The following is an excerpt from “The Rejected Stone,” the new book by MSNBC host and National Action Network president Rev. Al Sharpton.
I don’t think we’ve had an honest discussion about misogyny in the black community. I don’t think we’ve talked about the latent feelings of hostility many black men have toward black women, a misguided sentiment that black women somehow have taken part in society’s emasculation of black men. Maybe at some point back in our history, black women were used to emasculate us, but if so, they were being used against their will. They can’t keep paying for that. And black male insecurity cannot continue to be the justification for asking black women to step back and let some insecure boys play out their manhood issues.
It all brings to mind the battles I had when I was eighteen and was made the youth director of Shirley Chisholm’s presidential campaign in 1972. It was the first year that I would be eligible to vote, and I was so excited about the whole campaign and my role in it. Chisholm had been the first African-American woman elected to Congress in 1968, representing the twelfth congressional district in Brooklyn. Chisholm was fierce, brilliant, and courageous. I was proud to be in charge of organizing young people in support of her presidential campaign. But that sentiment wasn’t shared among the black leadership. Chisholm said that during her legislative career, she faced much more discrimination because she was a woman than because she was black. I can definitely attest to that, because I saw it with my own eyes.
I attended the unprecedented gathering of black leaders and activists that happened that year in Gary, Indiana, and I was shocked that they would not endorse Chisholm. Jesse Jackson and the others were going with George McGovern. I think a lot of their problem with her was because they felt, Shirley’s into that feminism. But my response was, Well, wait a minute, Shirley’s a black candidate with our agenda, in addition to a feminist agenda. Why can’t we support her? Shirley lived in Brooklyn, and I knew her very well. I saw the hurt and pain she went through having to fight black men. Shirley was more gifted and courageous than most of her contemporaries, but because she was a woman, she was denied a loftier status.
As her youth director, I felt the tensions. For a lot of these leaders, it was the first time I openly went against them. It was eye-opening, and it was painful, because I had to make a personal choice. I looked up to them, and I couldn’t believe their view was that limited and that biased. There’s no other way to put it. I knew there was considerable sexism in the church community, after watching the battles Bishop
Washington had gone through for his progressive views, such as ordaining women as preachers in the church. But I thought the leaders with whom I was mingling at the convention were more learned than that, more advanced than that. I learned a great deal during those days in Gary, lessons that helped me understand my community over the decades.
Forty years later, we are still going through these gender trials. We have quite a few prominent elected officials who are women, but I would expect the proportion to be greater than it is. So I frequently make conscious decisions in my sphere of influence to ensure that I include as many women as possible in the mix when it is time to establish the leaders of my organization. Of course, it is talent that is my top priority. That was surely the case with Tamika. But I also want to make sure women aren’t being discriminated against.
After my two daughters were born, I was even more disturbed by the prevalence of sexism I still saw around me. I’ve spent most of my life breaking down racial barriers, but it would be the ultimate irony if my daughters were denied opportunity not because of their race but because of their gender. My daughters went to very good schools; I was able to work hard and enable them to have a good education.
But if they can’t pull up to the table with the men of their generation, having a better education and better training than I had, then I have not done all I was supposed to do by dealing with race and not fighting hard enough against gender bias. My own bloodlines will be carried by two women who will have to deal with sexism and racism for the rest of their lives. It is my fervent prayer that the world they grow up in will see the shortsightedness of sexism, will see how much more powerful and dynamic we become when we grant the seeds of opportunity to every one of us. I hope my daughters in their lifetimes see the day when they can pull up a chair to the table and the man sitting next to them won’t find it necessary to make a mental note of their gender. And I say to all the young men out there who might find themselves one day sitting at the table next to my daughters and all the sisters of their generation and the generations after them: Their presence strengthens you, makes you stronger and smarter and more capable. It doesn’t diminish you.