Black women

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The term 'black' is used world wide and has different meanings in different places. It is used to describe those of African and Afro-diasporic descent. The term black women is both a multi-faceted cultural identity and a powerful social construct with different meanings in different places.

Black internationalism[edit]

Ideas of black internationalism have expanded since the 1920s. Blain and Gill define it “as a global political, intellectual, and artistic movement of African-descended people engaged in a collective struggle to overthrow global white supremacy in its many forms.” Black women have played a major role in numerous countries.[1]

United States[edit]

Black slaves, many of whom were women, were often abused by their owners and other white people.[2] This abuse extended beyond the physical and psychological abuse directly related to how slaves were treated, and include the exploitation of black women slaves in order to advance different scientific practices and techniques.[citation needed] Black female slaves were sexually abused by White men and were forced to breed with their White male slave masters to bear mulatto children to maintain White supremacy, have more slaves to pick cotton and produce superior slaves in the South.[3] Black female slaves received the same treatment in Brazil, Hispanic America and the Caribbean.[4][5]

Black popular culture[edit]

Notable black women in US popular culture include:

  • Harriet Tubman: Born in the early 19th century in the former slave state of Maryland, Tubman is widely regarded for helping many African-American slaves to escape slavery via the Underground Railroad.[6] According to PBS, Tubman risked her own life "19 times by 1860" in order to save other slaves and return them to the North during the American Civil War.[7] Prior to being married, Tubman's name was Araminta Ross and she was also a nurse, cook and spy for the Northern Army during the Civil War.
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald, an American Jazz singer born in 1917, was given the title of "The First Lady of Song."[8] Fitzgerald is also known as the Queen of Jazz and won 13 Grammys for her vocal performances over the course of her life. In the music community, Fitzgerald is known for her four octave vocal range and for being a scat-singer. Additionally, Fitzgerald was capable of performing music in a multitude of genres, including swing and bop.[9] Like many black artists at the time, Fitzgerald performed at the Apollo Theater in New York City
  • Billie Holiday: Similar to Fitzgerald, Holiday, born as Eleanora Fagan, remains an important figure within the history of jazz music in America.[10] Influenced by Louis Armstrong, Holiday's vocal range was limited yet she is known for her thin, light voice that has a punch to it. Holiday is featured on the track "A Sailboat in the Moonlight" which was a number one hit when it was released and remains popular today,.[9]

Increased risk for health problems[edit]

Black women have been seen in stereotypical ways which result in increased health risks for them. Not only are they at a higher risk to contract these diseases than white women, but they also are at a higher risk to die from them as well. According to the American Cancer Society, the death rate for all cancers for black women is 14% higher than that of white women[11]. While the probability of being diagnosed with cancer in black women is 1 in 3, the chance of dying from cancer is 1 in 5[11]. Cancer is not the only disease that disproportionately affects African American women. Lupus is 2-3 times more common in women of color, but more specifically 1 in every 537 black women will have lupus.[12] Black women are also at a higher chance of being overweight thus making them open to more obesity-related diseases.[13] There is also a racial disparity when it comes to pregnancy related deaths. While there are 12.4 deaths for every 100,000 births for white women, the statistics for black women is 40.0 deaths for every 100,000 births.[14]

Famous leaders[edit]

President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson of Liberia

Some of the most important artistic and political leaders in history have been black women. For instance, Queen Qalhata and Candace of Meroe are important, early African queens.[15][16][17] In the United States, Toni Morrison was the first black woman Nobel laureate. Shirley Chisholm was an important Democratic candidate for U.S. President in the 1970s. In Africa, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf served as President of Liberia for 12 years.

Caribbean society[edit]

Jennifer Palmer argues that in the plantation world of the colonial Caribbean, women of color Were typically treated as property owned by white men. In the French islands, race and gender shape popular Assumptions about who could own property. However there were legal loopholes that sometimes opened up windows of opportunity for women of color to be landowners.[18]


The 2003 Maputo Protocol on women's rights in Africa set the continental standard for progressive expansion of women's rights. It guarantees comprehensive rights to women including the right to take part in the political process, to social and political equality with men, improved autonomy in their reproductive health decisions, and an end to female genital mutilation.[19]


Women play a modest role in Ghana's two major political parties: NDC (National Democratic Congress) and NPP (New Patriotic Party) – as well as the small party CPP (Convention People's Party). The first president, Kwame Nkrumah (CPP) made Ghana the first African nation to introduce a quota in 1959, reserving ten seats for women in Parliament. Ghana has recently been laggard, however, with a representation of 11% women after the election in 2012 and 13% after the election in 2016.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Keisha N. Blain and Tiffany M. Gill, eds. To Turn the Whole World Over: Black Women and Internationalism (U of Illinois Press, 2019) p. 2.
  2. ^ Greenberg, Kenneth S; White, Deborah Gray; Harris, J. William (1987). "Black Women and White Men in the Antebellum South". Reviews in American History. 15 (2): 252. doi:10.2307/2702176. JSTOR 2702176.
  3. ^
  4. ^ see "American Slavery in Comparative Perspective" (2019)online
  5. ^ David Gaspar and Darlene Clark Hine, eds. More than chattel: Black women and slavery in the Americas (Indiana UP, 1996).
  6. ^ "Harriet Tubman Facts and Quotes | Black History | PBS". Harriet Tubman Facts and Quotes | Black History | PBS. Retrieved 2017-05-17.
  7. ^ "Harriet Tubman". Retrieved 2017-05-17.
  8. ^ "Ella Fitzgerald". Ella Fitzgerald. Archived from the original on 2014-02-20. Retrieved 2017-05-17.
  9. ^ a b DeVeaux, Scott (2009). Jazz. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393192742.
  10. ^ "Billie Holiday". Retrieved 2017-05-17.
  11. ^ a b "Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans" (PDF).
  12. ^ "Lupus facts and statistics". Lupus Foundation of America. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  13. ^ Gillum, Richard F. (1987–2008). "Overweight and Obesity in Black Women: A Review of Published Data From The National Center for Health Statistics". Journal of the National Medical Association. 79 (8): 865–871. ISSN 0027-9684. PMC 2625572. PMID 3508218.
  14. ^ "Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System | Maternal and Infant Health | CDC". 2018-08-07. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  15. ^ Vercoutter, Jean (1976-01-01). The Image of the Black in Western art. Morrow. ISBN 9780688030865.
  16. ^ Walker, Robin (2006-01-01). When We Ruled: The Ancient and Mediœval History of Black Civilisations. Every Generation Media. ISBN 9780955106804.
  17. ^ Sertima, Ivan Van (1984-01-01). Black Women in Antiquity. Transaction Books. ISBN 9780878559824.
  18. ^ Jennifer L. Palmer, "The fruits of their labours: Race, gender and labour in the eighteenth-century French Caribbean." French History 32.4 (2018): 471-492.
  19. ^ Christine Ocran, "The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa." African Journal of International and Comparative Law 15.1 (2007): 147-152.
  20. ^ Diana Højlund Madsen, "Gender, Power and Institutional Change–The Role of Formal and Informal Institutions in Promoting Women’s Political Representation in Ghana." Journal of Asian and African Studies 54.1 (2019): 70-87.

Further reading[edit]

  • Blain, Keisha N. and Tiffany M. Gill, eds. To Turn the Whole World Over: Black Women and Internationalism (U of Illinois Press, 2019). 280 pp. online review
  • Blain, Keisha N. Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (U of Pennsylvania Press, 2018)
  • Coquery-Vidrovitc, Catherine. African Women: A Modern History (1997) excerpt
  • Hafkin, Nancy, and Edna G. Bay. Women in Africa: Studies in social and economic change (Stanford UP, 1976).
  • Harris-Perry, Melissa V. Sister citizen: Shame, stereotypes, and Black women in America (Yale UP, 2011).
  • Hine, Darlene Clark, and Kathleen Thompson. A shining thread of hope: The history of Black women in America (1999).
  • Hooks, Bell. Ain't I A Woman: Black women and feminism (Routledge, 2014).
  • Jones, Jacqueline. Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present (2nd ed. 2010) excerpt
  • Nelson, Nicki. African women in the development process (Routledge, 2013).
  • Scales-Trent, Judy. "Black women and the constitution: Finding our place, asserting our rights." Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 24 (1989): 9-44. online
  • Smith, Barbara, ed. Home girls: A black feminist anthology (Rutgers UP, 2000), primary sources.
  • Stichter, Sharon B., and Jane Parpart. Patriarchy and class: African women in the home and the workforce (Routledge, 2019).
  • Strobel, Margaret. "African women." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 8.1 (1982): 109-131.
  • Vaz, Kim Marie, ed. Black women in America (Sage Publications, 1994).