ONLINE -- Iconic gender and racial justice advocate to speak at UHCL
Combahee River Collective founding member Demita Frazier will be coming to University of Houston-Clear Lake on March 17-18, 5 p.m., in the Forest Room and the Neumann Library, respectively, in a two-part presentation focusing on black feminist history and radical coalition building. Receptions sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies program will follow at 6 p.m. after each presentation. These presentations are now available online.
The Combahee River Collective derived its name from a specific act in the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Although almost every American recognizes Tubman as a critical figure in pre-Civil War history, few realize her accomplishments beyond her role as a conductor for the Underground Railroad. In fact, she was the first woman in American history to lead an armed wartime expedition, guiding a raid at the Combahee River in South Carolina, freeing over 750 slaves.
About a century later, the women in the collective wrote a Black feminist thesis highlighting the fact that neither the white feminist movement of the 1960s and ’70s, nor the civil rights movement addressed the specific issues of Black women.
Over 40 years have passed, Frazier said, but the Combahee River Collective Statement is still relevant. “Black feminism has flourished and created unbelievable connections across enormous distances, across generations,” she said. “We’re having conversations not just about social justice, but Black feminism then and now. These discussions have to do with supporting the empowerment of Black women doing the work of social justice for our world. That was our focus, and it remains so, now more than ever.”
Frazier said that what’s remained fascinating to her over all these decades is that the things that were important then are just as important today. “Issues like Black women’s mortality, women’s maternal mortality, poor Black women — we look at the entire identity of Black women,” she said. “We talk about things in terms of evolution and change in our culture, but it’s only been a few generations since Black feminists began addressing gender-based power dynamics. We haven’t even had a complete, coherent conversation. In terms of the evolutionary curve, we are still at a low level.”
She said that our culture had a history of difficulty addressing issues like power, gender, race and class. “Black feminism isn’t a new concept, but there’s a new urgency to look deeply at the forces that shape the lives of Black women. Through our analysis of the intersection of race, gender and class, we are also interrogating the dominant culture, which is the cornerstone of democracy,” she said.
Her message to students in her presentations is about encouraging students to become active and engaged. “Process and critical thinking are so important,” she said. “The solution cannot be one person. Collective action with our neighbors, other stakeholders and allies, it the key to societal progress.”
At its core, the Combahee River Collective is about coalition-building. Associate Professor of Humanities Shreerekha Subramanian, who invited Frazier to UHCL, said that Combahee is about finding power, insurgency, and activism. “Their statement talks about their beliefs, their assessment of the problems, their visions for the future, and how a collective can engage,” Subramanian said.
“It’s left a gigantic footprint in women’s and gender studies and activist circles where women are looking back in order to move forward,” she continued. “The statement is urgent; Demita Frazier is a living legend who will be speaking at our university.”
Subramanian is collaborating with Assistant Professor of Writing Christal Seahorn and several offices, Women's and Gender Studies program, Office of Student Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Strategic Partnerships, First Year Seminar, Common Reader Program, various student organizations, and the College of Human Sciences and Humanities Dean’s Office to bring this program to the UHCL campus.
Read more about UHCL’s minor in Women's and Gender Studies online.