The theory of feminism suggests that all genders must be socially, politically, and economically equal. This belief does not mean that all genders are identical but rather recognizes the differences among genders. What it specifies is that those differences should not translate into inequality in rights and opportunities.
In Latin America and even the Caribbean, the history of black women or women of African descent is scarred by the horrors of European colonization. Under colonialism during the sixteenth century, a hierarchical structure was nurtured. This later played an important part in the ideology and functional structure of the society.
The basis of this system was the idea of the race which was then systemized on the grounds of skin color and the physical composition i.e. phenotype of their subjects. This ideology gave way for the colonial powers to propagate a new mental scheme that would basically legitimize the dominance of the so-called superior conquerors against their supposedly inferior and defeated populace.
Slaves forcibly captured from Africa were brought into territories, but black women were exploited much more. The class, race, and gender-based oppression that acted as the basis for these power relations after many centuries became more deeply rooted and embedded.
The Racial Question in Latin America
The long history of black slavery can be regarded as the worst occurrence for the men, women, and children of the African community. The presence of African or black women and indigenous women in the black feminist movements highlights women as the protagonists and active participants of these movements.
Whether it be the Black Lives Movement or the ethnic movements, the male counterparts tried to exclude women from the decision-making process and sustained the patriarchal and sexist practices even in these movements. For this purpose mainly, women sought to take part in a women’s movement that was inclusive of women talking about their rights.
Due to the social inequality in Latin America between white and black people on financial and racial grounds, even in the feminist movements, the black community faced discrimination and was often overlooked.
Black Feminism and Inter-sectionality in Latin America
If we examine the feminist theory and movement from the historical aspect, we can see that the roots of intersectionality can be traced back to the nineteenth century. The efforts of the women’s suffrage movement and abolishing slavery are often said to have provided the basis for this discourse.
Throughout the Latin American region and the Caribbean, such economic, racial, and gender-based exploitation is not only deeply rooted in history but has also been greatly institutionalized. Furthermore, it is quite prominent in the structural systems that have been built up with the passage of time and are based on inequality.
Intersectionality is therefore not just an abstract notion; it clearly describes the way in which multiple forms of oppression are experienced. In the case of Black Feminism, it can be noted that black women in Africa not only experienced sexism but also racism.
Case Study: Transnational Black Feminist Movements in Brazil
If the history of transnational black feminist movements in Latin America, specifically in Brazil, were to be traced, one would have to go back to the emergence of the black women’s movement in the region. During the 1930s, the notion of Brazil being a non-racist society was greatly promoted by foreign observers and advocates of nationalist ideologies.
It was said that Brazil had overcome the racial discrimination and violence demonstrated in the society of the US. On the other hand, during the early decades of the twentieth century, black artists and activists in Brazil who were associated with black political organizations like the black cultural groups or the black press, worked very hard to raise awareness of racism.
The dominance of the ideology of racial democracy greatly undermined the efforts of these activists. Prevailing during the 1930s, the Black Brazilian Front i.e. FNB which was a black organization providing black political mobilization was repressed by the dictatorship in Brazil after the span of only six years.
The MNU i.e. the United Black Movement was founded in the late 1970s which then revived the anti-racist struggle and efforts in Brazil. The revival of the black movement acted as a milestone in the anti-racist struggle. This was mainly because during the dictatorial rule which remained from 1964 to 1985, discussions on the topic of race or raising the racial question were shunned.
The black activists in Brazil in the late 1970s started framing racism as the main component of their struggle for full citizenship and democracy in the country. Urging the Afro-Brazilians or the black people of Brazil to embrace their blackness, various black organizations were established.
Mostly situated in the cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, more than 200 black organizations existed throughout the whole of Brazil by 1988. Till this time period, it can be observed that the movements for black people’s rights and various black organizations mainly dominated by men prevailed.
It was only during the late 1980s that the black women’s movement emerged in Brazil. This marked a new era of political activism in Brazil that started to bridge the efforts for gender and racial justice. During the late 1970s and 80s when Brazil was transitioning from a repressive military dictatorship to democracy, the black movement and women’s movement played a major part in accommodating issues of gender and race in the political agenda.
Even after many political challenges for the socio-political transformation of black women in Latin America, the time period from the 1970s to the 1990s is quite significant despite black women being a marginal group as compared to black men. This then gave way to the upcoming diverse feminist ideas. The feminism of this time, commonly known as neo-feminism mainly focused on the body.
Having its roots in the pre-1970s, neo-feminism worked for validating women’s rights. For feminism in general and black feminism as well, the neo-feminist perspective advocated for the abortion issues, abuse, sexual autonomy, rape, etc faced by women in Latin America.
Later, the emergence of marginal voices came as a critique of the theory of liberal feminism, arguing that this phenomenon continued to overlook the differences among women from different cultural and social backgrounds. Based on anti-patriarchal and de-colonial ideas, the anti-neoliberal discourse in the 21st century prevailed in Latin America which came as a response to the 1980s and 90s neoliberal agenda.
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