Mia E. Bay, Farah J. Griffin, Martha S. Jones, and Barbara Savage, eds.
Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women
University of North Carolina Press 2015
New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network July 26, 2015 Lilian Calles Barger
Mia Bay is a professor of history at Rutgers University, and Director of the Center for Race and Ethnicity. She is co-editor of Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women (University of North Carolina, 2015). Bay and her co-authors have brought together a strikingly good collection of fifteen essays that presents us with a sampling of a neglected field of thought. All focus on black women of the diaspora in North America, the Caribbean and Africa as subjects of critical thought and articulators of ideas on a wide variety of subjects. The authors demonstrate how black women lived and thought at the intersection of both race and gender. As a distinct field, the growth of black women’s intellectual history has suffered from several handicaps including resistance within the field of intellectual history. As Black men are often the focus as defenders of their race, black women are often portrayed as activists; doers rather than thinkers. The informal nature of much of black women’s thought, the lack of formal education and the use of religious language makes them appear as inarticulate in matters of racial and gender politics. The scarcity of written texts, particularly for the eighteen-century and much of the nineteenth, renders constructing a history of black women’s thought a project akin to archeology; a limitation the writers readily take up as a challenge. The authors appeal to social history influencing the wider acceptance of non-elite thought, and feminist scholarship as bringing attention to the field as worthy of study. The fifteen essays cover a range of topics including religion, challenges to race science, the meaning of black women’s bodies, respectability, political theory, and feminism. The entire collection is an excellent source and a promising movement toward constructing a transnational history of black women’s thought.