Ground-breaking activist, Barbara Smith, and her twin sister Beverly, were born in 1946 in Cleveland, Ohio. They were children of the Great Migration and have family roots in my home state, Georgia. When I first learned about the concept of “coming to voice” it was in large part because of being exposed to works by Barbara Smith and other Black feminists.
Barbara Smith is one of the founders of the Combahee River Collective and has been an important voice in the development of modern intersectional feminism. The intersection of her identities as a Black lesbian has informed her work. She is believed to have co-coined the term “identity politics,” a phrase tied intrinsically to racial, gender, and sexual identities. Her boldness and willingness to discuss the intersection of identities helped to establish a platform for a new dialogue. Very few opportunities existed for Black women to reliably publish their work in 1980; because of this, she co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, which was the first publishing company for women of color in the U.S. Alongside notable writers like Audre Lorde and Cherrie Moraga, Barbara strove to provide a resource for women of color writers so that their voices could be heard.
I was initially introduced to the concept of coming to voice as a doctoral student. During his graduate seminars, Dr. Gary Lemons assigned works by Barbara Smith and other Black feminists, feminists of color, and womanists. Semesters of analyzing Black feminist and womanist texts guided me as I found my voice (academically and personally as well). Inserting my experiences/perspectives alongside critical analysis of Black feminist scholars such as Barbara Smith connects me to the intellectual legacy of those who have come before me and strengthens my resolve to speak truth to power.
As a scholar and activist, Barbara has fought her entire life for the values of equality and justice, opposing all manners of discrimination, marginalization, and oppression. In 2005, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize to honor her accomplishments, including cultivating an open dialogue involving the intersectionality of race, gender, sexuality, and class, protesting to end forced sterilization, and combating police brutality. Barbara’s socio-political interests are wide-ranging and extend several decades. Her continued efforts toward equity and justice are proof of her authentic determination and activism. Barbara Smith is one of the most pivotal voices in feminism, especially Black feminism.
Because of my deep respect for her and her work, I’ve decided to donate to the Barbara Smith Caring Circle this holiday season. If she’s one of the scholars/activists who serves as an inspiration for you, I encourage you to give as well!