Being a black man over the past couple of weeks has been interesting, as it always is. I’ve stood in solidarity with the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri – both virtually and in a march at Notting Hill Carnival. There is a long history of black women leading movements for change and the most inspiring occurrence to come out of the recent protests has been the support black men have received from black women. However with that, it revealed a harsh reality, we aren’t always there for black women.
Earlier this year, NFL and former Baltimore Ravens running back (fired yesterday) Ray Rice was indicted for assaulting his then fiancée Janay Palmer. On Sunday, TMZ leaked a video recording (without consent) of the assault taking place in an elevator at an Atlantic City casino. The recording shows Palmer and Rice having an altercation, which leads to the latter knocking his fiancée unconscious. The most startling image during all of this was Rice’s demeanour as he dragged her body out of the elevator. It suggested that this wasn’t the first time that an incident like this had occurred between them. This leads me onto the point I wanted to raise.
Unlike the women who stood by us during the riots in Ferguson, who took rubber bullets, pepper spray and physical abuse for us, some men have done the opposite. They have resorted to victim blaming, saying things such as ‘what did she do to provoke him?‘ or ‘why did she stay?‘.
Remember when we were up in arms when the media assassinated Mike Brown’s character, using phrases such as ‘he must have done something wrong’ ‘he was no angel’? Granted, Janay Palmer didn’t die but that narrative is more damaging than you think. By saying those things, you are silencing countless women and men who are victims of domestic abuse. They will now feel reluctant to come forward because who will believe them? You only need to search the hashtag #AbuserDynamics on Twitter to understand the true magnitude of domestic abuse. It is far more complex than you and I could ever imagine, if you have never experienced it.
Imagine being trapped underwater and then finally breaking free, only to then be sucked back underwater. Then imagine that happening continuously for years on end, until your death. That is life for many victims therefore, responding with ‘why didn’t she leave?’ is simplistic when many women are killed because they tried to leave. Abusers don’t let up until they are imprisoned – and in far too many cases that is after their victim has been murdered.
As a black man and a feminist, I find it incredibly disturbing when other black men fail to recognise the struggles black women face. They try to tell us about their experiences, instead we tell them tackling racism is more pressing. Who says that we can’t tackle both racism and sexism together? Why must one be eradicated before the other? If you are truly about equality and respect, you’ll listen to women and their experiences. History will tell us that the two are intertwined, especially when we observe the treatment of black women during slavery.
The harsh realities which many black men don’t understand is that whilst being black is hard, being a black woman is much harder. That is why it’s important to listen then understand. Don’t derail or make it about you.
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Jesse Bernard is a freelance community manager and writer based in London. He writes about a variety of social issues from feminism, race to mental health and education. He is the editor of Marvin’s Corridor and is currently writing his first novel which touches on depression, domestic abuse and self expression. Jesse has carried out an empirical study assessing the affects hypermasculinity has on men. Find him on Twitter @MarvinsCorridor