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.