Underneath It All
When I was thirteen years old I wrote a poem titled “To The Brothers”. Full of the zeal and naïveté typical of the young, I poured out my feelings to the Black Man. I waxed eloquently on what the evil of White Supremacy had done to the Black Man. My Grandma loved the poem, and eagerly shared it with my aunts. Next thing I know I’m pressed to read it at church for Black History Month.
I stood at the podium that day, nervous over the prospect of sharing my gift so publicly. But I read and they listened intently. The silence was only broken when I recounted the lynching and castration of Black men, when the elders sighed loudly, cried and called out to Jesus at the memories my words evoked. However when I reached the last stanza, where I admitted that the world did not love Black men but assured them collective Black womanhood DID they were all smiles. After the benediction that day I received tight hugs and effusive praise from the adults, complimenting me on both my words and my outlook. The message I received was loud and clear: devotion to Black men was expected. By co-signing it I became a good Black American girl. That good Black American girl was supposed to grow into a good Black woman who would only marry a Black man and produce Black children.
In some ways I suppose I fulfilled that. I married a Black man, bore a little Black girl. But last year I started a process that wasn’t part of the blueprint that had been given to me. I began thinking of my identity as a Black woman. I started addressing the sexism and the ways that my brothers contributed to the oppression of Black women. I’ve written about these discussions in previous posts, so I will not rehash them here. However the fallout from those discussions was INTENSE! It reached a point where I had to recuse myself altogether, due to the level of acrimony and emotion involved. My decision helped decrease the tension but it didn’t solve the problem. At times my interaction with brothas makes me wonder if we are even existing in the same reality. I feel like I’ve walked into a twilight zone and can’t find my way out.
The state of gender relations within the Black community has provoked a backlash among Black women. Tired of being told we are “too(insert negative word here)” some sistas have declared that they are done with Black men. Absorbing the toxic messages thrown at them for so long they now want to have nothing to do with men of their own race. A minority even aggressively push interracial dating as a “solution” to Black women’s frustrations. Their words mirror the hurtful commentary that we sistas have been on the receiving end of for decades. I call them the N.A.S. Crew, as according to them all “Negroes ain’t SHIT!” Lord knows I understand that hurt and frustration that drives my sisters to think this way. I’ve been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. I know how it feels to be told your color and African descent make you less in the eyes of men who share it. I know how it feels to watch as they elevate women of every other group and treat you like the hired help. I know what it’s like to hold this man high in your head, to think of him as your king and the only one for you. I completely relate to the shock of discovering that some of our own brothers can be just as oblivious to our plight as any non-Black person. I get it.
Yet and still, I cannot bring myself to say that “black men ain’t shit“. I can’t write them all off and say “fuck them all, I don’t need them!” For even through all of my anger and frustration, there is one fact I cannot escape. Underneath it all-the kissing of my teeth, my exasperated sighs, the searing glares used to convey my incredulity and silent desire to throw bricks at the heads of those who say these off the wall things to me-there is one fact that I cannot escape: my father is a Black man. The father of my child is a Black man. My beloved cousins are Black men, and the nephew I adore will grow up to be one. So even through all my frustration and tears I know I can’t separate myself from them. Black men are the other half of my very being. Frankly I don’t want to separate from them in the fashion that some of my weary sistren suggest, for I realize that to do so would ultimately be to cut myself off from my own people. I can’t do that. However I also cannot ignore my pain.
With that said, leh we talk. Let us try to speak with each other openly-not as enemy combatants in a neverending gender war, but as friends and family. You are part of me, and I of you. We cannot exist without one another. Now as a Black woman I have my own cross to bear in this country, so I can never say that I fully experience life as you do in America. Gender does make a difference. I’m aware of what white supremacy has done to your manhood and your identity. But subjugating and mistreating me is not the path to liberation. Your freedom and peace cannot-will not-come through my degradation. Nor do I wish to be treated as your property. I did not fight to break the shackles of enslavement and possession from white men only to for you to take over. I do love you and want to work with you-but as your partner, not your property.
In addition to being treated as your partner there is one more desire I need you to fulfill. Brother I need you to see me. Not the caricatures that White Supremacy has drawn of Black women, but as we actually exist. As a Black woman I’m unfairly held to a standard of femininity in America that I can’t ever fulfill, as I have always been excluded. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m still a woman, a human. I get hurt. I have emotions. I’m vulnerable. I cry. At times the way I hear some Black men speak to and of Black women cuts my being. When you insist that we are all “too strong” and accuse us of being ‘hypermasculine’ and ‘aggressive’ it pierces. For that is the language of our mutual oppressor-not a language of love and kinship.Indeed, one of the greatest tragedies of our sojourn in the New World is the way it distorts our view of each other. I know I’ve been guilty of looking at you in a twisted way as well, and I’m working to change that. For the future of our people, I need you to do the same.
It isn’t 1993 anymore. I can’t be the naive Black girl that I was back then, eager to smile and pledge my unconditional love to you thoughtlessly. However I can be a Black woman who recognizes how essential we both are for the sake of our children. I can be a Black woman who knows that when it goes down for our people we are both affected. I can be a Black woman who looks back to our shared ancestors, and knows that giving up on the other half of her community isn’t an option. We have both been wounded my dear. So underneath it all-through the miscommunication, the exasperation and anxiety-I extend my hand to you in solidarity. Shall we proceed?