The two most insulting gibes you, as a Black person, can hurl at another are to talk about “yo mama” or call them “White,” especially if what you’re saying is right. They are guaranteed fighting words in any corner of Black America. The receiver will vehemently lambast the offender to edify themselves and draw a wedge between their character and the quip. My Big Mama would simply say, “a hit dog will holler.” And, holler did dozens of Black men this week after reading Damon Young’s VSB article Straight Black Men are the White People of Black People .
Before you continue reading, there are three facts with which you must be familiar and agree. Otherwise, you’d only be reading to feed your frustration and gain traffic for me.
- Based on historical context, White people collectively and globally have committed the most heinous crimes against humanity. Their record of slaughter, genocide, pillaging, colonizing, and systemic oppression is incomparable. And, it has not ended. Their benefits through White privilege greatly imbalance the scales of justice and wealth. It would be futile to compare their notorious chronicles with any other group.
- The aforementioned article did NOT compare Black men’s role in society-at-large with White people’s role throughout history. It just did not do that. It very concisely and concretely compared the present-day engagement of White people (in America) and Black people (men AND women) with Black men and Black women (in America). That’s it.
- Black women and girls are the most oppressed group as a whole in the world. Point. Blank. Period. That doesn’t mean that some of us aren’t doing well. That does not negate that we are the most educated group in America, or that we are clearly bosses in every aspect of our lives. It is to say that our fight is daily, without much reprieve, and comes from every angle.
If you know these facts to be true, then continue onward.
When the article first stamped my timeline, I figured it was “click bait;” some spoof of our feelings. No one dared tell this truth, especially not a heterosexual Black man. So, I kept it scrolling. It danced its way into my newsfeed again, this time shared multiple times by people whose opinion I respect. Finally, it was posted in a forum I manage specifically for Black women to
focus on our complete healing and restoration and sip Tea. I immediately felt hopeful. I knew if it were there, in our sacred space, it had to be or lead to uplift for US all. (The big “us,” as in all Black folks.) That’s not only the mission of our group, but the main rule of engagement. So, I opened the link and cautiously expected reprieve. No doubt, anything presented in the article would have been voiced by Black women long before now, but now a man, a Black man, was saying it. This had to mean we were being heard. He was selected as the Black male delegate of the week to usher in a wave of honest and transparent dialogue to help us all do and be better! Kofi Siriboe was busy being fine. Jay Z had all other relevant Black men busy screening life-changing mini documentaries as an appendix for 4:44. So, Damon Young was selected as tribute. Yes, this was it! Black men and Black women were about to “call a thing a thing” and heal ourselves. Bring it Beloved!
I read, “Intraracially, however, our relationship to and with black women is not unlike whiteness’s relationship to us. In fact, it’s eerily similar,” and I fainted a little bit. Then he hit me with, “But when black women share that we pose the same existential and literal danger to them that whiteness does to us;….their words are met with resistance and outright pushback.” And, this was me:
Finally, a man, a Black man said everything we’ve whispered in our closets or prayed to be released from or suffered attacks for thinking aloud. There is now a concrete validation from one of our reflections that we are not evil or ignorant for voicing disdain when we are hurt by Black men, murdered by Black men, raped and assaulted by Black men, harassed by Black men, dismissed by Black men, overlooked (for White women) by Black men, antagonized by Black men, patronized by Black men, underpaid compared to Black men, unheard by Black men. This was a victory and a step towards our collective progress….I thought.
Then, Black men, our kings, our confidantes, husbands (thankfully, not mine), sons we’ve raised singly in many cases, responded ready to fight. One brother said simply, “it was offensive.” I saw his offense and raised awareness to our murders, rapes, and assaults. Another angrily posted that it’s not possible because Black men aren’t free; as though oppression is not layered and you cannot experience privilege if you’re also oppressed. Their sentiments were even echoed by some of our sisters. And, the collective deflation of Black women resonated through timelines and inboxes, private forums and chat rooms. A brother writes a piece critically assessing Black men’s engagement with Black women. Black women raised their heads in awe that someone other than they “gets it” and feel this could move in the direction of healing, healthy dialogues, and progress. Black men responded overwhelmingly with discourse and, ironically, proved every assertion in said article correct. Black women got back to work on just themselves because we’re still not ready to work together. Still.
“We all we got,” was the refrain and it has come to mean that our internal critiques from which we are disallowed must be met with swift and venomous retort, else all the work we’ve done to pretend we are well in order to prevail will become undone. The responses read like a parody themselves. It has been surreal. Every response could’ve easily been scripted for a White person to say in response to being accused of being racist. When I read them, I recited the internal dialogues Black women have been having for years that halts us from ever addressing Black men about their shortcomings:
You have to be gentle when talking to Black men or they’ll be offended. You mean like White people?
They take offense to being called sexist, ignoring the basis for the assertion altogether. (Replace “sexist” with “racist.”) You mean like White people?
They’ll say it’s divisive. You mean like White people?
They’ll say it’s not all of them. You mean like White people?
They’ll get angry and throw insults demeaning your intellect and credibility. You mean like White people?
They’ll list anecdotal examples of their positive interactions with you. You mean like White people?
They’ll patronize you with insincere praise, all the while defending their own honor and never taking accountability. You mean like White people?
They’ll list their own trials and oppression as proof that they couldn’t possibly oppress another. You mean like White people?
They will not listen. They can’t take accountability because that would cast them in a poor light. Their reputation is more paramount than your safety. You mean like White people?
They don’t see gender within our race. The’ll say we are one (race) or “we’re all we got.” You mean like White people?
They cannot denounce the throne of male privilege, so they deny it exists. : (Replace “male” with “White.”) You mean like…
I, as a Black woman, must fight the world all day long. It attacks my humanity, intellect, appearance, worthiness. It espouses misogyny, brute force, and bigotry. It condemns my very existence and questions my value before determining it for itself. It threatens me with public reprimand and hindrances if I am not docile and silent. But, when I’m home in the presence of Black men and women, I need to feel safe, understood, heard.
The only necessary and correct response to a Black woman’s lamentations is to listen. It is not to dismiss or find offense. It is not to center your own feelings and plight. It is not to rebut, refute, or refuse to accept. It is to hear her, make amends, and help her move through the pain. Whether you agree or not, recognize these concerns or not, experience these same grievances or not, are a woman yourself or not, this is the modus operandi. I have learned from this exchange that Black women are all we got, save a selection of Black men we can depend on as allies. And, there are even some (I’m so thankful my partner is my ally and is not above introspection and criticism. That he recognizes and maximizes his minimal privilege for my benefit and that of other Black women.) But, just like with White people, Black women must wear a guard of protection when encountering Black men until they prove themselves to be a safe place.
For Those Who Lament, “What Can I Do? I’m One of the Good Ones.”
1. Listen. Resist being dismissive or defensive. Check your ego and listen.
2. Believe us. Don’t ask for data. It’s on Google and it falls from our lips.
3. Defend us to other Black men. Defend us from emotional, verbal, and mental abuse as well as physical. They are all damaging. Defend us in Black music and the Black lexicon. Defend us in the barber shops, the church, social media, your dinner tables, and the streets.
4. Hold other Black men accountable. Don’t let them get away with abusing us in any way. Exclude them from your circles. Call them out. Meet them with the visceral disdain with which they approach us.
5. Continue to be a protector of Black women and girls at every turn in every setting. Don’t let any type of degradation happen in your presence. That means some relationships will be severed.
6. Be knowledgeable about our plight. There are enough resources and data points out there that confirm what we’re feeling. Don’t ask us to educate you when you can take charge of that yourself.
7. See us as more than objects of affection or sexual satisfaction. Engage with us for intellectual exchange and stimulation as well. Respect us as a whole, not just our parts.