What Role Should Black Men Play In The #SayHerName Movement?
What should Black men’s roles be in the Say Her Name movement?
The answer might seem like a no-brainer: support is what is needed. But what exactly does that support look like? Are Black men supposed to fight and speak up and out on our behalf or are they supposed to step aside and let the women lead?
As reported by Josh Kruger from the Philadelphia City Paper, activists in Philly associated with the Say Her Name and Black Lives Matter movements recently struggled with this very question. It began at a protest called “Say Her Name: Black Men in Defense of Black Womanhood,” where about 50 people gathered “organically” at the Clothespin across from City Hall. Among other things, they held up signs, which listed the names of police brutality victims as well as Mumia Abu-Jamal.
One of the organizers, Tommy Joshua, told the paper that the protest was to call attention to the Sandra Bland case, where a Black woman mysteriously died in a Texas prison cell. But as reported by the paper, the protest went left when some of the activists objected to men being the predominate speakers at the march while using the #SayHerName hashtag label.
In particular, activist Megan Malachi of Action Against Black Genocide grabbed the bullhorn. According to the Philadelphia City Paper, she had this to say:
“What I’m seeing by some brothers is that, once again, you all are not interested in Black liberation. You’re interested in Black male liberation for yourselves,” Malachi continued. The crowd began to interspersedly cheer and murmur. “Quite frankly, we’re fucking sick of it. The Black woman is not fighting in the streets for your Black asses so we can come home and be slaves to you.”
After the protest, Kruger asked Malachi what men and other allies could do “to help unite the overall movement,” and she told him that standing back and listening is a start.
“I think that Black women are unified. We have been in the forefront of protecting not just Black women, but also Black men. We were on the forefront when Trayvon Martin was killed, when Michael Brown was killed, when Tamir Rice was killed. So, now we’re asking for our brothers, our Black men, to do the same thing in return,” she said. “Stop trying to co-opt these spaces that are reserved for Black women. Stand back and listen. Start unpacking your misogyny, your male privilege, and stop trying to hide behind the fact that you are Black men.”
Those were some harsh truths. And yet, I don’t believe that the male activists protesting that day were attempting to co-opt spaces. But the reality is that nobody likes to think about intersectionality, especially when there are more important things to worry about. That’s the excuse right? “There are more important things to worry about.” But we are more than capable of thinking about more than one issue at one time. And even within those “more important things to worry about,” there are a multitude of other matters that need to be addressed. And discussing those issues might be crucial to finally addressing the “more important things to worry about.”
For quite some time, Black liberation and civil rights (and many other Black progression movements in America) have centered on the empowerment and freedom of Black men, in particular. But Black women and our disenfranchisement, as well as contributions to such movements, have been relegated to mere footnotes. Remember the March on Washington? Well, as civil rights movement activist Gloria Richardson told Keli Goff of The Root, female speakers and activists were often separated from the men so that they could have the spotlight. In fact, “while the male civil rights leaders walked to the march down Pennsylvania Avenue with the press, the women were relegated to walking down Independence Avenue.”
Even today, there are marches against the mass incarceration of Black men and the effect it is having on Black families. However, there are very few marches held about the wage and housing disparities for Black women and the effect it has on the Black families left behind. There are marches to save our young men from Black-on-Black street violence, but very few to raise awareness about young Black women being saved from domestic violence at the hands of their Black male partners. And there has been a plethora of demonstrations organized around the disenfranchisement and murders of Black men by the police. But until fairly recently (thanks to the efforts of Black women and men through the pretty multicultural Say Her Name campaign), few have been willing to speak up on behalf of women who too have been victimized.
We are all affected by White supremacy. And Black men need to be at the forefront of the movement the same way that Black women are out on the front lines battling for their protection. They also need space to say our names too, as it is not easy for men reared in a world where they are physically unable to protect women and children. With that being said, that protectionism doesn’t come by way of regressive ideas about Black damsels in distress. The consequence of that thinking is why Black women, our victimization, and our contributions have been largely ignored, erased and devalued throughout history. And it is reflective of how we are treated and regarded by the larger society.
Therefore, Black men have to recognize our liberation and freedom to speak for ourselves as much as they recognize our victimization. The best thing that Black men can do is to share space with us to say our own names and then find ways to support our leadership and platforms.