Friday, February 25, 2011

Black Feminist Book Club: Black male freedom = black female subjugation?

This year, I pledged to read more black feminist writing and I invited What Tami Said readers to join me. Right now, our Black Feminist Book Club is reading When and Where I Enter by Paula Giddings. I welcome guest submissions on the content and themes of this book.

Below is an excerpt about how, during times of black radicalism, patriarchal insistence on lesser freedom for black women and girls increases. In these times, true freedom and equality for the black man has been presented, as contingent, in part, on his ability to "master" the black woman in the same way white men are believed to "master" white women in a sexist mainstream society.

Sadly, I think, more than 100 years on, this thinking still lives in the black community. What do you think?


The incidents can be seen in the context of the heightened militancy of Blacks in the late forties and fifties. The Fugitive Slave Law, the repeal of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision had all served to push even the most sanguine activists, such as Frederick Douglass, to call for the violent overthrow of the slave system. In periods of Black radicalism, which always includes a self-conscious quest for manhood, Black men attempt to exercise their male prerogatives more vigorously.

This dynamic was evident in the Revolutionary period, when “manumission fever” was in the air. A petition for freedom presented by male slaves to the Massachusetts legislature in 1773 was especially revealing. The men asked for freedom on the grounds that as slaves they had no authority over their families. “How can a husband leave master and work and cleave to his wife?” the petition read in part. “How can the wife submit themselves to [their] husbands in all things?”9 (Emphasis added.)

Male attitudes in the mid-nineteenth century, when Black militancy was at its peak, also reflected a sharpened resolve to take possession of that which had been denied to them. In 1855 a Black convention of male leaders declared that “As a people, we have been denied the ownership of our bodies, our wives, home, children and the products of our own labor.” The convention men resolved to “vindicate our manhood, command our respect and claim the attention and admiration of the civilized world.”10

That vindication included establishing conventional patriarchal relationships, and women were expected to help in this effort. In contrast to the views that Maria Stewart had expressed twenty-four years earlier, a Philadelphia convention resolved:
…we recommend to our mothers and our sisters to use every honorable means to secure for their sons and brothers places of profit and trust in stores and other places of business, such as will throw a halo around this proscribed people.11 (Emphasis added.) 
To men’s minds, for a woman to work—especially when it wasn’t a question of dire necessity—undermined Black manhood and the race as well. “As an evidence of the deep degradation of our race,” observed the Black physician and newspaper editor Martin Delany in 1855, “there are among us [women] whose husbands are industrious, able and willing to support them, who voluntarily leave home and become chamber maids, and stewardesses…in all probability to enable them to obtain more fine or costly articles of dress or furniture.”12 Delany was convinced that racial progress depended on rectifying that situation. “Until colored men attain to a position above permitting their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters to do the drudgery of…other men’s wives and daughters,” he said, “it is useless, it is nonsense…to talk about equality and elevation in society. (pg. 60, When and Where I Enter, Paula Giddings)


La Reyna said...

Thank you Tami. I've been noticed a lot of videos popped up on Youtube regarding Black male/female relationships that are made by Black men. They lamented the lack of freedom, that they're discriminated against in education, work, society, etc., that Black women have more freedom than they do. Those guys also imagained that Black women date white men and that we choose them over our brothers, which is so false. They completely ignore the plight of Black women due to racial/gender/class bias and discrimination in America today.

What do you think? Please let me know.

La Reyna

Kjen said...

Glad I picked up this book, it's a great read so far.
Anyway,yes, I think that attitude still exists.
What is interesting is that the justification used for submission among Black couples at least- in addition to it being biblical correct - is the pride of the male. His ego not being injured is considered to be reason enough to submit.
Yet, traditionally submission has often had a practical and material component of dependency and it is kind of an exchange between spouses.
I read "The Mother of Invention" about Southern women from the wealthy planter class shortly before I started Giddings book. It was interesting to see just how dependent they were on their husbands - (and their on family wealth but that was seen as coming from their father=another male figure.) Their status, all material comforts were to said to have been given to them by their husbands. And in return for this, they were to submit to their husbands.
And I said that all to say, I often feel the urge to wonder aloud when I hear Black men talk about how Black women absolutely NEED to submit to them, "Other then ego stroking for you, what do I get from submission?"


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