Over the past few days, the conversations I’ve had about the Damon Young essay, “Straight Black Men are the White People of Black People,” are telling. Every single one. I’ve listened to all kinds of perspectives. Grateful for that. But I’m finished, for a while. I learned some things but, unfortunately, I didn’t really get anywhere with it all. My own limitations, perhaps?
At first, I thought, “Couldn’t this writing have contributed more to the conversation?” But it did what internet media does very well: it quickly smoked out the people who needed to have this conversation. It was clear that some of us aren’t familiar with work that has already been done to address and attempt to heal intraracial, patriarchal violence in Black communities. As such, the writing really didn’t have to do much more than it did, which was to get people to emotionally react and respond to a title that, I’d argue, is misleading for its extremely relevant content. Nonetheless, this work has been done and continues to be articulated by Black women in academia, in the hood, and throughout the diaspora. Black women addressing the pitfalls of patriarchal violence and the ways that Black men perpetuate it is nothing new.
Black women’s issues just aren’t a priority for many people.
A common denominator in these conversations are those people who throw red herrings into every argument to distract from what Black women are actually addressing in our critique of Black male patriarchal violence in our communities and intimate partnerships. It often boils down to challenging our ‘love’ for Black men, as if we have no right to address it publicly, or at all. Like a few of the people I talked to, I took personal offense to this, but I tried not to let it distract me from what was being presented. Many Black men were hurt by the accusation. Many desired a more balanced perspective. Except…maybe we can’t always come to the throne of Black Kings, readied with kneepads and ‘scholarly’ articles that everyone seems to think are without bias. Maybe what we are bringing are our raw experiences with patriarchal and sexual violence by the hands of Black men. Is that not where the ‘evidence’ comes from, in the first place?
In criticizing the article’s perceived limitations (Can Black men be the “white people of Black people…really? Are we only addressing cishet Black men and, if so, what are the limitations of this?), we should know that it’s not the tone of what is being said that has so many Black men on the defensive. It’s that we have the nerve to criticize Black men, publicly, at a time in human history when white, capitalist, cisheteropatriarchy is waging war against their bodies and spirits. Specifically, to compare a Black man to a white man might even seem disrespectful and fallacious, as Black men do not posses the same social privileges as do white men. However, the piece hit on some salient points that are being attacked by virtue of who is being addressed (Black men) and by whom (Black women), even though Young likely wrote the essay with the full understanding that his privilege as a male would not shield him from the backlash of calling other Black men to task.
This has long been an issue in Black communities. It always becomes an implication, or even a direct accusation, that Black women are never justified in addressing the violence of Black men because we should be unconditionally allied. If we do choose address the violence, then we ‘don’t really love’ Black men. But Black men aren’t the only ones feeling the weight of racial oppression. The entire Black diaspora is feeling the weight of racial oppression. The delusions of racial supremacy and inferiority aren’t gender or sex-specific. Problems arise when we’re taught to internalize and perpetuate violence against each other, however. In this way, Black men resisting accountability for patriarchal violence against Black women and children is harmful and should be addressed, as Black women and children often experience traumatic physical and psychological suffering as a result of patriarchal violence. Black male children often grow up to be the same men who perpetuate this violence. Then, they partner (or not) in raising these children. Uncomfortable as this conversation may be, this cycle of violence needs to be addressed and healed so that it can stop.
I’ve noticed that quite a few otherwise outspoken Black women in my own networks aren’t even sharing the article for fear of backlash, but that they hold similar perspectives (shared privately) on patriarchal violence within Black communities. We regularly address violence against us by Black men in matter-of-factly ways. We often toe the line in discussing this painful part of our existence because many of us were raised to be unconditionally allied with Black men. We get the same responses no matter our approach, however. Damon Young, a Black man, is probably receiving a fraction of the pushback that Black women feel whenever we dare to address these issues so, in this light, the work became useful either as a point of understanding or as a point of ideological departure.
Thankfully, none of the Black men in my life have made the assumption that I don’t love them as a result of my addressing patriarchal violence in Black communities. They haven’t called me with the, “Keema, wassup with that?” Maybe because they are afraid to be misunderstood. Or, maybe it’s because they know that we’ve already had these conversations and are working to be more honest with each other. Part of how I came to love many of them is because they made space to have these difficult conversations when I needed them most. They are doing the work of healing our community through liberation praxis. They are attuned to themselves. They listen to Black women. They listen to Black people. When I’m frustrated, they don’t ask me for evidence of my pain. When I’m happy, they don’t ask me for justification. They ask me if they can share, and I oblige.
Never do they treat other Black women as if we are without fault, however, and I honor this honesty. It also becomes a question of whether we’re holding Black women to be without fault, or infallible, in Black communities. But, no, that’s a dangerous assumption and would be even more dangerous, in practice. But we should know that there are layers to how one comes to be on the receiving end of violence, just as many as there are layers to access to safety from violence. Black women often fail to elicit empathy from Black men and mainstream society when violence against our bodies is addressed. This doesn’t mean that Black women aren’t without fault in perpetuating intra-communal violence. None of us are. If we asked Black children more about how they feel, it’s likely that too many of us would be exposed to a shame greater than we could handle. However, discussing the ways that Black women perpetuate violence in Black communities doesn’t mean that we can’t address violence that Black men commit against Black women. All of this violence is related. But not all forms of violence are equal, and we need to stop assuming that they are. Ultimately, the road to liberation within our communities lies in truth, accountability, and reconciliation on part of all Black people.
What I do think is happening is that we’re stuck on this idea that none of us can be free until we submit to the needs and motivations of Black men, which often requires unconditional devotion to their healing, prioritized over ours, even to the detriment of Black women and children. I see and hear it every day. The reasoning falls apart, however. Eventually, patriarchal violence rears its head and a Black woman or girl ends up dead for refusing a dance or making a man angry, and then we have baked chicken and rice at the repast talking about how he was “such a good father…we can’t believe it…” “She was such a good girl with a bright future!,” “How did no one know what was happening?” As such, it would behoove us to bring more nuance to the conversation than, “Y’all do us wrong, too!” At some point, we’re going to realize that we’re not having the same conversation, on paper or in our most radical imaginations, even if both conversations are absolutely necessary. We need to create and share more balanced and inclusive visions of liberation.
There are calls for evidence, statistical analysis, and fairness, which imply that Black women are overreacting about the violence many suffer at the hands of the Black men that they love. It has been implied that certain stories are amplified in order to further demonize Black men and serve the goals of white supremacist violence. History has taught us to question stories about ourselves, and rightfully so. In my own experience, the ‘evidence’ of violence against Black women by Black men comes from what I’ve witnessed, and continue to witness, of violence against Black women and children by virtue of growing up in the hood where trauma is a way of existing. These are the stories of Black women being left to raise children on their own, with or without the help of extended families. Of Black women and girls succumbing to extreme stress and trauma from normalized sexual violence and abandonment. Of Black women violently perpetuating trauma in their own families as a result of mental distress induced by perpetual trauma. Black people are constantly having traumatic responses to racism in the United States, whether they manifest in internalized violence such as body modification to change African features, or in externalized violence such as intimate partner or child abuse. Black men know this as intimately as we do because they bear witness to it, as well as perpetuate it.
Yet, in fighting the demon of racism, too many Black men have begun to cling to every bit of power that they can, often rendering Black women and children the unwitting victims of their violent expressions against white supremacist oppression. It’s difficult to have these conversations about our need to unify when we’re all witnessing the re-traumatization of Black communities and some of us are interjecting with gaslighting, “I don’t THINK that’s happening like you CLAIM it’s happening.” Okay. What a nice thought you have: but here are the bodies. Here is the evidence.
If there are Black men who are angry about being compared to the white men who openly violate and humiliate them, consider the ways in which we have all internalized racial oppression and patriarchal violence. Both racism and gender/sex-based violence are delusional and harmful to ourselves and others. If nothing else, we should learn the lessons that so many white men can’t seem to understand. Black men certainly don’t gain the same benefits as white men do from perpetuating violence against Black women and children. This is what Black women have been saying.