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April 2013

By using the contradictions between her life as an African American woman and the qualities ascribed to women, Sojourner Truth exposes the concept of woman as being culturally constructed. Her life as a second-class citizen has been filled with hard physical labor, with no assistance from men. Her question, ‘and ain’t I a woman?’ points to the contradictions inherent in blanket use of the term woman. For those who question Truth’s femininity, she invokes her status as a mother of thirteen children, all sold off into slavery, and asks again, ‘and ain’t I a woman?’ Rather than accepting the existing assumptions about what a woman is and then trying to prove that she fit the standards, Truth challenged the very standards themselves. Her actions demonstrate the process of deconstruction―namely, exposing a concept as ideological or culturally constructed rather than as natural or a simple reflection of reality. By deconstructing the concept woman, Truth proved herself to be a formidable intellectual. And yet Truth was a former slave who never learned to read or write. Examining the contributions of women like Sojourner Truth suggests that the concept of intellectual must itself be deconstructed. Not all Black women intellectuals are educated. Not all Black women intellectuals work in academia. Furthermore, not all highly educated Black women, especially those who are employed in U.S. colleges and universities, are automatically intellectuals. U.S. Black women intellectuals are not a female segment of William E. B. DuBois’s notion of the “talented tenth.” One is neither born an intellectual nor does one become one by earning a degree. Rather, doing intellectual work of the sort envisioned within Black feminism requires a process of self-conscious struggle on behalf of Black women, regardless of the actual social location where that work occurs.


Patricia Hill Collins

This is in regards to Sojourner Truth’s famous speech, Ain’t I A Woman? I like that Collins recognizes the incredible level of thinking that Truth had, despite no access to formal education, and doesn’t conflate formal education with being an intellectual, but also doesn’t require the social location of the academe to be one that should be a source of shame for Black women who are consistently challenging the problematic nature of those spaces, from inside and outside.

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