Every year, new ideas are introduced to our society with hopes that we create a more inclusive culture that raises the voices and concerns of marginalized groups– making all spaces more inclusive and equitable. Of course, such attempts are often met with backlash from dominant groups who prefer to maintain the status quo and, by extension, maintain their power in a social structure made to benefit those at the top.
The same, most certainly, can be said of the relationship between women, the LGBT community and men in the Black community that is rife with misogyny, homophobia and patriarchy. Though 2015 was a year of incredible gains for Black women and queer people– the year when women raised their voices to decry street harassment, challenge institutions to create environments that are more accepting of natural hair, transgendered artists and individuals garnered a more visible public platform, when Black women declared “Black Lives Matter,” when many spoke up about the hypersexualization of Black women — that backlash came swiftly from Black men who feel threatened by such attempts to promote equality.
Hopefully, this year can be different. 2016 should mark a turnaround for the Black community, where we stand stronger and more united than before to tackle some of the huge social issues that have been brought to light by activism in the previous year. That unity can only be realized when Black men begin to address the ways they perpetuate inequality.
So, here’s a list of 14 Ways Black Men Can Be Better Allies in 2016
1. Do not support any Black leaders who threaten women’s reproductive rights. You came from a woman’s vagina. That vagina was a part of a human being with thoughts, feelings, health concerns and physical needs. We can only protect those human beings, who happen to have vaginas, if they have the right to full autonomy over their bodies.
Instead: Support politicians and legislation that advocates for women’s reproductive rights.
2. Do not claim “Black Lives Matter,” while ignoring the struggles of the LGBTQ community. Black people aren’t only cis-gendered males. Black people affected by police brutality also happen to not only cis-gendered males. To add insult to injury, some of the biggest proponents of the “Black Lives Matter” movement are not only women but also a part of the LGBTQ community. If anyone believes Black Lives Matter, that must include all Black lives.
Instead: Respect the personal and sexual choices of other people because they have nothing to do with you.
3. Do not tell women to stop talking about street harassment because you think it is a non-issue. It is easy to dismiss issues you do not face. Men, indisputably, are pretty much able to move through the world without being harassed by other members of the public. Women and girls, on the other hand, have to face constant invasion of their personal space that is
Instead: Listen to women’s stories and respect their feelings on the issue that does not threaten your physical or emotional well-being on a daily basis. Speak to your male friends and relatives about the importance of respecting women on the street.
4. Do not believe every woman you have had sexual encounters with has been sexually fulfilled. They have not. For the most part, this is not debatable. For varying reasons, women tend to orgasm less frequently than men during sex, especially during sexual intercourse.
Instead: Understand the way women’s bodies function. Most women find it easier to orgasm with clitoral stimulation, and it should also be noted that the clitoris is extremely sensitive! Also, understand the way men’s bodies function: you guys tend to orgasm in 5 minutes during intercourse where as women may need 4 times that amount of time. Most importantly: promote open dialogues and communication about expectations and desires.
It doesn’t matter how influential, or talented or rich these men are. Black men who sexually exploit women should not be bolstered by the African-American community.
Instead: Take a stand against all forms sexual abuse and advocate for a sex culture built on consent.
6. Do not believe the justice system was built to benefit the underprivileged. This widespread belief arises whenever convenient, for Black men with power to avoid culpability for wrongdoing. It is most perfectly exemplified by claims that Bill Cosby should be treated as “innocent until proven guilty” by the court system or that society should not scrutinize the actor before his day in court.
Instead: Acknowledge the unfairness of the justice system to all people of color– not only Black men– women and poor people.
7. Do not make comments about women’s hair or grooming choices. Society dictates that Black women participate in certain social spaces in certain ways. Often times, natural Black hair dos are deemed “unprofessional” which makes it practically impossible for Black women to wear their natural hair in the first place. In the event that we do work up the courage to proudly wear our hair and take on the wars that ensue, we are often ridiculed by the very same men who supposedly want us to wear our natural hair in the first place. Nevertheless, Black women are working hard and struggling against these cultural norms and demanding the right to display and feel comfortable in their natural beauty. This fight is dominated by women, from the beauty bloggers ( list –thank y’all) to the fearless.
Instead: Support the empowerment of Black women by joining this fight against cultural norms. Participate in conversations about beauty standards. Date women who wear their hair natural and tell them they are beautiful every, single day. Learn how to comb your daughter’s natural hair– it is your job. Stand up for Black women in work spaces where others are scrutinizes natural hair choices. We need more allies and far (fewer) critics.
8. Do not support the likes of Ben Carson or any politicians who align themselves with covert or overt racist politics. This should be a no-brainer.
Instead: *Sighs* Well, let’s be real: politics were not meant to serve us. Nevertheless, it is always smart to choose the lesser of two evils and support politicians who at least have a few policies in mind to address inequality. Those politicians likely will never be Republican or Conservative.
9. Do not shame women for their sexual choices. If you are a heterosexual man, having sex with women, who claims to also like women and sex, why precisely should you shame women for enjoying being intimate with men?
Instead: Promote the empowerment of female sexuality. Women who enjoy sex and can freely express their desires most certainly make better sexual partners.
10. Do not blame women for the failure of the Black family (or gay people). The reasons for the breakdown of the family– and specifically the Black family– are extensive. Economics are at play. Larger cultural expectations of adult independence. Dependency on state institutions for financial support. Greater female autonomy and increased rights. Mass incarceration. And varying other factors have contributed to the rise in single-parenthood in the Black community. Why make women or gay people the scapegoat for issues far outside of their control?
Instead: Find a partner, who shares your ideological outlooks and wants the same thing out of life that you do. If you decide to have children, commit to respecting the boundaries and aspirations agreed upon when you established your relationship. Create and commit to building a stronger family unit for yourself.
11. Do not diminish the advocation for women’s rights (i.e. feminism). It is understandable to have criticisms of feminism. Heck, it is necessary, since it is a White dominated platform, after all. However, grouping all feminism together and failing to recognize or understand the unique positions and arguments proposed by Black women means that you are doing the bidding of not only patriarchy but white supremacy, which also attempts to oppress Black female opinions and expression.
Instead: Understand that Black women can be feminists and have strong critiques of White feminism at the same time– they are not one in the same. Black feminists want to uplift women of color. What could possibly be wrong with that?
12. Do not decry racism while ignoring sexism/patriarchy/homophobia. Men who refuse to acknowledge sexism/patriarchy are doing a major disservice to the Black community. While betterment for Black people means that we must be willing to acknowledge and eradicate racism, it also means that we must put just as much effort into combating sexism, patriarchy and homophobia. Currently, heterosexual Black women and members of the LGBT community are bolstering the Black community– becoming leaders in education and gaining access to better employment, while also being major sources of support for their families. The progress of the Black community depends on this progress. It can only be safeguarded if these demographics are protected from misogyny, sexual/physical abuse, domestic violence, reproductive inequality, and many other pertinent issues specifically pertaining to them.
Instead: Acknowledge the reality that society treats men, women, hetero and homosexual individuals quite differently and those differences have substantial ramifications. Embrace equality across the board or don’t be surprised when other people try to oppress/marginalize you.
13. Do not promote exceptionalism. While it is easy to be the exception to any rule– even the token black person in a white space– that does not change the fact that the rule is enforced for just about everyone else and may shut other black people out of opportunities or success. Your singular success does not equal the success of the Black community.
Instead: Be mindful of the societal structures and hierarchies that create the rules and try to change them. Imagine the world where the rule was Black success, not simply the exception. Then take steps to making that world a reality.
14. Do not sexualize little girls or your daughters. Lewd comments about a physical appearance or sexuality can be damaging and diminishing for women and girls alike. Similarly, women and girls are not merely “pretty little things” who need protection from sex-crazed boys or men. They are individuals with their own identities and needs– some of them which may be sexual, but many that are psychological and emotional.
Instead: Delve into your ideas of “masculinity” and “femininity” and create mental spaces that are more flexible. A woman and girl can be many things– a mother, daughter, construction worker, politician, painter, doctor or and any number of other adjectives. Do not diminish us to sexual play things.