Black Feminism’s Minor Empiricism: Hurston, Combahee, and the Experience of Evidence
In this article, I argue that the Zora Neale Hurston’s early twentieth-century anthropological work and the Combahee River Collective’s 1977 Black Feminist Statement can be read as part of a genealogy of Black feminist empiricism: a minor empiricism that rejects positivist empiricism, strategically mobilizing dominant scientific practices while also developing an onto-espistemology specific to Black English and what Combahee terms “black women’s style.” Their works make tactical use of positivist empirics to critique and counter legal and medico-scientific circumscription of Black women’s lives, while simultaneously participating in this counter-practice of Black feminist empiricism. As both Combahee’s statement and Hurston’s first ethnography, Mules and Men (1935), reveal, Black feminist empiricism is grounded not in traditional scientific virtues such as transparency and objectivity, but instead in opacity and subjectivity, which make it unavailable for use for purposes of legal subjection, while simultaneously revealing the raced and gendered implications of a legal system dependent on positivist values.
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