The Combahee River Collective Statement: Black Feminist Organizing in the Seventies and Eighties

We are a collective of Black feminists who have been meeting together since 1974…involved in the process of defining and clarifying our politics, while…doing political work within our own group and in coalition with other progressive organizations and movements…. [W]e see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face.

1. The Genesis of Contemporary Black Feminism

[W]e find our origins in the historical reality of Afro-American women’s continuous life-and-death struggle for survival and liberation…. As Angela Davis points out, Black women have always embodied an adversary stance to white male rule and have actively resisted its inroads upon them and their communities…. Black, other Third World, and working women have been involved in the feminist movement from its start, but both outside reactionary forces and racism and elitism within the movement itself have served to obscure our participation…. Black feminist politics also have an obvious connection to movements for Black liberation, particularly those of the 1960s and 1970s…. It was our experience and disillusionment within these liberation movements, as well as experience on the periphery of the white male left, that led to the need to develop a politics that was anti-racist, unlike those of white women, and anti-sexist, unlike those of Black and white men. There is also undeniably a personal genesis for Black feminism…. However, we had no way of conceptualizing what was so apparent to us, what we knew was really happening…. Our development must also be tied to the contemporary economic and political position of Black people…. [A] handful of us have been able to gain certain tools as a result of tokenism in education and employment which potentially enable us to more effectively fight our oppression…. [A]s we developed politically we addressed ourselves to heterosexism and economic oppression under capitalism.

2. What We Believe

Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work. This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics…. [T]he most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity…[t]o be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough…. Although we are feminists and Lesbians, we feel solidarity with progressive Black men and do not advocate the fractionalization that white women who are separatists demand…. We struggle together with Black men against racism, while we also struggle with Black men about sexism…. We are socialists because we believe that work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses…. We need to articulate the real class situation of persons…for whom racial and sexual oppression are significant determinants in their working/economic lives…. [O]ur Black women’s style of talking/testifying in Black language about what we have experienced has a resonance that is both cultural and political…. No one before has ever examined the multilayered texture of Black women’s lives…. “Smart-ugly” crystallized the way in which most of us had been forced to develop our intellects at great cost to our “social” lives…. We have a great deal of criticism and loathing for what men have been socialized to be in this society…[b]ut we do not have the misguided notion that it is their maleness, per se–i.e., their biological maleness–that makes them what they are.

3. Problems in Organizing Black Feminists

The major source of difficulty in our political work is that we are…trying…to address a whole range of oppressions…. We are dispossessed psychologically and on every other level, and yet we feel the necessity to struggle to change the condition of all Black women…. If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression. Feminism is, nevertheless, very threatening to the majority of…people because it calls into question some of the most basic assumptions about our existence, i.e., that sex should be a determinant of power relationships…. We feel that it is absolutely essential to demonstrate the reality of our politics to other Black women and believe that we can do this through writing and distributing our work.

4. Black Feminist Issues and Projects

The inclusiveness of our politics makes us concerned with any situation that impinges upon the lives of women, Third World and working people. We are of course particularly committed to working on those struggles in which race, sex and class are simultaneous factors in oppression…. One issue that is of major concern to us and that we have begun to publicly address is racism in the white women’s movement…. Eliminating racism in the white women’s movement is by definition work for white women to do, but we will continue to speak to and demand accountability on this issue…. As feminists we do not want to mess over people in the name of politics…. We are committed to a continual examination of our politics as they develop through criticism and self-criticism as an essential aspect of our practice.

Are we, as black people willing to not “fractionalize,” be committed to “continual examination of our politics as they develop through criticism and self-criticism as an essential aspect of our practice?”

Or shall we continue to default into the tracks, patterns and paths laid out for us by our enemy? Shall we continue to devalue black women and practice patriarchy and real domination? Can we talk about these issues with emotional integrity, with intellectual and spiritual courage?

We’d better begin and soon.