When I first read Kimberly Foster’s piece entitled, “Why I Will Not March For Eric Garner”, it felt cold, ill-timed and exploitative—a transparent example of never letting a serious crisis go to waste.
I immediately read it again to ensure that my reaction was not due to what some Black feminists call an instinctive need to “cape” for Black men who never show up for Black women.
By the end of the third reading, I had done the difficult work of acknowledging that my intense reaction was complicated by empathy for Foster’s vulnerability. Her pain echoed my own; her fury at having our humanity shmoney danced over by the very brothers who demand our unconditional support is familiar.
The pulse of our shared resolve throbbed in each word:
- We both resolve not to be silent victims and amplified stereotypes.
- We both resolve not to sacrifice self-care to participate in social, cultural and political wars that leave us broken, bloody, bruised and alone on the battlefield, while brothers wave to adoring crowds in victory parades.
- We both resolve that we will smash the image of the “Strong Black Woman” and use the shards to carve a new reality where Black women are valued, protected and loved—not for our tireless labor, but simply because we matter.
But even knowing this—living this—I will not walk over the dead bodies of my brothers.
Yes, there are broader—and more intimate—conversations to be had surrounding Black male privilege and misogynoir. But those conversations do not drown out the screams of Eric Garner’s wife, mother and daughters. It does not muffle the cries of thousands of women who are left to grieve the lives of their men, shot down like rabid dogs in the streets.
Let’s be clear: This does not mean that our pain should only be visible if it lives adjacent to Black men. Nor does it mean that our humanity is situational, something to be trotted out for spectacle, as Rev. Al Sharpton did when he cued a sad song to accompany Garner’s wife’s wails of grief.
What it does mean is that we do not have to position ourselves as adversaries of Black men to advocate for Black women.
We live in a moment where Kiese Laymon, Darnell L. Moore, Mychal Denzel Smith, Mark Anthony Neal and other Brothers Writing to Live are putting it all on the line for Black women every, single day. We exist in a moment where the conscious Hip Hop community, including Jasiri X, Chuck D and Davey D, are consistently and unapologetically raising awareness around the plights of Black women.
Two of my friends and colleagues, Attorney Eric Guster and Terrell J. Starr, burned the midnight oil with me when I spoke out against D.L. Hughley’s vicious verbal assault on domestic violence victims, even as some Black feminists deemed it not worthy of their time.
Together, allies are reaching deep down into the muck of it all—the suspicion, division and confusion—in order to renew a spirit of solidarity that remains in critical condition. And this fragile terrain must be traversed with caution, mutual respect, and acknowledgment of both male privilege and effort.
Eric Garner’s desecrated body, which is still being subjected to the prying hands of a white supremacist system seeking to justify his murder at their hands, should not be the site of a dialogue focused on the marginalization of Black women less than a week after his death—particularly when police brutality cannot be framed as solely a Black male issue.
As the Brothers wrote in their piercing essay, “Choking Us To Death”:
Whiteness, as we use it here, is not a nonspecific term meant to serve as a general reference for white people, but rather it is an ideology of racial supremacy manifested through anti-black state practices, economic systems, laws, and behaviors. Since the purposeful creation of race in the modern world the system of racial supremacy has had a chokehold on the politically vulnerable. Like Garner, and like the fictionalized “Radio Raheem,” too many of us non-white people in the US and abroad, cannot breathe.
We. Cannot. Breathe.
Yes, issues of street harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, sub-par education, inadequate healthcare, disparate prison sentencing and non-existent food safety, as they specifically work to oppress Black women, are necessary conversations that have been buried for far too long.
As Foster so powerfully wrote, “I have no desire, as a Black woman, to be placed on a pedestal, but I will not allow myself to become a footstool. Do not ask me for empathy if you are content to deny it in return.”
Yes, yes, yes to all of that.
In a candid conversation with James Baldwin, Audre Lorde told him that Black women are balancing the precarious relationships between Black women and men, and that it couldn’t go on for much longer because, “Black women are holding it and we’re beginning to hold it in ways that are making this dialogue less possible.”
Because we have been invisibilized, shackled to a patriarchal system that seeks to deny us our right to wellness and freedom. We stand at the margins of racial justice, violated in the shadows while this president continues to position his mere presence as charity and urges us to take off our bedroom slippers and march to his same old tired song.
Knowing this, I do not need, want, seek, nor expect validation from those Black men who cling to archaic concepts of manhood and gendered community uplift. I am not waiting for those naked men to offer me their shirts.
In the words of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz: “I am for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.”
And the truth is, my feminism encompasses our sons, brothers, fathers, male friends, partners and allies. My feminism finds strength in tough love, not passive hatred.
My feminism is not silent on issues of racial injustice, domestic terrorism and state-sanctioned murder in hopes that mimicry of some Black men’s neglect and callousness will shift the tides of awareness. Instead, it screams that I am my sister’s and my brother’s keeper and we are much stronger together than we are apart.
So, Eric Garner, I speak your name, brother. You had the right to navigate this world as a free, Black man.
And just as you stood for your dignity and humanity before the NYPD stole the breath from your body, we will stand for you.
Follow Kirsten West Savali on Twitter at @KWestSavali.