Sexism in African American Communities and Black Women’s Oppression in the World

I write now and always as female first—as it was the first major identity and oppression imposed on me at birth.

As a female of African heritage born in the United States, who has devoted most of her career to women’s and girls’ liberation within Black communities, I think on two tracks: track 1—sexism/male domination within the context of African cultural heritage, plus racism; and track 2—Black women’s oppression.

Track 1 is how I experience sexism within my community. Track 2 is how I experience institutionalized Black women’s oppression as I move through the world.


Here are some thoughts on track 1:

West African sexist traditions of polygamy, “fattening” of girls at puberty, and more still linger and organize the way sexism plays out in African American communities.

The devaluation of Black life under the institution of slavery included super-exploitation of Black female labor and mass rape of Black females and males. The effects still linger and organize the way sexism plays out in African American communities.

A key strategy for maintaining racism was attacking closeness and Black family formation. This maintained the illusion that Black people were not “self-possessed,” in other words were “owned” by white people. It still lingers, and organizes the way sexism plays out in African American communities.

African American men feel so devalued by their experience of racism that they use absence as a strategy for adding to their value. This means African American women learn to “take what they can get” from men because there is always the threat that they will not be around.

Violence toward Black people has been normalized under racism. Black women’s environments and lives are organized by sexual violence, other physical violence, verbal degradation, general hostility, and more. This is especially fierce when Black women stand up for themselves, speak up, or act valuable or empowered. There is not a day when I do not experience an attempt to “knock me back into my place” in some form or another.


Here are some thoughts on track 2:

Only twenty-five percent of African American women get access to the institution of marriage within their lifetime. This has several impacts: It makes us poorer than other groups of women, as we are more likely to live in single-income households, no matter our class. It leads to exhaustion from managing all of life without assistance from males. It leads us to endure extreme sexism and degradation in relationships, due to a sense of limited options. It installs on Black girls an intense sense of devaluation (for example, my daddy does not love me or my mother). It ultimately organizes Black women to endure Black women’s oppression.

Older Black women are losing their homes. Having lived for all their working years on a single income from Black female wages means they cannot stay in their homes as they age. There are reports of banks coming in the middle of the night and forcefully putting older Black women and their possessions out on the street.

Pimping of Black girls is rampant across the social classes. Former male drug dealers find a cleaner profit margin in “selling” women than in selling drugs.

A strong conservative church movement is attempting to counteract the hypersexualization and criminalization of Black young people. But it pushes male-dominated marriages, as Christian doctrine. Many young adult women feel safer inside this form of male domination than (as we would say in the Black vernacular) “in the streets.”

Fat oppression is a key strategy of the racist sexism aimed at Black women and girls. It targets certain traditional body structures as abnormal and creates a fake rationale for denying Black women access to jobs, men, money, and more.

Nikki Stewart

Washington, D.C., USA

(Present Time 184, July 2016)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00