I have been using my own platforms with my writing to challenge whiteness, patriarchy, sexism, white supremacy, at least, since 1992, which was the year that I enrolled as a student at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Hence, being open about my resistance to injustice has been a part of who I am for a very long time. I can identify with Colin Kaepernick being committed to kneeling during the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner” and telling the truth on police brutality, but he is not unique. Many others, black women and men alike, celebrities and non-celebrities, have used their platforms to speak truth to power. Of course, not every black woman and every black man has done it, but many have. And, because we have done it in response to whiteness, patriarchy, and expressions of white supremacy, we also know what it means to be alienated and rejected. Some of us know and we have known for decades what retaliation looks like, and we know what it feels like to stand alone and apart from everyone else and with no one else to come to our defense, but us.
That said, I want to share a personal story. About a week ago, I was verbally attacked by a man that I know for being a black woman and for being a feminist (although I have always categorically identified as a womanist). We were communicating on text (which I don’t particularly like to do), and he took issue with a response that I sent to him when he asked me why I had not asked for his help in a personal matter. When I explained to him that 1) I had already taken care of the matter before he was even in the picture, and 2) that he and I talked about the matter briefly and he did not voluntarily offer his help to me, he went berserk and texted back, “See that’s your f*cking problem and the problem of many black women.” He continued to tear me and black women apart by asserting that black women are “f*cked up,” and that we, black women, better get it together because Donald Trump is in office and men “of every color” are leaving black women and feminists. Really? Like I should care about Trump and men who are leaving black women feminists. From men who were never really “with” us anyway? Well, to these kind of men – men who are real good at taking but who often lack the ability to be giving and genuinely present to the women in their lives (except if it benefits them somehow), I can unabashedly say: good riddance! In the long run, such men are liabilities.
Nevertheless, his response was both hateful and disrespectful, and it was a deliberate and cowardly verbal attack on my person and my identity. At first, I graciously returned a text and said, “Goodnight,” but soon my graciousness and niceness went by the wayside and I went in to total defense mode …until I kinda lost it (and saying some things that I did not mean to say); but, at the same time I could not sit there and let him hide behind the phone and figuratively slap me with his words. For the next three hours I texted him about every half an hour thinking of everything I could to reject the ignorance and hypocrisy of his words.
Many black women face this kind of daily abuse (and worse) from so-called male friends and intimate partners. They are repeatedly verbally belittled for taking care of themselves by men who despise black women but who simultaneously want them to depend totally on them (when they are really not all that dependable). Black men like this want to control black women, and in attempting to do so they don’t mind characterizing black women as “f*cked up” when by their own admission they have “mama issues.” Truth be told, these same men often have “daddy issues” in that they did not have loving and nurturing fathers/men who were wiling and able to be present to them when they should have been. In an effort to replace their absent daddies, the black men that some of them learned to respect were pimps and players, i.e., men who aspired to control women’s minds and bodies for a living. Thus, they have reenacted the same kind of abusive and negligent kind of emotional behaviors in their own intimate and day-to-day relationships. Not to mention, if you look in to their inner circles and you will often find that many of their so-called “friends” and acquaintances exude and encourage male behavior that is audaciously dishonest, disloyal and dismissive of women because deep-down they don’t really love or respect black women. They tolerate black women to gain something, usually to satisfy the need for company and sex. If they are cis-gendered black men, you might find that they desire for women to entertain them when they are bored or in need of sex, but other than that they often treat black women as disruptive and unwelcome in their daily routines, which are often reserved for the exclusive company of men (i.e., in a homosocial environment). To me, these type of men are not trustworthy people, they lack intregrity, depth, and the ability to cooperate with black women and perhaps all women in general, and they know it, so they do what they do best: they strike out against black women to take the focus off their own f*cked up past and present situations.
What made me strike back against the man who verbally attacked me on text was a fury about the hypocrisy that this man demonstrated to me for several weeks. Prior to the lashing that he decided to give me on text, I had overlooked several instances where he couldn’t even remember what he said the day before due to being drunk out of his mind and in a blackout. I can tolerate a lot of things from a man, but when a man who is by his own admission, f*cked up, and who is doing absolutely nothing to change or help himself accuses me and all other black women of being f*cked up, then he better know that he is uttering fighting words, and fighting words might be what he gets in return.
Whether we ground ourselves in the philosophy of womanism or feminism, or nothing at all, there are black women who are both willing and able to stand up for themselves, for black culture and for the sustainable development of black communities. We do not need black men or any other men to stand up or speak for us. We are very capable of speaking up for ourselves and for others. There is plenty of documentation that speaks to the long history black women have had with regard to leading the charge for social justice. No matter how much black men may want to deny it or diminish it, black women have stood on behalf of themselves and others, including non-black peoples, in spite of the consequences, and even when it has cost them their lives and livelihoods. Furthermore, many times black women stood on the front lines when black men and the powers that be tried to silence them by controlling or maligning their minds and bodies as a group and as individuals. Notwithstanding this abuse and abandonment (which can be mental/emotional as well as physical), there are those of us who will stand (or strike if necessary) and fight in defense of ourselves and for those we love and often for the sole purpose of letting obnoxious and ignorant people and institutions know that we are worth standing up for. Of course, there are many who will not like it when we do this, and they will claim that there is something categorically wrong with black women. This very disappointing and unfortunate response is something that we should come to expect because of patriarchy. Some people (male, female, and those in between, if truth be told) really do believe that “this is a man’s world.” Many believe it is a man’s right to dominate and control women, and for some that means “by any means necessary.”
Nothing is wrong with black women who stand in defense of themselves, and especially not when they are attacked by wanna-be pimps and players who don’t know the first thing about developing mutually loving relationships with black women. Perhaps the questions we must begin to ask are, “What is wrong with black men?” and “Why don’t they want black women to feel and be empowered about themselves and their communities?” What is wrong with black men like the one that I just told you about who is both terrified and drawn to black women at the same time? What is wrong with black men, who are over the age of 50 but who hide behind their YouTube channels, phones, their suits, their cars, their sunglasses, their educational degrees, their jobs, and all other kinds of material possessions and hurl painful and hateful accusations at black women when what they really need to be doing is whatever they can to stop sabotaging their own lives and happiness with bad personal choices due to the traumas of their youth? What is wrong with black men who abandon black women when black women don’t give them whatever they want whenever they want it? Many black men could be better partners to black women if they would become willing to confront and unlearn the patriarchal crap they learned as children (and as adults), which is no longer working for them as adults. If they really wanted to, there are some black men who could be better partners to black women. But honestly, many of them refuse to change, because they don’t have to, and many black men learn from other black men who spread toxic and twisted so-called theories about black women under the guise of pan-Africanism. It is sad to say, but it has become socially acceptable for black men to disrespect and hate black women in public and in private discourse, while also claiming to love them. And that is one primary reason that so many of us – black women – choose to be alone or with others besides black men. Black women are not the property of black men; nor do black men have a natural or so-called god-given right to our persons, our minds, and our bodies. Likewise, I do not claim that black men belong to black women exclusively. I don’t give a flying flip about what Dr. Umar Johnson, Tariq Nasheed, Brother Polight, or any other so-called “prince” or “ambassador of blackness” has to say about so-called “interracial relationships”: black women can choose to be with whomever they want, whenever they want, for the reasons that they want, and that should go for anybody. Furthermore, and essentially, what must be understood is that
…some of us – black women – will refuse to be disrespected and hated by men who also claim to love us – no matter what color they are. Such men do not love us. They fear us and the power and prerogative that we as black women have as human beings to reject and abandon them if need be.
The men who respect me as a person are also capable of respecting my choice to identify as a womanist (and my choice to identify as an atheist, by the way). There are several men in my life who love me, and one of them is my father. Only those who fear womanism (or atheism), due to a lack of knowledge and uncertainty about their own personal and political identities, will try to tear me down and discredit who I am. And?
As a black woman, and as a womanist, and as an atheist, I will continue to speak truth to power. I will not let the attacks and threats of fearful, abusive black men, corporations, institutions, Donald Trump, or anyone else rejecting me for that matter keep me from standing up for myself and defending the goodness of black culture and of black women in particular. Whether we are being attacked in the open or behind closed doors, I will be standing up or sitting down and using all of my power and fierceness to resist and expose those who claim to love black women on the one hand, yet who act like they could care less or even hate us on the other. And, indeed, I am not alone. There are many black women who have been willing to fight for their dignity and honor for decades, and I stand on the shoulders of those who did it way before I was even a thought in this life as we know it. This is not to say that all black women are willing to defend black women or black culture. Many black women reinforce patriarchy and male dominance. But, I am not one of them, and if standing up for myself, black women and black culture costs me a place on this great big plantation called the United States, or if because of standing up I lose a relationship with a black man that I once loved, respected and trusted, then so be it. I don’t need that kind of man or hatefulness in my life, and this is one black woman who will go down with her honor intact and her voice heard and hopefully remembered by those who need and want to hear it.
In addition, I am not the first, nor will I be the last black woman who will use her power seriously and fiercely. We have been here for what seems like forever, and there are those of us who have always been and will always be brave enough to be who we are. Regardless. And, yes, in case you are wondering, it is that bravery and sense of righteous indignation (and thus our commitment to self-defense) that will inspire generations of black women to stand up for themselves and discredit patriarchy and patriarchal systems, whether white, black or any other color (I say that because I once had elder black colleagues who accused me of “influencing” students with womanism. Well duh!!!!!). That is the point. My life and my thinking will make a difference, not just for me and those in my immediate and personal circle, but to other generations as well, some of whom I will never meet or know. And, frankly, that is what is very, very right and good about many black women!
© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.