Black women in Latin America and the Caribbean suffer a triple erasure: as Black people, as women, and as non-English speakers in a global environment dominated by the Anglophone North. Black Feminist Constellations is a passionate and necessary corrective. Focused on and written by Black women of the southern Americas, the original works composing this volume make legible the epistemologies that sustain radical scholarship, art, and political organizing by Black women everywhere.
In essays, poems, and dialogues, the writers in Black Feminist Constellations reimagine liberation from the perspectives of radical South American and Caribbean Black women thinkers. The volume’s methodologically innovative approach reflects how Black women come together to theorize the world and challenges the notion that the university is the only site where knowledge can emerge. A major work of intellectual history, Black Feminist Constellations amplifies rarely heard voices, centers the uncanonized, and celebrates the overlooked work of Black women.
Praise for Black Feminist Constellations
As Black women’s intellectual, cultural, and spiritual contributions are increasingly, albeit belatedly, included in the global feminist archive, Black Feminist Constellations challenges how ostensibly reparative methodologies can reinstate the very hierarchies they pretend to contest. In this immensely valuable volume, editors Christen Smith and Lorraine Leu do not simply insert those excluded voices, they ask us to imagine radical futures emerging from new foundations built on the work of Black feminists in the Global South and the political struggles they represent.
Angela Y. Davis
This carefully curated volume is unprecedented, featuring work by and conversations between formidable Black feminists from throughout the African Diaspora and situated inside and outside the academy. It offers us the brilliant idea of constellations–rather than centers or peripheries–as a way of thinking about the often-parallel development of Black feminist thought and Black women’s movements around the world. The book’s insistence on a Black feminism that is dialogic, multilingual, and anti-imperialist is a much-needed contribution to the field. The intimate conversations, and the affective links that ground them, are special and offer new language for understanding power, freedom, and connection across the diaspora.
Tianna S. Paschel, University of California, Berkeley, author of Becoming Black Political Subjects
Abbreviated excerpt from Black Feminist Constellations
Christen A. Smith and Lorraine Leu
Black feminism is not white feminism in a Black face. It is a genuine movement that comes out of the lives of Black women wherever we are—women of the African diaspora—and as such must be identified in terms of particular problems wherever we are.—audre lorde in “cafra conversations: audre lorde and andaiye”
I’m afraid they won’t remember . . .
Our steps come from afar
Sacred women’s words—elizandra souza, “the sacred word of women: a performance”
We have been walking together for generations and we must keep going, as the poet Elizandra Souza reminds us in the lyrical preface to this book. Souza echoes a phrase that is often repeated in Black women’s feminist circles in Brazil—“nossos passos vêm de longe” (our footsteps come from afar).1 This mantra resonates across diasporic Black women’s thinking and mobilization. The idea of Black women treading a path together underscores the collective, trans-spatial nature of our struggle, our labor of care, and our intellectual production—in short, our epistemological subjectivity. We owe a debt to those who have come before us across time and space: those who have organized for our liberation. Our roots and routes connect us. This journey speaks to Black feminist intellectual Lélia Gonzalez’s notion of “amefricanidade,” the common experiences and consciousness shaping all Black experiences—but especially Black women’s experiences— in the Americas.2 This metaphor of footsteps echoing in the distance emphasizes continuity in the face of gendered anti-Black violence. The multiple voices of Souza’s poem that scream the silences of that violence also resonate and refract to inspire the courage to refuse and resist. The creativity, theorization, and action of our collective courage is the backdrop to this collection. Black Feminist Constellations makes legible Black women’s “sacred word”—the epistemologies that sustain our organizing, cultural production, and intellectual formation throughout our hemisphere: our intellectual contributions.
Black Feminist Constellations is a curated collection of original essays and dialogues from key Black radical femme and feminist intellectuals, activists, and artists from across the southern Americas (Latin America and the Caribbean). It weaves together interviews and conversations about Black women’s experiences in time, space, and language through the creation of horizontal dialogue among Black women scholars/activists/artists from diverse linguistic and geographic borders. Some of the contributors to this book consider themselves Black feminists. Some do not. All recognize, in step with Audre Lorde, that our struggle “comes out of the lives of Black women wherever we are—women of the African diaspora—and as such must be identified in terms of particular problems wherever we are.” In this way, Black Feminist Constellations is a dialogic project—a conversation between Black women that focuses on Black women’s intellectual contributions from the vantage point of the southern Americas.
In this book, we foreground the Hispanic and Lusophone experience because Black feminist discourse tends to be overdetermined by scholarship in English, despite the fact that Spanishand Portuguese-speaking people make up the vast majority of the population in our hemisphere. Moreover, on the rare occasions when discussions of Black women’s thought and Black feminism include a non-Anglophone perspective, the emphasis tends to be on the experiences of the Northern Hemisphere (particularly the Caribbean). Nevertheless, our goal is not comprehensive representation of perspectives of all Black women in the Americas; instead, it is to give you, the reader, a glimpse into what it might look like to put our struggles into conversation with one another across languages rather than remaining siloed within our linguistic communities.
We define Black feminism from a radical, anti-capitalist, antiimperialist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic, anti-racist, and anti-sexist perspective, following the work of generations of Black feminists transnationally. From the Combahee River Collective to Andaiye, Lélia Gonzalez, Audre Lorde, Ochy Curiel, and others, Black women have been defining Black feminism as the fight against the uniquely interlocking oppressions of racism and sexism for generations.
The southern Black experience (and here we include the global South in our definition of “southern”) is overdetermined by folklorization in the global imagination. Mainstream society celebrates Blackness for its aesthetic beauty and cultural richness, but rarely do people from the global North pay much attention to the rich intellectual contributions and theoretical insights that emerge from the global South. This fact is compounded by the cultural hegemony of the Anglophone Americas, particularly the United States. This cultural hegemony overdetermines Blackness as US Black culture, ignoring the experiences of the majority of Black people around the world, and particularly erasing the diversity of Black experiences in the Americas. Gender compounds this flattening out.
Black women’s intellectual contributions are frequently sidelined and/ or dismissed in our hegemonic, white supremacist, patriarchal world.3 However, even within Black feminist discourses, the experiences of the Hispanic and Lusophone southern Americas are often left out of conversations of Black feminism because of linguistic and cultural barriers. One of the consequences of imperialism is the hegemony of Anglophone narratives even within Black radical discourses like Black feminism. This obfuscates the rich, expansive, and long-standing traditions of Black women who are organizing in Creole, French, Spanish, Patois, and Portuguese (among other languages). Consequently, we center the voices of Portugueseand Spanish-speaking Black women living and working in the southern Americas, in an attempt to spark an epistemological paradigm shift southward.4
What does it mean to reconsider transnational Black feminism through the lens of dialogic engagement? What does it mean to do this from a Hispanic and/or Lusophone perspective and quite literally turn our northern understandings of the world on their head? For us, it means shifting our center of intellectual gravity from the north to the south by allowing Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Black women to share their ideas and perspectives on the world unabashedly, in a nonhierarchical, dialogic space of exchange. This book curates points of dialogue that reveal some of the genealogies of thought, trajectories of struggle, and contours of collaboration that define Black women’s radical organizing around gender, race, and sexuality. We use the term “radical” to underscore the decidedly anti-imperialist, anti-patriarchal, anti-capitalist, anti–white supremacist political focus of our work. We follow the legacies of Andaiye, Victoria Santa Cruz, Claudia Jones, Lélia Gonzalez, Beatriz Nascimento, and Sylvia Wynter, among others. Our goal is to create conversations that rethink the topography of the Black condition and women and femme experiences by revisiting the past, pushing the boundaries of the present, and imagining liberation anew from the perspective of radical Black women who have quite literally changed the political landscape of our hemisphere.
On Juneteenth (June 19) 2022, Francia Márquez was elected the first Black woman vice president of Colombia. A long-time environmental activist and defender of Black territorial and citizenship rights, Márquez found that her journey to the vice presidency was one of lucha/struggle. In 2014, Vice President Marquez and twenty-one other Black women from the Yolombó region of Colombia walked 470 kilometers (292 miles) from La Toma to Bogotá to express their outrage against illegal mining in the Cauca region—a historically and predominantly Black zone of the country. That march, which became known as the “Mobilization of Black Women for the Care of Life and Ancestral Territories,” was a turning point in Colombian political history, sparking a community effort to have a defender of Black life and ancestral territories elected to national office. That representative became Francia Márquez, and as Yineth Balanta Mina, Yannia Sofía Garzón Valencia, and Alysia Mann Carey discuss in this collection, this mobilization was a deliberately collective one that represents the communal politics of representation and intentional translocation that define the movement to defend Black life and Black land in Colombia. Francia Márquez’s ascendancy into the vice presidency was not a solitary political act. Yineth, Yannia Sofía, and Alysia’s reflections on Black women’s political organizing in Colombia not only chronicle the genealogies of this political turning point but also underscore the epistemologies that emerged and continue to emerge from Black women’s organizing in Colombia. This conversation, like the others in this volume, embodies the dialogic, politically decisive, historical significance of the Black women’s voices we gather here.
Over the past two decades scholars have paid increased attention to the need to identify, read, archive, and critically engage with the intellectual work of Black women. To date very little has been published on Black critique by or about Black radical women thinkers from the southern Americas (those who identify as feminist and those who do not, but might be framed as “protofeminist”).6 Notable exceptions include but are not limited to Carole Boyce Davies’s Out of the Kumbla (organized with Elaine Savory; 1990), Davies’ Left of Karl Marx (2007), Katherine McKittrick’s edited volume Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis (2015), Alissa Trotz’s The Point Is to Change the World: Selected Writings of Andaiye (2020), and the edited collection Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora (2012), edited by Marta Morena Vega, Marinieves Alba, and Yvette Modestin. Sonia Alvarez and Kia Lilly Caldwell’s special double issue of Meridians (volume 14, issues 1 and 2, 2016) notably gathers Black women’s Hispanophone and Lusophone writings in translation, making them accessible to the English-speaking academy.7 Recognizing these important initiatives, we also note that most engagements with Black women’s intellectual contributions outside of the United States tend to focus on the Caribbean and largely ignore Central America, South America, and the circumCaribbean.8 For this reason, we center these voices here. Our intention is not to ignore key voices from elsewhere, but rather to instigate a paradigm shift that will overturn power structures and hierarchies of knowledge.
There are academic dimensions to our project in addition to political ones. Black women from the southern Americas have largely been excluded from the fields of Black studies, Latin American studies, and Latine studies, and from “traditional” disciplines with white male–dominated canons. The duality of racism and sexism rampant in the Latin American academy erases Black women from Latin American studies. Latent xenophobia and entrenched sexism of Black studies glosses over Spanishand Portuguese-speaking Black women’s theories and scholarship. The backdrop of this erasure in all of its manifestations is the inherent relationship between anti-Blackness, patriarchy, and imperialism that cannot be dissociated—in other words, each of these violent practices haunts one another. To follow bell hooks, white supremacy, patriarchy, imperialism, homophobia, classism, and misogyny are interconnected social projects.9 Sadly, Black women from the non-Anglophone Americas have also been glossed over in Black feminist theorizing because of the tendency to canonize English-speaking (particularly US-based) Black women’s thought, even within the global discourse of Black feminism. As a result, we should radically diversify the discourses of each of these fields and foreground Black women’s contributions to philosophical and political thought from Latin America and the circum-Caribbean. We hope that this book initiates a shift in thinking.
To disrupt the imperialist, Anglophone chauvinism that tends to dominate discourses of intellectualism in the Americas, we must be antiimperialist in addition to being anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic. This requires insisting on the intellectual protagonism of Black women’s thought. Black women tend to be research objects rather than research subjects in academic discussions. As Sueli Carneiro notes in her conversation with Christen A. Smith in this volume, “The intellectual, theoretical hegemony of the North is significantly sustained by reducing us to research objects. At best, they treat us like primary sources—that is part of the oppression. Epistemicide’s strategy is to consolidate hegemony, and hegemony is always constituted by thinkers from the North.”10 This shows up in part through the deep-seated intellectual bias against knowledge formations that emerge from spaces outside of the university, like grassroots organizing and just plain everyday life and survival. Valuing Black women’s organic, everyday forms of knowledge production helps to undo this, and that is one of our many goals here as well.
The CAFRA conversation that included the Audre Lord quote that serves as the first epigraph is reprinted in this volume for the first time.
- This phrase in Portuguese—”nossos passos vêm de longe”—has emerged from the Black women’s movement in Brazil, which Elizandra Souza invokes in her poem. For more on this phrase, see Jurema Werneck, Maria Luisa Mendonça, and Evelyn C. White, O livro da saúde das mulheres negras: Nossos passos vêm de longe/ organização (Rio de Janeiro: Pallas, 2000).
- For more discussion on Lélia Gonzalez’s concept of “amefricanidade,” see Cláudia Pons Cardoso and Lia Castillo Espinosa, “Amefricanity: A Black Feminist Proposal for a Political Organization and Social Transformation,” Hypatia 37, no. 3 (2022): 559–565; Keisha-Khan Y. Perry and Edilza Sotero, “Amefricanidade: The Black Diaspora Feminism of Lélia Gonzalez,” LASA Forum 50, no. 3 (2019); Lélia Gonzalez, Primavera para as rosas negras: Lélia Gonzalez em primeira pessoa (collection organized and edited by UCPA, Union of Pan-Africanist Collectives) (São Paulo: Diáspora Africana, 2018); Lélia Gonzalez, Por um feminismo afrolatino-americano: Ensaios, intervenções e diálogos, ed. Flavia Rios and Márcia Lima (Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2020).
- See, for example, Christen A. Smith et al., “Cite Black Women: A Critical Praxis (A Statement),” Feminist Anthropology 2, no. 1 (2021): 10–17.
- For more on this project of decentering Northern epistemologies, see Christen Smith’s interview with Sueli Carneiro in this volume.
- Carole Boyce Davies and Elaine Savory Fido, eds., Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women and Literature (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1990); Carole Boyce Davies, Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008); Erik S. McDuffie, Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2021).
- Joy James uses the term “protofeminist” to describe Black women radical and revolutionary organizers who envisage Black feminism without calling themselves feminists. Joy James, Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics (New York: St. Martin’s, 1999).
- For further reflections on Black feminism in Latin America and the Caribbean, see, for example, Anny Ocoró and Rosa Campoalegre Septien, “Black Feminisms in Latin America and the Caribbean: Contributions to the State of the Art,” in Routledge Handbook of Afro-Latin American Studies, ed. Bernd Reiter and John Antón Sánchez (Milton Park, UK: Taylor and Francis, 2022).
- For more on the Black feminisms in the Caribbean see, for example, ¨C31C21, no. 1 (2022).
- See, for example, bell hooks’s keynote address to the National Women’s Studies Association meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 2014.
- Carneiro engages with Boaventura de Sousa Santos’s theorization of epistemicide. Boaventura de Sousa Santos, ¨C32C(London: Routledge, 2016).