Anita Hill: Black women and feminism


"Race, Gender, and Power in America," by Anita Faye Hill and Emma Coleman Jordan. New York: Oxford University Press. 302 pages. $25

It was coincidence that the new book about black women and feminism co-edited by Anita Hill hit the bookstores just 11 days before the Million Man March on Washington. But the timing couldn't have been better.

In fact, Julianne Malveaux, a harsh critic of the males-only march idea of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, wrote the foreword to "Race, Gender, and Power in America: The Legacy of the Hill-Thomas Hearings."

If it accomplishes nothing else, the Million Man March may have advanced the need for African-American men and women to talk to each other about feminism. A shortcoming of the civil rights movement of the 1960s was its too frequent insistence that women who were as much a part of the struggle as any man must take a back seat whenever its leaders received public recognition.

Out of that legacy the planners of the Million Man March insisted that, while African-American women should be involved in all other aspects of the demonstration, they should stay away that day and keep the home fires burning for their black men.

This type of expected subservience is at the heart of several of the essays in this new book co-edited by Ms. Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, and Emma Coleman Jordan, a law professor at Georgetown University.

It would probably be safe to assume that most purchasers of "Race, Gender, and Power" will be attracted to the book by Ms. Hill's contribution. Actually, though, her essay with the long sociological title, "Marriage and Patronage in the Empowerment and Disempowerment of African-American Women," offers little that is compelling.

Ms. Hill begins with the expected denouncement of the white-male Senate Judiciary Committee that in 1991 disdained her allegation of earlier sexual harassment by then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. She offers no additional enlightenment on that subject. She then proceeds to appropriate, with proper attribution, the words and thoughts of others on the different ways that black women have suffered as a result of both their color and gender.

Better reading is provided by the other contributors. Of particular interest is the piece by actress Anna Deavere Smith, who attempts to provide "an impressionistic sketch of the impact of the (Hill-Thomas) hearings on the cultural fabric of the nation." Ms. Smith says she and a friend discussed the possibility of using video clips of the hearings testimony by Mr. Thomas to teach acting.

Masterfully setting the table for what follows is an opening essay by historian Adele Logan Alexander, "'She's No Lady, She's A Nigger': Abuses, Stereotypes and Realities from the Middle Passage to Capitol (and Anita) Hill."

Yes, another long title. But Ms. Alexander effectively provides a brief history of black women in this nation, depicting clearly how the long-held stereotype of African-American women as both promiscuous and untrustworthy just won't die. Ask Anita Hill.

Harold Jackson is an editorial writer at The Sun. He has been a reporter and editor for 20 years and in 1991, he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.

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