Assignment: Communist publications
Black and white women active in the U. S. Communist Party surely played an important role in this transmission. According to historian Kate Weigand, in the 1930s and 1940s “Communist publications regu- larly used the terms ‘triple burden’ and ‘triple oppression’ to describe the status of black women” (Weigand, 2001, 99; see also McDuffie, 2011). Other terms included “triple exploitation” and “double job.” Perhaps the foremost exponent of race/class/gender thinking before the 1960s was Claudia Jones, a prominent black leader of the CPUSA and of the Congress of American Women (Boyce Davies, 2008, 2011; Lynn, 2014).
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In my own experience as a budding Marxist–feminist activist and scholar in the 1960s,4 the race/class/gender analytical framework seemed familiar, and immediately available to me. It was not something I had to think deeply about, much less invent. Could I have picked up the framework from my left-wing parents?
In short, black feminists were right to credit Crenshaw and other black scholars as leaders in the effort to foreground intersectionality in the 1980s, but they missed an opportunity to root their contribution more deeply in the historical context of black women’s lives.
Non-historians might ask why it matters that we get the history right. Maybe I’m just being picky? I think it matters above all for what is lost when we get history wrong. As I have already mentioned, we miss a lot when we buy into the “white feminism” paradigm. We overlook the importance of the many black women activists who over more than a century forged a tradition of resistance. We neglect the role of the U. S. Communist Party and of the Congress of American Women. We give short shrift to the contributions of individual com- munist and left-leaning activists and writers, both white and black.
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