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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Pauli Murray, February 13, 1976. Interview G-0044. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Thoughts on feminism and the "double victimization" of African American women

Murray reflects on her position within the feminist movement. In arguing that most "radical" feminists were white, Murray turns to a discussion of her thoughts on intersections of race, class, and gender as they applied to women's liberation and shares her thoughts on what she once termed the "double victimization" of African American women.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Pauli Murray, February 13, 1976. Interview G-0044. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Now I find that not only in your poetry, but also in your law journal articles and in articles that have been reprinted in other anthologies, not only with regard to race but with regard to sex discrimination and a combination of sex and race discrimination, that you tend to use language as a weapon. With regard to sex discrimination, you've been referred to as a militant feminist and I wonder if that's how you perceive yourself and if so, did you begin to perceive yourself as a militant feminist at the point at which you finally felt sexism personally, or if this was something that happened later in your life, or if this is not relevant at all as far as you are concerned?
To say that one is a militant feminist is a kind of relative term. In 1962, I might have been considered a militant feminist. In 1976, I might be considered a very moderate or even conservative feminist, if you follow me, because events may move people to take far more radical positions than I will take. I am radical to the extent that I want to see the individual human being as free as is possible to fulfull that individual human being's potential, creative potential. I am not …let's say that radical feminists are usually today, in our society, identified as white. I personally have two problems, that is, two problems that are built in. I must always be concerned, not theoretically, but I must be involved with and necessarily concerned with racial liberation. But I must also personally be concerned with sexual liberation, because as I often say, the two meet in me, the two meet in any individual who is both woman and a member of an oppressed group or a minority group.
Now that is exactly related to a question that I wanted to ask you, about an article that you wrote in 1970 called, "The Liberation of Black Women." In this piece, you discuss the double victimization of black women by "the twin immoralities of Jane Crow and Jim Crow." Now first of all, as background, I would like to say that in 1965 you co-authored an article entitled, "Jane Crow and the Law: Discrimination and Title VII." In that particular article, the two of you seemed to rely heavily on Ashley Montague and Blanche Crozier in saying that racial and sex discrimination were either strikingly parallel or comparable. First of all, I would like you to comment on that and then I would like to move on to the arguments that you made in 1970 about double victimization.
Well, one common parallel factor about race and sex discrimination are that they are biological. They are biologically permanent characteristics of the person. Age is not necessarily biologically permanent. You grow from a child to adult, an alien may become a citizen, a person who is in one profession may move over to another, but where you have a permanent characteristic, i.e., color, race or sex, it is on the basis of one's birth that one becomes a member of that caste, so to speak. It is completely imposed upon one and there is no way that one can escape except as the society is changed.
Now, do you consider that to be caste? In '65, the two of you considered this sort of comparable to class, at least you said.
Well, we may have talked about class in '65, but it has become increasingly clear that as people have gone more deeply into the whole problem of sex …we were kind of out there on the frontier almost, of our particular era …but more and more women feminist scholars are beginning to see sex as a caste, because you are born into it. Now, I don't say that race and sex are identical. I do say that they have certain comparable characteristics. I would describe it as, let us say, a kind of a graph. At one end of the spectrum there are issues and problems that are exclusively racial. Uniquely racial. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are problems and issues which are uniquely sexual, but in the middle, they tend to overlap, there tend to be problems that are common to both groups, such as discrimination in employment or in educational opportunities or failure to be represented in the public structures of authority, judgeships, government. There are similar kinds of arguments used to justify discrimination against these groups. In addition to these, however, women, because they are half of the human race have a rather peculiar situation of being represented both in the oppressed and oppressor classes, but nevertheless, having problems which are common as women. So that a given woman may share the benefits and priviliged position of the class to which she belongs and she may belong to the privileged class and the oppressor class. So in one sense, she shares as the oppressor but on the other hand, she also has problems which are identical to all women. She shares with women these in a universal and worldwide situation. This is not quite the case of race and certainly of the males of the race. So that a woman of minority status shares the problems of the oppressed group, of which she is a part, but she also shares the problems of all women and the depressed status of women is a universal status. Now, I don't know whether this is making sense to you, but it is because when one stands at the juncture of these two problems, you can see the interrelationships, which is almost impossible for a male, particularly a black male to see, he can't quite understand why a black woman will take a militant feminist position because he is concentrating on race, whereas her problem extends beyond her mere racial status.