Updated: Sep 17, 2018
I have often said that Black people, especially those of us in America, need time to move through phases that we may have already matriculated through and graduated from had precious time and growth not been stolen from us. Through recent study and many conversations with other men and women who have committed themselves to Black liberation, dismantling the patriarchy, and erasing the lines drawn in the sand that divide the Black community, I’ve come to the conclusion that my ideas about the painfully slow evolution of Black politics and ideology are detrimental to the communities I wish to fight for, represent, love, nurture, deliver from oppression, and remain rooted in. When faced with challenges by feminists (Black and otherwise) and critiques of the propaganda pushed by many members of the “conscious” and pro-Black community, I have been almost too defensive of said members and too forgiving of their ill informed, sometimes prejudiced, and almost always exclusionary rhetoric.
Eye-opening conversation number one occurred almost a year ago, when my friend and roommate, Anthony, came home from an AADS class he was taking at the University of Texas; fired up about the group discussion he’d participated in that day. His class was studying the Black Panther Party, their politics, and their involvement in the struggle. Anthony shared his shock and disgust at the blatant sexism that existed within the Black Panther Party and explained that he felt disappointed that a group so interested in liberating Black people could fail to see how harmful and problematic chauvinism was for Black women. I rushed, immediately, to the defense of Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, et al…, explaining to Anthony that Black men and women have historically been separated and deprived of the opportunity to build with, grow to understand, support and love one another. I posited that Black people need time to work through the trauma of forced gender roles, forced separation, and the methodical dismantling of our family unit. I argued that we should be slow to condemn Black leaders of our past for any developmental delays they exhibited as a result of that trauma. Anthony is not and has never been here for the excuses I made for the Black Panther Party.
Eye-opening conversation number two occurred during one of Black Sovereign Nation’s direct action strategy meetings. I was already unpleasantly aware that I was the only Black woman at the meeting. I want to be clear: there were Black people present at the meeting, but not Black women. I was happy and proud to be in the presence of radical Brown/Latinx/Chicanx women down for the cause, but I was saddened that none of my sisters of the African diaspora were present. One of the women there, who happened to be my friend and a community organizer whom I deeply respect, expressed her disdain for a Black male activist who, during a demonstration, asked all the Black women at the rally to stand behind him. In an effort to further illustrate his supposed belief in and commitment to protecting Black women, the BMA ranted about our community’s failure to show up for Black women and demanded that all the Black men present at the rally hug one of the Black women standing behind him. At the time, I thought it a grand gesture of love, protectiveness, and respect. The other women at BSN’s strategy meeting disagreed. They thought the action presumptuous, a perpetuation of patriarchal values and an exhibition of either a poor understanding of or a complete disregard for consent. Of course, I threw on my Save-A-Brotha cape and vehemently defended the man whose actions were in question. First, I argued that it was not the place of any non-Black woman to critique the way my/our Black men sought to repair the relationship between men and women in our community. What did these women, women who had not suffered the deep rift that racially-based oppression created between Black men and Black women, women who had not suffered the depression induced by the loss of connection, romantic or otherwise with their men, women who did not know what it was like to be rejected by men who they fought for courageously day in and day out because social conditioning had taught them that the women who were their warriors, their nurturers, their protectors, their partners in struggle, were ugly, undesirable, and unworthy, know about Black relationships, Black love or the intentions of Black men? I remember how my heart beat wildly in my chest as I went on to point out that they were taking this man’s actions out of the historical context of dysfunction and distrust among Black men and women and of the continued neglect of Black women by Black men. I remember trying to cover my words with diplomacy, as I resorted to my old faithful, the idea that the Black community is just not ready to embrace radical feminism and that we won’t be until we can repair basic components of our relationships. I walked away from the conversation feeling sick and now I know it’s because I missed that repairing our relationships requires embracing some form of politic that pushes for women’s liberation and equality; something that the Black activist I defended, even in his attempts to protect and serve us, failed to do.
Eye opening conversation number three was during a monthly Women of Color Brunch. I was expressing my internal conflict over trying to remain patient with my community, particularly the Black men within it and wanting to hold myself and members of it accountable for perpetuating problematic ideology. I asked if it was possible to unload social conditioning in stages. Could we first fight the enemy and then solve problems within our own community? Could we just focus on uniting first, even if we did unite under the troublesome and limited perspective of rebuilding family through traditional models and methods? A woman who was attending the brunch for the first time asserted that fighting white, male, oppressive forces and propaganda in stages erased her as a Black lesbian woman and it excluded her and her partner from the movement for Black freedom. In that moment, I was humbled and I was forced to check my privilege as a bisexual woman who consistently passes for straight. I was forced to accept that how we unify, how we “repair” relationships, and how we combat oppression is just as important as doing those things. Because overthrowing a system of oppression means nothing if we are left with just another one.
Finally, I came across a post in a Facebook group one of my feminist friends added me to called Misogyny Exposed. The original poster captioned a maternity picture of a pregnant Black woman, bathing in a tub of milk and flowers with the words “*Rolleyes* I guess we are supposed to think this is beautiful. Courtesy: Afropunk.” I was immediately offended that a Black woman would suggest that another was anything less than beautiful and hurried to the comment section hoping it would yield me some sort of understanding of the poster’s argument. What I found was the poster’s frustration with what she felt was hotep propaganda. She posited that the constant depiction of Black women as pregnant was an attempt to convince Black women that their sole role in society was to act as incubators for the children of Black males. Initially, I thought her claim ridiculous and her post abusive. I am never fond of any rhetoric that condescends, degrades, or sustains division among Black women and I felt that singling out the woman in the picture was the opposite of uplifting. But as I read more and reflected on my experience with Black “conscious” men, I came to agree with her. Too often, I am approached by “woke” Black men with conversation about rearing children or my ability to bear them before any effort is made to get to know me or to foster a relationship with me. I am sometimes, as I’m sure many women are, left with the feeling that I am only as valuable as my eggs fertile. Too often, I read posts that use respectability politics in defining “Queening”, as though only those of us who share particular values-the primary value being the Black man, should be celebrated within our communities. It is earth shattering and heartbreaking to realize that even in our attempt to “wake up” from social conditioning, indoctrination, and repression, we still engage in oppressing and erasing one another.
The work community organizers, activists, and freedom scholars do requires a certain dynamism that is only developed through constant self reflection, commitment to growth, and willingness to challenge one’s self. While I’m embarrassed to have ever so emphatically defended and participated in what is basically a form of patriarchy and oppression, I am aware that this work is supposed to teach you; supposed to expose the ugly parts of your soul and the ignorant aspects of your thought. I want to express that, while I do believe that there must be a revolution of thought and of values in terms of pro-Black and “conscious” rhetoric, I do still believe that rebuilding the Black family is an integral component of Black liberation. My change of mind and heart lies in opposition of the idea that rebuilding means endorsing “conventional” family values and propagating a familial model that is exclusionary and oppressive. My change in attitude is an abandonment of the idea that we should be patient with our community and that we need more time to shed outdated principles as well as a realization that if a white man ever told me to patiently wait for his community to outgrow racism, I’d tell him to go fuck himself.