by Lara Fielding
Frances Beal’s ‘Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female’ in ‘The Black Woman’s Manifesto’ was a ground-breaking essay written in 1969 during movements for women’s liberation and civil rights in America and distributed as a pamphlet by The Third World’s Women’s Alliance between 1970 and 1975.
‘Double Jeopardy’ was disseminated in America, under the Nixon presidency, in a context where ongoing state repression of ‘marginalised’ groups began to necessitate a working coalition between social movements. The Civil Rights Movement was developing into a wider Black Liberation, with increasing militancy practised by groups such as the Black Panthers. The movement for queer, then LGBT, liberation emerged out of the Stonewall Riots. Native American activists were holding Alcatraz Island. Troops were beginning to be withdrawn from Vietnam, and there was internal resistance against South African apartheid. The ongoing Women’s Liberation movement was becoming more intersectional and internationalist, reaching Oceania in 1969, and socialist, under key figures such as Angela Y. Davis. The circulation of grassroots organising tactics emerged in media, such as Fred Hampton’s ‘Power Anywhere Where There’s People’ and ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ by Gil Scott-Heron. Horizontalist radical education projects were evolving, viewing education as a practice of freedom, with texts such as Paulo Freire’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’. These new forms of political organisation were exercised within Women’s Liberation, through networks, and consciousness-raising groups.
‘Double Jeopardy’ is fairly trustworthy for historians studying the Women’s Liberation movement, as it is a key statement of principles of a leading American liberationist group, the Third World Women’s Alliance (TWWA). Beal is a writer and political activist, professional due to their active status and founding of the Black Women’s Liberation Committee of SNCC in 1968, which then became the TWWA in 1969. TWWA was a socialist women of colour-forward organisation, which engaged with anti-racist, anti-fascist and anti-imperialist organising with a gender perspective. In the primary source document, Beal writes in response to the dual operationalising of racism and sexism African-American women and other women of colour face, giving voice to a new feminist discourse previously alienated from the white middle-class streams of the movements of Women’s Liberation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Beal writes predominantly to inform, persuade, and stir up direct action in an audience of African-American women, but also appeals to the ‘means to destroy the humanity of all people’, broadening their speech to all potential readers.
‘Double Jeopardy’ was part of a history of black feminist organising, and, according to Beverly Guy-Sheftall, the founding director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center, the ‘most anthologised essay of the early years of the women’s liberation movement’.
‘A New World’
Beal’s ‘Double Jeopardy’, housed in ‘The Black Woman’s Manifesto’, was one of the earliest evocations of intersectionality, calling for a critique of capitalism, reproductive rights, and new forms of social and political organisation for the mobilising of ‘A New World’, a rebellion for black women’s and women of colour’s liberation wherein solidarity is key. ‘Double Jeopardy’ first offers a critique of capitalism, which necessitates the economic exploitation of black women and women of colour. Beal stresses that class oppression is not independent, but that the oppression of women acts as an ‘escape valve for capitalism’; and that black women are not exempt from hindering the collective worker’s struggle. Furthermore, Beal addresses how black reproductive rights have been de-privileged in the Women’s Liberation movement. ‘Double Jeopardy’ references forced sterilization (‘surgical genocide’) of black people and people of colour in India, early and compromising birth control pill testing in Puerto Rico, and coercion into sterilisation practices for black communities in continental US. The essay also condemns the lack of access to safe birth control methods and abortion services as attempts to ‘control’ black people and people of colour. ‘Double Jeopardy’ then challenges the racial hierarchies within the Women’s Liberation movement of late 1960s and early 1970s America, which privilege the rights of the white middle-class woman. Beal frames the titular ‘Double Jeopardy’, where black women and women of colour face the hybridisation of racism and sexism. Beal, using a persuasive tone throughout, calls for improved intersectionality and anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist rhetoric within the Women’s Liberation movement, or else ‘we do not have common bonds’. In the final section, Beal calls for the re-ignition of black political imagination in response to this ‘Double Jeopardy’, and for future generations. This involves the creation of new institutions, total involvement of individuals (‘to live for the revolution means taking on the more difficult commitment of changing our day-to-day life patterns’), and new forms of political organisation such as radical education groups. Beal calls for black women to operate at the forefront of Black Liberation, and positions solidarity between social movements as the key political tool for eliminating ‘all forms of oppression for all people’.
Reimagining in the Manifesto Form
The historian studying the Women’s Liberation movement may find ‘Double Jeopardy’ first significant for its assessment of intersectionality. Deborah K. King posits that Beal oversimplifies intersectionality in their dual challenge to racism and sexism, and that perhaps there was, and continues to be, a ‘third’ or ‘fourth jeopardy’ operating. Whilst Beal incisively observed that dual discrimination, for women of colour, entails economic oppression, they didn’t entirely incorporate this understanding into the conceptualisation of ‘Double Jeopardy’. King argues that Beal ‘does not fully convey the dynamics of multiple forms of discrimination’. Economic class oppression, as well as heterosexism or homophobia, are positioned as further autonomous sources of persecution, operating at the time of Women’s Liberation. ‘Double Jeopardy’ informs historians of the dual mindset of Beal and the TWWC, perhaps over-simplistic to the contemporary historian, but challenging for its audience at the time of Women’s Liberation, especially a conservative white middle-class readership. Angela Davis, in ‘Women, Race and Class’, notes that ‘if the most violent punishments of men consisted in floggings and mutilations, women were flogged and mutilated, as well as raped’. ‘Double Jeopardy’ is historically significant, as Beal challenges the centrism of whiteness within the Women’s Liberation movement, by explaining that racism is operationalised similarly to sexism. The essay is also historically significant as it speaks to issues not at the forefront of Women’s Liberation, such as coercive sterilisation of women of colour in the continental US. Whilst King suggests that multiplicative and additive relationships between forms of oppression would be better representative, and the contemporary historian tends to agree, Beal does show evidence of moving towards ‘a broader view of black consciousness’ in their strong calls for solidarity between social movements.
In a similar vein, Beal’s ‘Double Jeopardy’ is historically significant in the context of dominant trends in US feminist historiography, wherein historians fail to identify the roots of intersectionality in this moment. Nadine Naber suggests that there has been a ‘long history of alliances that have existed since at least the 1970s’ that have now aligned with contemporary radical women of colour movements such as Palestinian decolonisation. It is important to note that the source, although reliable, is highly subjective, failing to give insight into the internationalist expansion of the Women’s Liberation movement for the historian. Yet, Beal represents one of the earliest evocations of intersectionality, therefore could be positioned as forward-looking, in their call for solidarity in ‘A New World’. Internationalist analysis became more central as TWWA membership included Latinas and Asian American women. Linda Burnham posits the foundations of the Women of Color Resource Centre, in the work of figures like Beal in the late 1960s and early 1970s. ‘Double Jeopardy’ embodies ‘vision and practices of solidarity’ in a changed nature of rebellion, where ‘intersectional activism against system oppressions’ continues to be demonstrated, especially for people of colour. This raises historically important questions about the nature of rebellion and revolution, namely, if solidarity between groups paves the path for stronger and more collective change; or, how this could confuse the benefits of direct and affinitive action.
Beal’s ‘Double Jeopardy’, housed in ‘The Black Woman’s Manifesto’, is further historically significant for the strengths of its form as a manifesto. The drafting and circulation of manifestos is a persuasive method of political change liberationists employed in the early 1960s and late 1970s, which precedes and surpasses its historical moment. ‘The Black Woman’s Manifesto’, housing Beal’s work, sits in the tradition of a series of other feminist manifestos published at the time, such as ‘Redstockings Manifesto’, the ‘S.C.U.M. Manifesto’ and ‘The Woman-Identified Woman’. Liberationists drafted in this form in order to articulate a minority position and to, at times, maintain anonymity. The manifesto articulates clear and distinct aims, is easily distributed, and may be resilient across time. Echoing its genealogy within the New Left, the manifesto’s use of language, ‘we must’, ‘fighting’, ‘toppling those in power’, ‘life and death struggle’, and concise formatting makes it persuasive. It is significant for the historian studying ‘The Black Woman’s Manifesto’, containing Beal’s work, to note how the manifesto, as a method of political change, has changed over time. Beal’s ‘Double Jeopardy’ was disseminated physically, yet contemporary manifestos, such as the 2018 ‘The Xenofeminist Manifesto’, exist in a digital context, widening their reach and archival capacity. This speaks to the constant changing and unfolding of different methods of rebellion. Beal stresses the need to retain an active political imagination, or ‘utopian visions’, when seeking political change through the statement we live in a highly industrialised society and every member of the black nation must be as academically and technologically developed as possible.’ The ‘Black Woman’s Manifesto’, radical for its time, was historically significant in its promotion of education as a practice of freedom, and in its calling for institutional change for intersectional oppression.
Image source: Film still from “SHE’S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE’S ANGRY,” 2014, courtesy of MusicBoxFilms, https://www.musicboxfilms.com/film/shes-beautiful-when-shes-angry/.
Beal, Frances M. “Black women’s manifesto; double jeopardy: To be Black and female.” New York: Third World Women’s Alliance, 1969.
Giddings, Paula J. “Editors Introduction.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 8, no. 2 (2008): pp.v-vii.
King, Deborah K. “Multiple Jeopardy, Multiple Consciousness: The Context of a Black Feminist Ideology.” Open Dartmouth: Faculty Open Access Articles 14, no.1 (1988): 42-72.
Laboria Cuboniks. The Xenofeminist Manifesto: A Politics For Alienation. New York/London: Verso, 2018.
Naber, Nadine. “Arab and Black Feminisms: Joint Struggle and Transnational Anti-Imperial Activism.” Departures in Critical Qualitative Research 5, no.3 (2016): 116-125.
Peniel, Joseph. The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights – Black Power Era. New York: Routledge, 2006.