Should Black Women Protest For Eric Garner?
Well the debate around the death of police choke-holding victim Eric Garner certainly escalated rather quickly and in a peculiar direction…
In the piece entitled, Why I Will Not March for Eric Garner, Kimberly Foster, founder of For Harriet, writes in part:
“When looking at Eric Garner’s lifeless body, I don’t have to imagine that he is my brother or my father to recognize the injustice of his suffering. My heart aches for the family he will never return to. And if the justice we speak of routinely is more than a figment of our imaginations, I pray it comes swiftly to Mr. Garner’s family.
But if the NYPD or the City of New York fail to act, I will not march for Eric Garner. I will not rally for him because I am reserving my mental and emotional energy for the women, the Black women, no one will speak for.
While the effectiveness of social media in spreading Garner’s story heartens me. I could not refrain from comparing the empathy shown him, particularly by Black men, to that which is heartbreakingly absent when Black women attempt to discuss the everyday terrors we experience both in the world and at their hands.
Watching black men show up for Garner after seeing so many derail conversations about Black women’s well-being leaves me with little more than a sinking feeling of despair upon recognition that the understanding so many of us crave will not come.”
Folks don’t realize the emotional strength and fortitude one must posses in order to put one’s self out here in these blogging streets, particularly as a woman. And more particularly, a woman with an opinion, which goes against how we have always done it or thought in the community. This essay has indeed pissed a bunch of folks off. However I sincerely thank Foster for putting this conversation out there – as well as the other Black women bloggers, who too have expressed similar sentiments over the last few months.
Personally, Garner’s death affected me. And it is not because I’m carrying water for team men or seek to put their well-being in front of our own. I’m affected by Garner’s because I watched a man take his last breath right in front of my eyes. Then I watch a video of the responding EMT and police fail to do their due-diligence to save his life, also right in front of my eyes. And I feel like this is a person whose death did not have to happen and occurred due to carelessness (in the least). And because of that, I feel like he is deserving of justice. And I also have a sneaking suspicion that he will be denied that justice, right in front of our eyes. But that is a blog post, for a later day – maybe during the acquittal.
Still watching the television news stories and photo slide shows from print publications from the various marches in his name, I can’t help but take note of how much of the crowd is represented by Black women. They march, sometimes with their children in tow, alongside with the men, chanting slogans about “Saving Our Sons” and holding up signs like “Stop Killing OUR Men.” There is an ownership to a cause, which by the numbers doesn’t directly affect black women. Sure, we can make the claim that police brutality and mass incarceration leaves the sisters without partners; but where in that debate is there acknowledge that many times, it’s not the police or the prisons, which makes the brothers leave? There is no condition of support and no debate about what he could have done to prevent this miscarriage of justice and violation of public trust. You hurt a brother, you hurt us too. And without pause or any trepidation, Black women show up. Each and every time.
It is not always the same.
As a former community organizer, it was not uncommon to attend meetings held in churches or on the actual block about important issues in the community, and the primary attendees are women. Old women; young women; married or single; the women showed up. Not to say that there would not be men present. Often times they were the most vocal and visibly noticeable, but by number and mass, Black women represented the strongest.
Same as with neighborhood block committees and captains. Some of the more visible voices and face were the men but it was the women, who humbly volunteered their time and even resources in the trenches: doing the calling and mailings, getting the people out to vote on election day, feeding the children, cleaning the abandoned lots and sweeping the streets, standing in the front lines of anti-violence marches, planning summer activities for the children, so forth and so on…
This is not to discredit the active menfolk in the community, who put in work (because they get kind of sensitive about that) but I’m just sharing something that was noticeable to me. And very problematic. It wasn’t that I felt like Black women were incapable of running communities. But it at times, I felt that the buy-in of “community” wasn’t always as important to menfolks, who seem to seek validation or riches elsewhere. And Black women, particularly those leading movements, were not always supported in their endeavors or even acknowledged. The caveat being Black boys and men are free to champion those causes – and provided plenty of platform to do so – like miniature versions of Michelle Alexander.
And it is a common thread, which I’ve seen has played out in various political and social movements throughout history within our community. Many activists during both the Civil Rights and Black Power movements have been pretty vocal about the treatment of women leaders. Most recently, unsung Civil Rights activist and leader Gloria Richardson spoke to The Root about how during the infamous March on Washington, women speakers/leaders were segregated and even kept from speaking on the big stage. And this article in USA Today, which talks about how women leaders like Rosa Parks and Dorothy Height (along with Richardson as she would confirm in The Root piece) walked down Independence Avenue during the March, while the men leaders got to walk with the press down Pennsylvania Avenue.
And how has this marginalizing and silencing of Black women socially and politically affected the community at large? It means that astronomical rates domestic violence and sexual assault are ignored in favor of not contributing to the “victimization” of our men by the criminal justice system. And worse we found ways to put the onus of marching, organizing and ultimately problem-solving domestic violence and sexual assault on the already feet-weary Black women while our menfolk, who are often perpetrators of such violence against us, are left to skirt around claiming ownership in the problem or even seeing it come to an end.
Not to mention how our emphasis on men has meant the almost totally obscure how mass incarceration, racial profiling and intimidation affects Black women. Like Alesia Thomas, who was repeatedly kicked in the groin and genitals by a lady cop until she blacked out and died. Or 93-year-old Pearlie “Miss Sully” Golden or 22-year-old Rekia Boyd, who were both shot and killed by trigger-happy policemen. And so was 23-year-old Shantel Davis. We barely speak their names if we know them at all. But we know and pay homage to Bell, Grant, and now Garner too.
So yeah, as a Black woman, who has screamed, cried, written letters, signed petitions, marched and even prayed for justice for our targeted Black women, I too like Foster am still waiting for our brothers to show up and out in the same respects for black women. And I really feel that women in general, who show up in full force to fight for the brothers, should recognize and then extend that same level tenacity and love to our fellow sisters.
However that does not mean that I stop showing up. As one of my fellow cultural critic Kirsten West Savali said it best in her response essay, Why I Will March for Eric Garner:
“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.”
It goes without saying that timing is important. And perhaps waiting until some time has passed or instead writing an essay on how we could support Garner’s wife during this difficult time would have been more appropriate. After all, Garner’s wife along with his surviving family members deserve, at the very least, some peace. But as someone, who regularly draws the ire of folks with provocative topics, when is it ever a good time to have these conversations we don’t want to hear?