Joanne Kilgour Dowdy has edited a significant book that should be of interest to educators who are concerned with issues pertaining to literacy, culture, and social justice. The title of the book speaks to the connection between the reading of the secret symbols hidden in quilts that led the way to freedom for slaves and the reading of symbols and messages in print by Black women. To her surprise several years ago in a course she taught entitled "Black Women and Literacy" at Kent State University, Dowdy discovered that there were six Black, female graduate students enrolled concurrently. As a Black woman who recently completed a doctoral program at a major Midwestern research institution, I can attest to the rarity of this occurrence. For example, according to a report prepared by the National Opinion Research Center, in 2003 only 6.5 percent of recipients of doctoral degrees were African Americans. In addition, a portion of African American doctoral students often graduate from historically Black universities such as Howard, South Carolina State, Tennessee State and Clark Atlanta. http://www.jbhe.com/news_views/46_blacks_doctoraldegrees.html This means that most African American graduate students are not likely to encounter five or six Blacks simultaneously enrolled in one course. Dowdy edited the class papers of the six Black female graduate students and included them in this volume along with the essays of three professors who have been teaching Black, female students for an average of 10 or 12 years each. These three professors wrote their chapters in order to describe their learning experiences with Black women. Overall, the book contains thirteen essays written by Dowdy, the professors and the graduate students.
These essays address a variety of issues that are relevant to the lives of Black women ranging from feature films to Black literature to urban education to storytelling to being on welfare. Despite the range of perspectives among the authors, several common themes resurface throughout this book. The first is the intersection of forces of oppression and the manner in which they affect the lives of Black women. In 1892, in her book A Voice from the South, the feminist scholar Anna Julia Cooper wrote, "[t]he colored woman of to-day occupies, one may say, a unique position in this country. . . . She is confronted by both a woman question and a race problem, and is as yet an unknown or an unacknowledged factor in both" (p. 134). Similarly, a number of female scholars of critical race theory, a multidisciplinary epistemology that places race at the center of analysis, have written about how forces of oppression run parallel to one another and at times intersect (e.g., Wing, 1997). Wing writes, "[w]hile mainstream feminism asserts that society is patriarchal, it does not 'race' patriarchy; it overlooks the fact that this domination affects women and men of color differently than white women" (p. 3). The authors in this volume give voice to and speak specifically of the distinctive experiences of Black women. Many of them touch upon the notion that Black women are influenced not only by race but by gender and class as well. For example, this is illustrated in a chapter written by Sandra Golden entitled "Black and on Welfare: What You Don't Know about Single Parent Women," in which she describes her experiences as a former single parent who at one time received public assistance. Golden described how she experienced class and perhaps racial discrimination on the part of a caseworker who mistakenly assumed that she was indolent and uneducated.