[Editor's note: Big props to @ChrisMacDen for writing this. ]
crossposted from The Pink Pink Elephant
Last year, I interviewed for the chief student affairs position at a Black women’s college in the South. During my interview, people kept asking me “why do you want to be here?” I knew that the seemingly-innocuous question obscured the one they really wanted to ask: “why do you—a Latino/Jewish man who will be seen as white down here and is also gay—want to work with and for Black women.” In my meeting with the all of my potential supervisees—all of them Black women—I told the group “you do not have to be a Black woman to care about and want to support Black women.” I commented that few people who looked like me had historically cared about Black women so I assumed there might be mistrust. In fact, men who looked like me had often been the source of great pain and oppression. However, I explained, that mistrust would not stop me from working on behalf of Black women.
I love Black women—personally, professionally and politically. I realize that this surprises many people. Some wonder if I am simply fetishizing Black women as sassy, “keepin’ it real” sistas, sort of a 21st century Sapphire. Unfortunately, many gay men—white men particularly—love to conjure this stereotype when meeting Black women. Personally, Black women have played a critical role in my life. I have known too many Black women to ever pigeon-hole them. I know too well that Black women are as diverse as any other group. No, my love comes from a keen understanding of the role Black women have played in my life and in American history.
During my college career, it was a small group of Black women who helped me be comfortable with myself as someone with multiple subordinated identities. As a biracial gay man from a working-class background, I often felt schizophrenic in a society that could only see in one-dimensional terms. Most importantly, my friends helped me survive at a college where I was the only openly gay man on campus. These friends taught me how to hold my head high while walking through groups of people throwing slurs at me. These women introduced me to the work of Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and other Black feminists/womanists to help me work toward my own liberation by understanding the systems that oppressed me. These works helped me understand that I was not the problem, society was.
Black women have also shaped how I see the world. Since college, I have been a student of Black feminism and womanism. `Black feminism` argues that sexism, classism, racism and other forms of oppression are inextricable from one another. Social change movements, including other forms of feminism, that only focus on single dimensions of identity will always exclude large groups of people it purports to help. Black feminists argue that the liberation of black women entails freedom for all people, since it would require the end of racism, sexism, and class oppression.
Mary Church Terrell, Mary McLoed Bethune, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, Angela Davis, Rose Parks, Ruby Dee, Betty Shabbaz, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ellen Brown, Faye Wattleton, Dorothy Height, Ida B. Wells-Barnett. All of these women—and many more—have worked to create a more just society for us all. Contemporary Black women such as Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Julieanne Malveaux, Barbara Lee, Valerie Jetter and Carol Mosely-Braun among many, many others continue the work of creating a more equitable world. Not enough thanks are given to Black women who have historically fought for the dignity and well-being of all people.
As a social justice activist, I know that white men and women are often the face of an issue, even when Black women are disproportionately affected. During the fight against the military ban against gay men and lesbians in the early 1990s, the people highlighted who were discharged were mostly white men with a few white women shown. This image hid the fact that Black women were kicked out of the military for being homosexual at a higher rate than whites of both sexes and Black men. How did an issue that impacted Black women the most, like the military ban on gay people, get seen as a white man’s issue?
I have also seen Black women’s concerns be ignored. Lupus is a disease that affects Black women in large numbers but does not get the attention it deserves. It is seen as “merely” a Black women’s disease and thus not important. Black women have fought for the rest of us and it is time that we fight for Black women.
For that reason, I follow the leadership of Black women and listen to the words of Black women. As I mentioned earlier, Black women are a diverse group. Thus, I will not necessarily agree with the things all Black women say. But as a progressive who is committed to a more just world for all people, I know that Black women’s opinions, research, and voices are integral to ensuring that our politics are inclusive of all people. This commitment includes the projects I support financially. I donate regularly to the Black Women’s Health Initiative, a national organization that's committed to devoted solely to advancing the health and wellness of America's Black women and girls through advocacy, community health and wellness education and leadership development. I donate to this organization because too often the lives of Black women are not considered in health care research. Moreover, I know from a standpoint of enlightened self-interest that if healthcare is better for Black women, it will be better for all people.
Although Black women are seen as selfless and never needing assistance, Black women are not the emotionless rocks of strength that society paints them as. While I appreciate the strength that Black women have needed to have over the centuries, I insist on seeing Black women as human, not as stereotypes. Black women have been demonized, abused, and ignored for too long. Black women have been maligned as castrating, too angry and even the source of the oppression of Black men. It is time that we stand by your side and defend you, love you, thank you and listen to you. You have given me so very much as a human being; I shall always be there for you.