Why Black Men are Natural Allies to the Movement to End Sexual Violence Against Women
As this is my initial posting, there are two things that I must do in kicking off my own blog. The first is to thank everybody for taking the time to read my thoughts. I have long considered putting down my thoughts on an issue that consumes so much of my daily mental wandering and am very appreciative of all those who support. The second thing that I feel I should do is explain one of the central (and possibly the most controversial) argument of this blog – that being that African-American men make for natural allies to the movement to send sexual violence against women.
I am going to have to lay down some foundation in order to do this and begin by defining the movement that I reference. There is no one person or organization that can encapsulate this movement but I refer to the collection of people who 1) believe that the volume of rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault perpetrated against women and girls is entirely too high and 2) believe that the aforementioned behaviors are entirely preventable. Some of these folks are women and men who sit in formal positions where they are asked to take up anti-violent stances such as police officers and victim advocates. Others work for organizations with like-minded anti-violence educational agendas such as public health offices, women’s centers, and community outreach organizations. And others still hold no formal positions but try to go about their everyday walks in a manner that is consistent with the prevention of sexual violence.
Many credit the second-wave and third-wave feminist movements as the primary pioneers and architects of the contemporary American effort to end sexual violence against women. With this common departure point, it’s not surprising that today’s anti-violence advocates generally share a common worldview. The women and men who stand against sexual violence are far from monolithic but I do believe that there are some ideas on which most agree.
They are as follows:
- Men constitute the vast majority of perpetrators.
- Men who perpetrate rape and sexual assault are not isolated social deviants. Most are folks who otherwise function in society just fine.
- Men who perpetrate rape and sexual assault are raised within and trained by a culture that normalizes and minimizes violence against women to such a degree that many of these men are not even aware that there is anything wrong with their behaviors.
- American culture tacitly (and sometimes explicitly) encourages high levels of sexual violence by bombarding women and men with messaging that objectifies women, dehumanizes sex, devalues sex partners, glorifies male ability to obtain sex above all else, etc. This messaging is transmitted through actions and comments made by peers and authority figures, as well as through narratives woven by media outlets such as music, pornography, and movies to name just a few. This messaging is in turn affirmed by the relative absence of individual and collective resistance to this messaging.
- As sexual violence is largely learned behavior, it is thus preventable. If something can be taught, it can be untaught or, better yet, never taught to a generation of boys and girls in the first place.
This list is far from exhaustive but it does provide a sense of the worldview that I’m attempting to ascribe to anti-violence advocates. Now I return my argument that many African-American men already possess belief systems that make them natural allies to anti-violence work. Black men are also incapable of being assigned to one universal set of beliefs and values; but, if I examine myself and my Black, male peers, I do find recurring themes that mesh rather nicely with the anti-violence perspective laid out above. To name but a few:
- Many Black men believe that disrespect towards a community of people can be systematic without being overt. They often believe that this disrespect need not be codified in law or formally acknowledged in order to have widespread cultural impact.
- Many Black men are used to dissecting messages from the media and cultural figures that subtly or explicitly rely on negative beliefs about their communities.
- Many Black men believe that the violations of the bodily integrity of some can be no less than attacks against entire communities.
- Many Black men believe that attitudes and jokes shared behind closed doors are far from harmless and often manifest themselves in ways that do tangible harm to people.
When a woman stands in front of me and states that she belongs to a population that is often devalued in society and that this devaluation sometimes reveals itself in actions that cause harm to her population, there really shouldn’t be anything earth-shattering about such a statement. This is because I also self-identify as a member of a community that I believe is often devalued by society and I also believe that this devaluation sometimes results in policies, practices, and attitudes that harm that community.
Black men are trained daily in identifying the subtleties of social injustice. And because many of us utilize the companionship of others with similar worldviews in order to make sense of our place in society, we daily speak the language of resistance. Our understanding of race should give us enough cause to at least hear out some of the claims that women have brought against American culture. We can all probably think of Black men whose misogyny and behavior seem proof enough to blow up whatever claims I make here but the seeds for alliance remain nonetheless.
I didn’t always have the point of view that I now possess. I remember a high school teacher once drawing comparisons between the fights for voting rights for African-Americans and voting rights for women. My reaction at the time was only defensiveness. I remember feeling angry that my teacher would dare compare experiences that I didn’t feel were at all alike. And, of course, they’re not completely similar just as there are millions of contextual differences between the perspectives that I compare in this post. However, that’s not to say that there isn’t some commonality. The point is not to find perfect parallels but to just find enough of a common spirit to motivate somebody to do some good.
I’m grateful to all of the women and men who taught me that there is nothing unmanly or traitorous about taking a stand on an issue where I don’t encounter many other activists that look like me. They got me thinking about contemporary civil rights perspectives that had previously never crossed my mind. I often wish that more men of color would seriously think about the astounding rate of intimate violence that men inflict on those around us. If we did, we might realize that we’ve been trained our entire lives to be allies to victims and to those who work towards a world that is intolerant of victimization in the first place.