge of Divine’s legacy. As a native of Harlem, she had grown up in proximity to remnants of the Peace Mission business empire. She fondly recalled trips with her father and brother to the Peace Barber Shop, which remained in Harlem long after “God” had left the neighborhood. Fond familial memories aside, Toni Cade Bambara and Father Divine were still a strange spiritual pairing. Yet she drew upon Divine’s ministry in a way that was consistent with the larger themes of her anthology. Bambara appealed to Divine to make a case for the equality of the black woman. In the face of Black Power’s masculinist performance, the gender-neutral language of “Angelhood” might help heal rifts between black women and men."
• Love, Barbara J. "Feminists Who Changed America 1963-1975." Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006.
Love calls this anthology a "major contribution in the development of Black women's literature" (27).

Cited in

• Kinnamon 1997: 467. (cites original edition)

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