Celebrating Womanist Scholarship for Women’s History Month 2016

In 1979, African-American novelist and poet Alice Walker wrote “Coming Apart,” a short story about a Black woman in the U.S. confronting her Black husband about his use of pornography. For support, the wife shares literature from two Black American lesbians – she even pastes the words of Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde above her kitchen sink for support. In “Coming Apart,” Walker coins the term “womanist” – a Black woman who is not a feminist separatists, as some feminist in the ’70s advocated, but a woman who is a feminist and is simultaneously concerned about the well-being of all Black people. In 1983, Walker wrote a four-part definition of Womanism. Since the late ’80s, African-American women scholars have examined Walker’s “womanism” to understand, in part, how Black women understand their own experiences living in the U.S. Some Christian theologians have encountered womanism to help African-American Christians become liberated from oppressive and abusive religious teachings, practices, and communities. Womanist thought is also being examined by Muslim and Buddhist scholars. Why the interest?

Womanist scholars are helping themselves and others learn how to critique oppressive systems, give voice to those oppressions, create safe spaces for healing, and renounce expectations that African-American women must be servants to everything, including religion. Has womanist scholarship actually been liberating? Can people who are not African-American women find seeds of hope and inspiration in womanist scholarship?

Having utilized mixed methodologies for my dissertation on the psycho-spiritual experiences of African-American Buddhist lesbians in the Insight tradition, I have found womanist scholarship to be very liberating. Despite my critique that far too many womanist theological scholars have negated Walker’s 1979 womanist sensibility for Walker’s 1983 definition, ignoring or refuting the necessity of relying of African-American lesbian wisdom as integral to the womanist method, I utilized a humanist-feminist-womanist-humanist (humanist from the start and at the end to represent a cycle) methodology of changing situational analyses – in other words, different situations, always in constant change, call for different lenses and multiple lenses — always with our ways of knowing on ethics and liberation.

In honor of Women’s History Month 2016, I will introduce you to the African-American women scholars (and women committed to understanding African-American women) who contributed to my research.  My hope is that you will get to know them and be inspired by them to find liberation for yourself and others:

Joan M. Adams

Faith Adiele

Carrol A. Watkins Ali

Lisa Bowleg

Johnetta Betsch Cole

Monica A. Coleman

Alexis DeVeaux

Beverly Greene

Beverly Guy-Sheftall

Renee Leslie Hill

Linda H. Hollies

Jennifer Leath

Pamela R. Lightsey

Buffie Longmire-Avital

Audre Lorde

Earthlyn Manuel

Carolyn McCrary

Paula McGee

Eleanor L. Miller

Mignon R. Moore

Layli Phillips

Phillis Isabella Sheppard

Alice Walker

Ja’Nina Walker

Beverly Wallace

Traci C. West

angel Kyodo williams

Delores S. Williams

Jan Willis

The list of scholars is much longer than this one and continues to grow. African American men and non-African-American women are finding inspiration in and making contributions to this scholarship. May those of us who celebrate Women’s History Month honor all women’s lives. May we also recognize that even in the struggles we have with each other, in our various particularities, we can march toward strengthening our bonds. As Walker said, “womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.”  We are not separate, just shaded differently.

Image courtesy of politrixie.blogspot.com.

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