At the time that Wallace wrote her book, the significance of African American women as a distinct category was routinely erased by the way in which the leaders of many women’s movements and African American movements chose to set their goals and recollect their histories. In 1978, practically no one discussed racial oppression and women’s oppression at the same time. In subsequent years, multicultural feminist inquiry would make such dualism less of a problem in the academy, but not among the general public.
Wallace, a professor of English at the City University of New York, grew up in New York City as the daughter of African American feminist artist Faith Ringgold. She attributed becoming a feminist in the 1970’s to her mother’s influence. However, Wallace also had a number of personal experiences with discrimination. She withdrew from historically African American Howard University at the end of her freshman year in 1970 after finding the misogynistic atmosphere at the school to be intolerable. While studying at the City College of New York, she studied under African American feminist writers Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. Wallace helped found the National Black Feminist Organization in the 1970’s.
When Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman appeared in print, Wallace was twenty-six years old and unprepared for the resulting onslaught of criticism. While some members of the African American community supported her work, many others were openly hostile. Wallace was accused of causing a division in the African American community that would aid whites, of being a dupe of white feminists who only wanted to exploit her, and of weakening the African American community. The sharp criticism gave Wallace a nervous breakdown.
In subsequent years, Wallace’s work became recognized as pathbreaking and enormously significant. Feminist scholars built on her discussion of African American sexual politics, though there remained comparatively few works on African American feminism. However, Wallace’s hope that African American women would design their own liberation has not been fully realized, nor has the dream of cohesive African American political action.