Wendy Brown (1995) deals with the difficulties of overcoming histories of colonization and slavery as central to understanding the intertwining of inequalities of gender and of race. She re-reads Nietzsche’s ideas about resentment being a major part of a dominant modern morality emerging within more democratic societies. He sees that modern morality as a result of a slave morality based on revenge for past wrongs. It is a morality, he argues, that sees enemies as wholly different, and as intrin­sically ‘evil’ rather than temporarily ‘bad’. Brown uses her take on these ideas critically to interrogate identity politics as a politics based on resentment, which relies on and reinscribes its exclusionary relation to dominance. In other words, rather than moving beyond notions of regarding people like ourselves as good and those who are different as evil, identity politics reproduces these ideas. A marginalized identity thereby ‘resubjugates itself through its investment in its own pain’ (Brown, 1995: 74). Memory of the past is crucial in this process, but peoples who have been marginalized cannot be simply told to forget, because that fails to recognize the importance of remembering for them. These people have often been made historically invisible or deprived of much of their past through genocide and cultural cleansing which tried to erase indigenous stories, beliefs and practices. In order to alleviate the pain and overcome cycles of resentment, Brown argues that marginalized peoples have to be ‘heard into a certain release’, to allow a self-overcoming which will allow for losing itself (1995: 74—5).This then is not about slipping into individualized therapy, but about constructing political discourses based on shifting, possibly collective, desires — claims of ‘I/we want’ rather than ‘I am’.

Though unlikely that she would identify herself as a post-colonial theorist, bell hooks is similarly interested in how to overcome the effects of colonization, especially as a psychic state which still holds sway over women. In later work, hooks (1992: 1) sets out the process of decolonization she thinks is needed for black women to be properly valued

and to come to understand their femininity in positive ways. Decolonization is a term she uses to describe a process of reclaiming subjectivity, rescuing the power to define blackness from white hands. To decolonize is to re-present colonized identities and interests as indepen­dent. This process will involve both colonized and colonizer, and must recognize diversity between and within colonized groups (hooks, 1992: 1). Knowledge is therefore crucial.

Many feminists working within post-colonialism have highlighted the importance of knowledge in overcoming racist oppression and its gendered implications, Audre Lorde’s (1984) famous claim that ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’being a classic statement of this. Although old ideas about race have long been scientif­ically disproven, people’s belief in the significance of superficial physical differences supposed to distinguish separate ‘races’ remains powerful and is enacted in racist ways (Banton, 1998). Much Western knowledge has been explicitly or implicitly racist, and through colonization that knowl­edge has become hegemonic. In that light, Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999) outlines one of the key tasks within ‘post-colonial’ societies as being to reclaim indigenous ways of knowing. These can then be used to more carefully research and understand non-white peoples in former colonies. In particular, this approach can provide better understandings of indige­nous women.

Smith argues that decolonization will lead to self-determination only if there are also processes of transformation, political mobilization, and healing at work — and these are therefore key to a successful indigenous research agenda. Some researchers, such as Patricia Hill Collins (1990), say outsiders cannot understand or analyze what it means to be oppressed as a black woman; Smith suggests that Maori views of research are similar. This reclamation of control over knowledge about themselves is a crucial part of decolonization. This will be a process that aims towards self-determination and includes also political control, social agency, spiritual and psychological strength. However, Smith (1999) notes that challenging the way in which gender and race are intertwined is difficult. She cites the example of some Maori women who have recently gone before the Waitangi Tribunal, established in New Zealand to deal with land claims and grievances arising from non-compliance by the Crown with the Treaty of Waitangi signed with the Maori in 1840. They claim ‘that the Crown has ignored the rangatiratanga, or chiefly and sovereign status, of Maori women’ (Smith, 1999: 46). Rangatiratanga is usually seen as chieftainship, which in colonial terms was thought to be male. Proving otherwise is very hard for women to do in such situa­tions because it involves questioning ideas about what constitutes ‘proper’ knowledge. In Western-dominated environments, written knowledge is privileged over oral and Western frameworks determine

what are seen as ‘objective’ or ‘scientific’ facts and who is expert. Therefore a simple statement of claim is not simple at all and involves a process of decolonization, challenging current power relations and how they structure what and how we know about people. As indigenous people have regained some strength they have been able to look at how colonial practices have marginalized women, elders and other groups and have been able to recentre these people (Smith, 1999: 111).

In order to rethink gender in such new terms, the kind of oppositions based on white Western constructions of what is feminine and masculine need to be challenged. Gayatri Spivak (1990) has suggested that this means white Westerners unlearning privilege as loss. Their privileged positions are usually based on excluding difference. We represent ourselves via a ‘certain production’, which means that there is a history and context framing what we say. In order for change to result, those who are dominant must rethink what is ‘normal’ about themselves. Those aspects of whiteness usually regarded as positive need to be reassessed and considered perhaps problematic. Those who have power and privilege should consider the historical processes which have made that possible, and the actual and moral poverty resultant from over-celebrating whiteness. White guilt and other forms of intellectual self-flagellation are not useful. What might be useful are appreciations of the production of whiteness in relation to blackness. Some of these appreciations have been presented in this chapter and I would like to briefly summarize and synthesize what I take to be the chief insights of this work as a set of positive prescriptions for thinking through the inter­connections between ‘race’/ethnicity and gender.


First, it is necessary to appreciate that racist sexism has gained much of its weight in the service of economic gain through capitalist expansion via colonization. Secondly, we must consider that affirming non-white identities is not about rediscovering a lost purity but about re-knowing what different ethnicities might mean for women if they are able to exist within conditions which are more of their own choosing. Thirdly, it must be insisted that such re-knowing struggles against dominant knowledges which privilege white European thought and frameworks. Fourthly and finally, acknowledgement is required of the agency exercized by non-white women in their ongoing struggles against racism and sexism. The cleaner we imagined in Chapter 7 might be a black woman who goes back to further education and maybe becomes a lawyer. She may, in conjunction with other black women of different classes and cultures, continue to work against systems of domination in

which femininity and blackness are hindrances instead of celebrations of diversity. We have seen here the part that combinations of economic and cultural analyses of ‘race’/ethnicity and gender can play in efforts to address inequalities.

Key readings

Brown, W (1995) States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Later Modernity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Davis, A. Y. (1983) Women, Race and Class. New York:Vintage Books.

Scott, C. (1995) Gender and Development: Rethinking Modernization and Dependency Theory. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Woollacott, A. (2006) Gender and Empire. Basingstoke: Palgrave.