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Authors

Sherry Chopra

Abstract

This paper examines the extent to which, despite challenges by “black” and “third world” women, mainstream feminist theory continues to be dominated by the concerns of white women. It considers the problematic nature of categories such as “white women’s interests” and “black women’s concerns” – specifically the reification of racial or ethnic identity that they imply. Such a process ignores the complex power hierarchies and often-conflicting interests of groups and individuals within them. Having destabilized homogenous definitions of group interests and identities, however, it becomes necessary to conceptualize ways of discussing, theorizing and organizing against patterns of material, social and political inequalities in a racist society. In such a context, categorization based on constructed group boundaries can be a useful and sometimes powerful tool in the discussion, critique and dismantling of racist hierarchies of power. These group boundaries must be presented as shape shifting, historically specific and responsive – constructed in a context of common or overlapping struggles. “Black” and “third world” women’s challenges to mainstream feminism have highlighted the ways in which issues central to their lives have been misrepresented, fetishized or rendered invisible. They have demanded recognition of the global imbalances in within which mainstream feminist agendas are structured. Such critiques have resulted in theoretical responses from within mainstream feminisms, including the importance now given to the politics of location and attempts to destabilize “whiteness.” This paper argues that these responses are important, and that some change has occurred, but that “black” and “third world” women continue to be marginalized within mainstream feminist theory and that analytical categories and frameworks must be altered and power hierarchies continually challenged before mainstream feminisms begin to address issues and concerns other than those of white, middle-class women in any sustained manner.

Note on the Author

Sherry Chopra completed an MSc in Gender and Development in 2002. She is currently working as a domestic violence caseworker at Southall Black Sisters, a black feminist organization in West London. This paper was submitted as a requirement of a Master’s degree at the Gender Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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