black liberation

The concept of Black liberation is central to The Intersectionality of Black Life and Being. Early in production, the Writing Team identified the need to provide a definition for this concept that is so central to the body of community-based research, from the perspective of Black scholarship. This was accomplished through a partnership with Action4Equity’s Policy Committee, which is inclusive of Black people with deep connection to the local community and deep knowledge of Black thought and scholarship. We thank the Policy Committee for their substantial contributions to this body of work.

Black Liberation is a multifaceted and dynamic movement rooted in the historical struggles and experiences of Black individuals and communities (both in the United States, as well as in the Diaspora). Viewpoints on Black Liberation are not homogenous; they encompass a wide range of religious beliefs, ideological perspectives, and theories of effective practice, reflecting the collective body of Black scholarship and activism, and the characteristic diversity of Black thought.

  • Dismantling Systems of Oppression: Black Liberation seeks to dismantle systems of racial oppression, white supremacy, and colonialism that have marginalized and dehumanized Black people for generations.
  • Decolonial Perspectives: Decolonial thought critiques and challenges the legacies of colonialism and imperialism, advocating for the decolonization of institutions, systems, and knowledge production. It seeks to dismantle colonial power structures that continue to impact Black communities.
  • Intersectionality: Intersectionality, a concept developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw, recognizes the interconnected nature of various systems of oppression and how they intersect to shape unique experiences of discrimination. This includes (but is not limited to) a focus on the intersections of race, gender, class, sexuality, physical abilities, and mental health.
  • Feminism and Womanism: Black thought on this intersectional front has been voluminous. Black Liberation emphasizes the importance of intersectional feminism in the fight for freedom, recognizing the unique challenges faced by Black women and the necessity of addressing gender-based oppression. While the term “womanish” was originally coined by Alice Walker, Womanist Thought has been developed extensively from a Christian perspective, with attention to the mosaic of Black experience, across both secular and religious contexts. 
  • Critical Race Theory: Critical Race Theory offers a framework for analyzing how race and racism are embedded in laws, policies, and institutions. It highlights the role of law in perpetuating racial inequalities and offers insights for promoting racial justice and liberation. Importantly, Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw is one of the foundational figures in the development of Critical Race Theory (CRT). She is especially known for her work on intersectionality, a term she coined to describe how various social identities, such as race and gender, intersect and contribute to systemic oppression.
  • Empowerment and Identity: Black Liberation celebrates and affirms Black identity, culture, and history. It recognizes the significance of embracing one's heritage and the power of cultural pride in the pursuit of liberation.
  • Global Solidarity: Black Liberation transcends national boundaries, forging connections among Black individuals worldwide. Pan-Africanism fosters solidarity and cooperation to address issues affecting Black communities globally.
  • Transformative Justice and Abolitionism: Advocating for prison abolition and transformative justice, Black Liberation challenges the carceral state and its impact on Black communities, emphasizing restorative practices and alternatives to policing Black communities.
  • Economic Justice: Black liberation, as analyzed through the lenses of Black Marxist thought and scholars like Cornell West and James Cone, highlights the intrinsic link between economic justice and racial liberation. The interplay of race and economics is intricate; discussions of class inherently involve considerations of race, and vice versa. While acknowledging race as a social construct shaped by power structures rather than biological factors, Black liberation thought underscores the centrality of class in the dynamics of ownership and exploitation. This perspective questions whether capitalism can truly facilitate Black liberation. Notably, the Black Panthers advocated for global solidarity against capitalism, aligning with those resisting exploitation worldwide. Ultimately, Black liberation's multidimensional framework emphasizes the convergence of race, class, and capitalism, and supports the development of cooperative or social economy networks to help facilitate trade among Black communities globally.
  • Environmental Justice: Environmental justice emphasizes the equitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens. This perspective highlights the disproportionate impact of environmental degradation and climate change on Black communities. When this principle is not upheld, marginalized groups often experience greater exposure to pollutants and environmental hazards, leading to significant health disparities. Black Liberation encompasses environmental justice, calling for solutions that address environmental racism and prioritize the well-being of these affected communities.
  • Critical Reflections: Black Liberation critically reflects on historical and contemporary struggles, drawing inspiration from the radical traditions of Pan Africanism, Black resistance and liberation movements like the Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, Moorish Science Temple, and Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa Movement.
  • Intersection of Faith and Activism: Black Liberation bridges the gap between religious faith and the pursuit of justice, recognizing the spiritual dimensions of the struggle for liberation. The faith-based revolts plotted by Gabriel Prosser, Nat Turner, and Denmark Vessey are exemplary; so, too, is the work of African Traditional Religions (ATR), Black Humanists, the Nation of Islam, the Moorish Science Temple, Hebrew Israelites, and Vodun. James Cone’s theological writings on Black Theology drew directly on the Christian expressions of this tradition, and set a new trajectory for Black Christian thought.
  • Imagining New Possibilities: Afrofuturism envisions a liberated future, inspiring creativity and innovation in reimagining and building a just and equitable world.

Black Liberation, through its diverse perspectives, strives for the emancipation of Black people from various forms of oppression, embracing the complexity of identities and experiences while fostering unity, solidarity, and transformative action toward liberation. It embodies an ongoing struggle for freedom, dignity, and equality, Black Nationalism, enriched by the wisdom and contributions of Black thinkers, activists, and communities throughout history.

Sources and Suggested Reading:

  • Malcolm X, Haley, A., & Shabazz, A. (1992). The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley. Ballantine Books.
  • Marcus Garvey. Universal negro improvement association and African communities league.
  • Hopkins, D. N., & Lewis, M. (2009). Another World is Possible, Spiritualities and Religions of Global Darker Peoples.
  • Pinn, A. B. (2001). By These Hands: A Documentary History of African American Humanism.
  • Noble Drew Ali. Moorish Science Temple
  • NYU Press.
  • Mays, K.T. (2022, May 19). What did Malcolm X mean by Black Land for Black Liberation? Beacon Broadside: A Project of Beach Press.
  • Muhammed, E. (2006). Message to the Black Man in America. Self Published
  • Van Sertima, I. (2003). They came before Columbus: The African presence in Ancient America. Random House.
  • Walker, A. (2003). In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose. Mariner Books.
  • Williams, D. S. (2013). Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God. Orbis Books.
  • Coleman, M. A. (Editor), & Maparyan, L. (Editor). (2013). Ain't I a Womanist, Too?: Third Wave
  • Womanist Religious Thought (Innovations: African American Religious Thought). Fortress Press.
  • hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Routledge.

Additional Suggested reading on Black Liberation:

These books provide a primer to the concept of Black liberation, spanning historical, sociopolitical, and intersectional perspectives. They offer valuable insights into the ongoing struggle for justice and liberation and the contributions of Black thinkers, activists, and communities. This list should be considered exemplary, and by no means exhaustive.

  • "Black Theology and Black Power: The Black Experience of Liberation in America" by J. H. Cone — In "Black Theology and Black Power," James H. Cone, a prominent figure in Black Liberation Theology, examines the transformative potential of Christianity in the pursuit of Black power and liberation, offering a thought-provoking analysis of the Black experience and its theological significance in the ongoing fight for racial justice.
  • "Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday" by A. Y. Davis — In "Blues Legacies and Black Feminism," Angela Y. Davis celebrates the influential blues singers Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday, exploring how their music and performances defied oppression and asserted agency within a male-dominated industry, while highlighting the intersection of Black feminism and the blues tradition in their powerful legacy for gender and racial equality.
  • "The Souls of Black Folk" by W.E.B. Du Bois — This classic work explores the double consciousness of African Americans and the enduring struggle for equality and liberation.
  • "Black Feminist Thought" by Patricia Hill Collins — This book introduces the concept of intersectionality and how Black feminism offers critical insights into the experiences of Black women.
  • "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" by Malcolm X and Alex Haley — This autobiography provides a powerful firsthand account of Malcolm X's journey from criminal to activist and his advocacy for Black empowerment.
  • "Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement" by Angela Y. Davis — This book brings together Davis' perspectives on various liberation movements, connecting struggles for justice worldwide.
  • "Assata: An Autobiography" by Assata Shakur — Assata Shakur's autobiography shares her experiences as a member of the Black Panther Party and her activism for Black liberation.
  • "The Fire Next Time" by James Baldwin — This collection of essays discusses the complexities of race in America and the urgent need for racial justice and reconciliation.
  • "Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches" by Audre Lorde — This collection of essays by Audre Lorde addresses the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality and emphasizes the importance of unity and solidarity.
  • "How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective" edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor — This book explores the history and impact of the Combahee River Collective, a Black feminist organization.
  • "The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America" by Richard Rothstein — This book examines the government's role in creating and perpetuating racial segregation in housing and its impact on Black communities.
  • "Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds" by adrienne maree brown — This book explores strategies for liberation and transformation, drawing from social justice movements.
  • "Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition" by Cedric J. Robinson — This work examines the history and development of Black radical thought and its contributions to the struggle for liberation.
  • "The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America" by Khalil Gibran Muhammad — This book delves into the historical construction of Black criminality and its impact on perceptions of Black communities.
  • "Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom" by bell hooks — This insightful book delves into education as a means of liberation, emphasizing the importance of critical thinking and challenging systems of oppression. hooks advocates for engaging classrooms where students and teachers can collaboratively build knowledge.
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