aaihs.org: Women’s Leadership in the Organization of Afro-American Unity

Women’s Leadership in the Organization of Afro-American Unity – [October 27, 2016 by ]

While the OAAU was a relatively short-lived organization that struggled after Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965, its significance has often been narrowly narrated through its chairman’s developing political thought after he left the Nation of Islam (NOI) in March 1964. This focus has neglected the formative role of black women in theorizing, developing, and sustaining the organization both before and after his death. In fact, even when scholars have pointed out the inclusion of women in key leadership roles within the OAAU, they have often done so to evidence the evolution of Malcolm’s gender politics beyond the patriarchal constrictions of the Nation. By viewing the OAAU’s significance vis-à-vis Malcolm X’s developing politics, we miss the significant role that black women played in building the organization and carrying it forward after his death. As the recent special issue of Women, Gender and Families edited by Keisha Blain, Asia Leeds, and Ula Taylor illustrates, black women were central to Pan-Africanist movements in the twentieth century. A reluctance to see women as central thinkers and laborers within Pan-African and black nationalist movements duplicates the masculinist context these women navigated. It often frames their contributions only insofar as they were able to move men towards a more progressive gender politics. Scholars searching for what they might consider a feminist perspective by these women importantly miss the multiple registers of resistance to race, class, and gender oppression that black women voiced. As the editors point out, “while Pan-Africanist women employed a radical politics that sought to eliminate racism, sexism, and class discrimination, they often endorsed conservative views on gender and sexuality.”

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