Sunday, October 11, 2020

Review: Race, Women & Class by Angela Y. Davis

 Rating: 5/5 stars

I am so glad I read this book. Women, Race & Class does exactly what the title suggests it would: thoroughly investigates the interplay between race, gender and class at key moments in American history, from slavery and the abolition movement, through the women's suffrage movements, to modern issues like birth control. Davis identifies structural and systemic issues, and pulls no punches in pointing out the failures of the labor movements and the feminist movements and how these stumbles harmed people at the intersections of race, gender and class.

Davis' Marxist-Leninist angle adds so much to the examination of race and gender. It was exactly the gap I wanted filled after being disappointed in Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, a yearning that was mollified somewhat with the delightfully data-driven yet philosophically-limited Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. I've often found myself frustrated at the presentation of "women's issues", where women are assumed to be white middle- or upper-class women, with little more than an acknowledging nod towards women of colour. It was such a relief to find this book, and to read about how this rich-white-women-first philosophy has impeded social progress historically.

It's a 40-year-old book now, and I imagine it has shaped the views of many writers whose work I have read elsewhere. There were no new earth shattering revelations here, nor blazing hot takes. Still, Davis does a fantastic job at boiling issues down to their essence. In the intervening 40 years, we have progressed despairingly slowly on issues of race, sex and class, and I think this book is still very much worth the read.

It is organized into 13 chapters, which can be read as 13 separate essays. My favourites were: 

  • Chapter 1. The Legacy of Slavery: Standards for a New Womanhood
  • Chapter 2. The Anti-Slavery Movement and the Birth of Women's Rights
  • Chapter 3. Class and Race in the Early Women's Rights Campaign
  • Chapter 4. Racism in the Women's Suffrage Movements
  • Chapter 10. Communist Women
  • Chapter 12. Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights

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