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Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor on “How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective”

StoryJanuary 19, 2018
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We speak with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor about the new collection of essays she edited that is titled “How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective.” Taylor is an assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University and the author of “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with our guest, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University, out with a new book, How We Get Free. I’m sorry, because I had the sense from your sigh, Keeanga, you just heard that Julius Lester died.


AMY GOODMAN: I’m sorry to break that to you.

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: It’s terrible, terrible news.

AMY GOODMAN: How We Get Free, your book. If you could talk about who the Combahee River Collective is? And we’ll do a post-show after this, because we have to go longer than we have time for. But the whole issue of this radical women’s collective, really coining the term “identity politics,” taking on the issue of intersectionality, and this was 40 years ago.

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: So, the Combahee River Collective was a group of black radical feminists that formed in 1974, that considered themselves to be a left split from an organization called the National Black Feminist Organization, which I think they would characterize as certainly to the left of mainstream white feminism, feminist organizations, but still not far enough to the left in terms of the Combahee’s focus on linking women’s oppression to capitalism, and linking the black women’s oppression to capitalism, but also, more importantly, I think, or of equal importance is, seeing that the liberation of black women was connected to a radical reconstruction of American society.

And so, the group formed in 1974 and really was active around issues of abortion rights, reproductive freedom, including campaigning against sterilization, taking up the struggle against domestic violence and against violence against women. They were based in Boston. And during this time, there was really a spate of violent attacks against black women. Black women were being killed, in cases that were going unresolved. And this really shaped the political world that they were active in.

In 1977, they produced a document, that is really foundational in the politics of radical black feminism, called “The Combahee River Collective Statement,” which really both theorized aspects of black women’s oppression, but also connected that to strategies that they believed would be central to ending it, both in terms of how to link the struggles that black women face to the struggles of other oppressed people, which they called “coalition building,” but also the need to have transformative, revolutionary, radical politics.

And so, I think that, you know, this is the 40th anniversary—or last year, 2017, was the 40th anniversary of the publication of the statement. And part of my motivation for doing this book, which is a republication of the statement itself and interviews with the three authors of the statement, was to really try to introduce both the politics and the practice and, really, the lives and experiences of these women to a new generation of activists.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 20 seconds, but what would you say their message is to them today?

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: I think their message for them today is that it’s not enough just to identify the ways that black women are oppressed, but that it is important to synthesize that analysis with a plan of action. It is important to act, because that is the only way that black women will get free.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us. And we’re going to do Part 2 of this discussion and post it online at We’ll be broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival, following the documentary track, all week next week. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University. Her new book, How We Get Free.

I’m Amy Goodman. Happy birthday, Edith Penty!

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