Multiracial feminist theory

Last updated

Multiracial feminist theory is a feminist theory thought to have gained momentum in the 1970s by feminist women of color, like Black, Chicanx, Asian, Native women and anti-racist white women.[ who? ] Maxine Baca Zinn and Bonnie Thornton Dill wrote “Theorizing Difference from Multiracial Feminism” in 1996, a piece emphasising intersectionality and the application of intersectional analysis in feminist discourse. [1]


Women of color[ who? ] have challenged the use of the second-wave movement as it places women's oppression at the root of sexism, without any regards to other forms of domination. [2] Generally speaking, women of color acknowledge that race acted as a foundation power structure that heavily effected their lives. The activist work of WOC has been erased from the second wave movement. [2] The term, "multiracial" was used to illustrate the importance of race interacting with other forms of oppression to understand gender relations. With a focus on race, multiracial feminism acknowledges, "the social construction of differently situated social groups and their varying degrees of advantages and power". [3] One definition of multiracial feminism is, "an attempt to go beyond a mere recognition of diversity and difference among women to examine structures of domination, specifically the importance of race in understanding the social construction of gender." [2] The central point of this perspective is to focus in on the significance of race, institutionalized racism, and struggles against racial oppression to understand how various forms of domination influence women's experiences. [3]


Multiracial feminist theory influenced the recreation of Second Wave feminism. [4] Second Wave feminism was ideally racist, classist and only focused on white middle-class women in the United States with a goal to be equal to men. [4] Second wave feminism ignored the struggles of women of color, they didn't value intersectionality. There are multiple groups of feminist organizations that focus on their differing identities, for example Hijas de Cuauhtemoc which is a Chicana-based group, another group is the Asian Sisters and they focused on the drug abuse that was happening in Los Angeles, California around the 1970s. [4]


Having first gained steam in the 1970s, multiracial feminism grew as a movement to challenge racist, classist, and sexist barriers not as separate, singular matters but as interlocking identities that make up both privilege and oppression. [5] Multiracial feminism is described as a “liberation movement spearheaded by women of color” and focused primarily on intersectional analysis and both an international and a multiracial approach to oppression. [6]

Although not acknowledged by the second wave movement, women of color and white women took a stand to combat racism and colonialism. [2] Black feminists believed that, "cross-racial struggle made clear the work that white women needed to do in order for cross-racial sisterhood to really be powerful." [2] White women also recognized that sexism was not the root of women's oppression. [2] They collaborated to put forth an anti-racist movement that incorporated interlocking forms of oppression. [2]

Notable proponents


It is widely agreed by many if not most multiracial feminists that multiracial feminist theory is needed in order to broaden feminist discourse and bring much-needed intersectionality to contemporary feminist movements. In spite of this, however, multiracial feminism struggles to gain momentum as an intersectional approach to combating oppression and is fairly new concept in the world of quantitative research. New though it may be, Catherine Harnios in her book, Feminist Measure in Survey Research, writes that multiracial feminism may be more beneficial to feminist discourse than once thought. [11]

Family study, formation and power relations have been extensively examined using a multiracial feminist approach, the results of which reveal a hidden power dynamic between “advantaged families and disadvantaged families.” [12] Advantaged families have been shown to rely upon the labor and disadvantage of poorer families, women, women of color, minorities and immigrants.

Women of color provide an "outsider within" perspective as they are active participants in domination while also continue to be oppressed by it. [3] In understanding multiracial feminism, it is important to note how interlocking forms of oppression persist to marginalize groups of people. [3] Although people continue to be oppressed, others are privileged at the sacrifice of those who don't obtain benefits of the system. Patricia Hill Collins defines the term, Matrix of Domination, to refer to how various forms of oppression work different depending on what social location one obtains. [3] In reference to this term, people will have varying experiences with gender, class, race, & sexuality, depending on what social position one has in relation to structural powers. [3] In terms of interlocking oppressions, this results in different social groups experiencing varying subordination and privilege. [3]


Though women of color are rarely credited as being prevalent in the 2nd Wave feminist movement, it has become evident that multiracial feminism was very much present in the 1980s through the 1990s and even today.[ citation needed ]

In the 1970s, women of color worked alongside hegemonic, white feminist groups but found it to be mostly centered on the white, middle-class feminist issues of the time. With the help of white, anti-racist women, women of color gave rise to multiracial feminist theory and led to the development of organizations created by and for women of color. [4]

Multiracial feminists of the 1980s challenged white feminism by speaking out of the individual experiences of women of color, immigrants, and “third-world women” who had been largely swept under the rug. [13] This was mostly done through multiracial feminist writings which have been revealed to date as far back as the 1960s.

Online activism

There has been a notable increase of multiracial feminists, journalists and bloggers using online media to write about and theorize on intersectionality and multiracial experience as it relates to class, gender and race cooperatively in contemporary society.[ citation needed ]

Journalist for, Janell Hobson, wrote a critique of white feminist activism pointing out the fact that women of color are still being left out of the conversation in current feminist discourse. She claims that it is time feminists “reclaim solidarity” by recognizing race and gender as being intertwined, rather than separate matters to be deal with individually. [14]

Similarly, Lara Witt who writes for, calls upon both her privilege and oppression to understand her role as a multiracial feminist with the ability to speak out against racism towards Black, Hispanic, and Indian people. [15]


In April 1996, there was a rally in Middletown, Connecticut led by a multiracial coalition. [16] Taking place at Wesleyan University, the rally was organized in defense of journalist and author Mumia Abu-Jamal who had been placed on death row in Pennsylvania.

The Combahee River Collective- a black feminist group that started in 1974 and are a group that influenced multiracial feminism to be included in Second Wave feminism. [17] They wrote A Black Feminist Statement to voice the changes and their politics that they are wanting.

Women of All Red Nations (WARN)- this is a feminist group created by Native American women and was formed in 1974 to fight the promotion of sterilization and the act of sterilization in Native communities. [4]


Some criticisms have been raised challenging whether or not multiracial feminist theory can actually produce measurable results due to a lack of “existing survey tools” by which to quantify or examine those experiences. [18] It is unclear as to whether or not these criticisms will be the undoing of multiracial feminist theory or if such drawbacks can be overcome with more time and research.

See also

Related Research Articles

Triple oppression is a theory developed by black socialists in the United States, such as Claudia Jones. The theory states that a connection exists between various types of oppression, specifically classism, racism, and sexism. It hypothesizes that all three types of oppression need to be overcome at once. It is also referred to as "double jeopardy", Jane Crow, or triple exploitation.

Women's studies is an academic field that draws on feminist and interdisciplinary methods in order to place women’s lives and experiences at the center of study, while examining social and cultural constructs of gender; systems of privilege and oppression; and the relationships between power and gender as they intersect with other identities and social locations such as race, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, and disability.

Postcolonial feminism is a form of feminism that developed as a response to feminism focusing solely on the experiences of women in Western cultures. Postcolonial feminism seeks to account for the way that racism and the long-lasting political, economic, and cultural effects of colonialism affect non-white, non-Western women in the postcolonial world. Postcolonial feminism originated in the 1980s as a critique of feminist theorists in developed countries pointing out the universalizing tendencies of mainstream feminist ideas and argues that women living in non-Western countries are misrepresented.

Lesbian feminism approach to feminism influenced by lesbian movement

Lesbian feminism is a cultural movement and critical perspective, most influential in the 1970s and early 1980s, that encourages women to focus their efforts, attentions, relationships, and activities towards their fellow women rather than men and often advocates lesbianism as the logical result of feminism.

Womanism social theory deeply rooted in the racial and gender-based oppression of black women

Womanism is a social theory based on the history and everyday experiences of women of color, especially black women. It seeks, according to womanist scholar Layli Maparyan (Phillips), to "restore the balance between people and the environment/nature and reconcil[e] human life with the spiritual dimension". Writer Alice Walker coined the term womanist in a short story, "Coming Apart", in 1979. Since Walker's initial use, the term has evolved to envelop varied, and often opposing interpretations of conceptions such as feminism, men, and blackness.

Socialist feminism rose in the 1960s and 1970s as an offshoot of the feminist movement and New Left that focuses upon the interconnectivity of the patriarchy and capitalism. Socialist feminists argue that liberation can only be achieved by working to end both the economic and cultural sources of women's oppression. Socialist feminism is a two-pronged theory that broadens Marxist feminism's argument for the role of capitalism in the oppression of women and radical feminism's theory of the role of gender and the patriarchy. Socialist feminists reject radical feminism's main claim that patriarchy is the only or primary source of oppression of women. Rather, socialist feminists assert that women are unable to be free due to their financial dependence on males. Women are subjects to the male rulers in capitalism due to an uneven balance in wealth. They see economic dependence as the driving force of women's subjugation to men. Further, socialist feminists see women's liberation as a necessary part of larger quest for social, economic, and political justice. Socialist feminists attempted to integrate the fight for women's liberation with the struggle against other oppressive systems based on race, class, or economic status.

The matrix of domination or matrix of oppression is a sociological paradigm that explains issues of oppression that deal with race, class, and gender, which, though recognized as different social classifications, are all interconnected. Other forms of classification, such as sexual orientation, religion, or age, apply to this theory as well. Patricia Hill Collins is credited with introducing the theory in her work entitled Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. As the term implies, there are many different ways one might experience domination, facing many different challenges in which one obstacle, such as race, may overlap with other sociological features. Characteristics such as race, age, and sex, may affect an individual in extremely different ways, in such simple cases as varying geography, socioeconomic status, or simply throughout time. Other scholars such as Kimberle Crenshaw's Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color are credited with expanding Collins' work. The matrix of domination is a way for people to acknowledge their privileges in society. How one is able to interact, what social groups one is in, and the networks one establishes is all based on different interconnected classifications.

Intersectionality is a theoretical framework for understanding how aspects of one's social and political identities might combine to create unique modes of discrimination. It aims to broaden the agenda of the first waves of feminism, which largely focused on the experiences of white, middle class women. The broad agenda means that intersectionality is used to find combinations of injustices that are felt by members of society. For example, a black woman might face discrimination from a company that is not distinctly due to her race nor her gender, but by a unique combination of the two. Intersectional feminism aims to separate itself from white feminism by acknowledging the fact that all women have different experiences and identities. It is a qualitative analytic framework that identifies how interlocking systems of power affect those who are most marginalized in society. The term was coined by black feminist scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989. There are various forms of social stratification such as class, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, creed, disability, and gender, which are included in the consideration of intersectional feminism and its social and cultural effects. The purpose of intersectionality as a theory is to identify how overlapping categories of identity impact individuals and institutions, and take these relationships into account when working to promote social and political equity. It ensures that feminism considers not just the experiences of people with regards to only their gender, but it also ensures that people’s experiences of injustice are tackled as symptoms of a combination of various types of oppression. While the theory began as an exploration of the oppression of women of color within society, today the analysis has expanded to include many more aspects of social identity. Race and gender bias are two separate issues; however, they can be combined to create even more harm. Intersectionality is used to describe this phenomenon of being impacted and oppressed by multiple sources, but only treated for one. Intersectionality may also be related to the term triple oppression, which engages with similar themes.

Patricia Hill Collins African-American scholar

Patricia Hill Collins is an American academic specialising in race, class and gender. She is a Distinguished University Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is also the former head of the Department of African-American Studies at the University of Cincinnati, and a past President of the American Sociological Association. Collins was the 100th president of the ASA and the first African-American woman to hold this position.

Black feminism holds that the experience of Black women gives rise to a particular understanding of their position in relation to sexism, class oppression, and racism. The experience of being a black woman, it maintains, cannot be grasped in terms of being black or of being a woman, but must be elucidated via intersectionality, a term coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Crenshaw argued that each concept—being black, being female—should be considered independently while understanding that intersecting identities compound upon and reinforce one another.

Standpoint feminism is a theory that feminist social science should be practiced from the standpoint of women or particular groups of women, as some scholars say that they are better equipped to understand some aspects of the world. A feminist or women's standpoint epistemology proposes to make women's experiences the point of departure, in addition to, and sometimes instead of men's.

Mei Wahs (美華) refers to two separate Chinese-American girls' basketball teams dating from the 1930s. One team was in Los Angeles and the other existed in San Francisco. Both were located in their respective Chinatowns and attempted to use their achievements in basketball as a form of social capital in a land, which at the time, still codified discrimination in its laws. Most of the girls who joined the Mei Wah teams were teenagers, the daughters of first-generation immigrants who spoke Cantonese. This meant they came from low-income backgrounds, had to work in the service industry and barely lived above the poverty line. Few had hope to attend college or find suitable jobs after college. Translated literally, Mei Wah means "Chinese in America." As part of the wider trend in women's sports, the Mei Wahs stand out as among the notable programs in the early history of women's basketball. Their stories form part of the growing body of work regarding the history of Chinese Americans.

The Combahee River Collective ) was a Black feminist lesbian organization active in Boston from 1974 to 1980. The Collective was instrumental in highlighting that both the white feminist movement and the Civil Rights movement were not addressing their particular needs as Black lesbians. The mainstream feminist movement was at large silent on issues that affected specifically Black and/or queer women, while much of the Civil Rights movement had a homophobic reputation. They are perhaps best known for developing the Combahee River Collective Statement, a key document in the history of contemporary Black feminism and the development of the concepts of identity as used among political organizers and social theorists.

In feminist theory, kyriarchy is a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission. The word was coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992 to describe her theory of interconnected, interacting, and self-extending systems of domination and submission, in which a single individual might be oppressed in some relationships and privileged in others. It is an intersectional extension of the idea of patriarchy beyond gender. Kyriarchy encompasses sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, xenophobia, economic injustice, prison-industrial complex, colonialism, militarism, ethnocentrism, anthropocentrism, speciesism and other forms of dominating hierarchies in which the subordination of one person or group to another is internalized and institutionalized.

Feminism in the United States

Feminism in the United States refers to the collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending a state of equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women in the United States. Feminism has had a massive influence on American politics. Feminism in the United States is often divided chronologically into first-wave, second-wave, third-wave, and fourth-wave feminism.

The Jessie Bernard Award is given by the American Sociological Association in recognition of scholarly work that has enlarged the horizons of sociology to encompass fully the role of women in society. The contribution may be in empirical research, theory or methodology. It is presented for significant cumulative work done throughout a professional career, and is open to women or men and is not restricted to sociologists."

Feminist movements and ideologies

A variety of movements of feminist ideology have developed over the years. They vary in goals, strategies, and affiliations. They often overlap, and some feminists identify themselves with several branches of feminist thought.

Social justice feminism is the practice of recognizing issues of oppression dealing with race, class, sexuality, and citizenship and challenging them through practice rather than theory. This form of feminism allows for a broader audience beyond the white middle aged women who began the movement. It actively fights racism and class privilege by “ensuring that those most affected by policies and practices are at the decision making table.” It advocates for more women of color in leadership roles and allows recognition for global gender justice and women's rights.

Intersectionality is the interconnection of race, class, and gender among an individual or group. This is often related to an experience of discrimination or a disadvantage. This definition came from Kimberle Crenshaw. Kimberle Crenshaw, a feminist scholar, is widely known for coining the term intersection in her 1989 essay, which sheds light on the oppression black women have been exposed to, especially during the slavery period. Crenshaw's analogy of intersection to traffic flow explains, "Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in the intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination."

White feminism is an epithet used to describe feminist theories that focus on the struggles of white women without addressing distinct forms of oppression faced by ethnic minority women and women lacking other privileges.


  1. Dill, Bonnie Thornton, and Maxine Baca Zinn. “Theorizing Difference from Multiracial Feminism.”Feminist Studies, vol. 22, no. 2, 1996, pp. 321, JSTOR   3178416
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Thompson, Becky. Kim, Seung-kyung; McCann, Carole (eds.). Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism (3 ed.). New York: Routledge. p. 56.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Baca Zinn, Maxine; Thornton-Dill, Bonnie (1996). "Theorzing Difference from Multiracial Feminism". Feminist Studies. 22 (2): 321–331.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Thompson, Becky. “Multiracial Feminism: Recasting the Chronology of Second Wave Feminism.” Feminist Studies, vol. 28, no. 2, 2002, pp. 337 JSTOR   3178747
  5. McCann, Carole R., and Seung-kyung Kim. Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. 4th ed., Routledge, 2016.
  6. Doetsch-Kidder, Sharon. “Loving Criticism: A Spiritual Philosophy of Social Change.” Feminist Studies, vol. 38, no. 2, 2012, pp. 444-473, JSTOR   23269194
  7. "Baca Zinn, Maxine: 1942 –: Sociologist.”, Accessed on 8 October 2016.
  8. Thornton Dill, Bonnie. "Bonnie Thornton Dill". University of Maryland. Retrieved October 3, 2019.
  9. Thompson, Becky (2017). "About Becky". Becky Thompson. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  10. 1 2 Higginbotham, Elizabeth. "A New Perspective with Patricia Hill Collins". American Sociological Association. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  11. Harnios, Catherine E. Feminist Measures in Survey Research. SAGE, 2013.
  12. Townsend-Bell, Erica E. “Writing the Way to Feminism.” Signs, vol. 38, no. 1, 2012, pp.127-152, JSTOR   10.1086/665806
  13. Zinn, Maxine Baca. “Feminism and Family Studies for a New Century.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 571, 2000, pp. 42-56, JSTOR   1049133
  14. Hobson, Janell. “Black Women, White Women and the Solidarity Question.” MS. Magazine Blog, 27 Nov. 2013, <> Accessed on 8 October 2016.
  15. Witt, Lara. “As a Multiracial Woman, This is Why I Need Intersectional Feminism.” Rewire, 2 Sept. 2016, <> Accessed on 8 October 2016.
  16. Blee, Kathleen M., and France W. Twine. Feminism and Antiracism: International Struggles for Justice. New York University Press, 2001.
  17. The Combahee River Collective (April 1977). "A Black Feminist Statement". Project Muse. Retrieved October 4, 2019.
  18. Ifatunji, Mosi, and Harnios, Catherine E. “Gendered Measures, Gendered Models: Toward an Intersectional Analysis of Interpersonal Racial Discrimination.” Ethnic & Racial Studies, vol.34, no. 6, 2011, pp.1006-1028 doi : 10.1080/01419870.2010.516836