Generally, when people begin dissertations or articles about black women and our relationships with black men, they preface it by giving disclaimers such as, “Let me start by saying I love black men,” or “Let me first say that as a black woman I stand behind black men.” As if those statements somehow soften the blow of the bigger picture, which frankly, can be extremely fucked up.
So I was glad to hear Jada Pinkett-Smith praising her hubby, the ever-famous actor Will Smith, for his support of her new ad, “Nada Se Compara,” which raises awareness of human slave trafficking.
“He’s amazing because he wants to lend support in every way. In order to combat this, we need our men. We need our soldiers. Let me tell you, I love girl power, but ain’t nothin’ like having some muscle behind you! Will’s got some big ones.”
This time last year I went on a date with a man who ended up physically attacking me. It was our first and last date. Without going into much detail, I’ll just say that he stole my car keys, choked me, and dragged me down the block in an area of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Hours later, after traumatically crying into the arms of my friend, I headed to the police and reported the attack. They never found him.
Much of that night I’d rather not remember, but one thing I will never forget was running down the block screaming for help.
It was a summer night. There were people sitting out on their stoops and standing around on the block. Groups of black men were posted up on various street corners, mulling around, and hanging out by the delis. Even after frantically yelling and flapping my arms in the air, I received nonchalant glances and cold shoulders. No one came to my rescue.
I was fine, thank God. But that experience got me to thinking about the roles that black men and black women play with each other. As a self-proclaimed black feminist, sometimes the lines between independence as a black woman and loyalty to a black man becomes skewed. Black feminism has long been discussed by bell hooks, Angela Davis, and Joan Morgan, black writers who have written diatribes on the subject. Yet we are still left questioning how it affects us within our own communities. It almost seems that as a black feminist, I am supposed to adhere to an unspoken code of conduct that no matter what happens with black men, I should be standing alongside them, hoisting them up on pedestals, treating them like kings, and waving flags for their successes.
None of which I’m opposed too. But far too often, none of that is reciprocated.
I’ve seen black women unite, protest, and bear arms for men who show up half-assed and late for the party. I’ve watched men solemnly stand by while women get harassed in the street both verbally and sexually, and then turn the other cheek because, “well, that’s just how men are.” I’ve witnessed groups of men hanging with their friends, calling the same women they claim to love madly “bitches and hoes” when the women aren’t around.
I’m aware that many of these inconsistencies began at birth; men and women are raised differently by nature. Through societal influences, physical pressures, growing pains, and a mix of male ego, men aren’t generally raised in the manner that women are. They support us by being the protectors and providers of the household, so where women can connect emotionally to others whom they don’t know — men and women alike — often men can detach and distance themselves, not willingly coming to a woman’s defense or heeding women’s issues in the same manner.
If men choose to come to the defense of women, it’s often women they know – their wife, girlfriend, sister, or mother. Yet there are cases when men will turn a blind eye to them as well. They go by many names – abusers, rapists, misogynists – and they’re among us. Many are in our own homes and we don’t even realize it.
To be a feminist is one thing; it’s a movement designed for equality. It has given women liberation from the patriarchal society that’s placed us in a box. But when we try to take that next step and add the word “black” in front of feminism, suddenly we’re alienated for wanting a mutual support from black men with equal vigor and love. We’ve been told to shut up and just accept that there’s a double standard. We’ve been talked to condescendingly, coddled to appeasement, and asked to be strong while staring in the face of indifference and sometimes brutality.
If I’m sounding like I’m straight out of Ntozake Shange’s book For Colored Girls, well, so be it. But I stood alone on those streets that night. A united front is not something that black women should have to ask for; it’s something that should be understood.
Like Jada said, I’m all for girl power. But it really would have been nice to have some muscle behind me. Or better yet, standing with me.