BHM Series Ideologies Created by Black Women Pt. 3

Now that the end of Black History Month is approaching, I’d like to dedicate the final part of my appreciation series (which can be found here and here) to the scholarship of Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland Patricia Hill-Collins whose ideologies I’ve come across many times throughout my collegiate journey during my time here at UCR. Hill-Collins is largely known for her theories, rooted in Black feminism and pragmatism—two of which I’ll be discussing down below. Now normally I would have chosen to highlight two exceptional Black women and their scholastic achievements, however, I figured that Patricia’s work is so impressive and relevant that she deserves an article specially dedicated to her. There’s not much else I can say about how influential her work has been on my academic experience—given that I’ve encountered her throughout both anthropology and sociology courses—so without further ado, I present to you my final installment of this series, created as a way to celebrate brilliant, Black women intellectual properties as a ‘thank you’ for what they’ve contributed not just to the diaspora but to various humanities disciplines at large. 

focus dictionary index page photo Photo by Romain Vignes from Unsplash Matrix of domination: In 1990, Hill-Collins coined the term ‘matrix of domination’ in her popular book Black Feminist Thought in which she describes four intersecting domains of power in society as a way to inform readers about how hegemonic, interpersonal, disciplinary, and structural forms of power shape human actions. She explains that these four proclaimed domains each serve different purposes as it relates to the maintenance-slash-regulation of a status quo or social norm. In this work, she describes to readers the specific ways that these domains of power work to perpetually subordinate Black women and what Black women can do to essentially combat these systems of oppression. The first domain of power that she addresses is the structural power that is organized in society through social institutions such as schools, places of employment, residencies, and other broad, exhaustive institutions etcetera. She suggests a transformative approach as a way for addressing structural oppression which consists of the dissolution of colorblind/genderblind rhetoric (which is a form of covert discrimination) as it undermines the very targeted and specific nuances of oppression that affect people of those identities. Another suggestion entails the acknowledgment of socialized, organized oppression in both common-day and academic discourses as a way to formulate social change. Besides this, the three other domains of power also work in specialized ways to further disempower members of intersecting identities that have been deemed socially deviant and/or invaluable. For example, a disciplinary domain of power is responsible for managing oppression through the distribution of power and privileges while a hegemonic domain of power is responsible for developing a system of ideas created and sustained by the dominant class/group in that given society. This sustenance of ideas is developed insofar as they will be justified and imposed onto classes/groups thus deemed inferior. Finally, an interpersonal domain of power refers to the common-day social malpractice we face, affecting our individual consciousnesses. What Hill-Collins wants readers to understand is how each of these domains overlap in society both unrecognized and unchallenged, which only allows the dominant class/group to continually exploit, commodify and objectify marginalized peoples. 

Do Something Great neon sign photo Photo by Clark Tibbs from Unsplash Controlling images: another well-known theory by Patricia Hill-Collins that shows how negative images of Black women (largely but not entirely through media) serve as justification for the abuse and oppression—on the basis of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability—that has been and still is inflicted upon them. Of this she explains how “the dominant ideology of the slave era fostered the creation of four interrelated, socially constructed controlling images of Black womanhood, each reflecting the dominant group’s interest in maintaining Black women’s subordination” (Hill-Collins pp. 266). The four controlling images that she focuses on are: the ‘mammy’ stereotype which she explains was created to “justify the economic exploitation of house slaves”, idealizing the Black women to elite white male power (Hill-Collins pp. 266). Similarly, she describes the Black matriarch stereotype stating, “Though a more recent phenomenon, the image of the Black matriarch fulfills similar functions in explaining Black women’s placement in interlocking systems of race, gender, and class oppression” which serves as the foil of the ‘mammy’ controlling image; if the ‘mammy’ was supposed to represent the ‘good’ Black mother figure, then the ‘Black matriarch’ represents the ‘bad’ mother (Hill-Collins pp. 268). Another controlling image that is discussed is the idea of the ‘welfare mother’ as a response to the economic struggles disproportionately faced by Black single mothers, in order to justify racialized and gendered class oppression; this is because, “The image of the welfare mother thus provides ideological justification for the dominant group’s interest in limiting the fertility of Black mothers who are seen as producing too many economically unproductive children (Davis, 1981)” (Hill-Collins pp. 271). Finally, the fourth image used to contain and control Black womenhood is the ‘Jezebel’ stereotype which essentially hypersexualizes Black women’s bodies and sexual experiences/interactions. It creates the notion that Black women are lustful, promiscuous, ‘loose’ animalistic sexual addicts and deviants. Again, this is another way to justify the dominant group’s treatment of Black women and the particular sexual abuse/trauma Black women are subjected to at incredibly high rates in comparison to their non-Black counterparts. In this analysis, Patricia Hill-Collins draws attention to the significant yet subtle ways in which society has been conditioned to perpetuate anti-Black oppression targeted against Black woxmn and dehumanize them in a way that renders them deserving of the oppression and abuse they face. With this knowledge, it can only be hoped that people will (both with white privilege and without) push against these ideas. As the Combahee River Collective put it best, "If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free” (Blackpast). 

As the final days of Black History Month arrive, I’d like to ask readers to reflect on the information I’ve provided and I encourage you all to do your own research on these ideologies mentioned in this series. In a society that is constantly taking from the Black women and more broadly, from Black culture, give back to the women and gals around you by learning how you can understand their struggles, how you can help be a part of the change. There is no harm in helping those in need, especially not the ones who have always worked to include everyone in their activism. If you’d like to learn more about Black feminist literature, you can check out this list here.