By: La-Toya Scott
bell hooks eloquently summarizes a distinct friction that exists between Black men and women in her book, Ain't I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism. It is not an experience that is isolated but, one that is common in the black community. However, it was truly enlightening to read hook’s uncovering and determination of the roots of this friction. She states that, “White men preyed upon sexist feelings impressed upon the black male psyche from birth to socialize black men so that they would regard not all women, but specifically black women as the enemies of their masculinity” (hooks 80). To foreground this statement hooks interrogates the myth of the “strong Black woman” and dispels the idea of the ball-busting, emasculating image. This myth all too often de-feminizes the black woman and paints her as an individual that deserves no sympathy, tenderness, or compassion. These ideas that white men have created get consumed by black men all too easily.
History shows that white men justified the cruelty they afflicted upon black men by premising it on the protection of “pure” white women who were constantly at risk of being ravished by the “beastly” black men that had a perceived uncontrollable desire for them. In the book, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance by Danielle McGuire it’s stated that during Reconstruction, when Blacks tried to assert their newly given freedom, former slaveholders used the rape of black women as a weapon for terrorizing black men and women to instill fear and enforce dominance. What one can conclude is that if white manhood is premised on protecting white women from black men then through the subjugation and rape of black women, white men can denigrate black manhood by exposing that black men cannot protect their women against white power. Thus, manhood is stripped from black men.
This in itself is cyclical because this ultimately comes back to the dehumanization of black women. Black men, in an effort to assert the manhood that they were never allowed to fully ascend to, adopt a model of manhood based off of white male patriarchy, and subsequently subjugate black women. Thus, for black men, black women become not only “the strong black woman,” but also the oversexualized temptress, the hoe, and the slut. This phenomenon becomes an act of “surrogate oppression”; where black men displace their masculine frustrations and pent up rage unto black women. These feelings of emasculation transpose itself onto black women, the only choice left to be attacked without severe punishment. Black men then ultimately become complicit in perpetuating the same social dominance that white men display unto them. The oppression of black women is beneficial to white men because it sustains white supremacist ideology and it keeps black men in their supposed place.
For myself, a black woman, the historical implications cause my interaction with black men in a romantic sense to be calculated. You never know what is going to be perceived as too strong or too intimidating. What is it that is going to be seen as too much or not enough for a black man? I often find myself in a double conscious aspect trying to figure out what parts of me am I going to have to sacrifice in order to prove that I am worthy of love but also deserving of respect. I feel myself walking a tight rope that commands that I must provide, but also wants to be provided for. hooks speaks to this disruptive power dynamic that appears in the figuring of a relationship between black men and women: “White sociologists presented the matriarchy myth in such a way that it implied black women had ‘power’ in the family and black men had none, and although these conclusions were based solely on data concerned with economic status, they fostered divisiveness between black men and women” (hooks 80). Because of wanting to combat this stereotype a number of black women will take a submissive role in relations with black men in order to be accepted and or loved.
I’ve witnessed black women take abuse from men in order to protect black masculinity. Black women become hosts to the socioeconomic oppressions of the black man. In the black woman’s continued support of the black man she cannot address her own dilemmas, nor will the community in which she situates herself in address them. As, Sheila Radford Hill states in her book Further to Fly: Black Women & the Politics of Empowerment, “[Black women] are encouraged to be strong and stay strong. [They] are encouraged to erect a fire wall between life and its miseries, between [them] and [their] vulnerabilities” (40). This idea of support is taught and reinforced by the black community. If this “duty” is not performed there is fear of backlash from a community principled on the protection of the black man. This becomes problematic because it forwards an idea that the expense at which this is done is not too high. Black female identity subsequently becomes intertwined with the needs of the community to which she must humbly serve. Even if the victimizer of the black woman is a black man.
This tradition was seen in 2015, when multiple women seemed to start coming out of the wood works sharing their stories of how beloved actor, Bill Cosby, had sexually assaulted them back in the 90’s. I really took note of the story of victim Jewel Allison. Allison, an African American woman, claimed she did not come forward with her rape until then because she, “didn’t want to let black America down.” Allison recalled her fellow African Americans telling her that the black community would not support her. Allison divulged that:
Admitting that Cosby is a rapist would feel like giving in to white America’s age-old stereotypes about black men. It would be akin to validating fears that African American men are lustful and violent. It would be taking away our greatest and most inspiring role –models one many African Americans can’t afford to lose.
Even if Allison’s rape by Cosby is under speculation the fact that she addresses the upholding of the black community and the black race as the reasoning behind her silence is something that should be dually noted. It is a reasoning that 28 white women, who also claimed that Cosby sexually assaulted them, did not use. Unfortunately, few black women will reject patriarchy because their self-sacrifice is celebrated within the community. The cultural affirmation that comes with putting the community on your back reinforces suffering and makes black women complicit in their own subjugation.
Some black women on the other hand, as hooks points out, “…have been as willing to accept the matriarchy theory as have black men. They [are] eager to identify themselves as matriarchs because it seem[s] to them that black women were finally receiving acknowledgement of their contribution to the black family…[and] it [is] certainly more positive than mammy, bitch, or slut” (hooks 80). These limited options offered for praise for black women within our community is troublesome and forwards toxic roles and behaviors.
hooks, bell. Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. Routledge, 2015.
McGuire, Danielle L. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance- a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Print.
Radford-Hill, Sheila. Further to Fly: Black Women and the Politics of Empowerment. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2000. 6. Print.