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In general, women of all races have experienced various predicaments in their positions of leadership. Modern women are emerging from a past era which saw women regarded as highly inferior and incompetent in their capacities to successfully embark on similar endeavors as their male counterparts. Since those times women have gravely fought for equal rights and this has endowed them with various forms of protection rights. Their struggles continue on even as they become marred by never ending stereotypes which plague the society at large. For white females, their fight has only been focused on gender based concerns as their race has been predominantly acknowledged as the ideal societal construct. However, African American women have had to grapple with both gender and race issues. This literature review showcases various strongholds in feminist studies which offer support for female African American leaders. Both critical race feminism and the black feminist theory provide justification for female African American leadership. African American women are presented as being a part of a unique minority group which requires to address both gender based and racial concerns. As such, leadership becomes a crucial endeavor in trying to overcome the existing stereotypes.
Bearing its roots from the critical race theory, it is crucial to understand the critical race feminism perspective while affirming female African American leadership. Formulated by early scholars, critical race theory is a movement whose perspective on race racism and power is far removed from the traditional civil rights perspectives. Questioning the very essence of the equality order which appertains to matters of race allows critical race theorists to understand these entities at an extended level and thereafter form unique transformations to the legal perspective of race. Their beliefs as ascertained by Delgado and Stefancic (2001, p.8) are engraved in this theory's tenets including the ordinary approach to racism and also the social constructivism of race. Seeking to protect marginalized minority group's rights, this movement has in turn led to the birth of critical race feminism. This has been mainly so as to further grasp the realm of race in the life of women of color.
Critical race feminism is considerably inclusive of a race intrusion in the feminist dialogue as this perspective does acknowledge the feminists' emphasis of the presence of continuing gender oppression in today's society. However, the proponents of this theory fail to completely align themselves with feminists as they claim such movements are suspect to the generalized definition of women's issues as those affecting white women. In fact as Hooks (2000, p.55) portends, the American feminism has evolved significantly due to the acknowledgement of the reality of race. White women are distinctly aware of the different status that they uphold as opposed to other women of color. In essence, the same must be accepted by black men of the existing differences between themselves and their female counterparts. In this light critical race feminists are more involved in accentuating the individual characteristic issues faced by different women of color. As such, African American women are rendered powerful and are no longer voiceless or submissive to social traditions. African American leaders are often in social conflicts emerging from discrimination from the dominant white race and also from their own male African Americans who also tend to comprehend their dilemma. Their misguided perception is that female African Americans experience racism just like them and also failed to accept the presence of sexism in the African American community. It is thus crucial for African American Women to take up their own fight and instigate critical race feminism.
Leadership entails the presence of legitimate power in the individual leader so as to influence and impart authority amongst their followers. Female African American women can only derive this sort of power from either shared similarities or differences with their followers. This mindset clearly brings out a problem for African American women trying to make it as leaders in predominantly white organizations. With critical race feminism they are accorded an audience with which they share both similarities and differences and where their leadership is highly authenticated. Female African American leadership has rather been designed by historical and cultural forces. They have worked towards eliminating the oppressive barriers that are somewhat accompanied by their culture and history. In addition, race and gender is what challenges African American women leaders the most.
Byrd (2009) illustrates the case of African American women in educational leadership who continue to experience tentative power play with other stakeholders especially in white institutions. In particular instances these women have had their contributions in these institutions undermined and are rarely recognized. In order to bridge this gap, critical race feminism offers strong support for African American women. This is mainly because African American women are at a crossroad position where they have been interlocked by gender, race and social class differential constraints. Following this, their experiences as leaders cannot be understood in a general perspective but instead on concentrating on the African American women leaders only. Critical race feminism unravels this underlying cover and exposes African American women to a view which is crucial to their success as leaders.
The critical race feminism approach places the experiences women leaders encounter with race, gender and class at a focal evaluation consequently reformulating past leadership perspectives. In traditional perspectives leadership was seen as racially neutral and interconnected with a dichotomy of misguided perceptions of masculine and female leadership. However with the use of experience narrations in the critical race feminism approach, the dismal conditions of African American women leaders become more real to the entire society. Indeed their struggles as leaders and their emergence as strong leaders mandate the society to recognize their efforts and capabilities as able leaders.
Parker (2005, p.61) argues that African American women leaders share leadership traditions which have necessitated the embracing of change and resistance of racial and cultural domination and the social constructs of power. As such, African American women understand that the same aspects need to be addressed in other sectors especially in the twenty first century. They see relationships and identities as dynamic and ones which require special attention. With a modern workplace which is highly fragmented in terms of race, gender and class, African American women offer a new perspective to organizational leadership where employees are understood with respect to their existing differences and similarities. Often, African American women interact in the workplace under double contexts interactions between themselves and other white executive peers and other African American colleagues. Conflicts arising from these interactions basically revolve around the African American woman leader's identity as an African American woman and the question of whether they fit into the role of leadership. These forms of reactions have been shaped by existing racial discourses and a lack of diverse multiculturalism. Despite this, it is evident that such women are at the forefront of expressing the ongoing struggles of the African American woman leader. They also become instrumental in highlighting the various perceptions of the underlying conflict and the eventual resolution of the same. This invites the views of critical race feminists who reinforce the importance of centering the issues of marginalized groups in a bid to eliminate the existing racial discourses which encourage their exclusion.
Another theory which also tends to separate the experiences of African American women and highlighting their unique differences is the black feminist theory. This theory showcases a black feminist consciousness which basically assumes that African American women have endured through history and as Code (2000, p.56) explains, their experiences are integral in understanding their racial, gender and class predicaments in the midst of a predominantly white society. Their recognition as leaders becomes influenced by the evolvement of this black feminist perspective. More so, it has become known as an empowering force which greatly alters the place of women in modern leadership. Shared perspectives from these women's perspectives have evolved an epistemology which can further their recognition as leaders. Collins (2000, p.219) stipulates various elements of female African American knowledge. These aspects include the use of dialogue in knowledge evaluation as they search for the truth. Their capacity to instigate dialogue allows them to formulate discussions amongst conflicting parties under their jurisdiction. Another aspect which is incorporated in African American women's epistemology is the ethic capacity for personal responsibility and accountability. Experience has indulged African American women as capable of upholding their duty for accountability and also influencing others to honor theirs also. This incorporates issues of moral behaviors and their role in social cohesion and inclusive leadership.
Post industrial organizations are often managed under functionalist frameworks which authorize the inclusiveness of all workers. The leader also endeavors to increase the subordinates' motivational levels by fostering cordial relations with them. This is when the respect for dialogue and personal accountability becomes critical especially in the implementation of the organization's objectives. Other African American epistemological views include the ethics of caring. African American women develop an affective attitude which prompts their caring involvements with their subordinates and other colleagues. As an African American woman leader, empathy is vital in organizational management. Identifying with employee's struggles and acknowledging the differences which exist among them be it race, gender, culture and class related makes it possible for them to incorporate these issues in their administration. It is this show of empathy which is bound to draw more respect for the authority of African American women leaders.
A distinct concept has emerged with respect to black feminism and the existing epistemological thoughts. This factor is the evident existence of a wide array of knowledge and experience. This concrete experience is highly prioritized as the African American woman's authority as a leader. In essence, only female African Americans can participate in this constitution of black feminism and similarly engage in the process of leadership. This advances their authority and authenticates their indiscriminate search for recognition. Despite the fact that black feminism is not a unified ideology, it still remains a theory which puts African American central in its discussion.
Black feminists have always been in existence in the society but have had their voices constrained by numerous barriers. It is only in recent times that these feminists have started to emerge and also voiced their claims. African American women have in the past been put in a generalized category where their issues are rendered insignificant. As a result they are pressurized to remain close mouthed on their experiences even in the realm of white feminism movements. It has been inevitable that these women would curve out a niche for themselves and the space which they have been continuously denied. Leadership in the black feminist movement has centered on giving African American women a voice, developing beneficial paths and also providing them with direction. Indeed as Chin and Lott (2007, p.283) claim, black feminist leadership is one which is implemented through the "leading by example" notion. These leaders take it upon themselves to become societal pillars and role models who can shape the growth of young people in the society.
A look at black feminist leadership showcases the presence of ideal leadership in African American women. This precedence is made a reality through their responsibility of ensuring that they create opportunities for change for the benefit of those to whom they serve. Black feminist leaders endeavor to motivate fellow black women to create favorable conditions for the success of their fight against gender and racial oppression. In igniting the women's desire for change and success these leaders are able to empower them in mighty and fundamental ways. Regardless of fellow women's social classes, black feminist leaders are brought together by their affiliations of gender and race and take up their struggles as they would their very own. Clearly, this is the kind of leader who would apply the same principles in modern day organizational leadership. The capacity to influence employees or followers and to motivate them in achieving their goals cannot be underestimated when it comes to African American women leadership. The same applies to leadership in the twenty first century where globalization requires the presence of authoritative figures that are capable of affecting change and instilling development at the same time.
From the views of critical race feminism and black feminist theory it emerges that African American women are predisposed to unique conditions which generate strong comprehensive leadership skills. Their past experiences have allowed them to not only understand the various perspectives of privilege but also those of oppression. Indeed, they are transformational individuals whose leadership can only be accentuated in the modern society. Such leaders who provide a sound foundation for such societal values of accountability, morality, respect and empathy among others are needed in steering the society into the unpredictable future. As problem solvers and motivation enablers, they are central to the success of their institutions or organizations. Support and recognition of current female African American leaders will serve as a model for exemplary leadership amongst future generations.