Womanism – Andres Perez

Andres Perez

Dr. Miller

African American History



Throughout history, African American women have faced numerous challenges that have deeply impacted their lives. These struggles have ranged from economic hardships, such as navigating the welfare system, to reproductive rights, and societal double standards. Black women have had to navigate systemic racism and sexism in order to obtain basic human rights and achieve equality. Although feminism has played a significant role in the fight for women’s rights, African American women’s unique demands and experiences have not been sufficiently addressed by it. The complex interconnectedness of race, gender, and class that affects the lives of black women, is better addressed within the context of womanism. Despite their efforts to fight for their rights, black women’s voices have often been silenced and their experiences marginalized and womanism fulfills the need for a movement that accurately represents and advocates for their experiences. 

Womanism was created from the necessity of a distinction from feminism. Feminism historically has been the movement women have rallied behind to battle against oppression. However as society progressed and more social issues were confronted it became obvious that feminism did not cater to all women, mainly black women. Womanism is a fairly recent term that started gaining recognition in the late 1900’s, as it was a term used by the famous black female author Alice Walker. Walker brought attention to the concept and this made others realize that the issues that black women faced were far different and more severe than what other women were experiencing. While feminism addressed the issues between gender, it did not address race or class within these gender groups. In order to understand the condition of black women in America, one must first understand their connection with religion. On top of the horrible racism that came out of slavery, black women also had to deal with immense sexual violence from men of all races. Many black women turned to religion as a way to keep pushing through their hardships. Oftentimes the community that a church offered was one of the few things available to these women as a refuge. This sense of community was a place where black women could come together, share their experiences, and find solace in their faith offering a sense of hope for a better future. Given this context, the first place I was ever exposed to womanism was in an African Religion class at the University of San Diego. This class delved into what God meant to different people, especially those so marginalized. For black women their personal relationship with God was a form of resistance against the male dominated religious institutions that have been used to excuse mistreatment against them. 

The book Red Lip Theology by Candace Marie Benbow is a perfect representation of a modern day black women’s perspective on navigating the mentioned struggles. I attended a presentation at the University of San Diego for the authors book tour. Throughout the presentation the author spoke more personally and in depth about the process and inspirations for writing the book which was followed by a question and answer session. Interestingly enough my professor from the mentioned African Religion class also attended the event and as it turns out he is good friends with the author. This was a great experience for me because it allowed me to see how interconnected my journey of education on this topic was. Both the author and my previous professor had taken inspiration from the concepts presented by Alice Walker, mainly from her book The Color Purple, which exemplifies the core meaning of this essay. Alice Walker was also famously quoted as saying “womanism is to feminism, as purple is to lavender”. Walker’s quote can be broken down as lavender being a pale shade of purple, representing the limited scope of feminism that is often exclusive to white women, while purple, on the other hand, represents the colorful and varied viewpoints of womanism. An important aspect of Red Lip Theology was that the author was born to a single mother in a judgmental black parish. The author mentioned that there was a lot of judgment and shame passed on to her family because her mother had a child out of wedlock. However as the author matured she realized the hypocrisy of the situation considering the only person that had to confront the “sin” of having a premarital child was her mother because as a woman you cannot hide the fact you are pregnant. She realized that men in this situation can easily distance themselves and stay hidden unless exposed by the mother. This saves them from taking accountability for their actions as well even though they have an equal part to play in the matter. Ms. Benbow struggled with many societal constructs pushed on her by the church which troubled her relationship with her faith, however much like in The Color Purple, Ms. Benbow was able to build her own personal relationship with God that allowed her to use her faith as something that empowered her rather than something that pushed stigmas on to her. 

It is important to recognize the movements and groups that initially paved the way for black women’s rights in the 1960’s and 70’s. At the time the civil rights movement was in full swing and this finally allowed for more advocacy of black women’s rights. The National Welfare Rights Organization, also known as the NWRO, was an organization mentioned in the book Freedom On My Mind, by Deborah Gray White, Mia Bay, and Waldo E. Martin Jr., which was one of many organizations fighting for black women’s rights at the time. In particular for Black women who experienced systemic discrimination in the welfare system, the NWRO played a key role in the fight for economic justice and civil rights in the United States. The NWRO’s support of welfare rights and the creation of a federal minimum income for all Americans was one of its major achievements. By giving Black women the tools and assistance they needed to fight for their rights, the group was also instrumental in enabling them to become leaders in their communities. The NWRO was important to feminism because it gave Black women a platform to establish their political agency and fight for their rights as both women and members of the underclass. The group’s emphasis on welfare rights was a response to the systematic sexism and racism Black women experienced inside the welfare system, and its work brought attention to the intersectional nature of oppression. Together, the NWRO and Black feminist organizations were successful in enacting key policy reforms, such as the implementation of food stamps and the expansion of Medicaid, that helped to better the lives of low-income women and children. This along with many other movements and groups have been instrumental in giving young black women such as Candice Marie Benbow the opportunity to voice their stories and inspire others which only continues the progression of the womanism movement, which still has much to accomplish.  




Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. New York, Harcourt, 1992.

White, Deborah G., et al. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2021. 

Benbow, Candice Marie. Red Lip Theology: For Church Girls Who’ve Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn’t Enough. Convergent Books, 2022. 


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