Thursday, June 23, 2016

Books: Living for the Revolution and Radicals on the Road

Kimberly Springer’s Living for the Revolution explores issues of race, gender, and representation in feminist theory. This work is one of the first thorough analysis of black feminist organizations chronicling the history of black women’s social organizations in the twentieth century. Springer argues that black feminist organizations engaged in interstitial politics to “connect to political opportunity and identity specific to race and gender with social movements.”[1] Furthermore, she states, “I maintain that black feminists are historically, the first activists in the US to theorize and act upon the intersections of race, gender, and class.”[2] She invites readers to to reconceptualizes black women’s roles in social movements for social justice. When black women are marginalized in the civil rights movement as well as the women’s movement, stereotyped in popular culture, and misrepresented in public policy, black feminist organizations emerged in response, utilizing feminist theory as a tool to build upon the social organizations black women founded that came before them. Springer examines five black feminist organizations: Third World Women’s Alliance, Black Women Organized for Action, National Black Feminist Organization, National Alliance of Feminists, and the Combahee River Collective. From the late 1960s to the mid to late 1970s, these organizations were in existence; by 1980, they were defunct. She scrutinizes the organizations through three categories of analysis, “activism,” “movements,” and “organizations.” The individual activists worked together to form a collective identity in response to and as a result of their personal and socio-political experiences. These black feminist movements expanded beyond cultural and political spheres to include organizations, essays, film, dance, fiction, visual arts, and scholarly studies. These structured, formal organizations had clear specific goals and objectives to combat and eradicate racism, poverty, and sexism. While these organizations were not successful in eradicating these issues, Springer wants readers to reconsider their perceptions of success since these groups made it possible for thousands of black women to resist white supremacy in ways that hold long term effects.      

Judy Tzu-Chun Wu’s Radicals on the Road highlights the trans-Pacific journeys of underappreciated historical actors such as black leaders Robert Brown, Elaine Brown, and Eldridge Cleaver; Asian American radicals Alex Hing and Pat Sumi; Chicana activists Betita Martinez; and women’s peace and liberation advocates Cora Weiss and Charlotte Bunch. As diverse as these individuals are, they all agree that the Vietnam war was immoral and unjustified. In the 1960s, these American and Vietnamese antiwar activists established a transnational political community based on critiques of U.S policy in Asia. Through Third World tourism, familial ties, journalism, and personal encounters, these activists built a “global public sphere” centered on war.[3] Wu argues that these activists assisted in shaping the era’s turbulent events. The key factor in Wu’s argument is the notion of “radical orientalism.” Antiwar activists in the US and in the West idealized revolutionary anticolonial Asian societies in Vietnam, North Korea, and China in order to establish the West, or more specifically the US, as an inferior empire. She explores the relationships of these diverse activists and furthermore, centralizes Asians as active players in events of the time. Radicals on the Road consists of three parts. The first part examines Robert Brown’s life and career, providing an illustration of Afro-Asian alliances during the 1950s. The second part focuses on the U.S People’s Anti-Imperialist Delegation (USPAID) from their brief, foreign state sponsored journey to the tensions that afflicted the group in the 1970s. The third part concentrates on North American and Vietnamese women and the political, social, interpersonal, and ideological issues that plagued their groups such as the Vietnamese Women’s Union (VWU). These “women warriors” as Wu like to call them, often traveled across the Pacific, formed bonds with Native American and Asian women, employed popular-front strategies, and served as mediators during Western feminists bickering. The WVU inspired American feminists to participate in confrontational anti-war campaigns.      
Springer’s Living for Revolution speaks to Julia Sudbury’s “Other Kinds of Dreams,” in which she analyzes the political activities of black and Asian women in Britain. Springer’s and Wu’s works speaks to Benita Roth’s Separate Roads to Feminism, which is an examination of second wave feminism and the emergence of black and Chicana feminism and white women’s liberation during the civil rights and black liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Wu’s work also conjures conversations with Yuri Kochiyama’s Passing It On, a study of the networks and activism of black, Native, Asian, Latina, and white women working together for civil rights, social justice, women’s rights, and prisoners rights in the US and around the world.   

[1] Kimberly Springer, Living for the Revolution: Black Feminists Organizations, 1968- 1980 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 11.  
[2] Springer, Living for the Revolution, 2.
[3] Judy Tzu- Chun Wu, Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam Era (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 4.

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