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Notable Feminists of Color

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Feminists of color have fought for gender equality for centuries. Despite their contributions, the feminists who’ve emerged as household names in the United States tend to be white—Susan B. Anthony, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, for example. The reality is that Latina, Asian-American, African-American and Native American women have deepened the struggle for women’s rights by discussing how patriarchy intersects with race and class in addition to gender. While black feminists such as the writer Alice Walker and activist Angela Davis are well known for their efforts to end sexism, a number of notable feminists of color remain largely anonymous to the general public. That’s why it’s important to highlight how minority feminists have worked hard to advance women’s rights.

1. Cherríe Moraga

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Born in Los Angeles in 1952, writer Cherríe Moraga first gained widespread recognition when she and writer Gloria Anzaldúa edited a book of works by feminists from ethnic minority backgrounds called This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1983). The anthology received the Before Columbus American Book Award in 1986, thrusting all involved into the spotlight. Moraga, a lesbian of Mexican-American and Caucasian descent, has carved out a career as a poet, playwright, essayist and teacher. Her notable works include the autobiographical Loving in the War Years (1983), which features poetry and prose.

2. bell hooks

Born Gloria Watkins in Kentucky in 1952, African-American feminist bell hooks has risen to prominence as an academic, lecturer and writer. She’s written a series of books about race, class and gender, many of which focus on the experiences of black women. The Atlantic Monthly has named hooks (who lowercases the pen name she assumed in honor of her great-grandmother) one of the country’s top intellectuals. She published her first book, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, in 1981. Additional standout works include Sisters of the Yam (1993), Feminist Theory from Margin to Center (1984), Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (1989), Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992) and Killing Rage: Ending Racism (1995).

3. Gloria Anzaldua

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Gloria Anzaldúa was born in Texas in 1942. She died on May 15, 2004 of complications related to diabetes. A poet and writer, she’s arguably remembered most for her work Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987), which explored gender, sexual orientation, Mexican-American identity and more. Utne Reader named the book, which mixed verse and prose, as one of the 100 Best Books of the Century. Before the release of that groundbreaking work, Anzaldúa co-edited This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1983) with Cherrie Moraga. Anzaldúa is widely held responsible for making the modern feminist movement more inclusive of women from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Feminists-of-Color (1990) is another of her influential works.

4. Mistuye Yamada

Poet, writer and teacher Mistuye Yamada grew up in Seattle but was born in Japan in 1923. Nineteen years later, the U.S. government rounded up more than 110,000 Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor and placed them in internment camps. Yamada and her family were not spared. She wrote about her internment experiences in Camp Notes and Other Poems (1976). Yamada’s works also have a decidedly feminist bent. She’s written extensively about the challenges race and gender put in her mother’s path, including an arranged marriage. In 1981, Yamada and fellow feminist writer Nellie Wong were featured in a documentary about their lives called “Mitsuye and Nellie: Two Asian-American Woman Poets.” Yamada, Wong and feminist Merle Woo also collaborated on Three Asian American Writers Speak Out on Feminism (2003).

5. Audre Lorde

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Poet, novelist and essayist Audre Lorde was born in 1934 in New York to Caribbean immigrant parents. Lorde’s works have addressed feminism, racism, lesbianism, parent-child relationships and illness, among other themes. Lorde died after battling cancer for years in 1992. Her notable works include The Black Unicorn (1978), Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982) and Sister Outsider (1984). Lorde was also a lecturer and professor as well as an advocate for black women stripped of their liberties during Apartheid era South Africa.

6. Patricia Hill Collins

Social theorist and academic Patricia Hill Collins was born in 1948 in Pennsylvania. She’s taught at the University of Maryland and the University of Cincinnati. Her book Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, (1990) thrust her into the spotlight. The book won the Jessie Bernard Award of the American Sociological Association because of its analysis of gender issues. Black Feminist Thought also received the C. Wright Mills Award of the Society for the Study of Social Problems. Collins has written a number of other books, including Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology (2007).

7. Paula Gunn Allen

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Paula Gunn Allen, a mixed-race Native American whose background included Sioux, Laguna and Lebanese heritage, was born in 1939 in Albuquerque, N.M. The writer Leslie Marmon Silko is her cousin. A poet, novelist, short-story writer and teacher, Gunn died in 2008. Allen has stressed in her writings that women played strong roles in Native American cultures and were not expected to take a backseat to men. She tried to raise consciousness about Native American women in the mainstream feminist movement. Her notable works include Shadow Country (1982), which received an honorable mention from the National Book Award Before Columbus Foundation; Spider Woman’s Granddaughters: Traditional Tales and Contemporary Writings by Native American Women (1990), for which she won an American Book Award and Grandmother of the Light: A Medicine Woman's Sourcebook (1991).
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