Triple oppression is a theory developed by black socialists in the United States, such as Claudia Jones. The theory states that a connection exists between various types of oppression, specifically classism, racism, and sexism. It hypothesizes that you must strike concurrently at all three types of oppression to overcome the oppression. It is also referred to as "double jeopardy," Jane Crow, or triple exploitation.
For an example of triple oppression in practice, consider a factory that contains both men and women of various ethnic backgrounds. If the workers hold racist and sexist beliefs, triple oppression says they will fail to unite to obtain better working conditions, because they are hamstrung by these beliefs.
Before triple oppression was termed, black female scholars of the 19th century discussed the unique oppressions of black women. As an abolitionist, Sojourner Truth affirmed the struggles she faced as a result of both her race and gender. Truth voiced opposition to the Fifteenth Amendment with the reasoning that more male power would lead to the greater oppression of black women. In a 1867 speech, she said, “...if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before.” Moreover, suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton stated that black women would suffer from a “triple bondage that man never knows” if they did not receive voting rights when colored men did. Anna Julia Cooper discussed black women’s double enslavement through race and gender. Moreover, in 1904, anti-lynching activist Mary Church Terrell explored the unique discrimination faced by black women when she wrote about colored women’s discrimination as a result of both their race and gender.
According to scholar Eric McDuffie, the term “triple exploitation” was coined in the 1930s by activist and Communist Party member Louise Thompson Patterson to describe the oppression pertaining to class, race, and gender suffered specifically by black women.
Triple oppression was popularized during a time of transition when the Old Left as a movement was rendered powerless post-World War II. Communism although prominent in earlier years, reached its highest peak in the political atmosphere in the 1960s. The Communist party was made up of immigrant members and foreign and the various coalitions formerly associated with the Socialist Party of America; those workers, many of whom were not fluent English-speakers, made little effort to include Black Americans and their rights even when both mirrored each other. As the Socialist Party was rising, still little effort was made to include many African-American members. Although leaders often were committed against racial segregation, many in the Socialist Party didn’t see the connection to racism and how it affected many in the United States. "Some African Americans dissatisfied by Socialist attitudes and their unwillingness to speak up about racial issues, joined the Communist party; others went to the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB), which was known for being a radical black liberation organization." Communist Party’s new concept introduced Triple Oppression focusing on Black women workers. This oppression is shown through, "The most privileged group members marginalizes those who are multiply-burdened and obscures claims that cannot be understood as resulting from discrete sources of discrimination." The party focused on the blatant issues of race, class, and gender while including intersectionality. After much frustration from black citizens and a reformulation of the Communist party, many African Americans joined the party to further the goal of equality. Eventually after World War I and II, the communist party underwent many splits that caused the party to get smaller and eventually disappear. Many groups came out of this including militant power movements like the Black Panther movement.
The concept of black women’s triple oppression was popularized within the Communist Party by party member Claudia Jones. Jones believed that black women’s triple oppression based on race, class, and gender preceded all other forms of oppression. Additionally, she theorized that by freeing black women, who are the most oppressed of all people, freedom would be gained for all people who suffer from race, class, and gender oppression. Jones saw that the Communist Party focused on the oppression of the white working-class male, and she criticized the party’s lack of recognition of the specific oppressions of black women in her book, “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman” (1949).
Jones was sure to articulate a socialist feminism that took into account not just race, but the disparate struggles of all working women. Jones felt that black American women experienced a unique form of oppression that was not acknowledged by feminism. She argued that with the liberation of black women, black nationalism would be much more achievable. She says on follows “once Negro women undertake action, the militancy of the whole Negro people, and thus of the anti-imperialist coalition is greatly enhanced.”
Jones’s views influenced other Communist women and black female activists, such as Angela Davis and the Combahee River Collective. Davis writes about triple oppression in her book, Women, Race, and Class (1981).
Double and Multiple Jeopardy
Frances Beale introduced the term “double jeopardy” in 1972 to describe the dual oppressions of black women. While she notes that these two oppressions are often linked to economic oppression, this idea was not included in the creation of the term.
According to Deborah K. King, racism, sexism, and classism are widely accepted as the major facets of the status of black women. However, some writers have suggested that homophobia should be an additional jeopardy in the black woman's experience. King believes that double jeopardy and triple jeopardy do not fully explain the relationship between the different oppressions faced by black women. Thus, King coined the term “multiple jeopardy” in 1988 to represent that oppressions are multiplicative, not additive. As such, King believes that different oppressions interact with other rather than acting independently.
Intersectionality and Triple Oppression
Intersectionality is simply the sister of Triple oppression while describing the various divisions of human beings. It simply is a deconstruction of categories such as race, class, and gender. “Ain't I a woman,” by Sojourner Truth is referenced often when divulging into intersectionality because it gives clear example of the black feminist movement and the multiple identities they manifested in. Triple oppression dives into these different categories, race, class, and gender, by developing an understanding of the way in which each work together often through injustices. Barbara Smith relates this combination by stating, “The concept of the simultaneity of oppression is still the crux of a Black feminist understanding of political reality and, I believe, one of the most significant ideological contributions of Black feminist thought.” Both intersectionality and Triple oppression show the neglect and subordination of many experiences of Black women and these played a vital role in the multitude of movements that prospered out of this.
Triple Oppression in Various Contexts
Political Participation in South Africa
In "Gender, Social Location, and Feminist Politics in South Africa" (1991), Shireen Hassim discusses how triple oppression negatively affects South African women's participation in politics. She argues that the rhetoric surrounding triple oppression at the time of the article's publication focuses too hard on the "additive relation between these different dimensions of oppression," and not enough on their interdependent and intersecting facets. Black women workers' struggles are often disregarded as one identity gets the most political attention. Race is politically prioritized, so that gender is seen as less important within the patriarchy, among both women and men. Hassim argues that women's issues exist as political agendas only within broader ones, such as labor movements and resistance to racism. Discouraged by the unreliability created by feminism's bad reputation in South Africa, black women focus less on women's issues and more on anti-apartheid and labor issues, where they may receive more support.
Hassim goes on to explain that because of the intersections between capitalism and patriarchy, labor, as a gendered issue, creates a "double shift" that discourages women from participating politically, because they are too busy juggling their roles as "wage-earners and managers of families." As women are "isolat[ed]...in the household," they are robbed of the opportunity to develop "a common consciousness of oppression or exploitation." If they cannot gather, women cannot organize. Hassim argues that it is a combination of patriarchal values that empower men and employment obligations in domestic and other service-based jobs that limit women's ability to become active in campaigns that would benefit them only: women's rights campaigns.
Employment Opportunities for Mexican-Americans
Denise Segura argues that the social inequality women of color face cannot be properly explained by an analysis any one of the facets that constitute triple oppression, because their subordination in social hierarchies is relative to men, white people, and higher-income strata. Chicana, or Mexican-American, women are subject to inequality in the home as well as in social contexts, such as the labor force. The relegation of women and minorities to traditionally low-paying jobs has made it so that Chicanas do not have many options for work outside of agriculture or domesticity, areas characterized by low wages and, therefore, low status. Discrimination based on race and gender and a reluctance to acculturate inhibit occupational mobility. Cultural cues and high fertility also encourage Mexican-American women to remain in the home and bear children instead of participating in the work force. The combination of race and gender bias and the inability to obtain white-collar jobs form the basis for the triple oppression felt by Mexican-American women. In turn, triple oppression limits Chicanas’ employment opportunities to low wages, lower than her male (Chicano) and white (women) counterparts, and “secondary” jobs e.g. clerical and factory jobs, effectively solidifying their status at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
Adrienne Ann Winans and Judy Tzu-Chun Wu argue that ‘othered' groups, such as racial minorities, suffer from poor job prospects because of their “designat[ion] as outsiders.” Groups marginalized by legal status and patriarchal values often find only low-paying work with little to no benefits or job security. Poor employment opportunities contribute to an intersectional subordination that includes legal status, gender, and race. Asian-American women’s organizational efforts in the 1960s and 1970s to counter such phenomena proved to facilitate them. According to Winans and Wu, female activists recognized a bias within their own activism circles which “relied on female labor but privileged male leadership.” Other manifestations of triple oppression in the Asian-American community are the exploitation of immigrant female workers, and gender roles that prescribe a duty to the “double shift.” Within the double shift, women are expected to not only procreate but also rear the products of their unions and contribute to the work force at the same time, a feat not demanded of their male counterparts.
While the term triple oppression has typically been reserved to describe the plights of working women of color, the phenomenon of three intersecting social burdens has plagued gay men. Diaz et. al’s 1999 study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that the combined impact of homophobia, racism, and poverty cause adverse psychological effects in Latino men, including low self-esteem, depression, sleeping problems, anxiety, and social alienation. A factor that does not arise in typical analyses of triple oppression is HIV incidence, but this study concludes that HIV status as a source of social discrimination to the likes of race and class correlates with higher psychological symptoms. Although gay men benefit from male privilege, they experience a measure of oppression in the form of systemic homophobia, with incidents of violence, belittlement, familial disapproval, job discrimination and police harassment.
- Communist Party
- Socialist Party
- Black Nationalism
- Black Feminism
- Oppression Olympics
- "Claudia Jones' Feminist Vision of Emancipation". www.aaihs.org. Retrieved 2016-12-05.
- Giddings, Paula (1984). When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. W. Morrow. p. 61. ISBN 978-0688146504.
- King, Deborah K. (1988). "Multiple Jeopardy, Multiple Consciousness: The Context of a Black Feminist Ideology". Signs. 14(1): 42–47 – via JSTOR.
- Lynn, Denise (2014). "Socialist Feminism and Triple Oppression: Claudia Jones and African American Women in American Communism". Journal for the Study of Radicalism. 8: 1–20.
- Solomon, Mark (October 2014). "Research files on African-Americans and communism 1919–1993". isreview.org. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
- Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum. pp. 139–67 – via http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1052&context=uclf.
The most privileged group members marginalizes those who are multiply-burdened and obscures claims that cannot be understood as resulting from discrete sources of discrimination.
- Lynn, Denise (September 8, 2016). "Claudia Jones' Feminist Vision Of Emancipation". African American Intellectual History Society. Retrieved November 10, 2016.
- Lynn, Denise (Fall 2014). "Socialist Feminism and Triple Oppression". Journal for the Study of Radicalism. 8 (2): 11.
- Goodman, Lizbeth (2013). Literature and Gender. Routledge. p. 153. ISBN 9781135636074.
- Yuval-Davis, Nira (2006-08-01). "Intersectionality and Feminist Politics". European Journal of Women's Studies. 13 (3): 193–209. doi:10.1177/1350506806065752.
- "Ain't I A Woman". www.sojournertruth.org. Retrieved 2016-12-04.
- Guy-Sheftall, Beverly (1995). "The Combahee River Collective Statement: Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought". www.circuitous.org. New York: The New Press. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
- Smith, Barbara (1982). "Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology". isreview.org. Rutgers University. Retrieved 2016-12-01.
- Hassim, Shireen (1991). "Gender, Social Location, and Feminist Politics in South Africa" (PDF). Transformation. 15: 65–82.
- Segura, Denise. (1984). Chicanas and Triple Oppression in the Labor Force. National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Annual Conference. 12th Annual: Chicana Voices - Austin, Texas. Paper 9. 47-65.
- Widans, Adrienne Ann; Tzu-Chun Wu, Judy (2016). "Not Adding and Stirring: Women's, Gender, and Sexuality History and the Transformation of Asian America". The Oxford Handbook of Asian American History. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 470–483. ISBN 9780190614034.
- Diaz, Rafael; Ayala, George; Bein, Edward; Henne, Jeff; Marin, Barbara (2001). "The impact of homophobia, poverty, and racism on the mental health of gay and bisexual Latino men: Findings from 3 US cities". American Journal of Public Health. 91(6): 927–932 – via Science Citation Index.
- Davies, Carole Boyce. Claudia Jones: Beyond Containment (Ayebia Clarke Publishing Ltd), Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2011.
- Davies, Carole Boyce. Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones, Duke University Press Books, 2008.
- Viehmann, Klaus. Three Into One: The Triple Oppression Of Racism, Sexism And Class, Paper Street, 2004.
- All India Democratic Women's Association. The Triple Burden: Some Issues of Class and Caste Oppression of Women (AIDWA publication series), B. Karat on behalf of AIDWA, 1999.
- Nakano Glenn, Evelyn. (1985). Racial ethnic women's labor: The intersection of race, gender and class oppression. Review of Radical Political Economics, 17(3), 86-108.
- Three Into One: The Triple Oppression of Racism, Sexism, and Class, by Klaus Viehmann, hosted by Senza Censura.org
- Claudia Jones profile, hosted on Black History Pages.net.