History 246 Reading Guide

Black Women in White America:  Slavery and Freedom in the 19th century

  • Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, “African-American Women’s History and the Metalanguage of Race,” Signs 17.2 (1992), 251-74.  JSTOR

Further reading:

  • Angela Davis, “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Role in the Community of Slaves,” Black Scholar (1971; reprinted 1981), 2-15.
  • Suzanne Lebsock, “Free Black Women and the Question of Matriarchy,” Feminist Studies 8 (1983), 271-292.


While Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham acknowledges the progress in feminist theory and the value of gender as a category of analysis, she argues that, ironically, current theorists “find little to say about race” (251).

  • Why, according to Higginbotham, is that omission ironic?  What opportunities are feminist theorists missing?

On page 251, Higginbotham recommends three strategies for making race more integral in feminist analyses of power:  “defin[ing] the construction and technologies of race” (251-256); “expos[ing] the role of race as a metalanguage” (256-266); “recogniz[ing] race as providing sites of dialogic exchange and contestation” (266-273).

  • How have scholars defined “the construction and ‘technologies’ of race”?  What is significant for feminist theory about these definitions?
  • What is a “metalanguage”?  What is the role of race as a metalanguage?  How does she describe racial constructions of gender, class, and sexuality?
  • What does she mean when she describes race as a “double-voiced discourse”?  What have been the consequences of that discourse for African-American women?