In the 1960s, Mary Ruth Reed—a young Black woman who was eight months pregnant—was the victim of a rape, and subsequently beaten by a White man named Louis Medlin in Monroe, North Carolina. The incident was witnessed by many neighbors, and after Medlin was arrested, Robert Williams (an active member of the NAACP) counseled Mrs. Reed’s community; urging them to let the law handle it. During the trial, Medlin brought his White wife to the courtroom and asked the jury to compare her to his victim, explaining he couldn’t possibly want to rape such an inferior woman. Apparently the jury agreed and Louis Medlin was a free man. Upset, Robert William’s stated to the media:
“I had told them [the black women] that in a civilized society the law is a deterrent against the strong who would take advantage of the weak, but the South is not a civilized society. . . . I said that in the future we would defend our women and children, our homes and ourselves with our arms.”
Robert Williams was characteristically peaceful man, who initially ascribed to the NAACP commitment to non-violence. However, once he saw that the legal system let Louis Medlin go free, he could not accept it. He was determined to do everything in his power to seek justice for Mary Ruth Reed and protect the women in his family and community.
Yet, historically and currently, this is not always the case. For starters, Black women have had a complex and traumatic history in this country, to say the least. Throughout slavery (and after) we were raped and abused at the hands of slave masters, and White men in general, without these viscous acts being considered a crime. Throughout all of this, what position did this leave Black men in? Did our systematic repression leave many of our men feeling defenseless?
It is clear on many levels just how much of an impact slavery continues to have on us as a people. In regards to male-female relationships, I believe one of the many troubling results has been Black women losing a sense of security in our men.
What do I mean? To me it has long been apparent in our community, society, popular culture, and even in the political realm—as illustrated in the recent unwarranted condemnation of Shirley Sherrod. Not only did her situation bring race relations to the forefront of media attention again, but the subtle lack support for Mrs. Sherrod, and swift denunciation by Black political leaders, spoke volumes as well.
As reported, Mrs. Sherrod was immediately forced to resign from her position as as Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture after a conservative blogger took snippets of a lecture given by Mrs. Sherrod out of context, and used the excerpt to paint her as a racist. The Obama administration immediately distanced themselves from Mrs. Sherrod. And to make things worse, she was publicly condemned by the NAACP. No one took the time out to investigate the bloggers claim and Mrs. Sherrod was left out to defend herself, alone. Despite the unfounded accusations, it seemed no one (initially) had her back.
Just a few months ago, Jill Scott was left to defend herself against media attacks after writing piece on interracial relationships for Essence, that expressed a very real and honest perspective. Entitled “The Wince” she writes:
When our people were enslaved, “Massa” placed his Caucasian woman on a pedestal. She was spoiled, revered and angelic, while the Black slave woman was overworked, beaten, raped and farmed out like cattle to be mated . . . We reflect on this awful past and recall that if a Black man even looked at a White woman, he would have been lynched, beaten, jailed or shot to death. In the midst of this, Black women and Black men struggled together, mourned together, starved together, braved the hoses and vicious police dogs and died untimely on southern back roads together.
After what we’ve been through together, as explained above, are Black women still left to feel like we’re on our own in the sense that often times we are not respected, defended, or even given the benefit of a doubt by many of our Black men, leaders, entertainers, and political figures? In my opinion, yes. It seems like somewhere along our sojourn in this country an indifferent attitude has unfortunately been taken on and accepted when it comes to the blatant disrespect and/or abuse of Black women.
Even in the infamous Kat Stacks beatdown(s), this is evident. Once the video of her assault began circulating, many of our male entertainers found the incident comical. Sadly, the main question raised was simply, “Who layed the smackdown?” rather than, “Why is a man putting his hands on this woman?” Again, I find this trend of indifference, passiveness, and acceptance of such behavior very problematic and telling in light of our looming, troublesome male-female relations.
To be clear, this is not an attack on Black men. However, in cultures throughout the world, most women never have to question whether their men will come to their defense, respect them, or hold them in the high regard that they should. Yet for us as Black women there is a question mark. Why? The reasons are extensive and arguable. But as a people, we have held it down side by side throughout history and, moreover, Black women have stood by our men through it all. This sentiment is still echoed in our culture today. Like when we hear Keri Hilson passionately proclaiming “I got your back boy “ in T.I.’s latest song. Yet, taking into consideration the aforementioned issues, many Black women may be left to wonder, who has ours?