Last weekend, I found myself watching Chris Rock’s Bigger & Blacker stand-up special. It still makes me laugh to the point of tears.
Rock’s bit about how we as black people “need a new black leader” resonated with me. In it, the comedian insists that we need a viable replacement for Martin and Malcolm.
He basically skewers leaders like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan. He pokes fun at how black folks act like Biggie and Pac were “assassinated.” All of Rock’s jokes, however, seem to focus on who the next black male leader will be.
If we need a “new leader,” cool. But why don’t we ever ask who “she” might be?
When we talk about the Black Panther movement, it’s common to hear names such as Bobby Seale, Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver. And when names such as Ella Baker, Daisy Bates and Fannie Lou Hamer are brought up, their importance to the movement is typically reduced to secondary or tertiary importance, despite the massive societal feats they were responsible for.
Hell, it’s been criminal how and why the name Claudette Colvin is not more universally renown.
Within the Civil Rights and Black Panther movements, there’s one constant that both groups shared: Sexism.
The all-male March on Washington committee initially neglected to invite any women to speak before the crowd, before a group of women raised their voices in protest. Women received a limited opportunity to speak as a measure of quelling their concerns, and the event, just like the movement itself, returned to being black male-centered.
In the Black Panther party, great women such as Kathleen Cleaver openly chastised the organization’s male leadership and their unwillingness to adopt ideas and strategies put forward by their “sisters.” While I will always love the Black Panther Party and the Civil Rights movement for the massive effect they had on saving black lives and instilling bravery and courage in us a people, the manner in which black women were treated will always be a sore spot.
Today, the Black Lives Matter movement has finally provided the black community a rallying cry and sense of purpose we’ve desperately needed for decades.
Instances of police brutality will no longer go unchecked, the inequities of the prison industrial system and it’s death row will not exist unchallenged, and the random, destructive media messages — such as that asinine New York Times article on Serena Williams — will now be thoroughly scrutinized and appropriately dismantled if need be.
But while we praise the movement and everyone who has contributed locally, nationally and globally to the preservation of black lives, fighting our deepest struggles against systemic discrimination and raising awareness about our collective fight, we need to recognize that no one has been fighting for black people harder than black women.
This is far from just a nice and simple symbolic gesture to our daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, girlfriends and homegirls; this is an all-out acknowledgement that their contributions are the reason our fight has advanced to where it is, and it’s their actions that have bravely impugned white supremacy.
This isn’t about downplaying the role of powerful black male activists and the roles we have all played in this fight; it’s about unapologetically giving black women like Johnetta Elzie their much-needed credit.
This is about recognizing women like Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is about lionizing women like Maile Hampton, who risked her freedom to save her fellow protesters from being assaulted in Sacramento.
This is about honoring women like Synead Nichols and Umaara Elliott, who organized the Millions March in New York. This is about celebrating women like Bree Newsome for tearing down the Confederate flag. This is about praising women like Marilyn Mosby, who is prosecuting the police officers who killed Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
This is about applauding Amandla Stenberg’s constant education to the white masses about the harm of cultural appropriation and loving Serena Williams unapologetic ability, beauty and confidence. There are far too many activists, journalists, etc. to name them all, but black women are not secondary characters in our current fight against racism; they are the leading ladies, completely and perfectly equal to their male peers.
And there is a way that we as a community, especially black men such as myself, can honor the sacrifices made by these incredible women: we can propagate their struggles so that their issues are no longer seen as lesser or inferior to our own. Black women, like Mya Hall and Natasha McKenna for example, are being targeted and killed by the police, and their names need to ring out just as loudly as Mike Brown and Tamir Rice.
When we neglect black women, we become blind and uncaring to stories such as Stephanie Dorceant’s, a young black woman that was viciously assaulted recently by a police officer in New York. Black women are facing an alarming rate of intimate partner violence, mostly at the hands of black men. Black women make only 64 cents for every dollar that a white man makes, and black women fare the worst of all women experiencing the wage gap crisis.
Black girls are being expelled from school at a rate far-higher than girls from other racial backgrounds, feeding the school-to-prison pipeline. Black women are three to four times more likely to be incarcerated than white women. And the recent spate of black women dying in jails under mysterious circumstances is becoming increasingly more disturbing every day.
In the past month alone, at least five black women have been found dead in jail.
While most of us are probably familiar with the name Sandra Bland and the murky details surrounding her alleged suicide, there are other names of women that we should know as well. Just one day after Bland’s death, Kindra Chapman, an 18-year-old who was arrested for allegedly stealing a cell phone, was found dead in her cell. Chapman committed suicide, according to her family.
Ralkina Jones, Raynette Turner and Joyce Curnell have also died recently in jail cells. Their lives must not be in any way omitted from the collective struggle. Whether we are fighting for the safety of black women in jails or fighting to improve the mental health of our sisters in our communities, their protection is paramount.
If there’s anything that we’ve learned about these recent tragedies, it’s this: issues affecting black women desperately need to be addressed. “Let’s fix racism first, then address our women later” is not going to cut it.
On May 5, 1962, Malcolm X was asked to speak at the funeral of Ronald Stokes, a black man from the Nation of Islam that was murdered by the LAPD outside his mosque alongside six other members. In his speech, Malcolm said:
The most disrespected woman in America, is the black woman. The most un-protected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America, is the black woman.
The saddest part of that entire speech is that it sadly remains true today. For all that black women have contributed to the black communities’ collective freedom, from the days of Harriet Tubman to today, how can we accept their sacrifices without honoring the importance of their issues, which are actually our issues as well?
Seeing how hard black women are fighting for us black men, it’s time to completely eradicate the idea that #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen and make sure our women are appreciated, supported and revered for everything they do for our communities.
Lincoln Anthony Blades blogs daily on his site ThisIsYourConscience.com. He’s an author of the book “You’re Not A Victim, You’re A Volunteer.” He can be reached via Twitter @lincolnablades and on Facebook at Lincoln Anthony Blades.