Sunday, October 14, 2007

Newsweek on Black Misogyny

Race & Gender: We're Not Gonna Take ItOne woman's case opens a dialogue about black misogyny.

By Allison SamuelsNewsweekOct. 15, 2007 issue -

Will 2007 be remembered as the year black women said "Enough is enough"? At no small personal cost, Anucha Browne Sanders stood up and demanded an end to the kind of abuse African-American women regularly tolerate from some black men. We are not "bitches" or "ho's," to be harassed sexually or otherwise, she declared.It was a brave thing for an African-American woman to do. Our community is reluctant to talk openly about the problem of black men mistreating black women. Our leaders will rise up in unison against Don Imus for his detestable slur against the Rutgers women's basketball team. Yet they remain silent when Isiah Thomas says it's less offensive for a black man to call a black woman "bitch" than it is for a white man. Black leaders are justifiably in an uproar over the Jena Six, yet none rushed to West Palm Beach, Fla., this summer when an African-American mother in a public housing project was gang-raped. Nor did they talk about domestic violence when self-help minister Juanita Bynum told police in August that she'd been beaten by her husband, which he denies. Even rapper R. Kelly—still awaiting trial on charges of having sex with an underage girl in 2002—gets a free pass.

"We have to say 'No more'!" says author Terry McMillan, who's made a career writing about the complicated and sometimes strained relations between African-American women and men. "No other culture disrespects their women the way our culture does, and it has to stop. Black men have to start taking responsibility for being a part of the reason black women are so disrespected in the first place." McMillan has never shied away from challenging the ways black men portray women in film, videos and rap songs, but plenty of blacks—men and women alike—are loath to point fingers publicly. (For his part, the Rev. Al Sharpton finally weighed in late last week on the Browne Sanders dispute, threatening a boycott of the Knicks until Thomas apologizes for the "bitch" comment.)

The reasons for the silence are complicated, but mostly it's about not wanting to make things tougher for black men than they already are. (For the record, this reporter is conflicted about adding to the woes.) More black men are in jail than college, they face unemployment twice that of white men and they are subjected to plenty of negative media attention. So any additional attacks from black women are seen as betrayal. "We have enough people eager to attack us that we don't need to do it to each other," says rapper and actor Ice Cube, who was publicly taken to task by the Rev. Jesse Jackson for making fun of civil-rights icon Rosa Parks in the comedy "Barbershop."

Yet without open dialogue, nothing is solved. Two years ago, when Spelman College, a historically black women's campus in Atlanta, invited rappers to discuss misogyny in hip-hop, most of the big names declined. "So where does that leave us?" asks Beverly Bond, founder of the group Black Girls Rock, a nonprofit dedicated to raising young black girls' self-esteem. "There's not been a lot of willingness to talk about this until now, with Imus. It's a shame it took that, but finally rappers—if they are honest—understand the damage."

But can a radio host's firing or a basketball legend's loss in court continue to give rise to the voices of women that the Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston once referred to as the "mules of the world"? "I was glad Imus got fired, and I was glad that a black woman won the case in New York," says 16-year-old LaTisha Johnson of Inglewood, Calif. "But I don't see that changing the boys I know or the rappers I see on TV. They don't think it's wrong, and a white man getting fired doesn't change that." But perhaps a black woman talking about it will.


freedom-is-slavery said...

This article seems to shadow an assigned reading from earlier this year by Audre Lorde (I believe). Black women are the last to get the attention of the feminist movement. Even this article apologizes for bringing up issues with black men, while black women continue to be expected to “take up the slack” for black men. Why must black men be given further allowances for their behavior toward black women?

I am not saying that black men are not subjects of discrimination/racism and, as a result, have a much tougher time finding their place in society, but denigrating black women is not an appropriate avenue or outlet for this hopelessness they must feel.

In addition to the degradation experienced by black women at the hands of black men, black women are also experiencing oppression by white men and white women. It is time for black men to be confronted with the aftermath of their behavior. I do not see why coddling black men because they are already experiencing confrontation with discrimination will do further harm to the black man. I actually see black men taking advantage of the patriarchy within black society in this circumstance.

kydemocrat said...

I would agree with Ice Cube, that the African American community are subjected to so many forms of attack and oppression in society that they should not attack each other. However, this assertion brings me to a different conclusion than it does Ice Cube.

I would argue that the claim that black people should not attack each other includes the standard that black men should not call black women derogatory names. Ice Cube, on the other hand, is not making his assertion to condemn men for their belittling comments. Rather, he is making his claim in response to the women who have publicly complained about the remarks of these black men.

The author cites different instances in which public figures have been condoned, censored, protested, and even boycotted because of racist remarks. However, little has been done in instances in which black men have made offensive comments about black women. In fact, such actions are the basis of much of popular culture.

I have argued before that racist comments face much more negative societal attention and stigma than do sexist ones. This is not to say, however, that sexism is more prevalent or harmful in society--- just that racism has become more masked than sexism.

Take for example the presidential election. It is not uncommon at all to hear individuals proclaim that the country is not ready for a woman or an African American (especially in this area). However, I have encountered far more that are willing to say they are not comfortable with a woman being in power (some of which are themselves women). I also constantly encounter negative remarks about Barack Obama. These comments are not usually solely about his race. Rather, they are thinly disguised with concerns about his Muslim education. Therefore, while the comments are just as derogatory and negative about Obama as they are about Clinton, the ones about Obama are usually made with an attempt to disguise their motivation. Those about Clinton, on the other hand, tend to be much more straightforward and blatantly motivated by her gender. Therefore, although each are as offensive and harmful as the other, those motivated by gender discrimination tend to be much more blatantly so than those motivated by race.

feMENist said...

It seems to me that this article is in agreement with the work of several feminist authors, including but not limited too the work of people such as Audre Lorde and Catherine McKinnon. In the current patriarchy of our society, black women are at the bottom of the barrel. They are put down by women of their own gender and men of their own race. It is a situation unique to them and a way of living no one should be subject too.

Black women are put down for two reasons: because they are black and because they are women. Black men are only put down because they are black. White women are put down only because they are women. White men are not put down at all. It leaves only black women to feel the effects of both racism and gender inequality.

The article hits a very strong point in calling on black men to end their mistreatment of black women of their own race. It seems to me that racial ties are stronger than gender ties. Assuming this to be the case, the situation of black women needs to be fixed on racial grounds first, gender grounds second.

If black women were to recieve the respect and proper treatment from men of their own race that they deserve, they will become more unified. After this, they will be in a more advantageous position to find the effects of gender inequality.

whitney said...

I really don’t think that anything will come of Don Imus being fired for his racist comments. I mean, I am glad that he got fired, I am glad that people can’t just say things like that and get away with it, but in regards to black misogyny, I don’t see connection. He’s a white guy. It is much easier for black men to stand up for black women’s rights when they are being attacked by a white man. It is probably much harder to look at their own actions and realize that they are subjecting black women to the same sort of things, and that it is just as wrong. In one of my classes we talked about the way people identify themselves as groups, and how it is mainly based on levels of subordination. Gay white men may be white men but they will more readily identify themselves with gay causes because of the level of subordination they face as homosexuals. I think most black women would more readily identify themselves with their race than they do with their gender because of this too. I also think a problem is that women don’t want to think about sexism, it is much easier to ignore it, or make an excuse for it. So many girls I know listen to music that is very disrespectful to women, and they love it. If rappers can say whatever they want about women and still sell their music to women, why would they change it?

Anonymous said...

The issues of feminism are somewhat touchy, and so are issues about race, when they are combined, they can become even more complicated. To me, black women are at the bottom in every aspect of life. The are seen as less than black men, and less than all whites. This has got to change but it will not happen unless those who are being oppressed raise the awareness themselves, no one will do it for you, they never have. I think the girl at the end was right when she said a white guy getting fired will do nothing for black women, they have to do it themselves. I also believe that the black men who are making money of off the portraying of women as "ho's" are just as guilty as white men who oppress women. If people are making money of it, they are more than likely not going to change because it will upset the social order.160I don't think black men should get a pass on their oppressing of black women because they are oppressed by white culture. In these terms race and gender are separate. Black men are oppressed everyday by white men and white women as well, but this does not give them any right to do the same thing to women. However, most, if not all, of the progress blacks have made has come from their own determination and raising the issues themselves, black women must do the same.

Anonymous said...

Although I agree that black women do deal with a greater degree of oppression and down right repulsive behavior, I do not feel that “No other culture disrespects their women the way our culture does, and it has to stop”. Women of every culture, race and ethnicity are disrespected in cruel and degrading ways, but I feel that black women are exploited through the media more than any other group of women. Rap which attracts a large and diverse group of listeners is one of the most severe ways that this sexualization of black women occurs. Whenever I hear “Superman Dat Ho” on the radio or in my car, I don’t think about how dehumanizing and offensive the song is to black women but women in general. Even once I found out the true meaning of what the song means I still continue to listen to it and I think many young women like me have done the same. I do feel that the Jena 6 and other events have brought attention to the cause but everyday practices such as rap videos and movies that exploit women are just as degrading as those that get media attention. All women not just black women need to put our feet down and say no we aren’t gonna take it!