Advancing Black Feminism In Public Health

Dr Quinn M. Gentry

By Dr. Quinn M. Gentry

Welcome to my blog on “Advancing Black Feminism in Public Health.” My goal is to move black feminism from the margins to the center of public health by applying 10 key principles as legitimate and comprehensive frameworks for adequately addressing health threats and related social and structural determinants of health in the lives of black women and girls.

Principle 5:
Challenge the Matrix of Domination

In this blog, I highlight the significance of principle no. 5 (of 10): Challenge the matrix of domination in advancing black feminism in public health. As articulated in Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought, the matrix of domination refers to the hierarchical power relations in organizations that govern our society. Within public health, the matrix of domination operates as social and structural determinants of health in the everyday lives of black women and girls.

“A matrix of domination standpoint explains the inherent difficulty of obtaining health equity by adequately addressing intersecting systems of oppression with unilateral program and policy changes.”

My work in advancing black feminism in public health deconstructs Hill Collins’ conceptualization of the matrix of domination into four (4) domains of power operating within public health systems and organizations.


1. Consciousness-raising

In advocating for black women’s health equity, we must strengthen our competencies in structural interventions in order to confront the matrix of domination. In my view, enhanced educational options are more appropriate for younger marginalized individuals. However, economic interventions have the potential for greater impact in the lives of those over the age of 18, who have experienced years of systemic socio-economic barriers. Economic empowerment programs addressing structural determinants of health should include the following core elements:

Living-wage Job Pursuit:

  • Strength-based assessments and interest profiles in search of transferrable skills and passion
  • Living wage job training with career advancement opportunities
  • Life coaching to navigate persistent systemic barriers and to address adverse lifestyle and behaviors

Entrepreneurial Pursuit:

  • Entrepreneurial coaching and curriculum-based business planning and management that takes literacy and blemished records into account
  • Role models and examples of marginalized people who achieved entrepreneurial success against the odds and systemic barriers
  • Access to financial capital for scaling entrepreneurial enterprises

2. Complementary approaches

I selected sociological perspectives as conceptual frameworks for challenging the matrix of domination in public health. Collectively, they serve as intellectual tools for confronting the taken-for-granted practices that heighten marginalized groups’ public health threats.


  • Gans Positive Functions of Poverty highlights 15 economic, social, cultural, and political dimensions of dominant groups benefiting from the matrix of domination.  Among these 15 functions of poverty, some have direct implication for public health, including: (1)  relegating the poor to menial low wage jobs with no health insurance; (2) the poor being taken-for-granted patients for teaching medical students; and (3) continued exploitation of poor people as subjects of medical experiments, especially biomedical trials that more affluent members of society are not willing to risk their health on, to advance medical breakthroughs. 


  • Social Reproduction Theory is relevant for examining how inter-generational social, economic, and educational inequalities impact morbidity, mortality, and heighten health threats associated with lifestyle choices and built environments.


  • Merton’s Strain Theory explains what happens when social institutions fail to grant equal access toward achieving “The American Dream”.  According to Merton, people who face strain (systems barriers) in pursuit of socially acceptable goals adapt in ways deemed deviant by societal standards.


  • Social conflict theory was introduced in blog 3 and is relevant for challenging the matrix of domination as well. Specifically, conflict theorists argue that the overall social and structural systems within which public health and medical services are provided are exploitative by design; and therefore, to obtain the level of equity envisioned by a social justice paradigm in public health would require a massive redistribution of power and related resources.


  • Radical Feminism stems from the conflict sociological perspective, and is concerned with how the matrix of domination oppresses women and privileges (white) men through patriarchal practices. Radical feminists advocate for dismantling systems built to benefit privileged white men at the expense and exploitation of other oppressed groups of people.

3. Creative Innovative Structural Interventions

“What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable."

As Lorde suggests, in challenging the matrix of domination in public health, we must trade “narrow parameters” for more ambitious structural interventions that enhance disenfranchised people’s economic opportunities. For all the reasons articulated in the consciousness raising points earlier, I advocate for greater investments in helping people who have been damaged by the matrix of domination in entrepreneurship. In leading by example, and based on my own background in brand management and new business development, my contribution to addressing the matrix of domination from an economic empowerment standpoint has been to teach an entrepreneurial workshop I developed titled: “Give it All You Got!: Unleashing Your Entrepreneurial Spirit”:

The "Give It all You Got!: Unleashing Your Entrepreneurial Spirit" Workshop Modules
at a Glance

4. Call to Action

"The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house."

Embracing a black feminist standpoint in public health means challenging ineffective tools aimed at addressing health issues for black women and girls.

Blog5 Standalone

In challenging the matrix of domination in public health, understand that not only are you confronting unfair systems and practices, but you may also be threatening the very livelihoods of those who benefit from the continued demise of marginalized peoples.

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