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We Can't Only Demand & Refute Justice When It Serves To Help Our Men

Her Voice

I've previously asked, what comes first: our identity as a woman or as a Black being? Personally, I knew that the answer was and always will be my racial identity at the forefront of my entire being.

My blackness is so deeply ingrained in me that I can't see myself, including my gendered experience without it. One of the most prevalent characteristics informed by this identity of Black womanhood is the obligatory task of hoisting cisgendered, heterosexual Black men on our backs and breathing life into them—even when they're undeserving.

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When I say "undeserving," I'm speaking on the men who women experience physical, mental, and sexual abuse at the hands of. I'm speaking of the men who are guilty of their sins and the men that we, sometimes, continue to support.

As Black women, we find ourselves tasked with raising all black men except we aren't always raising them — at times, we're loving them to death. It's as I've heard said so many times before, "we raise our daughters and love our sons." This insulates a sense of entitlement that Black men can't afford to have and the entitlement ensures them the right to a fight for justice with the mighty fist of their women despite the evidence that may accurately and justly prove his guilt.

We remain silent about our own abuse and pain because we fear that we're otherwise contributing to the demise of our brothas and aiding the white folks' agenda to continuously and publicly criminalize them.

Unlike the hegemonic culture, we give the benefit of the doubt to our men instead of our women in cases of sexual assault, which I feel are both dangerous practices, that could result in an injustice for either party. Nonetheless, it's a practice we must find a smart balance with and learn to navigate in the age of social media, where a trial of public opinion is almost always made.

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We continue to support entertainers and athletes after reports and, in some cases, admission of abuse in many forms, simply because it's a privilege typically reserved for white men and we tend to relish in the thought of attaining that status. With full assurance from the "What Would White People Do" committee, we find comfort in escaping punishment as if it serves as justice for the injustice we faced during the crimes we were falsely accused of. So, when it seems like our men can escape the consequences and live in a white man's world, we allow them to live out that fantasy.

Even if for only a moment.

We've seen this with R. Kelly who has had a 30-year career unscathed until recently, or in Angela Rye's quickness to defend radio host Charlamagne, who has had one too many misunderstandings and instances of improperly articulating his position on rape culture once too many times for my own liking. This defense was especially prevalent in the early stages of Bill Cosby's accusations coming to light.

I don't like it, but I do get it.

With our culture so closely observed under the microscope of white America, we don't want to provide more reasons to be demonized. We don't want to be the reason another Black man is imprisoned, but we have to realize who we're marginalizing by only demanding justice when it serves the Black men in our community. And it's us, Black women. There has to be a certain level of accountability that we hold ourselves and our men too. After all, a crime is a crime.

We can't tolerate and consciously advocate for a crime to go unpunished to simply "one up" the justice system.

A justice system that does not serve all people is not a justice system that we want, and furthermore, one that only serves to acquit men of their toxic masculinity is one where no woman is safe.

The idea that Black women's hurt has to go on ice to unjustly protect Black men doesn't sit well with me. It's an injustice, and especially to our little girls, as it sends the message that their voices won't ever be heard when they fix their lips to say, "Me too." Not really.

With Ava DuVernay calling for the head of R. Kelly, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement holding men accountable, it's clear that we're making progress. The "woke" rhetoric is spreading like wildfire and even if it is only the latest social justice trend, we need to ensure that we're fanning the flames in the right direction and holding the right dialogues.

This means educating women on the implications of supporting seemingly guilty men. This means understanding what rape is because at its core, it means ending the slut-shaming and victim-blaming that says women deserved it because we were being "fast," whether that be portrayed through an ensemble or actions. But especially deading this whole logic and ignorance, by having these discussions with our little boys and girls.

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However, what this does not mean is going on witch hunts for women who we feel aren't doing their part to hold men accountable, as I have seen done to Angela Rye and any other woman who has not verbally spat on those accused of sexual assault. And just one more time, for the people in the back: it does not mean protecting guilty Black men at the cost of further denying Black women safety and peace of mind. That includes creepy uncles, fathers, boyfriends, and strangers alike. It is not our duty to create a safe space for abusers or any crime against women.

Black women have learned how to carry the burdens of Black men since the dawn of time, making ourselves and our self-care an afterthought. We can't continue to be the Black face of vigilantism, not if we're really going to create change in our community.

If we intend to do that, it's time to put them down and lift us up.

Featured image by Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
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