Anmol and theoretical movement woke up to

Anmol Sahni Roll no.16MENG012 Prof. Jaideep Pandey M.A English I Year, Literature and Gender (ENG 0203 (1)) 15 April 2017  Black Feminism and „The Awakening? Post 1980s Feminism as a political and theoretical movement woke up to the realisation that the project of Feminism cannot be successful if it did not evolve to become an all-inclusive movement which can adequately represent the collective women experiences and perspectives. This crisis within Feminism was resolved by the emergence of Black Feminism which as a trend necessitated an evolution in Feminism thus redefining Feminism as a movement which is not only representative of white women?s Bourgeois experience. Feminism had to progress by overcoming its racist and homophobic impulses by acknowledging the fact that race and class along with  gender were  categories which contributed to  social and cultural subordination of women by patriarchy.          The aim of this essay is twofold: the first part of the essay surveys how Black Feminism at first emerged and engaged from the fringes only later carving out a space for itself within the broader feminist discourse.  The second part attempts to focus on the implication of the Black feminist movement on our understating of gender by analysing Kate Chopin?s seminal work „The Awakening?. This analysis of the work is done in a way so as to notice the racial anxiety which marks the novel. With the new acquired framework of Black Feminism, Sahni 2  Chopin?s work can be understood in its entirety as the issue of racism is brought to light by studying for Chopin?s conscious silences about racism throughout the novel. With this understanding one can also analyse the fact that Edna Pontellier?s Awakening came at the disposal of the quadroon women and other black minor characters that performed all the   household work so that privileged women like Edna Pontellier could ponder and awaken to a new life. Part I: Emergence of Black Feminism The shift in the Feminist discourse in America during the 1980s and 1990s was heralded by „Black Feminism?. With the onset of Black Feminism, it was realised that the Feminist Movement until now was undemocratic and exclusionary as it only represented the white women?s Bourgeois experience. Feminism had to deal with a new crisis within itself which arouse with the self realisation of its own racist impulse to silence the voice of Black and Coloured Women. This crisis is addressed by Adrienne Rich in her essay „Disloyal to Civilization: Feminism, Racism, Gynophobia.? In the essay Rich points out that White Feminist are consciously guilty of participating in Racism -the curse of the white Male hegemony which perpetuated inequality. Its noticeable that even though Rich seems to be  taking the first step to opening up the gates of feminist territory for Black women , her attempt is faulty for she categorises „women? and „Black people? as two mutually exclusive categories. This categorisation exposes the existing rift between white Feminism and the Ideal Feminism which is all inclusive.       To bridge this gap between the existing xenophobic version of Feminism and the ideal non ethnocentric Feminism, Black feminists began to engage themselves in the feminist discourse but from the fringe. Feminists like Bell Hooks realised that for the project of Feminism to be successful there needs to be carved a new space within the feminist territory where collective Sahni 3  women experiences and perspectives could be adequately represented.  This realisation was followed by a development in Black feminist scholarship, as an outcome of it collections focused on Black women authors and theorists were produced and published.     The second wave of Feminism was a „privileged? version of Feminism born out of White women Bourgeois experience. The so called women of America had access to universities, publishing houses, mass media and money. It becomes evident then that the white women population occupied a comparatively privileged position in the hierarchy of gender. This hierarchy gained existence due to the fact that second wave Feminism subordinated race and class to gender. The sole emphasis on gender as the only means of social and cultural subordination meant that the prevailing notion of Feminism was blind to the feminist struggles of Black women existing in the racist reality of America.      The thrust of White Feminist movement was to fulfil the agenda of equality. But this rhetoric of equality becomes problematic here because essentially it only means that white women should be equal to white men. The absence of Black women in this equation of equality makes Feminism slip on the same power dynamics against which it was fighting in the first place.  This fall of Feminism could be made avoidable if the shift in feminist agenda could be made from fighting for equality to fighting against oppression for all groups of women under the banner of Feminism.      The Black feminist thought entered academia via Black Culture studies courses, where an analysis of interconnectedness between racial and sexual oppression was made. As the second wave of Feminism was a white feminist movement, it painted the image of an „Ideal? woman as presumably and primarily white. Hence within this framework, Black women could never be ideal women. The white population of America constructed the image of Sahni 4  Black women to represent the virtue of „strength?. This subject formation was preceded and rested on the shallow assumption that the concern of the „Black women? was that of survival.                     Black feminists have tried to deconstruct this idea by celebrating the endurance of Black women for survival but at the same time resisting against the dominant cultures worldview of Black inferiority.  Black feminists like Bell Hooks suggest steps which need to be undertaken for Feminism to become a mature movement. Firstly Feminism needs to broaden its agendas by becoming representative of shared and collective women experience wherein race and class along with gender are also recognised as categories which contribute to subjugation of women by patriarchy.       Secondly, Hooks also believes there needs to be made a linguistic shift in the statement „I am a feminist? to „I advocate Feminism?. This modification implies one?s commitment to a feminist viewpoint but it does not exclude the possibility of supporting other political movements.  The emergence of Black Feminism came to suggest that Feminism should not recognise itself as an „established? movement but rather an evolving one which has at its heart – a refutation of dominance. Hook, in one if her essays says that “‘It is necessary to remember that it is first the potential oppressor within that we must resist – the potential victim within that we must rescue – otherwise we cannot hope for an end to domination, for liberation.”   Part II: Understanding Kate Chopin?s „The Awakening?                                                                                                                                                                   Kate Chopin?s seminal work, „The Awakening? was published in the year 1899. The world of the protagonist Edna Pontellier is a pre feminist world in which she awakens but a perpetual sense of despondency lies upon her. The novel has been celebrated by the feminist critics for Sahni 5  the feminist concerns which it raises. The reader embarks upon a journey with the central character Edna Pontellier who acquires the female agency in the novel. Critics like Elizabeth Ammons read the novel as only partly liberating for the novel does not explore much into its own repressed “African American content”. For Ammons the fate of both Chopin and Edna is connected with this repression.  She points out “the repression of black women stories – and with them Edna?s identity as oppressor as well as oppressed – plunges not just Edna but also Chopin into a killing silence from which neither returns. It is widely agreed that Kate Chopin did not write much after the Awakening because the hostile reviews of the novel devastated her. I am sure that is true. One might ask, however, after the Awakening, unless Chopin was willing to confront race, what was there to say?”       It is true that Chopin does not makes the black presence visible in her novel, there are no well written black characters. However there is evidence on nearly every page that „The Awakening? is a silent meditation about the issue of racism.  Critics like Toni Morrison believe that it is impossible for any white writers to ignore the back population presence of four hundred years in America. Many critics have pointed out that Chopin was raised in a Missouri household of former slaveholders who sympathised with the confederate cause, and her husband fought in a parliamentary White supremacist group called the Crescent City White League. This personal connection of Chopin could be a cause of the racial anxiety which gets reflected in her work. Possibly Chopin could not have written a novel about south or freedom without stumbling upon the black presence. This claim holds true even for The Awakening where Chopin seems to be dealing with racism in silences.       The role which the Quadroon women play in the setting of Edna?s world is often overlooked and underscored. It is the work of the quadroon nurses and nannies which sets up the Louisiana society of the late nineteenth century  and it is the working class Black women?s effort which allows Edna to ponder and awaken to her new life. Even though these Sahni 6  quadroon women occupy a faceless, nameless and unappreciated position throughout the novel, it is their work which actually provides the guiding hand that keeps the society intact and gives white women disposable time to ponder on concerns other than household keeping.     The world in which Edna Pontellier exists is occupied by many black characters that are forced to play the role of servants and house help for White families like Pontellier?s. These minor characters are to be studied in detail for Chopin writes them in a coded language. The servants are restless and subversive, just like Edna, but in their case we discover this through code and not the conventional methods which Chopin adopts for her protagonist.  The servants are described as detached and discontent from their forced roles, there is a simmering liberation within them ready to explode any time.       The quadroon nurse who cares for Edna?s two boys follow them about “with a far away meditative air.” Her mind is not on her role as Edna?s servant but somewhere else. The nursemaids who follow Robert to the beach to find Edna and Adele look “disagreeable and resigned”.  The absence mindedness of the servants and Edna points to the absence of true freedom in the American society in Chopin?s world where most of the characters seem to be yearning for something –their Awakening.  There are various instances of revolt- breaking of vase, angry conversations, throwing away the ring- in the novel on part of Edna who is denying to be moulded as a contended house wife as the patriarchal society expects here to be. A white women?s revolt was something the pre feminist society could not accept and a Black revolt was simply unquestionable.      Chopin knows that the fate of her characters is inextricably linked to the fate of black people, to the fate of the servants who seem to live at the edges of the rich world Edna occupies. It is from an understanding of the framework of black Feminism can a reader identify Chopin?s racial anxiety in her silences and absences. Thus from this perspective, one Sahni 7  can argue that in Chopin?s novel, there can be no freedom  -in the south , in the nation or in an individual- without acknowledging the presence of black characters. Chopin can only be called a liberated writer if one is able to find in her works, an artistic freedom which she practices by ways of encoding and hiding her messages in the shadows of black Americans. The message is dangerous and potential of sabotage nonetheless it is vital to the identity of America?s history and American literature itself.  Thus we see that the black presence is never on the edge of a text of a white writer, because it lives powerfully at the centre of the white imagination.  ——-