Ridin’ and Dyin’: An Open Letter to African-American Men
I like to think of myself as a lover of African-American men. It’s hard not to. Indeed, pledging my love and allegiance to your plight is treated as a sacred tenet of being a conscious/intellectual African-American woman. My commitment to you is informed by both my awareness of our shared history in this nation and my interactions with African-American males in my personal life. We share the bond of being the only group of people brought to this nation as chattel slaves, kept in that condition for centuries. Though the intersection of race and gender causes a divergence in our experience, I’ve often felt that I must be sensitive to and supportive of you. African-American women have been the original ride or die chicks, the Bonnie to your Clyde, down from day one. We were chained to you in the hold of slave ships and stood next to you slashing sugarcane and picking cotton. We wrote letters to presidents to protest you getting lynched and sat next to you in pews when our churches were bombed. We’ve marched and picketed when you’re beaten and racially profiled. Whenever anyone dares to insult you in my presence, to tell me that the worst stereotypes of you are actually true, I eviscerate them. I will bring the muthafuckin’ ruckus for you. I stay ready and willing to defend both your humanity and your honor. However I confess that I often feel quite hurt and disappointed, because I don’t feel that you are as ready and willing to defend me.
The repugnant Harriet Tubman Sex tape skit put out by Russell Simmons-and the manner in which it has been defended- is the latest chapter in sisters’ being clowned publicly by brothers. Events like this hurt and wound me in a way that the antics of the likes of Rush Limbaugh never can. I know that African-American women have no worth and value to mainstream America. After all, we were only brought here to serve as a source of labor. But to be demeaned and attacked by you, the one who has endured so much with me, the one who is my reflection, is the deepest betrayal.
I think of all the misogynoir in corporate hip-hop and how you defend it, of how you shout us down when we attempt to discuss Colorism and Sexism within our own community. I think of the way you attack us for being too strong and angry-without realizing the context, that we often must be this strong and angry in defending ourselves because you don’t defend and rep us. I think of how often I hear you criticize and judge African-American women for the choices they make regarding their hair-yet refuse to call out both the Eurocentric standards of beauty of this society and our own community for internalizing them. I think of the ease with which you can enumerate our “flaws” for the world: we’re too fat, too dark, too strong, too willful and we don’t know our place.
But through all of this, I’ve still rolled with you. For so long I’ve done what you asked, made the sacrifices that you said were necessary for the advancement of the race, and some of my sisters have suffered dearly for that. From the sisters in the hood to those in the manicured cul de sacs, we’ve done what was expected. I recall how African-American women were pushed to the side once the Civil Rights Movement took off, our contributions written out of the official story. I think of the African-American women who have suffered rape and/or domestic violence at the hands of African-American men, yet told they shouldn’t press charges because of how unfair the system is to brothers!
I’m expected to put you first, and I’ve often done that. But through our shared history I am so hurt, and I now wonder: is it worth it? Is the day going to come where you hold me down as fiercely? After all this ridin’ and dyin’ that African-American women have done I must pose a question. To flip a phrase used by Lauryn Hill: ‘brother who I have to be to gain some reciprocity’?