Feminist Invisibility in the 1970s: Race, Region, and Representations of Patsy Takemoto Mink

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 1:50 PM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Judy T. Wu, University of California, Irvine
In the 1970s, Patsy Mink, the first woman of color U.S. Congressional representative, ran for president, co-sponsored Title IX, and advocated for federally funded child care.  Mink’s efforts and achievements, however, have been eclipsed in the historical record and popular imagination.  Shirley Chisholm is often regarded as the first non-white Congressional Representative, even though she was elected in 1968, four years after Mink.  Chisholm’s 1972 presidential campaign electrified the country and inspired feminist biographical writings and a documentary film.  However, Mink and Chisholm ran for the presidency during the same year and even arranged to avoid electoral competition by not campaigning in the same primaries.  

This presentation examines why Mink has been “missing” in the historical accounts of 1970s feminism.  I argue that her relative absence in the academic and popular imagination stems from particular understandings of race and region.  Chisholm and Mink both grew up on islands subject to U.S. colonial influence, namely Barbados and the territory of Hawai’i.  However, Chisholm’s incorporation into the U.S. as an African American gave her a certain racial legibility in the context of civil rights and black power.  In contrast, Mink’s Japanese American identity, legitimated by the granting of statehood to Hawai’i, continued to represent exotic otherness.  Asianness did not have the equivalent political capital as blackness in the 1970s.  In addition, their regional base, Hawaii for Mink and Brooklyn for Chisholm, reinforced their differential racial legibility.  The greater New York area was central for political dialogue and movement building.  In contrast, the archipelago in the Pacific was literally and politically off the map for most continental and Washington based politicians and activists.  My presentation explores how Mink’s Japanese American and Hawaiian background shaped popular, political, and academic understandings of her role in feminist movements of the 1970s.