In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, I often wonder where are the black men mobilizing against sexual violence against black women? Have we hidden—like the biblical David—away from the eyes of our communities because we are secretly invested in rape culture? Are we afraid because we do not actually know what sexual violence looks like?
Or are we worried that we may look in the mirror and face the fact that we may also be harm-doers?
In July 2015, a group of about 10 black men joined together in the living room of Black Women’s Blueprint in Brooklyn, N.Y., to discuss these things openly and honestly, without restraint.
We gathered because we wanted to discuss ways to dismantle the patriarchy within. We pinpointed key ways to stand in support of black female survivors of sexual and intimate-partner violence. We also vowed to be conscientious of our socialization into a society that prizes misogyny and sexism, and strategized ways to move from theory to praxis and from talk to action.
We thought critically about what rape is, what consent looks like, how to stop street harassment and how to get real about the monsters deeply embedded in who we are as male-identified persons under patriarchy. We also agreed that this inner work is never-ending.
As I looked back on our meeting, I realized that we are doing similar work to our African forefathers during the 19th century. Historian Tera Hunter notes, in To ’Joy My Freedom, that black men across the South joined together and mobilized against the sadistic and utterly vile attacks against black women’s bodies by white racists overcome with rapacious lust.
In Savannah, Ga., there was the Sons of Benevolence, and in Mobile, Ala., there was the National Lincoln Association, which met regularly to map legal and social solutions to the problem of white-on-black rape.
Black men led and sustained an anti-rape movement at the height of white supremacist Klan terror. Despite the widespread anti-black violence that ensued following the legal eradication of slavery as it had formerly been practiced, black men unapologetically mobilized against racialized rape and sexualized racism alongside black women.
But how many black men mobilized against rape within black communities? How many black men chose to, instead, shame black women into silence? How many black men tasked black women with hiding their own victimization from the eyes of society in order to protect the black men doing the victimizing?
These past six months have been quite overwhelming for black communities and families faced with fighting our own demons. Social media has been filled with post after post of individuals wrestling with the ill that is sexual violence.
In the midst of these conversations were rape apologists or people—mainly black men—who stood firm—flat-footed, even—on behalf of accused rapist Bill Cosby, and even joked about the severity of R. Kelly’s alleged molestation of children, despite his chauvinistic behavior on a recent HuffPost Live segment. The wide-ranging lengths and leaps that black men have made to justify rape—a violation of one’s mind, body, soul and spirit that can never be just—is beyond distressing. Take, for example, the video below, in which Umar Johnson argues that the state is “taking down Cosby.”
Dr Umar Johnson speaks on Bill Cosby
Posted by You gone learn today on Friday, October 16, 2015
Though not applicable in Cosby’s case—despite Johnson’s opinion—the state’s assassination attempts on not just the bodies of black men but also on their characters are well-documented. Legal records, newspapers and cultural history bear witness to the ways that white supremacists depicted black sexuality as deviant and perverse. Pathologic engagements with black people’s bodies rendered black men and women sexual beasts.
Yet, in cacophonous contradiction, white women and men lusted after what Vincent Woodard has called “the delectable Negro.”
The Negro as a delicacy to be eaten is a metaphor that rings loudly in the heart of the white American soul. That is evidenced by white supremacists who continue to murder black people at astronomical rates. So it makes sense, then, that conversations about the sexual violence that pervades our communities are fraught with tension, anger and accusations of racial traitorship.
Understanding the root, though, does not mean that it doesn’t need to be pulled out and destroyed. Understanding the root means knowing that state-sanctioned rapists who were sworn in “to protect and serve” black women, but who instead targeted them, are as reprehensible and violent as the police officers who killed Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Oscar Grant and Sean Bell.
Understanding the root, the toxic root of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, means that black men must always care about and advocate alongside black women and girls. We must care that an anti-black state apparatus granted former Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw the power and authority to bring to life his deepest, darkest, nonconsensual fantasies about black women’s bodies.
We must love black women enough to jump on buses, hop on planes or do whatever it is we need to do to get to Oklahoma City next week for the National Justice Ride for Survivors of Holtzclaw.
But we must also stand up when the predator is a black man with an iconic television show or hot albums. We must be there for her when she’s an 18-year-old black girl in Brooklyn, N.Y., allegedly gang-raped by five black teens who look like us.
No rape is negligible.
As Essex Hemphill once asked, “How eager are we to burn this threadbare masculinity, this perpetual black suit that we have outgrown?”
Though I think masculinity is inherently flawed and will always be as long as we are invested in white colonial constructions of gender, as black men, we must wrestle with who we are as male-identified people and what that means for black women—cisgender, transgender and gender-nonconforming.
As black men in America, we are hurting, but black women are hurting, too. And it’s past time that we reckoned with the truth that they are often hurting because of us.
The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.