Introduction: Warrior Tropes

For Jesse
  • Joy James


Antiracist feminisms emerge from and are shaped by the conflicts and compassion guiding lifelong battles. Political ideologies frame these battles that separate the moderate from the militant. Conventional discussions of class or gender or race rarely reflect the struggles of radicalized racialized females. Although antiracist discourse at times seems to express more strongly the felt impact of the oppression of black females, it often fails to reflect their realities. On any given day, mirror reflections become shadows, as images fluctuate between those of soldiers routinized by obeying orders and warriors scarred and skilled from battle.


Black Woman Black Female Black Panther Party Black Liberation Reserve Officer Training Corps 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Former Representative Joseph Kennedy (D-MA) introduced HR 611 into the U.S. Congress to close the School of the Americas. For more information on the School of the Americas, see Mary A. Fischer, “Teaching Torture,” GQ (June 1997)Google Scholar
  2. David Huey et al., “On the Offensive,” Global Exchange Report (June 1998). Global Exchange lists Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as the site for the “School of Warfare,” which has also fomented anti-indigenous violence in the Americas.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The history of African American soldiers and warriors in the U.S. is conflictual. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln opposed the use of armed black soldiers. W. E. B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward the History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880 (New York: Russell and Russell, 1962) states that 200,000 black troops eventually fought in that war, following the model of “General” Harriet Tubman. After the war and Reconstruction, Ida B. Wells and others carried arms to protect themselves as they organized for black freedom and equality. World War I and II saw black organizations (amid protests from black radicals) mobilize to desegregate the armed forces and allow Negro soldiers to serve in combat rather than be restricted to the domestic sector of service units. While on U.S. shores, the “Deacons of Defense”—an African American organization committed to armed self-defense against Klan and racist terror emerged during the southern civil rights movement with military strategies that saved the lives of civil rights workers and black community people. During the same period on foreign lands, responding to the perceived incompetence or racism of white officers who seemed to routinely “lose” black infantrymen stationed on front lines in the Vietnam war, African American rebels at point positions allegedly lobbed grenades behind them into the relative safety zones of white officers. Back home, reportedly because of their military training in Nam, Black Panthers such as Geronimo ji Jaga (Elmer Pratt) were spared the martyrdom of Chicago Black Panther Party chair Fred Hampton and Panther leader Mark Clark, who were killed by police in a predawn raid. Amid insurrection, military and guerrilla battles, and ideological struggles, literature by black revolutionaries and rebels exerted a transgender appeal for both females and males who saw themselves as colonized people under siege and at war.Google Scholar
  4. See Robert Williams, Negroes with Guns (New York: Marzani and Munsell, 1962)Google Scholar
  5. Amilcar Cabral, Return to the Source: Selected Speeches of Amilcar Cabral, ed. Africa Information Service (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973)Google Scholar
  6. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1963).Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    Americans are both entertained and pacified when violence is used by blacks in boxing spectacles, action films, and on foreign battlefields. However, many conventional Americans become alarmed and incensed when African Americans deploy violence (or merely its imagery) for their own collective, political objectives. In a schizophrenic relationship to violence, America is alternately enamored and terrified by its use. In a July 1998 TIME magazine special report on gun violence, Richard Lacayo reflected on the magazine’s cover story, “The Gun in America,” that appeared three decades earlier: It was 1968, just days after the murder of Robert Kennedy, and before him of Martin Luther King Jr., when the exit wound was becoming a standard problem in American politics…. But that sequence of killings also produced a briefly effective national revulsion against gun violence. Before the year was out, Congress would pass the Gun Control Act of 1968, a milestone law that banned most interstate sales, licensed most gun dealers and barred felons, minors and the mentally ill from owning guns…. Millions in the U.S. believe passionately that their liberty, their safety or both are bound up with the widest possible availability of guns. So 30 years later, guns are still very much with us, murderous little fixtures of the cultural landscape. We live with them as we live with computers or household appliances, but with more difficult consequences—some of them paid in blood. Among the industrial nations, this cultural predicament is ours alone. Richard Lacayo, “Still Under the Gun,” TIME, July 6, 1998, 34–35.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Kathleen Neal Cleaver, “Back to Africa: The Evolution of the International Section of the Black Panther Party (1966–1972),” in The Black Panther Party [Reconsidered] ed. Charles Jones, (Baltimore: Black Classics Press, 1998), 237. According to Cleaver, soon after a visit from David Hilliard’s “emissary,” the FBI arrested Geronimo ji Jaga (Elmer Pratt) who was underground in Texas; eventually the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) charged him in the shooting of white schoolteacher Caroline Olson. Although Huey Newton barred all Panthers from cooperating with Pratt’s defense, Kathleen Neal Cleaver became one of the few Panthers to testify at the trial, stating that he was in northern California at a Black Panther Party meeting during the time of Olson’s murder in southern California. Based on the testimony of police informant and perjurer Julio Butler, and the LAPD withholding evidence supporting his innocence, ji Jaga served twenty-seven years in prison before a Judge ruled that he should be released in June 1997 on $25,000 bail, pending a new trial.Google Scholar
  9. See Don Terry, “Los Angeles Confronts Bitter Racial Legacy,” New York Times, July 20, 1997, Al, AIM. Given his military leadership in the U.S. army and his strategic skills credited for the low Panther casualties following the December 1969 LAPD and SWAT raid on the Los Angeles chapter (days after Chicago police assisted by the FBI executed Fred Hampton and Mark Clark), Pratt’s youth seems extraordinary. Kit Kim Holder notes though that the Black Panthers were primarily a youth organization (see Kit Kim Holder, “The History of the Black Panther Party 1966–1972: A Curriculum for Afrikan-American Studies.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, 1990).Google Scholar
  10. For information on the FBI’s counterintelligence program, see Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (Boston: South End Press, 1990)Google Scholar
  11. Churchill and Vander Wall, eds., COINTELPRO PAPERS (Boston: South End Press, 1990)Google Scholar
  12. Kenneth O’Reilly, ‘Racial Matters’: The FBI’s Secret File on Black America, 1960–1972 (New York: Free Press, 1989).Google Scholar
  13. 6.
    E. Franklin Frazier, The Black Bourgeoisie (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1957).Google Scholar
  14. 7.
    Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography (Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill and Co., 1987).Google Scholar
  15. 8.
    This work uses the terms “black” and “African American” interchangeably to denote people of African descent living in the United States. “United States” and “America” are commonly referred to as synonymous. The quotation marks around my initial use of “America” recognizes the (imperial) fallacy of equating the United States with the Americas. “State” refers to the U.S. government and its attendant apparatuses—educational institutions, media, military, police (in the Gramscian concept of hegemony)—that grant it political legitimacy. To these might be added the “private” sector of corporate wealth that is heavily subsidized by public monies and that is deeply invested in shaping domestic and foreign policies. For a discussion of state abuse of power from an antiracist feminist perspective, see Joy James, Resisting State Violence: Radicalism, Gender and Race in U.S. Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  16. 10.
    Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought (Cambridge, MA: Unwin Hyman, 1990).Google Scholar
  17. 11.
    Patricia Hill Collins, Fighting Words: Black Women andthe Search for Justice (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 67.Google Scholar
  18. 12.
    For definitions of “womanist,” see Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988), xi.Google Scholar
  19. 13.
    bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (Boston: South End Press, 1984), 24. For the works of womanist theologians, see Katie G. Cannon, Black Womanist Ethics (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988)Google Scholar
  20. Jacquelyn Grant, White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989)Google Scholar
  21. Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk (New York: Orbis Books, 1993).Google Scholar
  22. 14.
    bell hooks, “Feminism as a Persistent Critique of History: What’s Love Got to Do with It?” in Alan Read, ed., The Fact of Blackness: Frantz Fanon and Visual Representation (Seattle: Bay Press, 1996), 81. Quote reprinted in T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Frantz Fanon: Conflicts 6-Feminism (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997), 88.Google Scholar
  23. 15.
    For anthologies documenting the emergence of black feminism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, see Barbara Smith, ed., Homegirls: A Black Feminist Anthology (New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1983)Google Scholar
  24. Toni Cade Bambara, ed., The Black Woman (New York: New American Library, 1970)Google Scholar
  25. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, ed., Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought (New York: New Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  26. 16.
    My use of the term “antiblack racism” throughout the text is indebted to Lewis Gordon, Bad Faith andAntiblack Racism (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  27. 17.
    For discussions of the marginalization of black women, see Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, eds. All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies (Old Westbury, NY: Feminist Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  28. 18.
    For a cogent argument on self-defense amid state repression, see Ward Churchill, Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America (Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada: Arbeiter Ring, 1998).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© James Joy 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joy James

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations