On Wednesday, March 29, Assistant Professor of Social Work and Family Studies Lisa Moore led a cultural conversation on black feminist thought in relation to the social justice movement. The event was the third cultural conversation to take place at St. Olaf this year. The conversation was attended by students and faculty alike, all eager to expand their knowledge of intersectionality in the feminist movement.
Moore, an alumna of Davidson College, did not get the chance to begin her studies of gender and feminism until graduate sch ool.
“There was only one class in t he [gender studies] major when I was in college,” she said.
St. Olaf offers a variety of classes in the department, and classes from many others disciplines that satisfy the requirements for the major. Moore hoped that the conversation would enhance people’s knowledge of feminism and intersectionality, regardless of whether or not people were women’s and gender studies majors. Many attendees shared their own experiences with feminism and how their thoughts changed after taking a women’s and gender studies class at St. Olaf.
“Something that has come up a lot in my [women’s and gender studies] class are hidden narratives, or things that you don’t necessarily learn about in your normal history class but are nonetheless important,” one student said during the conversation. “I’m here to learn more about these marginalized voices.”
Moore began the talk by asking people what they understood black feminist thought to be, or what came to mind when people thought about it. Many students named people that they associated with black feminism, all the way from Sojourner Truth to Audre Lorde. Many already had some background knowledge on the topic, but for others, this lecture was their first encounter with black feminist thought.
“I think it’s important to keep in mind [that] the context in which we learn about different forms of feminist thought is very much dependent on the body of material you are studying and where it is studied,” Moore said.
During the lecture, one concept that repeatedly emerged was the notion of intersectionality and how it is tied to black feminist thought. Simply defined, intersectionality is the interconnectedness in the oppression of different social categorizations such as race, class and gender.
“A lot of people think that black feminist thought is essentially intersectionality, but I actually find it to be a lot more complicated than that,” Moore said. “Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term [intersectionality] to describe something that black feminist thought is striving for.”
The majority of attendees were white, which reflects the makeup of St. Olaf’s student body. However, Moore emphasized that black feminism is itself an inclusive platform.
“We shouldn’t presume that in order for one to be aligned with black feminist thought that one has to be black and female,” Moore said. She referred to Patricia Hill Collins, one of the more prominent figures of black feminism, who argues that everyone should have the opportunity to be in alliance with it.
“We can’t say that black feminist thought is the exclusive province of black feminists,” Moore said.
One problem that often arises in the various feminist movements is how to be a good ally.
“When you are in the process of organizing anything, it is important to look at who is sitting on both sides of you and ask yourself if it is really representative,” Moore said. She urged people to be explicitly inclusive to show their alignment with something, citing an example from when she organized a support group but failed to clarify that it was not just for cisgender women.
“You have to think about all aspects of what you are doing, and realize how it will affect more people than just those who are in the room,” she said.
Overall, students were able to take away quite a lot from the conversation Moore led, and their reasons for attending varied.
“I came to learn and listen,” one student said. “I haven’t had much exposure to this topic at all and I really want to hear more from people of color about their experiences.”
Moore hopes to someday create a class at St. Olaf exclusively on black feminism, and she hopes that everyone will continue to strive for more exposure to the topic.