Accountability (Part 3 of 5)
There is a lot to hold Black men accountable for when it comes to the perpetuation of patriarchy, rape culture, and anti-Black woman sentiment. There is a lot to hold Black men accountable for when it comes to the soaring rate of intimate partner violence among Black people. There is a lot to hold Black men accountable for regarding the wholesale destruction of Black women.
Some will read these words and they will be angry because they do not allow an out for the “good” Black men who are not guilty, but if one of us is guilty, we all are guilty, because we do not hold one another accountable for our violence towards Black women. Some will call this divisive, and say that pointing fingers does nothing to promote unity, yet will ignore the fact that so-called conscious folks have been solely blaming Black women for all the ills of the Black community for decades now. It is not divisive to center those who have been pushed on the margins, while calling those who have called themselves protectors to the carpet, and charging them with doing what they claim to be able to do.
Regarding the perpetuation of patriarchy, rape culture and anti-Black woman sentiment, we needn’t look much further than the arena of hip-hop for a poignant illustration. The voices of Black women are generally marginalized and discounted unless they can be brought into alignment with the general culture of hip hop, or their bodies can be packaged and sold as a product fit for the consumption of the male gaze. There is nothing quite so evocative of rape culture, which is a term that has now become shorthand for a culture that produces and supports rape and rapists before it protects and supports rape victims, than the idea that women exist for the gratification of men. We see this travel to the general culture in several ways, most notably in the difference of response to the rape allegations of Bill Cosby.
I heard several arguments from men which regarding some of the earlier accounts, attempted to establish the fact that since Bill Cosby was a major player in Hollywood and was reasonably attractive, he could have had any woman he wanted. This, however blatantly disregards the general understanding that rape is primarily about power and not attraction or sexual desire. This accusation reduces the woman in the situation to an object, and lays the groundwork for the following argument of well, she probably just had sex and it wasn’t what she expected, so she’s accusing him of rape. When Beverly Johnson came out with her account of Cosby’s rape of her, she immediately detailed her desire to protect Black men, because had she not done so, she would have immediately been accused of being put up to it by the ever present “powers that be” to nefariously bring down Bill Cosby in his old age. That did not protect her from that particular criticism from Black men, however. This is a clear indication of the rampant anti-Black woman sentiment of many Black men who are willing to believe an outlandish conspiracy theory before they believe the words of a Black woman regarding her own experiences at the hands of a “legend.” Patriarchy is perpetuated on many levels in many ways, but in the interest of this argument, the major focus is on how Black men will amplify our issues with law enforcement, but are too busy insinuating that if Sandra Bland had a husband, she would still be alive to defend her right to live, regardless of these well documented problems with Blackness and law enforcement, I suppose.
We will shout from the rooftops about how Black boys are marginalized and held back by the educational system and the school to prison pipeline, but will remain conspicuously silent as to the effects of this very same system on Black girls. This is anti-Black woman sentiment. I have even seen it present in the hypercriticism surrounding Beyonce’s Formation video, notably in the form of memes predominantly shared by Black men, which of all things, presented Beyonce’s use of a blonde wig as evidence that her pro-Black Lives Matter stance was just a ploy to sell records. Anti-Black Woman sentiment all around.
That brings me to the issue of intimate partner violence in the Black community. According to the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community, Black women face intimate partner violence at a 35% higher rate than White women, and at 2.5 times the rate of men and other races. In short, Black women are in danger, and since Black women predominantly date and marry Black men, there is no mystery involved in who is killing Black women. By and large, it is Black men who are putting Black women at risk. Black men. The same Black men that they rally for (and sometimes with, quiet as kept) are increasingly violent towards the Black women that claim to love them. What manner of love is this that does not protect her right to life, liberty or happiness? Since this is an epidemic among Black men, then what specifically does that say about Black men? I believe it says that we are so hungry and so starved for a semblance of power and autonomy, that when it is received, it is then transferred negatively onto the ones closest to us in the most unhealthy and brutal of ways. It is an interesting thing to watch when Black women bring this up on Twitter, because they are almost always shot down and called “man-bashing” but if the statistics bear out that Black men seem unnecessarily violent towards Black women, (and they do) then you cannot be upset when this narrative that you do not like is no longer a narrative but the truth. Instead of being angry at the women who are shining a light on this underserved issue, what we ought to be doing is to be finding out ways to curb domestic violence as a community of men, finding out ways to teach our sons directly that women are not the property of men, nor are they things to be controlled through brute force. If these statistics make us angry, then we need to find out a way to take our collective anger out on these men who feel so powerless that the only thing they feel is in their control is their partner. We need to hold these men accountable, in whatever form that takes, we need to to do what it takes to ensure that these women whom we are so vocal about protecting are actually protected as a community.
The devaluation of Black women by the larger society is well documented, and it is something which I have no interest in exploring. I’m much more concerned with the manner in which we devalue Black women in our interpersonal interactions. When Black women voice their concerns with rampant street harassment, Black men are right there to question how big of a problem it really is. Black men are there to invalidate the lived experiences of Black women, and to offer up their own tales of street harassment by Black women, but it’s not remotely close to the same experience for Black men. We have the comfort of knowing that we can refuse women, and the worst thing that can happen to us is possibly being called gay. Black women do not have that particular luxury. A Black woman rejecting a Black man is generally perceived as not just rejecting that particular Black man, but her rejection of him is seen as a threat and a challenge to his masculinity, which leads him to stalk, verbally threaten, or even kill her. As a result, Black women feel an intense pressure to comply, not necessarily because they are interested, but because it is an act of internalized self preservation. We devalue Black women by reducing them to pieces with our gaze, as though they exist solely for our gratification, as though the only reason women wear certain clothes is to garner praise from men. We devalue Black women by removing their autonomy and right to wear what they want without a remark as to how good they look, or how their lips indicate their level of oral sex prowess. We devalue Black women by not allowing them to express their frustrations without calling them bitches. We devalue Black women by expecting them to silently sit by as we do nothing to lift the burdens we have unjustly placed on their backs. They are not the mules which we load down with the things we do not wish to carry. They are human, they bleed, they get tired, and they will not sit back and be continually taken for granted. The longer we refuse to hold Black men accountable for our devaluation of Black women and our perpetuation of patriarchy, rape culture and anti-Black woman sentiment, the more angry Black women will get. They will not always be our mules, they will eventually throw the massive weight we have stacked on them off their backs, and what will we do then?