ABSTRACT

Some years ago, three black feminist critics and scholars edited an anthology entitled All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave,! suggesting in the title the unique and peculiar dilemma of black women. Since then it has perhaps become almost commonplace for literary critics, male and female, black and white, to note that black women have been discounted or unaccounted for in the 'traditions' of black, women's and American literature as well as in the contemporary literary-critical dialogue. More recently, black women writers have begun to receive token recognition as they are subsumed under the category of woman in the feminist critique and the category of black in the racial critique. Certainly these 'gendered' and 'racial' decodings of black women authors present strong and revisionary methods of reading, focusing as they do on literary discourses regarded as marginal to the dominant literary-critical tradition. Yet the 'critical insights' of one reading might well become the 'blind spots' of another reading. That is, by privileging one categoty ~of analysis at the expense of the other, each of these methods risks setting up what Fredric Jameson describes as 'strategies of containment', which restrict or repress different or alternative readings. 2 More specifIcally, blindness to what Nancy Fraser describes as 'the gender subtext' can be just as occluding as blindness to the racial subtext in the works of black women writers. 3

Such approaches can result in exclusion at worst and, at best, a reading of part of the text as the whole - a strategy that threatens to replicate (if not valorize) the reifIcation against which black women struggle in life and literature. What I propose is a theory of interpretation based on what I refer to as the 'simultaneity of discourse', a term inspired by Barbara Smith's seminal work on black feminist criticism.4 This concept is meant to signify a mode of reading which examines the ways in which the perspectives of race and gender, and their interrelationships, structure the discourse of black women writers. Such an approach is intended to acknowledge and overcome the limitations imposed by assumptions of internal identity (homogeneity) and the repression of internal differences (heterogeneity) in racial and gendered readings of works by black women writers. In other words, I propose a model that seeks to account for racial difference within gender identity and gender difference within racial identity. This approach represents my effort to avoid what one critic describes as the presumed 'absolute and self-sufficient' otherness of the critical stance in order to allow the complex representations of black women writers to steer us away from 'a simple and reductive paradigm of "otherness,,'.5