Book: It’s time for black women to claim the right to lead

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At the first Pan-African Conference in 1900, WEB DuBois referred to the 20th century as “the century of the color line”. Echoing this language, the scholar Carole Boyce Davies calls our present time “the century of black women’s claim to leadership,” in her new book, “Black women’s rights: leadership and circularities of power.”

Extending her research into black women’s writing across the globe, Boyce Davies, Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters, Professor of Literature in English and African Studies, examines the stories of black women political leaders in Africa and the African Diaspora. world. The book draws lessons from figures such as Shirley Chisholm, the first woman to run for President of the United States (in 1972) on a ruling party ticket; Nomzamo Winnie Madikizela-Mandela of South Africa; and assassinated Brazilian politician Mariella Franco.

“I wanted to know what the limitations, the obstacles, the challenges of black women’s leadership are,” Boyce Davies said.

The College of Arts and Sciences spoke with Carole Boyce Davies about the book.

Question: What is your vision for the early 22nd century as black women claim their right to leadership?

Answer: I think we are finally able to see steps towards this achievement, especially since we are only 20 years into the 21st century. I predict, even though I won’t be there to see it, that in time women’s leadership, good and bad, like that of male leaders, good and bad, will come to fruition. I say “good and bad” because the assumption is that when women become leaders they will have to be perfect, but there is no similar expectation for men. People were happy to have Barack Obama as a black leader and didn’t really evaluate, beyond charisma, his real achievements.

Q: How do the personal stories of Black women in leadership positions – like Shirley Chisholm, Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams to name a few – benefit other Black women and the entire nation?

A: These are all steps towards the process of full representation. I constantly argue that women are half the world and therefore they owe at least that part of the representation, of the resources. Shirley Chisholm was willing to run, even if she didn’t win the Democratic Party nomination, to demonstrate that it could be done. Kamala and Stacey benefit from the fact that Chisholm has come forward and faced the barrage of negativity from joint racism and sexism, but still made major gains in positioning black women for leadership. Even though Kamala and Stacey never fully deliver on their promise, we have to assume that these were necessary steps along the way, and they learn from their mistakes themselves – just as we supportive viewers also learn.

Q: Where does the concept of “circularities of power” come from and how is it a guiding principle in your book?

A: “Circularities of power” is a bit Foucauldian, as Foucault argues that power should not always be seen in terms of domination, but in the way it can flow through communities and that even the oppressed have power that they don’t use often. I talk about it in the introduction and I provide the reference. But before even thinking about using this framing, I had used a discourse of “circularities” instead of “migrations”, with the intention of grasping the fact that these processes are never unidirectional.

Q: Your book mentions several African women writers and devotes a chapter to feminist literary leadership. How have African women writers advanced the cause of black women’s rights?

A: Women writers have imagined these frameworks of movement, of leadership, of power in a coherent way. I was struck by what became politics started by writers like Ama Ata Aidoo from Ghana already describing and talking about women’s issues that needed to be addressed, and these eventually became commonplace assertions by feminist and legal theorists. as they addressed the various legal protocols at the state level. , national and international, particularly in Africa and the Caribbean. It is in the imagination that realities begin to have a certain tangible possibility, which is in any case the work of the creator – to see beyond the given reality.

Kate Blackwood is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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