The Combahee River Collective saw "Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face..." and believed that "The most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identities,". The beliefs of the Collective were many and impacted the society in many ways. The group existed in between 1974 and into the early 1980s mostly in Boston. The name of the Black feminist organization, The Combahee River Collective, was derived from the original Combahee River Raids of June 1863 by Harriet Tubman (Thoughtco). The name was suggested by Barbara Smith who said; "It was a way of talking about ourselves being on a continuum of Black struggle, of Black women's struggle." The name commemorated a significant historical event and Harriet Tubman’s leadership, which made it all the more fitting for the first Black feminist group that incorporated the ideology of intersectionality within the complexity of their identity. Tubman organized and led a raid to free hundreds of slaves (around 750 slaves). The Raid was the only military campaign in American history planned and headed by a woman to this day. The Collective was the first military designed and led by women for women. It diverted feminism away from white heterosexual women and put the limelight on the underrepresented women, and also developed the term intersectionality. The Collective ultimately paved the way for current day organizations that exist and push people to think critically and profoundly about all forms of oppression.
The Statement examined the interplay of sexism, racism, economics, and heterosexism developing the term intersectionality. Intersectionality is a manifestation of not just one identity but of multiple identities. In the Oxford dictionary, Intersectionality is defined as; “The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”. While other liberation movements such as the Black Panther Party or the white feminist movements only addressed one component of the identity that made up the underrepresented population, the Combahee River Collective was the first to address multiple components of their identity. The Combahee River Statement says "The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives. As Black women, we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face.” This illustrates that the CRC addresses the key components that make up the term intersectionality and apply it to the beliefs of their organization. This is a very important thing because, in being the first organization to give attention to the possibility of multiple forms of oppression, the CRC opened up the means so that all of the different forms of oppression could be fought simultaneously so that there could be change. In addition, ThoughtCo.com says “Their approach looked at a ‘simultaneity of oppressions’ rather than ranking and separating the oppressions at work, and in their work is rooted much of later work on intersectionality. The term ‘identity politics’ came out of the Combahee River Collective's work,”. Albeit they did not know it at the time, the CRC had uncovered what was to be the blueprint for systematic oppression that introduced the idea that multiple forms of oppression could work in unison, simultaneously. That in itself was an important thing because they identified the flaws in the intersectional oppression making it clear of what had to be battled and put a stop to.
The Collective created an organization which was inclusive of the underrepresented population of Black women and went outside of the usual representation of just Black men and white women. White feminism is targeted as racist and privileged on the topics of race, social class, sex, and resources of power. Black women had to deviate the attention of the public eyes from the white women and Black men movements and bring attention onto Black women. This was because Black women were excluded from the other movements that focused only on one issue facing society, disregarding all of the other issues that were influx including the multiple forms of oppression faced Black women. ISReview.org talks about how during the 1960s and 1970s, Black women and other women of color were sidelined and alienated by the lack of attention to women’s liberation inside nationalist and other anti-racist movements. “The Combahee River Collective, for example, was made up of women who were veterans of the Black Panther Party and other anti-racist organizations. In this political context, Black feminists established a tradition that rejects prioritizing women’s oppression over racism, and vice versa.” This tradition assumes the connection between racism and poverty in capitalist society, thereby rejecting middle-class strategies for women’s liberation that disregard the centrality of class in poor and working-class women’s lives. This marginalized black women and so those women came together to create the Combahee River Collective. The Statement that the Collective wrote states ”We are a collective of Black feminists who have been meeting together since 1974. During that time we have been involved in the process of defining and clarifying our politics, while at the same time doing political work within our own group and in coalition with other progressive organizations and movements. The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives. As Black women we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face.” This adds on to the importance of the CRC because while other organizations left out black women from their movements, The CRC focused entirely on the underrepresented population who had it the worst since they didn't belong to any one group. The CRC started from the the most underrepresented group of people, black women, and worked upwards to mend the cracks and fill in the potholes on the road to equality.
The Combahee River Collective Statement is an important event and piece of literature because it ultimately paved the way for current day organizations that exist to push people to think critically and profoundly about all forms of oppression. ThoughtCo.com says “Their statement has been a key influence on Black feminism and on [the] social theory about race. They examined the interplay of sexism, racism, economics, and heterosexism. ‘As Black feminists and lesbians, we know that we have a very definite revolutionary task to perform and we are ready for the lifetime of work and struggles before us,’” (partially excerpted from the CRC). From the beginning, the Collective knew that what they were trying to accomplish would take a long hard work within and outside the CRC. Furthermore, the CRC influenced modern day movements such as the #MeToo and Time’s up movements by taking the first step in asserting their own brand of feminism for Black women which gave other Black women more confidence to speak out. (Washington Post). These present-day movements would not have been in place if it were not for the CRC who had taken the first step in starting the ongoing strive for equality. Zillah Eisenstein says "’ The statement appeared along with the work of other active feminists in Zillah Eisenstein's 1978 book, Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Social Feminism. "They [CRC] were really brave. They just took it all on. I just felt they had to be in the book," says Eisenstein, who teaches Women and Gender Studies at Ithaca College.” The members of the CRC were very influential through the bravery they showed in facing the largest issues that impacted themselves and all Black women all over. Zillah Eisenstein is just one of the many who were influenced by them. TheRadicalNotion.com states “Almost 40 years later and the Combahee River Collectives’ theoretical gifts are still of utmost importance. Black women and femmes are still oppressed, especially those who are dark-skinned, poor, disabled, queer, trans, plus size and otherwise marginalized. The Combahee River Collective manifesto, by our Black Feminist foremothers, energizes us to appreciate and fight for the Black women in our lives. Black womanhood holds power, creativity, and strength to allow us to reimagine a new, safe, beautiful world,”(TheRadicalNotion.com). The CRC revealed the truths that everyone had to face in order to move on and heal. The CRC is important because it provides hope for the possibility of changing the future for the better and empowers Black women to stand up and fight for their dreams and turn those dreams into reality. Barbara Smith says that she's happy that now being called a Black feminist is often considered a compliment. In the 1970s, when she began to work in the Black feminist movement, Smith suffered backlash. This is a sure sign that the shift of societies views are going in the right direction and so proves that the CRC is important because it played a major role in the apparent change of how fighting for Black women would be treated. Today Black Feminists such as Kimberlé Crenshaw can make a large impact on everyone due to the foundation that the CRC laid down and so makes all of the challenges that the members of the collective faced, worth it.
Although the members of the CRC were trialed with many challenges, they persevered and pushed through to create a statement that portrayed their beliefs on oppression the type of oppression they faced. In a 1977 the Collective wrote a statement defining their goals. The women wrote: “The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking.” Through their endeavors they acknowledged the difficulties Black women faced in their grassroots in organizing efforts because of the multiple types of oppression they faced. An article on The Radical Notion says; Black women have proven themselves to carry the strength to liberate themselves and their communities despite the harsh conditions, however, their accomplices are limited due to Black masculinity push-backs against Feminism and white women’s avoidance of engaging in the practice of unpacking their own privilege and racism. This means that although the sources that Black women had were finite and inadequate, they were strong enough to push onwards to ‘liberate themselves’ and were able to make an impact of large extent that can still be seen today. This proves the importance of the CRC because it is a prime example of strong women fighting for what they believe in against all odds.
The Combahee River Collective was of importance because it impacted society by developing the term intersectionality and paving the way for current day organizations that exist to push people to think critically and profoundly about all forms of oppression. The collective created a statement which explained, in detail, what the group wanted to achieve and the common misconceptions people had when it came to activism and the struggles that the members faced in creating an organization which was inclusive of the underrepresented population of Black women and went aside from the usual representation of just Black men and white women. In The Genesis of Contemporary Black Feminism it states, "In the process of conscious-raising, [and] actually life sharing, we began to recognize the commonality of our experiences and, from that sharing and growing consciousness, to build a politics that will change our lives and inevitably end our oppression.". The Collective not only met but surpassed its goals in spreading their philosophies of oppression and their solutions. Even though there is a lot more fighting to go before all forms of oppression are fully eradicated, the Combahee River Collective and their statement, have made a large impact on the shaping of today’s society by taking the first step in breaking the bonds of all the forms of oppression that society has in itself. In conclusion, although the Collective disbanded in the 1980s it still has a lasting effect on today's society and the way that feminism and activism itself is voiced by creating a separate category that introduced intersectional feminism to the world of activism and by advocating for and Black queer women together.
Smith, Sharon. “Black feminism and intersectionality.” Black feminism and intersectionality | International Socialist Review, isreview.org/issue/91/black-feminism-and-intersectionality.
“The Combahee River Collective Statement.” Edited by Barbara Smith, The Combahee River Collective Statement, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, Inc., New York, New York, circuitous.org/scraps/combahee.html.
Keisha Price. “Black, Feminist, Revolutionary Remembering the Combahee River Collective.” EBONY, 21 Apr. 2014, www.ebony.com/news-views/the-combahee-river-collective-405.
Anders, Tisa M. “Combahee River Collective (1974-1980).” Combahee River Collective (1974-1980) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed, 2007, www.blackpast.org/aah/combahee-river-collective-1974-1980.
Kevin Gosztola. “Why The Combahee River Statement Matters 40 Years Later.” Shadowproof, 10 July 2017, shadowproof.com/2017/07/10/authors-combahee-river-statement-profoundly-influenced-black-feminism-mark-40th-anniversary/.
Napikoski, Linda. “The Combahee River Collective: Black Women's Liberation.” ThoughtCo, Sep. 30, 2017, www.thoughtco.com/combahee-river-collective-information-3530569.
“Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: What We Can Learn from the Black Feminists of the Combahee River Collective.” Democracy Now!, 22 Jan. 2018, www.democracynow.org/2018/1/22/keeanga_yamahtta_taylor_what_we_can.
On The Issues Magazine: Fall 2009: Reigniting Black Feminist Power by Christine E. Hutchins, www.ontheissuesmagazine.com/2009fall/2009fall_hutchins.php.
The TaskForce. “Black Feminism & the Movement for Black Lives: Barbara Smith, Reina Gossett, Charlene Carruthers.” YouTube, YouTube, 23 Jan. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=eV3nnFheQRo.
Schneir, Miriam (ed.), Feminism in Our Time: The Essential Writings, World War II to the Present. New York: Vintage, 1994. Print
Combahee River Collective, "A Black Feminist Statement," in Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, ed. Zillah R. Eisenstein.
“The Combahee River Collective Statement.” Keyword Coalition_Readings.Pdf, Yale.edu, americanstudies.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Keyword%20Coalition_Readings.pdf.
Williams, Vanessa. “Before there was 'intersectional feminism,' there was the Combahee River Collective.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 Mar. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/03/01/before-there-was-intersectional-feminism-there-was-the-combahee-river-collective/?utm_term=.ffcf204eea48.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “The urgency of intersectionality.” TED: Ideas worth spreading, www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality.
Crenshaw , Kimberlé Williams. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” Microsoft Word - Mapping the Margins.Doc, www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/mapping-margins.pdf.
“The Combahee River Collective begins.” African American Registry,aaregistry.org/story/combahee-river-collective-begins/.
“The Combahee River Collective & An Intro to Black Feminism.” The Radical Notion, WordPress and Gridbox, 4 Apr. 2016, www.theradicalnotion.com/combahee-river-black-feminism/.
Williams, Vanessa. “Before there was 'intersectional feminism,' there was the Combahee River Collective.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 Mar. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2018/03/01/before-there-was-intersectional-feminism-there-was-the-combahee-river-collective/?utm_term=.75f87121c519.
“Response to ‘Combahee River Collective Statement.’” SOC320: Law, Society and Civil Rights, 26 Oct. 2014, soc320lscr.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/response-to-combahee-river-collective-statement/.
Henderson, Tasasha. “''How We Get Free'': Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor on Lessons of Radical Black Feminism in the Age of Trump.” Truthout, 31 Dec. 2017, www.truth-out.org/news/item/43069-how-we-get-free-keeanga-yamahtta-taylor-on-lessons-of-radical-black-feminism-in-the-age-of-trump.
Truesdell, Nicole, et al. “The Role of Combahee in Anti-Diversity Work.” Souls, vol. 19, no. 3, Mar. 2017, pp. 359–376. Taylor & Francis Online, doi:10.1080/10999949.2017.1389632.
Cespedes, Karina L., et al. “The Combahee River Collective Forty Years Later: Social Healing within a Black Feminist Classroom.” Souls, vol. 19, no. 3, Mar. 2017, pp. 377–389. Taylor & Francis Online, doi:10.1080/10999949.2017.1390361.
Ross, Loretta J. “Reproductive Justice as Intersectional Feminist Activism.” Souls, vol. 19, no. 3, Mar. 2017, pp. 286–314. Taylor & Francis Online, doi:10.1080/10999949.2017.1389634.
Phillips, Mary, et al. “Ode to Our Feminist Foremothers: The Intersectional Black Panther Party History Project on Collaborative Praxis and Fifty Years of Panther History.” Souls, vol. 19, no. 3, Mar. 2017, pp. 241–260. Taylor & Francis Online, doi:10.1080/10999949.2017.1390378.