As Black people – across genders, sexualities, shades, ages, and geography – we share a common fate of living through and trying to survive global white supremacy. But what happens when certain groups of Black people have more power over others? What happens when we, as Black women, deal with the intersection of oppressions – white supremacy and patriarchy?
For generations, Black women have been fighting, organizing, and laying our bodies on the line to protect our brothers and ourselves from white supremacy. Under the system of patriarchy, which gives cis men power and preference over women and non-binary people, what happens to Black women, if Black men aren’t also our allies fighting against the patriarchy that shrinks and kills us?
Two of the greatest American thinkers and writers in history, Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin, talked to each other at length about what Black men and Black women owe each other in a 1971 episode of the TV show Soul.
Giovanni speaks to Baldwin of the ways that Black men have taken out their frustrations over white supremacy onto the Black women who love them. “I’ve caught the frowns and the anger,” Giovanni says. “You come home and I catch hell. Because I love you, I get [the] least of you. I get the very minimum. And I’m saying fake it with me. Is that too much of the Black woman to ask of the Black man?”
In 2022, as we mark the deadliest year on record for Black trans women; at a time when one in four Black women experience domestic violence, one in four Black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18, and one in five Black women are survivors of rape, we’re long overdue for another conversation about protecting Black women and what we owe each other.
“[Black women have] been made to feel not just that it’s our duty to support Black men but that being loved by Black men is the ultimate validation,” prolific writer and culture critic Jamilah Lemieux shares on “Obligation,” the latest podcast episode of Truth Be Told with Tonya Mosley. “I want for Black men to love and care for Black women the way that we love and care for them,” she says. “It’s more than a gut feeling that this love is not reciprocal.”
The Baldwin to her Giovanni on the podcast is the prophetic writer and professor, Kiese Laymon.
“When there is no duty [for Black men] to collectively defend Black women unless it appears that the person doing the harming of Black women is white men…I know then we’re in a place where asymmetry is a kind way of saying it,” Laymon says in response.
In the episode, Lemieux and Laymon break down Lemieux’s mega-viral Vanity Fair article, “Dave Chappelle and the Black Ass Lie That Keeps Us Down.” Using Chappelle’s career of misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia as an example, Lemieux writes in an early contender for best essay of 2022, “Black America’s version of “the big lie”—“the Black ass lie”—is that Black men have it worse than any other group of Black people.” It’s this belief, she explains, that can prevent Black men from fully understanding the struggles of Black women and even their own complicity in those struggles, and therefore, the obligation to help lift the burden.
“The deeper question for me,” Laymon says, “as a Black man who has reaped the benefits sometimes in asymmetrical relationships where Black women have loved me far deeper, and far more rigorously than I have loved them, is once you know that, as a Black man, do you have an obligation to not engage in romantic relationships with Black women until you as an individual feel the same equal duty? And unless you’re willing to go out there and do the work that Black women have done to protect us, regardless of who’s coming at us?”
Listen to the whole podcast below:
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