Date of Award

Fall 2022

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Cultural Studies, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Darrell Moore

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Linda Perkins

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

David Luis-Brown

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2022 Melanie Lindsay


Abolitionist self-care, Activism, Black Feminist, Black Women, Self-Care, Wellness

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Ethnic Studies | Women's Studies


My dissertation, “An Exploratory Analysis of How Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, and Patrisse Cullors Radicalized the Meaning and Practice of Self-Care”, hypothesizes that we can conceive a practice of self-care using an abolitionist lens to examine the writings and performances of three Black feminists Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, and Patrisse Cullors. Abolitionist self-care is a response to the political structures that directly affect marginalized communities, and it evaluates the numerous ways that Black women have used their voice to challenge systems of oppression. If we examine their thinking as expressed through their poetry, their performances (including activism), and their self-life-writing, would we be able to locate a practice that robustly sustains lives often lived under conditions of duress? If we can respond to this question affirmatively, how does their expressions yield such an ethics of self-care? The questions of my project are animated by an interest in how Black feminist intellectuals enact their practice ethically. Their work challenges current literature that focuses on self-care, which has, in recent decades, come to be understood as a commoditized experience of individualistic wellness. The turn in the literature on self-care exists in tension with Lorde’s assertion that “[C]aring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare”. My project emerges from the following question. How does Lorde’s claim about self-care fit into the discourse of self-care composed by other feminist, particularly Black feminist, poets, essayists, and educators? My dissertation takes up Lorde’s claim, which is contrary to self-care advocates, and explores how she as well as Angelou and Cullors produce practices of self-care that are sourced in the communal lives of Black women and resist commoditization. My dissertation further evaluates how Black women have historically developed and deployed practices of self-care that were also forms of activism and empowerment. Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Jacobs, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Pauli Murray, and Mary Church Terrell among numerous other Black women were activists, abolitionists, and educators who devoted their lives to fighting for equality and justice. They were Black feminist pioneers who inspired Black women to resist the social norms of their times and served as an example of what is possible when Black women work together and exercise their humanity. During their era, their actions were referred to as “racial uplift”. My dissertation will ask whether “racial uplift” is congruent with abolitionist self-care. I will argue that Black women historically, have been encouraged to be silent, and to embrace a subordinate role. Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God acknowledged that social norm and stated “[I]f you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it”. Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is fiction, yet it powerfully represents an aspect of Black women’s culture; namely, that silence will lead to figurative and literal erasure. My dissertation seeks to understand how the lives and art of Angelou, Lorde, and Cullors build upon the history of activism, and community organizing.