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Home > Academics > Undergraduate > Ethnic Studies >
Ethnic Studies
Course Description

Ethnic Studies 150
Black Feminist Theory: Do Black Women's Lives Matter?


In 2013, Oakland activist Alicia Garza created the #BlackLivesMatter movement with two of her sister-friends, as “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise… an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” Directly responding to the anti-black racism evidenced in the trial of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s killer, and later expanding to address the police murder of Mike Brown, the movement has created a new language to talk about life, death and injustice. Speaking later about the cooptation of #BlackLivesMatter, and the invisibility of its founders, Garza said: “Perhaps if we were the charismatic Black men many are rallying around these days, it would have been a different story, but being Black queer women in this society (and apparently within these movements) tends to equal invisibility and non-relevancy.”

Following Garza’s lead, this course will draw on black feminist theory to answer a number of questions: Do black women’s lives matter? How can we foreground and address violence against black women without minimizing the killings of “black mother’s sons?” Do black queer and trans women’s lives matter? How does anti-Black racism/sexism show up in our bodies, psyches and relationships and what does recovery look like? Do we value the lives of black women outside the US, and what would solidarity look like? Can black women do more than merely survive?

Students taking the course will learn how to apply an intersectional framework, which encourages us to explore the impact of interlocking systems of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability and nation. We will explore our social location in relation to systems of power and privilege, using the concept of necropolitics–the politics of who gets to live, and who is allowed to die, whose life is valued and whose is targeted for death. Finally, we will celebrate black women’s activism for social change, and creative engagement with Spirit, self-love and wellness.
Prerequisites: None. Meets the Multicultural Perspectives and Women and Gender General Education Requirements.

Required Text:
Guy-Sheftall, B. 1995. Words of fire: An anthology of African American feminist thought. New York: New Press.

Attendance and Participation 10%; Response Paper 15%;
Midterm exam 30%; Final paper proposal 15%; Final paper 30%

Offered Fall 2015

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Last Updated: 6/22/17