Sexism has a unique way of subordinating Black women. It is a Black woman’s duty, so we are told, to suppress our urges toward equality. Black women have always been expected to prioritize the components of their identity so that race takes precedence over gender. If feminist implications arise that may offend our Black men, even in gender’s relegated position, they are expected to be ignored in favor of Black manhood. The effects of this phenomenon are that Black women have spent considerable time ignoring their feminine needs in an effort to emphasize their race. Consequently, the expression of their womanhood is frustrated and often comes out in an “angry Black woman” kind of way. Most attempts to assert our equality are construed as an “emasculation” of our Black men. Justified through theories of divine order or threats of indefinite loneliness, Black men still re-enforce the obligation of Black women to prioritize and solidify Black manhood.
Every so often, I run across comments by Black men that remind me how stealth and active cultural sexism still is. As an undergraduate, one such comment served as the entire basis for my honor’s thesis. In summation, a Black man commented on the radio “I don’t see how Black women can vote for Hillary Clinton. If you’re voting based solely on demographics you have an obligation to vote for Barack because you’re Black before you’re a woman.” I sought confirmation of my outrage from my two bosses at the time (both Black males) who replied “umm duh Shy! You ARE Black before you’re a woman. You didn’t know that?!” They seemed puzzled at my reaction as if I had missed some quintessential Black community belief.
This identity prioritization dates back to the Civil Rights Movement where many believed that the gender equality efforts subverted the Negro cause. In addition to that, the rights that white women were demanding were separate and distinct from the needs of Black women at that time. Combine that with the male-dominated CRM and the liberation of Black women was considered implicit in the legislation championed by Black men and white women.
Shockingly, most Black men have never tried to understand how race and gender intersect for Black women and how that can frustrate their sense of identity. An in-depth analysis of this notion was popularized by legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw. Crenshaw expounds on how the need for Black women to split their energies between two, sometimes competing, agendas can cause significant psychological conflict. One agenda requires asserting my equality in the home with underlying feminist notions, often vis-à-vis my husband. The other, requires equality assertions outside the home, in conjunction with my husband, against racism. It would seem silly to concede that the empowerment and liberation of Black women from racial and sexist marginalization can only come through Black men and white women, considering that our racial experience differs from that of Black men and our gender experience differs from white women.
It is ironic that in the same way white people have to realize that racism, especially in its subtle or unconscious forms, does not exist only in the minds of Black people; Black men must learn that sexism, and its nuances as informed by race, is not a problem only in the minds of Black women. Having been oppressed by white privilege, you would think that Black men would quickly fight against male privilege because they have personally experienced the woes of oppression. Not so, gender oppression is partly perpetuated by Black men. Not only do Black men not fight male privilege, many refuse to even acknowledge how Black women currently experience two forms of oppression simultaneously and thus subordination to a greater degree than Black men. Because the ideal is so foreign, we are beginning to fight the battle for our equality that has already been (semi-) won by our male counterparts. Accordingly, we are forced to go through the stages of an equality struggle from the beginning. I believe that struggle entails a variety of stages including denial of equal standing, recognition of partial standing, recognition of total equal standing but partial equal treatment, full recognition and equal treatment.
The modern efforts by Black women to assert their equality is in no way intended to undermine the success of Black families or emasculate our Black men. We fully recognize (sometimes more than the men themselves) the phenomenal strength and capability of Black men. Quite contrarily, healthy relationships and families depend on healthy people. Affluence and influence in the Black community can only be helped, not injured, by “power couples”. Certain mental securities are central to the health and productivity of individuals. Being valued and respected on a level equal to that of your partner is such an essential.