Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Emerging out of Bell Hooks’s frustration with the failure of the black liberation movement and the women’s liberation movement to include the concerns of black women, Ain’t I a Woman: black women and feminism traces the oppressive forces of racism and sexism as they affect black women in the United States. It argues that race and sex are intertwined aspects of identity and cannot be understood apart from each other. Written from a feminist perspective, the book examines the impact of sexism on black women during slavery, the devaluation of black womanhood, sexism among black men, racism among white women, and black women’s involvement with feminism. In so doing, it attempts to move beyond racist and sexist assumptions regarding black women and to further the dialogue about and understanding of their experience. Finally, as it shows the deep interconnections between sex and race, the work places black women’s struggle for liberation in the context of a larger movement for the liberation of all people.

Ain’t I a Woman is structured as a critique of the dominant misconceptions, myths, and stereotypes regarding black women that white society has developed and fostered and that many black women have been socialized to accept. Beginning with the passage from Africa and slave life, the book describes the brutal methods slavers used to break black women’s will—methods that included rape, whipping, and branding—thereby establishing the origins of the devaluation of black womanhood. It continues with the horrible treatment of black women slaves, illustrating how household labor was not necessarily less degrading than field labor: Black women slaves in the household were under constant surveillance, at the mercy of the whims of their mistresses and the lust of their masters.

Looking at the repercussions of slavery, Hooks...

(The entire section is 764 words.)