Black women shouldn’t have to choose between race and gender
The public condemnation of Harvey Weinstein has been swift and unified. It’s resulted in numerous women speaking candidly about sexual predators in Hollywood. It even led men like Terry Crews to come forward with their own experiences.
While it’s refreshing to see such a powerful, multiracial response to Weinstein’s extensive record of sexual misconduct, I can’t help but compare that universal denunciation to our community’s very divided reaction to the dozens of allegations against Bill Cosby.
While Black people have been speaking out in support of Weinstein’s victims, Cosby’s years of alleged sexual violence remain polarizing. Couple that with the fact that R. Kelly still has fiercely loyal fans within the Black community, and I’ve got some serious questions about accountability for gender and sexual violence.
I am a proud and unabashed Black feminist. As a Black feminist, I am acutely aware of the unique ways multiple forms of oppression affect the lives of Black women. I know that white supremacy/anti-blackness and sexism/patriarchy/misogyny are deeply embedded in our society. I also know better than to rank oppression. Yet I find myself doing it time and time again.
I’m a hypocrite, and my hypocrisy is weighing on me.
I ignore or diminish sexism and misogyny in my community far too often because I don’t believe anyone in my community is disposable. I repeat the refrain: “people can be trash, but no one is disposable,” over and over again. The repetition of this phrase, however, may not be helpful to freedom work if I’m unable to be fully honest about the lived experiences of Black women. We must be fully committed to not cancelling folks and to not silencing the unique struggles of Black women.
We are more than overdue for drawing rigid lines in the sand around sexual predators like R. Kelly. Or perhaps we could just stop defending the violent actions of Floyd Mayweather, a serially abusive millionaire who doesn’t even pretend to be sincerely apologetic about his crimes against Black women. These would be small but important gestures for believing in and supporting Black women and girls.
When it’s our brothas being gunned down in the street, we collectively proclaim that “the whole damn system is guilty as hell.” But when there’s a mistrial or a not guilty verdict in cases of rape, sexual assault, or domestic violence, suddenly, the system is the only thing that matters. Do you know how absurd it is to hear or read Black men saying, “Well, the court didn’t find him guilty, so he didn’t do it?”
Embedded in this assertion is a belief that white supremacy is the only arbiter of injustice in the criminal justice system. It ignores how this same system also pivots around misogyny and patriarchy — putting Black women in the horrific position of being victimized by both racism and sexism.
There’s too much work to be done for us to sit here and sugarcoat what’s happening: Black women being killed at twice the rate of white women by men in their lives, the murders and brutalization of Black trans women, and the prevalence of sexual violence in the lives of Black girls are rallying cries for us to do better. Those of us fighting around these issues aren’t disloyal to Black men or the Black community; those perpetrating these violent acts and those not fighting these issues are the traitors.
The truth of the matter is that we can’t let white supremacy stop us from saying what needs to be said: You can’t devalue Black women and value Black lives. I’m tired of putting on kid gloves every time we need to address gender and sexual violence within the Black community. My fear of Black men being labeled more aggressive or violent shouldn’t stop me or any of us from unapologetically calling out sexism and misogyny. The risk of unchecked patriarchy and not believing Black women and girls is too grave. There’s nothing radical, revolutionary or pro-black about complicity in violence against us.
I used to hate hearing the statement “Black women always choose race over gender,” especially if that came from a white woman. The sheer audacity. In our last presidential election, 53 percent of white women chose not only their race over their gender — but chose white supremacy.
And to be clear, this isn’t the first election where racial politics steered white women’s votes. For all the chatter about Black women always choosing race over women’s solidarity, it’s white women’s embrace of white supremacy that put us in this moment of national crisis. Despite the gravity and far-reaching consequences of their racial solidarity, I was not remotely shocked at their complicity with and active role in maintaining white supremacy. It was a slap in the face, another bitter betrayal, but there was no shock. Once again, #solidarityisforwhitewomen.
I do, however, remain shocked and hurt by the response of our community to Black women merely addressing the reality of sexism and patriarchy. How dare you fix your mouth to say you care about Black liberation but cannot be bothered to even talk about Black women’s lives? How cowardly to not believe we can do better when it comes to defending, protecting, and supporting Black girls and women.
It shouldn’t be too much to ask that being “pro-black” means we hold accountable those who do harm within our communities. My pro-blackness is about freedom and justice for ALL Black people, but this can’t just be a theory.
Our hypocrisy is deadly, and I no longer want the blood of my sistas on my hands.
Treva Lindsey is a professor at The Ohio State University and the author of Colored No More: Reinventing Black Womanhood in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @divafeminist.