top of page

Women, Race & Class: A review

Visual by Shreya Sharma

Women, Race, and Class (1981) by Black feminist Angela Yvonne Davis focuses on slavery, the abolishment movement, women's issues inside and outside the house, marriage, reproductive rights, importance of education, and other problems black women face. The book has 13 essays comprising- The legacy of Slavery: Standards for a New Womanhood; The Anti Slavery Movement and the Birth of Women's Right; Class and Race in the Early Women's Rights Campaign; Racism In The Women's Suffrage Movement; Meaning of Emancipation According to Black Women; Education and Liberation: Black Women's Perspective; Woman Suffrage at the Turn of the Century: The Rising Influence of Racism; Black women and the Club Movement; Working Women Black Women and the History of The Suffrage Movement.; Communist Women; Rape, Racism, And The Capitalist Setting.Racism, Birth Control, and Reproductive Right; and The Approaching Obsolescence of Housework: A Working-Class Perspective.

The book starts with the feminist discourse by questioning who are the black women- “the slave woman was, first of all, a worker of the owner and the only incidentally a wife mother and homemaker.” unhighlight the standardized pattern of rape during slavery as not a b men's sexual earth but a weapon to suppress black women. The abolition movement and The white women were associated with failure to understand the complexities of slave women and their experience and problems. The book also compares how working women still had a certain level of equality compared to wives who were merely seen as equal partners but more as servants of their husbands.

Angela sees marriage as robbing women's property rights. After becoming a wife, they become more dependent upon their husbands, who now have the right to punish in this male-dominated society. The book also highlights the working conditions with hot, humid rooms, fear of job loss, pneumonia, Tuberculosis as some of the significant problems in working conditions.

Angela also highlights how in the suffrage movements, people like Elizabeth candy talked about black people being equally treated and urged feminist critique to devote to anti-slavery campaigns.

The book also often shows how the government institutionalized racial discrimination. Generalization of the myth of naturally inferior beings and how this idea “negroes were the servant, servants were the negroes” was prominent. In one of the essays, the writer also emphasizes the importance of education, and as Douglas says, “if you give nigeer an inch, he will take an ell, learning will spoil the best nigeer in the world. It was the knowledge that unfit a child to be enslaved.”

Book reflects on enactments, mob lynching/murders, and disfranchisement of black people legalizing racial segregation, the situation of terror and violence, myth of black rapist, and the rise of black newspaper in the 1880 club movement. The book also highlights capitalism as an additional hindrance other than sexism to women's emancipation. The rise of socialist parties in the socialist movement encouraged women to challenge society's oppressive structure. In contrast, Lucy Lucy Parsons, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Claudia Jones, Anitha Whitney, Mother Blore were prominent leaders. When in the 19th century feminist discourses on motherhood reproductive rights were going on, there was no emphasis on involuntary sterilization, the racial form of mass birth control, and the kind of slavery system the black women were facing were nowhere in the debate; the book also talked about the decentralization of domestic labor the industrialization and the shift of economic production from house to factory how it affected the women.

This book highlights the realities of slavery and how racism and sexism affected women, how dependent women faced numerous problems, and how people didn't recognize this problem. Angela also talks about the institutionalization of rape, how the state facilitates this exploitation and discrimination, how laws are molded in a manner to boost some dominant sector of people, how sterilization is used to oppress black women; the problem with this book is there is no vision about how these problems are going to solve, the way book has been written is some collection of issues and issue where Angela merely talked about her method of transformation of society, another fact is, it is more about problem gathering rather than focusing on the problem solving hence this book can be called problem-exploring rather than problem-solving, which Anne LAURENT in reviewing book says “By failing to focus on ways to mend and reinvigorate the movement, the book becomes merely a gathering of disparate essays.” In a way, this book by talking about mob lynching, institutionalized rape, how state lead atrocities, mechanism of the state that benefit some dominant people, molded laws that benefit only a few, and how education can be used as a tool to voice against any oppression are some of the points in this book that are relevant in today's world.



  1. Laurent, Anne (January 31, 1982). “Race Against History.” The Washington Post.

  2. Davis, Angela Y. Women, Race, & Class. , 1981. Print

Rinku Kumari Dalit-Dusadh Feminist, Student of women's studies at TISS, Mumbai campus, Artist of Godna Mithila Art, Hindi Poet, Researcher and Content and Creative Writer. Currently working as Multimedia Journalist Intern at Dalit Desk, Editorial writer in TPP.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page