I Feel Alone As A Black Woman
Reader Submission by Misha Williams
I watched a video today: A sister’s impassioned explanation of why feminism isn’t for Black women. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before from Umar Johnson, Tariq Nasheed, or any local “conscious” woke brutha. I agreed with portions of her statements, but what I didn’t agree with burned deep. I’m so tired of hearing men’s voices come out of women’s mouths. I’m so tired of the notion that I have to bury my divine feminine nature and well-being to be down with the cause. I’m not looking for any Anglo movement to tell me how to be a woman, nor am I’m willing to fold myself in patriarchal origami to comfort the cause.
I agree that feminism was never created with Black women in mind. (I’m more drawn to the concept womanism and I consider myself an anti-misogynist [my own term]). However, I think Sara Lena’s message lacks balance because it focuses primarily on the theme of the Black man as a “target.” The chess analogy she uses in the video to illustrate the difference between white and Black feminists (white feminists still have white men as their mate) is incomplete because, while the primary objective of the game is to capture the king, the queen is the most powerful and versatile piece. She’s able to work in ways the king can’t that ultimately aid in saving “the game.” So should we protect our kings and princes? Absolutely, but our queens ought to treated with strategic care as well.
This sister is correct that brothers get it from all sides. Yet, there is no mention of the misogyny (misgynoir) that Black women endure at the hands of the media and our own brothers. The very music that our communities consume is a form of verbal and emotional abuse: every other word is b-tch or some other demeaning term. In all of the protests and marches I’ve seen, I’ve never witnessed Black men taking to the streets in droves because of the rape, abuse and misrepresentation of Black women. For all the “my Black queen” and “my Black sister” rhetoric I hear from pro-black groups (religious or otherwise), I’m not seeing Black men sign up in large numbers to take mentoring roles and leadership roles outside of their immediate family, or to even hold one another accountable for the way they treat Black women and children. There are some doing the hard work — and they are great — but there are definitely not enough to meet the need.
(Vent moment: One of the main reasons I’m not feeling anyone’s religious rhetoric right now or currently going to any place of worship is because all this village talk is just that, talk. Brothers in these “affiliations” know they have grandsons, nephews, and cousins out here who don’t have father figures in their lives and they aren’t offering a damn thing but a head nod and a hug at the semi-annual family functions. There’s not a willingness to make a real sacrifice over time. If they are parenting their own, they are superstars enough.) This beautiful sister, however, has no problem making her case against feminism and doing so in a manner that holds other sisters to a standard she deems fit. Women are conditioned to correct, “support,” and police other women in all areas of life, from our style of dress, to our careers, and especially how we parent. Sometimes this is helpful and sometimes it’s not. But why are men so reticent to do the same among themselves? For example, if a man has a friend who has a child and said friend isn’t parenting said child actively the first man will likely have one of the following responses: (1) “Man that’s messed up he’s not with little dude, but that’s that man’s business; (2) “He wants to see his son but his baby mama’s trippin,'” (3)”I mean he didn’t even want to have a kid. She trapped him.” To that bullsh-t I will say, “trees don’t grow where seeds aren’t sown.”
The sister goes on explain in detail how abortion is targeted toward Black women and, historically, she has a strong leg to stand on. Yet, Planned Parenthood is profitable because both genders aren’t taught early on the power and sacredness of sex and the body in a holistic way free from religious rigidity. Family planning and reproductive health are not just women’s issues! If boys were taught their identity and value isn’t solely based on sexual conquests, we might not have adolescents and men swinging seed around in attempt to establish this misplaced notion of masculinity. But that’s a different post for a different day.
On to Lena’s commentary on government aid and its proposed effect on the black family. Welfare or social safety nets are present in most “first world” (hate the term but using it for the sake of this comment) countries. The decline of and decrease of the predominance of the traditional nuclear family is blamed on a number of factors including: socialist programs, moral erosion, and embracing secular lifestyles as opposed to religious adherence. While a disproportionate number of Black families are in economic despair, I hardly blame it solely on feminism.
The modern feminist movement didn’t really come about until the late 1950s and early 1960s. Our modern day welfare system came out of a response to the Great Depression and Black folks weren’t even invited to the party initially. In more recent years (the reforms under Bill Clinton) benefits were slashed and tied to working. So this notion that the majority of recipients are just screaming “The hell with men I want to live on welfare” is a bit hyperbolic and lacks the nuance of numerous economic and social dynamics. Also any custodial parent can apply for and access government assistance if he or she is deemed income eligible based on family size. I know of numerous two parent homes that receive nutrition and housing assistance and both parents work. They’re not scheming; times are tough. The things Lena describes (only women being able to access assistance) are generally outdated aspects of welfare programs.
Now on to her disdain for the love the skin you’re in approach. While this sister claims the movement for women to love themselves as they are is only advocating obesity and subsequent ailments, I thoroughly disagree. No one is out here intentionally rooting for diabetes. But as a people we are disproportionately located in food deserts, rightfully distrustful of the medical industry, and coming off of generations of a plantation and slavery diet. On top of those societal factors, Black women have everyone telling them who and that they’re not. How they aren’t beautiful, feminine, articulate, skinny, etc. It’s deeper than being pro-fat.
For starters, health isn’t prioritized in our community as a whole. Black men have a higher incidence of prostate cancer and heart disease, yet men’s physical appearances aren’t scrutinized in nearly the same fashion as women, irrespective of race. Thinness isn’t always indicative of health. Further, I think the love the skin you’re in approach is a push towards self acceptance. A woman has a duty to love her body first and foremost because it’s hers. Out of such love, education, and support she will likely be empowered to make healthier choices and form better habits for her benefit. That brings me to the fact that Lena’s message doesn’t address the patriarchal approach that says women are only for a man or only for motherhood. The individual is not more important than the community and there is no community without the individual. But come on, no one, and I mean no one, holds brothers down like sisters. A great read on this very topic is Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present by Jacqueline A. Jones.
Black women aren’t turning their backs on brothers as this sister seems to believe. I think what we are seeing is more sisters demanding a greater level of reciprocity from those we love to love. I can love brothers and still call bullsh-t. Real love corrects. We all need to be more accountable and teachable. I have sons and daughters and neither is more or less valuable. Both are needed and valuable. But don’t ask me to neglect the reality of sexual abuse, neglect, and other forms of violence against my race and gender in order to be considered a down-for-the-cause I-got-your-back strong Black woman.
The Black family needs healing and understanding on all sides. Traditional extremist feminist probably isn’t going to bring it about, but neither is the status quo.