On my life journey of educating myself on Black culture/Black culture within White supremacy and on the ways sexism and patriarchy impact Black women, I’ve come to find some very unsettling similarities in the way the conversations on these topics tend to go down between members of the privileged group and the non-privileged group. These similarities I’ve noticed are methods used to maintain the current hierarchy and paradigm. Here are some of my findings based on my own experiences and conversations, articles I’ve read and many comments/discussions I’ve come across on social media:
- Respectability Politics. The same way Black people are constantly told (implied or directly) how to act, dress, walk, speak, laugh, high-five, blink, and breathe, etc., in order to be accepted and avoid mistreatment, Black women are constantly told how to behave in order to get, keep, and please a man or earn his respect. The result is a severe power imbalance since the privileged party is absolved from taking ownership of their offensive behavior while the other party is burdened with the responsibility of maintaining a healthy, stable and balanced relationship/interaction. For example, here’s a link to one of the many memes that floats around on the internet encouraging Black women to engage in the dysfunction of assuming all of the responsibility for another adult’s behavior and never demand reciprocity. http://amandaseales.tumblr.com/post/87635862283. *Update: Here’s an even better example of how Black women are forced to adhere to respectability politics and take on the responsibility of an adult man’s misbehavior https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152928513849522. It is a video of a woman being street harassed for wearing tiny shorts, accompanied by an “open letter” written by the person posting the video to address not the men’s disrespectful and outrageous behavior but to berate the woman for dressing incorrectly and stating that she deserved to be harassed, followed, and in fear of her life because grown men are unable to control themselves.
- Disappearing Acts. The same way Black/African contributions are often erased from the retelling of history (either in schools or in the media), Black women’s important contributions to religion/spirituality, politics, science, music, etc. are routinely overlooked, save for the obligatory nods to Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks.
- Hostile/Irrational Responses towards Attempts at Self-Empowerment. The extreme paranoia and hostility the Black community has towards Black feminism or any form of Black Women’s Empowerment (BWE) type of philosophy is reminiscent of the fear and paranoia the Black Muslims in America ignited in the White (and Black) community in the 50’s and 60’s. Malcolm X touches on this a lot in his autobiography. Black Nationalism has also sparked the same reaction. Just like in the case of Black Muslims & Black Nationalists, despite the many benefits of feminism/BWE that Black women attempt to highlight, there are no good faith efforts made to engage with them in a meaningful discussion. Rather, it is perceived as a threat to the established order of things and arrogantly dismissed. (The other layer to this flat-out rejection of feminism is that it is perceived to be rooted solely in Western/European beliefs and inherently unAfrican. However, African women have existed since forever and while they may not have named it “feminism”, we can be sure that ancient African women had a way of balancing the power dynamic between them and African men. To believe otherwise is frankly naive and foolish.)
- Sellouts and Traitors. Just like there have been Black people known to align with White politics and thinking at the expense of Black interests or known to cling passionately to “respectability politics” with the goal of gaining White approval and acceptance and access to their resources (i.e. “cooning”, “Sambos”, “caping for racists” see the Charles Barkley & the T.I/Iggy Azalea controversies), it is not uncommon to hear or witness Black women align themselves with patriarchal views, at the expense of the collective interest of women, in hopes of seeking male validation and a seat at their table. Some of the biggest proponents of sexism are women.
- Rationalizing/Excusing bad behavior. Just like there are always excuses for White racism (“it’s just ignorance” or “they don’t have a lot of Black friends”), Black male domination over and abuse of Black women has routinely been justified (if not totally denied) with a bunch of useless excuses like “it’s because he feels emasculated” “the system tears him down so he takes it out on the woman”. Listen. After awhile, the reasons don’t matter. No one truly gives a damn why you’re an abusive ass. Just stop being one. Thanks.
- Derailing. Just like Black people’s attempts to highlight racism and White privilege were/are routinely derailed with “stop playing the race card”, “don’t be so dramatic”, “but not all White people are…” or accusing Black people of “reverse racism”, Black women are often silenced with similar derailing comments, such as “But not all men are/there are good Black men who…” or Black women are labeled as being “divisive” or “bitter” and ordered to “stop being in their emotions” whenever they attempt to bring to light important matters unique to their experience as women (As an aside: “Stop being in your emotions” always confused me, as if being emotional is bad by default. It’s rooted in this belief that anything associated with the female/feminine is bad and cannot be trusted. Guided emotions help to fuel the work needed to make changes & get things done. I’m pretty sure there would have been no major social revolutions or slave uprisings without someone “getting all in their emotions”. It’s a gift not a female curse and should be treated as such).
- Downplaying & Denying. The disturbing details of how racism and racist policy structures have worked and continue to work against the Black community are often swept under the rug, especially in public discourse, even though it affects all Black people to some degree or another. Similarly, the unique traumas that Black women have experienced on account of their gender are rarely discussed in public/within the Black community even though rape, molestation, colorism, physical, sexual, emotional & financial abuse are very common experiences for them/us. The twisted logic seems to be if we don’t talk about it, we can pretend it doesn’t happen. But who does that benefit? Definitely not Black women.
- Muling. And just like it’s not a Black person’s responsibility to magically make a racist not a racist, it is not a Black woman’s responsibility to tirelessly educate Black men on how to not be sexist. That’s on them. And it requires 1) truly seeing Black women as vital and supremely important members of the Black community 2) caring enough about Black women’s well-being to see the value in eliminating sexist and patriarchal ideas, 3) acknowledging that one can experience racism but still benefit from male privilege 4) checking that privilege and 5) putting in a good faith effort towards listening when Black women share their experiences as women, instead of putting efforts into questioning and picking apart their arguments under the bs guise of playing the “Devil’s Advocate”. The Devil has enough advocates.
Racism is not the only demon the Black community must battle. We must fight against sexism as well if we’re going to make any real progress. There’s an Ashanti proverb that says “The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people”. By perpetuating or downplaying sexism we do nothing but facilitate Black women’s pain and suffering. In turn the community suffers and we are left vulnerable to further degradation and ruin.