After the hashtag #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen ripped the band-aid off of the complex (and sometimes contentious) relationship between Black men and women, many wondered what brothas thought about our experiences of feeling abandoned when we need their support.
While some thought #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen was an overreaction and divisive, we were once again reminded that it is sadly the truth. When Russell Simmons’ All Def Digital released the now-pulled “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape,” Black women were rightly outraged, while Simmons chalked up the criticism to hypersensitivity and his “liberal” sense of humor. Simmons–who was outspoken during the Trayvon Martin protests and even called Don Lemon out for his comments about young, Black men—pretty much told us “my bad” for degrading one of the most iconic and revered Black women in history.
In the wake of all of this, Mark Anthony Neal and a group of Black men took it upon themselves to not only apologize for the lack of support from their brethren, but also offer a commitment to be active and outspoken allies for Black women.
In #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen: Letters from Brothers Writing to Live, Duke professor Mark Anthony Neal; writer and Vassar College professor Kiese Laymon; cultural critic and writer Mychal Denzel Smith; PhD candidate and filmmaker Kai M. Green; community advocate Marlon Peterson; writer Hashim Pipkin; LGBTQ advocate and former NFL player Wade Davis, II; and writer and activist Darnell L. Moore pinned responses (and apologies) to some of the women who articulated their concerns in the #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen debate.
Speaking for the collective, Mychal Denzel Smith writes:
When the hashtag #Blackpowerisforblackmen, created by Ebony.com editor Jamilah Lemeiux, took over Twitter, it was a clear sign that we haven’t been doing enough. Thousands of our sisters (and brothers) tweeted for hours about the imbalance in our community. We, black men, tend to pride ourselves on our anti-white racial supremacy activism but often fail to reach out and consider the pain and trauma faced by the women in our lives. Our culture actively denigrates the very existence of black women. We take their love, support, nourishment, and spiritual presence for granted. As a whole, black men have not reciprocated our love and support in a way that affirms the humanity and dignity of black womanhood in the face of white supremacy, patriarchy, heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, sexual violence, physical and verbal abuse.
#Blackpowerisforblackmen became the call, and as black men dedicated to fighting alongside our sisters, we have taken up the responsibility of answering. As individuals, we recognize where we have fallen short, and as a community we make a promise to participate in deep self-reflection and correction.
This ain’t just an apology; it’s a commitment.
One of the most poignant responses was prompted by Yolo Akili Robinson’s tweet, “#BlackPowerisForBlackMen Becuz I can’t think of ONE national march that black men organized becuz a black woman was raped or killed.”
Kiese Laymon, author of the critically acclaimed new novel Long Division, did his best to respond:
I must have reread your tweet a hundred times today. I understood fully, maybe for the first time, that black men who profess a love for black women can’t have it both ways. The truth is too true and the stakes are too high. We can’t, as I did, call Kendrick’s verse one of the dopest lyrical performances of the year when the song is bubbling with spectacular disses of black women and black femininity, then wonder why we never organized around the killing or rape of a black woman.
We can’t watch and participate in the national obliteration and shaming of Rachel Jeantel and wonder why we never organized around the killing or rape of a black woman. We can’t lie, cheat on, or manipulate black women while convincing black women it’s so hard for us then wonder why we never organized around the killing or rape of a black woman. We can’t literally and figuratively kill and rape black woman for fun, for free, for checks, for claps from our niggas, and wonder why we never organize around the killing or rape of black woman.
No art, no person, no relationship, no sexual fantasy that kills and rapes black women is going to stop black women from being killed, hurt, and raped. If our consumption and creation doesn’t affirm, accept and explore the complicated lives of black women, we can’t be bout that life. No exceptions. Never. Shameful that after all this life, and education, and art creation, your tweet made me know that we really ain’t been bout shit. We really been encouraging black women’s death while leaning on black women for survival. Sorry ain’t enough.
All of the “Letters” are tender, open, apologetic, and raw and leave me longing for more. While I commend these men for stepping up and answering some of the concerns of Black women, I wish they were in the majority, and not merely a small group of progressive Black men.
If we are going to turn this thing around, and begin fostering positive spaces where both Black women and Black men feel safe and protected and supported, it’s going to take many more letters from many more brothas who aren’t afraid to step up and commit to being an ally.
Read all of the “Letters from Brothers Writing to Live” on Neal’s NewBlackMan website here.