Waiting on Ida
I used to work with an organization of men that stood against street violence in Philadelphia. The group’s primary concern was an incredibly high murder rate gripping the city. This was violence wherein both the victims and the perpetrators were overwhelmingly African-American boys and men; yet, when we held community rallies to confront this violence we always attracted audiences that were primarily female. These were the mothers, grandmothers, sisters and friends that were concerned about the threat of violence against loved ones. They operated within a strong tradition. Just as history records Ida B. Wells as the most prominent opponent of extra-legal lynching which was disproportionately inflicted on Black men, Black women have always stood against violence inflicted on Black men.
We understand why women do this. We understand that they are fighting for the health of their communities and families. They are standing for broader ideals such as justice. Were Black women to refrain from lending their energy, then I think it safe to say that we would view them as selfish. Were Black women to ignore violence against Black men because it did not directly affect them, then we would label them as short-sighted. However, this is precisely what men have done. Men commonly refuse to stand against sexual violence and they commonly do so because they think speaking up is “women’s work.” They don’t believe that men are ever victimized and this is sufficient reason to check out.
If Black men could put forth even a fraction of the energy that Black women have mustered in support of Black men, this would have a dramatic impact on the culture that annually produces hundreds of thousands of acts of intimate violence. I can read hundreds of poems written by Black men about Black queens but I won’t believe change is in the air until I show up to a rally against sexual violence and see Black men fully represented just as I’m used to seeing Black women come out in force when community health is threatened.
I cannot say that I really know what a sustained effort from Black men would look like. There are plenty of organizations pushing for this action but I’ve only ever seen it personally in brief flashes. I am often party to conversations among Black men about what can be done to challenge epidemic rates of intimate violence against women. Sometimes, these pockets of conversation are brought on by current events and sometimes they require a brave soul speaking his mind, but these conversations are almost always productive in my mind. Sure, they always feature those men who cannot see anything that must be done beyond persecuting false accusations but this is rarely an unchallenged position. For the most part, men earnestly wrestle with what can be done so that perpetrators understand that their behavior is unacceptable. In doing this, Black men push towards a position of community health that many Black women have demonstrated for centuries.
We will get there but the problem is our pace has been maddening as Black men consistently tell Black women that we will work on this gender stuff once all of our issues with race are solved. Guess what, Black men. Issues of race will always exist for the foreseeable future and we are inflicting all kinds of violence on women of all colors while we wait on racial utopia. Black men have no particular problem with this violence. We are just not exempt from the violent behaviors that have always plagued manhood. If my words spark defensiveness, then I remind you that you have options beyond dismissing my critique as self-hating and discriminatory. You could always come up with your own assessment about the state of things but to do this genuinely takes more than recalling your own perspectives and experiences and extrapolating them to the world (eg. “I have never raped anybody so all of this talk about rape culture is foolishness”). It requires deep and often threating conversations with other men that challenge our way of seeing things. That is how we pick up the pace set by Black women.