Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why This Black Feminist Will Always Be Concerned About Black Male Issues

(March for Eric Garner in NYC)

Many Black women are deeply hurt by anti-Black misogyny. Although anti-Black misogyny comes from everywhere it seems to be a particular betrayal when it comes from Black men.

Social media and the internet in general has increased the visibility of Black men's sexism. There's always a new Twitter screen-cap saying something very hurtful about Black women. There's always a new article.

And then Black women turn on the radio and hear these same messages reflected in music performed by Black men. They walk outside and see the same messages reinforced in Black men they meet.

It's hard to imagine how one might not become bitter or start to view all Black men as inherently anti-Black women.

And yet, I find the position of viewing Black men as being collectively against Black women and calling it Black feminism as extremely dangerous. And furthermore I find it counter-productive.

But that is the new wave I am noticing within Black feminist activism. I see Black feminists co-opting liberal white feminism and putting Black-face on it.

It's not about rectifying the wrongs of Black patriarchy in a progressive and helpful way. Now everything is sullied by a deep disillusionment and resentment. And there's almost a push for gender separatism or to view Black men as nothing but an enemy.

To me it risks repeating history but in the reverse. Post-Moynihan Report there were many Black men who subscribed to the idea that Black women were the enemy. It wasn't white supremacy. It wasn't capitalism. It wasn't the American government. It was Black women. This is what a white man told them and what many of them believed. We're talking late 1960s and early 1970s.

This was a grand departure from the Civil Rights era. Although patriarchy was firmly cemented in the structure of the Civil Rights movement Black men did not view Black women as an enemy. In fact, a continuous message given by Black male Civil Rights leaders was to respect and protect Black women. Look no further than Malcolm X.

But within only a decade the mood had greatly changed. This is understandable because of the amount of loss the Black community was facing during this time. So many of the major Black leaders of the era were assassinated. The promises of the Civil Rights Act weren't being followed through.

So disillusionment and resentment got in the way of logic. And Black men -- feeling unequal to the task of fighting the real cause of their oppression because it felt firmly out of their control -- decided to blame Black women and a mythical "matriarchy" instead.

Some people might argue that I can't compare the Moynihan induced Black male scapegoating of Black women to what is happening in the Black feminist movement presently. They might say that the current fed up-ness with Black men is a result of what has occurred in the past and what is still occurring. They might say that anti-Black misogyny has created this situation.

I wouldn't say that they're wrong. It is true that the current mood in Black feminism is influenced by the seeming pervasiveness of Black male sexism. It's obvious to me why this is happening but that doesn't make it right. That doesn't make it a Black feminist response.

I've never viewed Black feminism as a tit for tat movement. It has never been about selfishness. It has never been about "I got mine. You go get yours." Never. It's a movement for social justice. This is what is supposed to separate it from social movements that have ignored race, gender, sexuality or social class. Black feminism is supposed to be better than that.

And we can't be better if we take individual acts of Black male sexism and indict the entire Black male demographic. We can't be better if we stop seeing the importance of working across gender lines in the Black community.

I don't think that can be called Black feminism.

I've always been down to defend Black feminism against misogynists who didn't like it because they felt tearing down patriarchy was an affront to Black manhood. I've always defended Black feminism against those who say that if a man doesn't rule then it isn't right.

I've never been against calling out an individual Black male misogynist or bringing attention to unique Black women's issues.

But how can I defend Black feminism if it's saying I no longer care about Black male victims of white supremacy?

I can't and I won't.

I had a moment where I wondered if I was becoming a "softer" Black feminist but then I realized that I haven't gotten softer. Other people have gone out of bounds and have started to replicate oppressive ways of thinking apparent in Black male led movements.

The argument I hear is: "They don't care about us. So why should we care about them?"

Who is "they" and who is "us"?

Unfortunately, not all Black women have the back of every other Black woman.

We have our own issues in terms of colorism, class, sexuality, and other interlocking forms of oppression. Yes, we have some things in common as Black women. And then there are things we don't have in common.

Not admitting this puts us in the same boat as Black male leaders who claim that "we're all Black" and use that as an excuse to only focus on heterosexual middle class Black males.

It's also true that not all Black men are insensitive to Black women's issues. It's hard to imagine how they could be when our fate is so inextricably tied to theirs.

Most of the time I see an individual Black male misogynist they also don't have any understanding of white supremacy. One moment they're making "strong independent Black woman who don't need no man" memes on Twitter and the next they're poking fun of themselves with Daquan memes.

How are these Black men who have never a day in their life considered themselves to be activists of any kind the justification for the reactionary nature I'm seeing in Black feminism?

Black feminism is a social activist movement and as such it should fully understand and grapple with the reality of kyriarchy in a responsible manner.

A part of me wonders if the people who say Black men never support Black women are accustomed to offline activist work.

Even in my own tiny world I've never been to or hosted an event focusing on Black women where no Black men were present. I've even held educational workshops on Black feminism where half of the audience is made up of Black men. I couldn't tell you how many times I've had Black men approach me asking for Black feminist reading recommendations. It's always been harder for me to get white feminists to support Black feminist events than Black men.

(Jada being represented by the Houston Chapter of the New Black Panther Party)

When it comes down to it I'm not a white feminist. I don't see any point in even hyperbolically saying "kill all men" when Black boys and men are already being routinely murdered. Both by state-sanctioned violence and because of circumstances created by poverty and white supremacy working together.

I can't pretend like all Black men are the enemy when Black men are in my family. When there's so many instances where I've been listened to and cared for by Black men. My personal circumstances disallow it. But also my understanding of white supremacy disallows it. All Black people are targets. The ways we are targeted differ by gender and other factors. But when any Black person is a victim of white supremacy it impacts me.

I will always support combating anti-Black misogyny. But my knowledge of anti-Black misogyny will never lead me to turn against Black male victims of violence. It won't make me resent Black men as a collective group.

It's bad politics. But it's also bad ethics. And one thing I've always admired about Black feminism is the way in which it is above so many other social movements because this is supposed to be the first one to be truly concerned with exacting justice in its totality.

Over a hundred years ago Black feminist Anna Julia Cooper said: "When and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me."

That is my Black feminism. I don't recognize the other stuff.


If you enjoyed this post check out "But Black Women Have Always Been "My Brother's Keepers" so Who is "Keeping" the Sistas?" which talks about the importance of holding Black men accountable for supporting Black women's issues. This is always an equally important conversation to talking about continuing support for Black men.

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  1. Excellent. This is so beautifully written.

  2. All I can do now is commend you on a article well written. You have spoken the exact truth.

  3. This reads as a longer version of the "not all men" excuse that is commonly offered up in defense of misogynoir against Black women. "Not all Black men" participate in misogyny yet there are enough who do, visibly and in an unapologetic manner broad media platforms that these types of excuses need to cease and accountability needs to begin. Where are all of these great Black men you speak of who do not subscribe to being an agent of White supremacy at when one of their fellow Black men engages in their misogynoiristic behavior on Instagram andTwitter? Where are they to defend Black women offline against street harassment? Countless Black feminist bloggers (myself included) recount tales of street harassment at the hand of these misogynoirists that have placed us in physical danger. Where are they? They must exclusively reside in your "tiny little world" because they're nowhere to be found until a fed up Black woman yells "I'm done supporting Black men!" and all of a sudden one pops in to make sure that he reminds her that *he* isn't like those others and that her anger is an overreaction, of course! I personally cannot accept "How are these Black men who have never a day in their life considered themselves to be activists of any kind the justification for the reactionary nature I'm seeing in Black feminism?" as a valid excuse. If Black women of all ages who have "never a day in their lives considered themselves to be activists of any kind" are capable of experiencing intraracial anti-Blackness and the subsequent emotional/psychological trauma it elicits then they are damned well entitled to feel how they feel about those Black men who committed that against them. If a White American were to say to you, "I know that my ancestors kidnapped then enslaved Africans and created an entire system of institutional oppression that systematically disadvantages the enslaved Africans' descendants, but how can this be a justification for the reactionary nature I'm seeing among Black people today?" What would you say? The fact that you chose to describe Black women's anger as "reactionary" is tone-policing, belittling, and dismissive. Time and time again, people reach into a gauntlet of excuses for Black men, why some Black feminists are "wrong" and why their "brand" of feminism isn't valid, acceptable or recognizable. Black women truly cannot win; we are always doing something wrong. ALWAYS. We have to fight the patriarchy, take abuses interracially as well as intraracially, and still at the end of the day express our frustration, hurt, and anger in a way that is palatable or else be labeled as "reactionary"--not "real" Black feminists by fellow Black women and emasculating man-haters by Black men. I can't speak for other women's lived experiences but my "brand" of feminism, since apparently there are factions within the Black feminist movement now, is to never EVER invalidate the feelings of another Black woman or tell her how she feels is wrong. It's so easy to do when you haven't walked in her shoes, but I refuse. Instead of chastising these women with condescension I will try to help them heal so they can come to a more enlightened understanding themselves.

    "Unfortunately, not all Black women have the back of every other Black woman."

    The irony in this statement is tragic.

    1. You conveniently ignored (or perhaps didn't read) the part in the article which said "I've never been against calling out an individual Black male misogynist or bringing attention to unique Black women's issues.

      But how can I defend Black feminism if it's saying I no longer care about Black male victims of white supremacy?"

      That is the point of the article in those 2 sentences. The point is not that calling out misogyny is bad. Or that all Black men are great. Or that anti-Black misogyny doesn't exist.

      Now if you don't care about Black male victims of white supremacy then that's on you. And there's really no reason for us to argue over that. But that's not for me and when I saw that sentiment expressed (and I purposely didn't cite the article I'm referring to because I didn't want this to be a personal attack of any kind) I wrote this in disagreement.

      I don't even disagree with most of what you've said. Most of this is on a tangent.

      I just don't think that I should dismiss the entire Black male demographic on an activist level. Instead you've been unnecessarily patronizing (non-sexist Black men exist in my "tiny little world"? Yikes!)

      You know, it's possible that not all Black women have had the same experiences. I'd never ever be so disrespectful to a Black woman who said all of the Black men in her life have sucked (because I've not lived her life so how would I know?) and yet you do the opposite to me. Why was that comment necessary if your intention was to engage in a purposeful dialogue?

      You can read other posts on this blog and see that I've talked about pretty much everything you've written about in this long comment. But the second I say that I don't feel comfortable revoking all support from Black men then I'm the problem? Okay.

      So look in the mirror before you call that Black women don't support Black women statement ironic on just my part.

  4. I believe you are incorrectly conflating the prioritizing of the self on the part of black women with the hatred of black men. That ain't it, that ain't never been it, and I read this piece offering one more reason--as a black male-identified black woman--why black feminism is such a scary idea to so many black women and black men.

    I believe you have a deeply flawed understanding of what black feminism really is--I would suggest getting of the internet--where, too often, extremes can and will abound (I even admit to getting caught up in it and this is my job!)--and go read some of the black women elders of the movement--none of them, not even the hardcore lesbian black feminists, hated black men. Their critiques of black men were too often sent from a place of love and respect--and too often met without reciprocity. It is the lack of reciprocity on the behalf of black men that is so damning and damaging for these black women working hard out there for the betterment of other black folks.

    Finally, your conflation of black feminism with white, mainstream feminism is incredibly misguided and dangerous and adds to the fear-mongering of black folks against black feminism. If there is one thing black feminism has done from the very beginning--reaching back to the club movements of the latter nineteenth century and the slave narratives of Harriet Jacobson and the speeches of Sojourner Truth--is take white women to task for their racism and myopia regarding the lived realities of black women. Again, I urge you to read those women and their contemporary inheritors of the black feminist tradition. I am a professor of black feminism and black women's literature and you can certainly inbox/DM me for a suggested reading list.

    1. I'm not sure how to inbox or DM you since you come up as "unknown" but I believe you mis- characterized parts of my essay.

      I did not argue that Black feminism hates Black men. In fact, I literally said that it doesn't. "I've never viewed Black feminism as a tit for tat movement. It has never been about selfishness. It has never been about "I got mine. You go get yours." Never. It's a movement for social justice. This is what is supposed to separate it from social movements that have ignored race, gender, sexuality or social class. Black feminism is supposed to be better than that."

      I have learned about Black feminism via "old school" folks like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins... and I even quoted one of my fav people Anna Julia Cooper.

      This post was a direct response to a specific instance where a person claimed that not supporting Eric Garner is Black feminism. I purposely obscured the actual thing this was a response to because I didn't want to "attack" that person because I'm sure she had her reasons for that opinion and there were a lot of other people who already publicly disagreed with her anyway.

      My point was to speak more generally about how I do not believe that Black feminism can afford to disregard Black male issues. On that point: people will disagree for sure but I don't want my argument misunderstood.

      I am very aware that many Black feminists do not hate Black men as I myself identify as a Black feminist. Maybe if you peruse some of the other essays on this blog you'd more understand the context which I am personally coming from.

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. This bears repeating: "It is the lack of reciprocity on the behalf of black men that is so damning and damaging for these black women working hard out there for the betterment of other black folks." Where are the black fathers? Black male teachers? Black male entrepreneurs buying up their own media outlets and distribution channels so they can start propagating a healthy, diverse range of Black life, Black stories, Black beauty on TV and film? Heck, where are the black men checking for Lupita's beauty? I saw mostly Black women and white men gushing over her. How exactly do you hold others "accountable" if they simply don't CARE about the negative impact of their actions?

    1. I definitely wrote in my essay that I recognize the lack of reciprocity (a topic I've explored in greater depth in other essays). But I don't agree with the rest of this comment. Where are the Black fathers? Being fathers. It's a white supremacist lie that Black dads don't exist. Teaching (belong higher ed level) is overwhelmingly female. And there's many reasons why Black entrepreneurs of all genders are marginalised.

      And I am HIGHLY resistant to insinuating that white men care more about me than Black men. I think misogyny is rife among men no matter what race. And with white men you add racism to the mix on top of all that.

  6. Me too. I'm just sick and tired of some people telling me where to pitch my battles. Yes, I'm supporting Black men because they're part of us, whether one likes it or not. Yes, some Black men are misogynists, so are the vast majority of nonblack, esp. white and Asian men. I know plenty of Black men who are not misogynists and are empathetic of the struggles of Black women in society. In fact, Black gender relations are more egalitarian than in other communities.

    Also, I'm so sick and tired of media pushing white men as "superior" to Black men. They push this idea onto Black women. The media and society labels Black women as racist if we don't date/marry white men.

    As for white men praising Lupita Nyongo, that's not true. Most of them were downright hateful toward her. I noticed far more Black men praising her than are white men. Is she saying that white men praise her and other Black women given the treatment of Black women by white men in America? Give me a break!

    S. B.

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  8. Why are you focused on Black males' issues when the Black male collective has not reciprocated back this same support for issues that affect Black women? Do for self.