Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.

MAKERS Moment

Being Stereotyped

Being Stereotyped

More From Barbara

In this video

Smith describes the maddening burden of facing negative stereotypes her whole life.

Barbara's Biography

Cause of Choice: Albany Family Education Alliance
Most Proud Of: Functioning with integrity and being humane in a world in which it isn't always valued.
Personal Canon: Groundbreaking and now-underappreciated novelist Ann Petry. She ranks Petry’s The Street with better-known masterpieces like Richard Wright’s Native Son.
Most Meaningful Advice Received: "You can catch more flies with honey, than you can with vinegar."

Barbara Smith and her twin sister Beverly are the products of a powerful upbringing. As young girls growing up in Cleveland, they were surrounded by an extended family made up entirely of intellectually and politically-oriented women. A librarian aunt brought books home and made the house a center for discussion and pointed political awareness. "I'm kind of a natural activist," she later told Ms. magazine. "By the time I was eight I noticed that things were not fair." Barbara joined Mount Holyoke’s class of 1969 and was quickly among a wave of scholars and critics leading in the definition of a distinctive African-American women’s literary tradition and establishing Black women’s studies in college and university curricula.
 
The new critical approach in turn informed political action and in 1974 Smith co-founded the Combahee River Collective, an early and influential Black feminist group. Her leadership made the group a conscience for different movements by calling attention to the ways racism, classism, homophobia, and sexism intersect. When feminists were ignoring issues of race, Smith was there. And when African-Americans were indulging in homophobia, she was there, too. "We understood that dealing with sexual politics didn't mean you weren't a race woman, and that speaking out about homophobia didn't mean that you didn't want to end poverty." Smith’s political action—recognized in a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize nomination—has continued to be interwoven with writing and criticism. She co-founded, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the first US publisher of women of color, in 1980. She is currently serving her second term as a member of the Albany Common Council.

Related Videos

Majora Carter
Majora Carter
Community Developer

Majora Carter became passionate about community development while completing her MFA at New York University, advocating for the development of Hunts Point Riverside Park, the South...

Dusty Roads
Dusty Roads
Stewardess Fighting Discrimination

Barbara “Dusty” Roads is a former stewardess and union leader who led a landmark sex discrimination case in the airline industry. She was born and raised in Cleveland, ...

Marissa Mayer
Marissa Mayer
CEO of Yahoo!

Marissa Mayer is the President and CEO of Yahoo!. Before taking the reins at Yahoo!, she spent most of her career at Google, going from one of its early engineers to Vice President...

Alice Walker
Alice Walker
Pulitzer Prize Winning Author

Growing up in the South prior to and during the Civil Rights Movement, had a major impact on the life and career of novelist, poet, and activist, Alice Walker. The eighth child of ...