I recently read an unfortunate and to be honest, rather dangerous article on The Root titled Michael Brown’s Death Reopened My Eyes to My Privileges As A Black Woman, written by Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele. In this article, she suggests that Black women have “privilege” over Black men because Black men experience police brutality. The article is incredibly dangerous because it engages in: epistemic violence by the blatant misuse of the word “privilege” (and “ally”) in terms of violence experienced, erasure of the actual truth of police brutality and extrajudicial execution/State violence on Black women (and then for the purposes of heterosexist sentimentality as “allyship,” which is an inaccurate, limited and rather gross interpretation of intraracial structural power), and a misapplication of her personal lack of fear of “ruffling feathers” with the belief that Black women have the “privilege” of doing so in every instance and Black men do not, because of the latter being perceived as threats due to anti-Blackness and White supremacy.
While I respect her personal experiences shared via anecdotes and respect lived experience as knowledge in general, the way it was used to conclude Black women do not experience State violence and thereby have “privilege” over Black men is painfully ahistorical to the point of erasure, which is also violence. Again, the erasure of Black women as activists beyond the heterosexual Black male gaze and erasure of Black women as victims of police brutality, extrajudicial execution (that structurally functions in the same way lynching did) and State violence, is also violence.
There is no structural circumstance where Black women are privileged over Black men solely for race and gender. And throwing out college degree numbers or labor numbers when how Black women are paid compared to Black men, Black women’s net worth among the lowest in the U.S. and globally, or ignoring intricate Black labor experiences by gender, post-Civil War, is not proof of structural advantage for Black women. Ignoring the abuse Black women endure for “succeeding” and how those examples of success are regularly used to deny Black girls and Black women in need of social support and programs is proof of the lack of privilege, not of it existing. And since her article seems to solely allude to the experiences of cishet Black people (versus complicated intersections where sexual orientation, being trans/non-binary, complexion, class, size, ability etc. create more nuanced experiences of privilege and oppression intraracially and interracially), this is definitely the case; Black women do not have privilege over Black men.
Using “privilege” as an example in that article in relation to violence, she implies there is structural power afforded to Black women that Black men do not have and such power protects Black women from State violence. However, the history of the lynching of Black women refutes this. The police brutality on Black women from the homeless such as Marlene Pinnock to the professor with the Ph.D., Dr. Ersula Ore refutes this. The sexual violence, brutality and regular abuse of Black sex workers refutes this. The sheer terrorism, violence for solely existing in the presence of police that Black trans women experience refutes this. The street harassment that Black women not only experience intraracially (though income/domestic proximity does in fact impact who street harasses Black women) but via cops who can do so with impunity refutes this. The multi-faceted criminalization (via schools and as victims of violence, yet not viewed as “victims” in the perspective of the State) of Black girls and Black women refutes this. The police killings via negligence because of anti-Blackness (i.e. Aiyana Jones, Rekia Boyd) and willful extrajudicial execution (i.e. Renisha McBride, where Wafer’s conviction is honestly a fluke and not a norm for any Black people killed this way) refute this. The on the spot extrajudicial execution of Shelly Frey, for the accusation of shoplifting, refutes this. The experiences and/or lives of many Black women—names barely known or not publicly known at all—refute this.
The experiences of police brutality on Black pregnant women at their homes (especially with the use of foster care as an arm of the State because of anti-Blackness), in the streets, and within the jails/Prison Industrial Complex, (where Black women are the fasted growing female population) refute this. I mean, the article includes Michael Brown in the title, who was in fact extrajudicially executed. A Black pregnant woman in Ferguson was among the protesters thrown to the ground on her stomach by the police. Black women (like me) regularly discuss not having children because of police brutality, an aspect of reproductive justice regularly eclipsed in mainstream feminism's discussion of “pro-choice.” Where are Black women's choices here amidst such a risk because of anti-Blackness and misogynoir? Choices in this context barely exist in the face of violence, let alone “privilege.”
Would anyone really dare speak of this “privilege” to not experience the undocumented/underreported and documented, recorded and at times (though not always; often charges are not even filed let alone go to trial/conviction) criminally tried police/State violence and extrajudicial execution to Black trans women? Would they dare look a Black trans woman in the face and suggest that her “privilege” over Black men keeps her safe from State violence? When Black trans women are regularly verbally and sexually assaulted and actively denied the start of due process by the police when they even risk calling the police in response to other violence on them? How does the astronomical level violence on Black trans women resolve itself with a claim of “privilege” for Black women over Black men? How does the absence of State violence for Black trans women as a hypothesis reconcile its existence with what happened to Islan Nettles, (the violence of the civilian killing itself and then the State violence via the police/courts), Monica Jones and CeCe McDonald?
What privilege (as in structural power which creates protection from a particular oppression based on fixed or shifting identity facets that power aligns with) does a Black mother experience when she buries her Black child, of any gender, murdered because of anti-Blackness and State violence (where unlike intraracial crime, she has very little hope of actual justice and has to face years of racist abuse and media/capitalistic exploitation on top of grieving her child’s murder)? She’s a Black woman too, so by this hypothesis, she is “privileged” over her son, if the person is a son killed. Would any Black woman, this writer or not, suggest Lesley McSpadden has “privilege” in this context? Or how about Sybrina Fulton? Perhaps Lucia McBath? If the reference to “privilege” is burying a son for the anti-Blackness—manifested as extrajudicial execution and State violence—that he faced and so many Black girls and Black women have faced, this reference is epistemic violence. It’s purposely altering the language used to describe oppression to engage in ahistorical analysis that supports oppression (in this case of Black women) or erasure of that history itself. Black women are HURT when Black men are abused and killed. Black women are ALSO abused and killed. Anti-Blackness as a manifestation of dehumanization through socially sanctioned violence harms Black people, period. Misrepresenting Black women’s experiences and lives as a way to “support” Black men commits more violence on Black women via erasure.
And since when do Black women get to “speak out” when Black men do not? When do we have universal luxury to “ruffle feathers” in a way Black men do not when violent repercussions from everything from being denied employment as economic violence to street harassment, physical violence/beating, rape, incarceration and even death are the price? Certainly Whites have their unreasonable fears of Black men specifically and have proven it through unspeakable violence for centuries while pretending they are the ones at risk. They have media controlling images to further sanitize their violence or normalize it as an acceptable response to Black men’s existences as “inherently non-human.” But that fear of theirs does not start and end with cishet Black men in particular. And that structural impact of anti-Blackness has never spared a Black body for respectability or for gender. I mean, even making such a supposition is just a modernized version of suggesting slavery “harmed” Black men “more” since they couldn’t be equal patriarchs with White men, versus examining the impact that slavery had on Black women specifically or examining the dehumanization it created for Black people in general. Being patriarchal is not being “pro-Black.” It’s supporting the politics of erasure via non-structurally connected and/or ahistorical views that imperialist White supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy needs to thrive.
Finally, I am deeply uncomfortable with patriarchal and heterosexist framing in terms of “allyship.” She wrote:
We Black women, too, have to be equally aware of the ways in which the privileges we enjoy might harm Black men—especially those of us who already are, or will one day become, life partners with a Black man. For me it means that I’m going to have to learn when and where I should bite my tongue, swallow that lump in my throat, and adhere to the ways in which Black men have learned to survive and thrive in this world, especially if they don’t quite jibe with my own methods.
This statement is patriarchy. It is not anti-oppression or womanism or Black feminism or anything like that. Black women are not Black men’s “allies.” We are their oppressed at worse or their partners (speaking politically, not romantically right now) at best. “Allies” implies we stand at a structurally more powerful position than them and have to facilitate the undoing of their oppression that we cause. Are Black people White people’s “allies?” Are LGBTQIA people heterosexual people’s “allies?” Using “ally” in this context in her article is also epistemic violence. It’s too gross an inaccuracy to overlook and it is dangerous as it paints Black women as oppressors who have to work to not oppress Black men. And with a heterosexual framing, this is simply not the case. (With an intersectional framing, for example, a cishet Black woman [and for the record, not all cis Black women are heterosexual or thereby “cishet”] could be homophobic to a cis gay Black man as he could simultaneously be misogynoiristic and misogynistic to her. In other words, it is not a linear supposition that Black women can never be oppressors and oppressed by Black men simultaneously, but with a heterosexual framing, the claim Black women have “privilege” over Black men is epistemically violent.) Black women are not oppressing Black men in this context. And simply because the author “ruffled feathers” in an interpersonal situation while the Black man she was with wanted her not to respond does not mean she had privilege to “ruffle feathers” while he alone had to fear violence. Black women also have to fear violence for speaking out. (I am ACUTELY experienced with this, as you know, if you’ve followed me online even for a short time.)
I mean, just a few weeks ago I experienced extremely abusive Black men telling me to shut the fuck up about street harassment on Black women (and I included other men/cops harassing me, by the way, not just Black men) and instead focus on State violence on Black women. Now all of sudden (again) some Black men are stating that Black women’s activism against violence doesn’t exist (which connects to a long history of erasure of Black women and activism) or shouldn’t exist, and some Black men and some Black women (like the author of the referenced article) are centering Black men as the only victims of State violence? Interesting. (And I discussed this before, the nuance needed to examine why suggesting Black people “don’t care” about intraracial crime is ahistorical and violence via dehumanization, but also how “Black on Black” crime, beyond being a violent misnomer, eclipses the experiences of Black people who are not cishet Black men anyway, when used as a false equalizing silencing tactic against discussing extrajudicial execution and State violence on Black people.)
As I alluded to on Twitter this morning, my activism is NOT about turning Black men into White men’s peers via patriarchy and continue the oppression of Black people. My activism is about the liberation of Black people and that cannot occur by indulging erasure and deciding that silence can replace justice. Black women’s lives matter. Them mattering does not mean Black men’s lives no longer matter. I don’t have to erase myself to support Black men. I refuse to engage in “support” that requires me to be silent and categorizes the abuse that Black women experience as a “privilege” by erasing the history and experiences altogether.
A honest conversation on privilege as it occurs intraracially? One that speaks to the reality of male privilege that Black men, especially cishet ones have over Black women. One that speaks to the fact that even as Black women are minimized and ignored, Black trans women face this marginalization more than cis Black women do. One that takes a look at the misogynoir that cis gay Black men engage in when they demand Black women be mules and center Black men over Black women—who are not all heterosexual—who are also abused and ignored as cis gay Black men are, yet no such demand exists from them to cishet Black men, when perhaps it actually should. One that examines how respectability politics is tied into class and fellow Black people doing better than masses of impoverished Black people regularly blame Black people for our own deaths at the hands of the State, even when blamed “benevolently" or via victim blaming. One that examines how colourism shapes the myth of the “brute” for Black men because it is not a coincidence that most of the Black men who are brutalized tend to be darker Black men. One that examines this same colourism and how Black women are deemed less worth of safety and less “feminine” the darker we are. One that looks at complexities of disability (and how anti-Blackness is inherent ableism), of citizenship, of fat shaming…of many intersections. One that examines how heterosexual Black people (whose heterosexuality still doesn’t structurally engage in the way White heterosexuality does, to be clear) fail Black LGBTQIA people, and not because of White supremacist myths of Black “inherent” bigotry as if Whites do not enforce this bigotry themselves via endless structural power, but one that takes a look at how Black social structures (also influenced by White supremacy; i.e. homophobia in the Church directly connects to binary gender roles and “appropriate” sexuality to be deemed “human” in the White Gaze via “respectability” post-Civil War to current) leave them the out. One that contextualizes the fact that many Black women suffer abuse from Black men for the very reason that Black men are brutalized and do not call the police as to protect them from police brutality. How…is…that…privilege?
The erasure of the history, the experiences, the activism and the reality of Black women in relation to police brutality, extrajudicial execution and State violence is unacceptable. Erasing Black women is NOT “supporting” Black men. It is erasure of Black history, something Whites/non-Black people of colour gleefully engage in via epistemic violence, false equalization and using Black death solely as a trope to center non-Black lives. We can’t also engage in our own erasure. Love itself, as a concept and praxis, needs to be decolonized when it’s expected to be/expressed as the erasure of Black women in the service of Black men. Harm to any Black people is not “pro-Black.” Black women’s truths and lives matter. Black lives matter. And everyone, including fellow Black people, have to start actually believing this. And then start or continue acting against any oppression that seeks to confer anything different from the value of Black life.