My ex-girlfriend and I used to have these discussions where she’d share her frustrations and experience navigating corporate America. As a black man, her perspective was valuable to me. I was also able to understand the pressures black women feel but rarely talk about. For generations, we’ve propped black women up as pious pillars of strength. We don’t talk as loudly about their daily encounters so their voices get lost in the noise because of patriarchy.
And yes, black men — no matter how often the police stop and frisk us, no matter how much we get overlooked for that promotion, no matter how oppressed we feel day in and day out — we have a level of privilege. That biologically-assigned benefit will never be afforded to women. Whether it’s obvious or not, we flex that privilege as often and as harsh as we can; at the expense of our most dedicated advocates.
As recent as August, a black woman was beaten to death by her ex-husband. You know what the sheriff in the county said? She’d be alive if she’d had a gun.
“Use the system. Use the system. Use the system. But you know what else? Get your concealed weapons permit. Ladies, learn how to safely handle a weapon, learn how to safely store a weapon, and when you’re in a situation like this, shoot him in your back yard before he gets in your house. Drop him. I mean, I’m serious. Take the extremes necessary to live a life where you don’t have to worry about your kids and your life.”
Soooo…in a country where an unarmed black woman was forced out of her car and physically assaulted by an officer (we won’t forget you #SandraBland), you expect a black woman to get a gun to protect herself? He must not have heard about Marissa Alexander.
For all of the marching, protesting, and hashtagging we collectively do, black men are often the primary abusers of black women. It doesn’t always have to be a punch or a slap. Abuse is about control and taking away the freedom of expression. Therefore, it starts with words. Little black girls experience verbal abuse in their own homes and neighborhoods. I’m sure there are many women who can recall being called ugly or any number of pejorative names. Sometimes it was purposefully mean-spirited. Most of the time, though, it was how we as young boys got attention from the girl we liked. When she rejected us, we lashed out. That early behavior went un-checked and unlabeled as abuse.
Many black women also have stories about being coaxed into situations they weren’t entirely comfortable with by older men. These relationships are predatory in their nature. There are men who particularly prey on the innocence of young black women because it allows them to be abusive without accountability. These harmful ideologies continue in cycles. The entitlement and privilege is exercised daily. We see it now in the conversation surrounding street harassment. And for the most part, black women ignore it. They deal with it. They accept it. But if you looked closer, black women are constantly trying to side-step the subjugation from us. They shrink themselves in the same way white people expect us to shrink ourselves in their presence. Yet, that parallel is somehow missed by a lot of brothers.
So how can we make black women feel like we’re on their side? How can the nameless black girl on the 2 train feel just as safe as your wife or your sister? I don’t have all the answers. However, black women are telling us what they want and need from us. I do know that we’re often willfully silent to abuse going on around us because “she’s not my mother/sister/girlfriend/wife/daughter”. It shouldn’t require us to make that connection to acknowledge that no woman should have to simply endure to exist.
Just like any other cause that brings focus, the operative action is “awareness”. We need to be aware that violence against black women doesn’t begin when they get into romantic relationships. It starts way earlier. As black men and future black fathers, it’s up to us to make black femininity feel safe. When I have a daughter, I’m going to make sure she knows that no type of abuse is normal. I’ll empower her to never make excuses for abuse of any kind. Not all men are savages. Not all men abuse. Hell, some men don’t have to be physically violent to inflict pain on the women in their lives. However, it’s selfish to hang onto “I’m not like that” as a way to dismiss the facts that so many of our peers are.
Black women need our compassion. Black women need our empathy. Black women need our eyes and ears. Black women need our loyalty. They need to know that our struggles as men aren’t in competition with theirs. We all suffer. We all hurt. But nobody wins when the black woman is neglected.