Black Men Need To Support Black Feminism

by Jesse Bernard

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

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5 replies

  1. This is all over the place.

    1) A better starting point would be to figure out why the majority of Black women in England are not feminists. When Black feminists can convince a significant proportion of Black British women to take on their ideology, then you can come and chat to Black men. Why should we (Black men) take Black feminism seriously when they can’t even win the argument with their own female demographic?.

    2) Who are you talking about here, Black British men or Black American men? It’s ironic that an article about the marginalisation of Black women’s experiences also marginalises the Black British experience and social context. Were the men commenting on Ray Rice specifically Black British men or reflective of their opinions on the abuse of Black women?

    Here’s another gem: ‘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.’

    Black women from my community (in England, lest we forget!!) didn’t do any of that. Black American women did that, so why is it being brought up here? Bring the Black British examples and then I’ll take your arguments seriously.

    3) Finally, I am very wary of the sexual politics that has emerged out of US-based ‘Michele Wallacian’ hashtag feminism on social media. Specifically, this ‘Black women care about Black men but the feeling is not reciprocated’ trope that has gained added currency since the murder of Trayvon Martin. This is bullshit. Two of the biggest riots we had in this country were sparked by the deaths of two Black women (Cynthia Jarrett and Cherry Groce). Let’s not misrepresent the historical record in order push this agenda. We import this crap at our peril. Check the history:

    Tommy J Curry – Black Studies Not Morality: Anti-Black Racism, Neo-Liberal Cooptation, and the Challenges to Black Studies Under Intersectional Axioms.

    http://www.academia.edu/8160498/_Draft_Black_Studies_Not_Morality_Anti-Black_Racism_Neo-Liberal_Cooptation_and_the_Challenges_to_Black_Studies_Under_Intersectional_Axioms

    .

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  2. Black men grow up watching black women run back to their abusers, cheaters and stay in bad relationships. Why put the time and energy into people who don’t want to be helped? Plus I think decades of feminism has made black women so masculine, it has programmed black men that black women can do everything on their own and don’t want to be protected. And I disagree with you that black women have it harder. Institutionalized racism has always focused more on breaking black men which we can’t control. Black womens problems are single motherhood and poverty and u could attribute that mostly to poor choices they make in men and having kids out of wedlock. But on the other side black women are excelling in education and their careers. More so than other minority women.Good read though

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    • Greenbean33, don’t project your personal issues and prejudices onto black women. It is a gross generalisation to say that feminism has made black women masculine. Like saying that equality for black people makes them whiter. Black feminism was born out of necessity because we are not offered the same chivalry as caucasian women and have had to go out there ourselves. And yes black women do have it harder because newsflash, institutional racism breaks black women too and we are objectified on top of it. But whilst we hear time and time again about the oppressed brother, oppressed sisters are expected to just accept that as our lot in life. Saying the black woman’s problem are a result of bad choices could easily just be said of black men. Who do you think these women are having children out of wedlock with? Artificial insenimation perhaps? Or is it that these men have the priviledge of running from their responsibilities. Next time you start crying down your female ancestors, you need to look a little closer to home before distributing blame. Jesse, thank you for this insightful piece. Refreshingly enlightened and supportive of your sisters.

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  3. Thank you for your contribution, Jesse. I’m really disturbed by the lack of support Janay Palmer is receiving by black men. I’m seeing comments from black men calling her names, making jokes, and asking why she doesn’t leave and you highlighted the reason why it’s not that simple perfectly. It’s very disturbing. I believe the divide between black men and women started during slavery, but there’s really no excuse to allow that mentality to persist in society. More black men need to be supportive of black women and more black women need to hold them accountable.

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