Life

The Thing About Black Womanhood

Hey guys. I’m back.

A friend of mine asked me back in February about how she should contextualize Black Womanhood to her Black male students. I felt it was important for me to really dig in on what this means because when I was younger and in school, I do not believe that this was made into an explicit priority, and it should have been. When we talk about feminism, we hear lots of noise about the accomplishments of White women. When we talk about the struggle and Blackness, we tend to focus on the accomplishments, lives, and deaths, of Black men.

And so when chatting about this with my friend, I wanted to really articulate the important role that Black women play in making the world turn.

Forgive my punctuation. This is a rant.

I was raised with a certain set of privileges, even as a black man. I’ve been afforded certain opportunities because of the sacrifices made by my family, and at least when I was younger, it allowed me to operate with the illusion that the world is fixed. But it is not fixed. Black people on every level of society continue to make sacrifices and choices based on what their individual choice means “for everyone else.”

I’ve always assumed that I had an understanding of black womanhood, because my mother is black, my sister is black, and all of the women in my family are black. I’ve even dated some black women, so that should mean I totally understand my special responsibility toward black women, right? I understand being black, and I “understand” women, so that means I “get” the significance of black womanhood, right?

Wrong.

I “get” it in the sense that I appreciate Black women to the ends of the earth.  But I am not a black woman, and I have not experienced that life through my own eyes. The best I can do is relate, be compassionate, and give a shit–but I’m unable to subtract the privilege that comes with my gender identity.

Regardless of your mama, or your sister, or your girlfriend, or whoever–you as a black man will always have an important role as an ally, investing in the future, advancement, and celebration of black women. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that in my experience it was always important to know the difference between how black women as individuals regard themselves, and how the media regards the telepathic monolithic hive-mind that they invented in an attempt to define, control, misappropriate, repackage, and resell Black femininity.

Honestly, right now, in my early 20s, as I come to understand the privilege that I still “merit” as a man I understand specific intersections between race and gender. I think in the same way that white feminists need to shut their fucking traps about “we’re all women, tho” black men must also shut their fucking traps about “we’re all black” and “black women are this” and “black women are that.” Because for some reason, the etherized masses look at how we regard black women because when it comes to black men and women, men still win the Privilege Olympics. And, being men, we don’t listen. We fucking flex that privilege to the point that we engage in that same marginalization of black women that white folks and other institutions use to keep the black community as whole down.

It’s cannibalism. How we regard black women runs so much deeper than the nearest black woman we can cite to justify how we represent our own beliefs about our beliefs. How we regard black women runs deeper than blood.

We improve how we see black women by truly seeing and appreciating the role black women have had in advancing our culture. We improve this when we can finally appreciate the obvious strength and power that black women have, and the sacrifices/challenges they endure on every tier of society. We improve on how we see black women, when we stop trying to control what black women are and what black women can be. We improve on how we see black women when we stop using femininity as a slur or something to be ashamed of. We need to listen to voices in our community (honestly Black Twitter is filled with brilliant female thinkers, but you should prolly read a few books homie).

I’ve seen a number of movies and TV shows and read books that treat black women as people, but honestly, we need to think about how black women are portrayed in a macro sense and think about what we see. It’s a narrative of control where black women are fetishized & commodified (Robert Crumb, Miley Cyrus, Iggy, WW who get surgery to have “black asses”‘ etc.), black women are told they must appear a certain way (everyone wants to control how a black woman’s hair “should be”, black women are held to bullshit European beauty standards, 12 Years A Slave – WW vs. BW), and (although there’s MUCH more shit for me to cite) stories of black women that need our attention in the news are covered very little. The last one hurts me because it’s obvious what the problem is when a pregnant black woman getting assaulted by the cops isn’t a nationally covered problem. The problem is that as a culture we are not listening to black female voices. We aren’t valuing their voice enough, when black women are not as easily afforded the opportunity to think only of themselves–they think about everyone.

Note: My friend had a few questions that I didn’t answer, but use your context clues.

I know this was a lot and I answered none of your questions. I think 12 Years A Slave’s, Patsy is a great example of the challenges of black femininity. I don’t think as a man I can say “I understand black womanhood”. It feels a little too much like a pat on the back for what should be a daily challenge to consider the similarities in our struggle as a race and the divide that comes with our gender identities. Understanding is not the endpoint. Understanding is an everyday action. If they want to understand they need to know that its something you do, not something that happens.

Our biggest challenges (whether you are a cisman, or non-Black) will be considering your own experience and speaking to them from what is ostensibly an outsider perspective. Not a tough issue to navigate if you’re bright. But you know as well as I the challenge that comes when a “non-Black woman” in a position of authority teaches black men about the black experience in any permutation. Let them teach each other, and school them if they wile out. I think it’s important for Black men to create their own goals and for educators to help them find the tools to get there independently.

Just my opinion.

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