Womanism Essay

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In 1983, Alice Walker contrasted Afrocentrism, black feminism, and white feminism using the term womanist to render a critique of possibilities for women and men who felt ostracized by the mainstream women’s movement in the United States.

Walker’s much cited phrase, ”Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender,” reflects this comparison. In her classic essay ”In search of our mothers’ gardens,” Walker describes womanism as being rooted in black women’s particular history of racial and gender oppression in the United States. Yet, womanists are ”traditionally universalists.” Womanism is a gender-progressive worldview that emerges from black women’s unique history, is accessible primarily to black women yet also extends beyond women of African descent. Woman-ism is a pluralist vision of black empowerment that requires women and men to be aware of gendered inequalities and seek social change. In the late 1980s, womanist theologians such as Cannon and Kirk-Duggan sought to clarify women-centered aspects of biblical studies, church history, systematic theology, and social ethics. Hudson-Weems (1993) argued that the feminist-womanist tie should be separated by locating womanism in the words of Sojourner Truth and Afrocentric cultural values (i.e., Africana womanism). Hudson-Weems identified the characteristics of Africana woman-ism. Some include self-defining, family-centeredness, struggling alongside men, adaptability, black sisterhood, authenticity, strength, mothering, and spirituality.

It should be noted that although Africana womanists see sexism as an important problem, some do not see sexism as an objective more important than fighting racism. This perspective reflects the nationalist roots of womanism and is a critique of womanism.


  1. Hudson-Weems, C. (1993) Africana Womanism: Reclaiming Ourselves. Bedford, Troy, MI.
  2. Walker, A. (1983) In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, New York.

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