I I recently read a piece written by Kimberly Foster titled “Why I Will Not March For Eric Garner.” The author plainly states her argument: she refuses to rally in support of Eric Garner — who died of cardiac arrest after being put in a chokehold by an NYPD officer — because she does not believe Black men equally support Black women in their struggle against oppression. In her own words directed to Black men: “I’m not settling for anything less than reciprocity. If you refuse to hear our calls for help, then I cannot respond to yours.”
Many were offended that the author used the untimely death of a man to launch a discussion about sexism in the Black community and I shared that sentiment. Yet the piece sparked a huge discussion about gender inequality amongst myself and a group of coworkers — who happened to be Black men — nonetheless.
Several opinions surfaced that were quite dismaying. A very widely accepted theme throughout the discussion was that sexism doesn’t even exist in the Black community at all. Despite that agreed-upon belief, one of the guys said, “Women are crazy because they bleed every month and it’s traumatic.” Another said, “Women aren’t given political positions because they are emotional and illogical.” Even my own boyfriend made some questionable remarks about sexism after I shared the article with him, saying women should stop “playing into” their own oppression. These statements were made by men who do not believe that they are sexist and wholeheartedly believe that women are equal to men.
I have long engaged White people in discussions about racism that usually begin with “I am not a racist” but end with a disappointing racist remark. For that reason, I understand that people can hold conflicting ideas. Despite an individual’s propensity for and/or belief in fairness/equality, the individual is still a part of and socialized into a broader society that is both deeply rooted in White supremacy and patriarchy. In other words, one may not think of oneself as a racist or a sexist, but we all exist and participate in a system created to primarily benefit Whiteness and maleness. That participation leads to the continued perpetuation of the system when we leave our personal beliefs unchallenged.
In our current social structure, the White male reigns supreme. However, men despite their race, are generally awarded more social, political, and financial power to their female counterparts. This is true even for Black men who are still shackled to a system of racism. Allow me to demonstrate this point.
Black men were awarded the right to vote in 1869, 51 years before women (even White women) were legally awarded the same right in 1920. Although White women comprise more than 30 percent of the American population, Black men — who only make-up roughly six percent of the population — have still been awarded more political power and representation, so much so that a Black man became president of the United States before a White woman did. There are currently seven active Black male CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies, compared to 23 White female CEOs and two Black female CEOs. If we think about this in terms of ratio to population size, Black men hold more power positions than all other minority groups, including White women. As of 2014, there have been 1,950 members of the US Senate. The first women were officially elected as senators in 1992 and since then only 44 women have served: 42 White women, one Black woman and one Asian woman.
Patriarchy safeguards political and financial spheres as “male” spaces, even to the detriment of White female “progress.” However, White women still have access to both financial and political resources through White men, so what may seem like a Black male advantage over White women realistically translates to something more curiously complicated that would need its own dissertation. My point here, however, is that Black male societal preference over Black women is quite obvious, though constantly denied. So much so, that media coverage of police brutality is often absent of Black female faces, despite the large numbers of women who have been victims of it. When has the death of a Black woman ever been important enough to spur a rally in our society?
Black women exist without representation, with very few financial resources AND are weighed down by the burden of not only White male dominance and oppression but the additional weight of Black male dominance without reprieve. Acknowledging that imbalance is a serious call for solidarity against the weighted reality of White supremacy and patriarchy often times perpetuated, policed and reinforced by our own men. The men who are supposed to be our biggest allies. The men who we support, defend and rally for every day.
The conversations I had with the Black men in my life, spurred by Kimberly Foster’s piece, were most certainly reminders that there is still much work to be done to eradicate the sexism that plagues our community. I agree that Black women should rally for Eric Garner. But we should march for the faceless Black women who have also died as victims of of police brutality: For Latanya Haggerty, Carolyn Sue Botticher and Yvette Smith. For the thousands of women who have experienced sexual assault while in police custody. Let us stand beside Black men in continued solidarity against the oppression of the Black community by a police force that brutalizes and unfairly targets our people. And in the sad, but likely event that another Black woman falls victim to these continued injustices, let us not allow her name to be buried by marginalization or her face to be blurred from the minds of millions of Americans. We must decide to take a stand, even if as Black women, we stand alone.
But let it be known that we are waiting and watching to see if Black men will stand with us.