Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Black men: shut up and listen to black women

“It's no use of talking unless people understand what you say.”
Zora Neale Hurston

That quote by Queen Zora has been on my mind for the past few days.  A lot of people are talking, but few understand what is being said.
I’ve been listening to a chorus of screams.  It shows up in a variety of ways: political battles, conversations about race, problems facing youth, and on and on and - you get the point. 

“it’s no use of talking unless people understand what you say,” Hurston said.
Black women are screaming.  Is anyone listening?

It’s happening on a number of fronts.  Black women want to define the terms related to their bodies.  They are way past being sick and tired of men communicating legitimate sexuality.  They are tired of the contradiction that affirms the sexual expression of men while shaming women who love their body and who search for ways to express what it means to be created in the image of a female God.
Women are sick of being blamed for the construction of rape culture.  They are fed up with hearing it’s the fault of their wardrobe that men objectify their body for the purpose of self-gratification.  Women, like men, desire the freedom to celebrate sexual pleasure in language that is their own.

Women are nauseated by language of submission.  They are tired of verbiage that uses the Bible to justify sexism.  They want to be treated the same as men, and demand accountability of those who use their power and privilege to limit their voice.  They have the right to demand being served by women clergy.  They have the right for God to be referenced as both male and female, or to hear language that celebrates the inclusion of women.
Black men need to listen.

It could be that the notion of listening and hearing is a new phenomenon toward the reconstruction of black masculinity.  My friend Mark Anthony Neal, author of Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinity, has paved the way for conversations related to how black masculinity has been read in popular culture.  Reframing discussions regarding black masculinity creates space for a discussion about black patriarchy, misogyny, sexism and sexual violence.
Perspectives regarding womanist and feminist perspectives are incased within the terms and conditions of black men. Black women deserve to be heard, but not on the footing of the men who seek to control the platform for these discussions.  A space must be found for an open, ongoing reflection on how black patriarchy hinders the voice of black women.

The brothers need to get out of the way.
Power assumes the right to speak, how to speak, when to speak and the terms of speaking. Power shames those who speak outside approved terms.  Privilege grants value to conversations rooted in suppositions grounded in a male worldview. Power prescribes meaning and merit to words.

Women are being told to shut their mouth.
It shows up when men tell women how they feel with little regard for how words are heard. It shows up when the language of black women’s pain is forced within the context of the black man’s struggle.  It shows up when black women are accused of claiming solidarity with white women at the expense of black allegiance.

As painful as it may be to listen as black women tell their truth about how it feels to be black and woman, black men need to listen. As hard as it may be to admit ones actions have hindered black women – you have to listen.  Even when it hurts, and, yes, even when it exposes demons lurking in your kitchen, you have to listen as black women stir the pot of hostility.
It’s hard for black men to hear the word patriarchy used to define their role in hindering women.  It’s easier to limit its usage to white men with power beyond their own.  As easy as it may be to reject patriarchy as a real possibility, it’s critical for black men to listen as women express truth as they live it, versus rejecting their understanding of how privilege and power shows up.

Shut your mouth, is the common refrain.
Black men reject the truth of black women by reminding them of their own.  We, black and brown men, suffer from hostile public policies.  We, black men, endure rampant discriminatory practices that shows up in a variety of ways.  We are arrested devoid of evidence.  We are convicted and sentenced based on racial bias, and denied access to work and promotion.

All of that may be true, but asserting such doesn’t nullify the truth asserted by black women.  The lack of power and privilege in certain places doesn’t quash how it shows up between black men and women.  It shows up in matters of the body and sexuality.  It harms women when men use the Bible to enforce submission, and brute strength is applied to limit a woman’s freedom.
It may be difficult for black men to concede the language of patriarchy due to the assumptions related to their own sense of subjugation.  Black men disregard how patriarchy shows up by limiting the way it is used to convey the rage of black women.  Black men hide behind the injustices and practices of bigotry.  Black men demand attention related to the ongoing struggle to gain freedom.  They demand being heard, and they have reason to scream.

Black men need a place to share their stories.  No one should be silenced.
But you are not the only group that needs to be heard.

Tell your truth, but take time to listen.  Listen to the women.  They have a story to share, and they are begging us to listen.  We have no right to tell them how to think or feel. 
Shut up and listen


  1. Great post! and Right on time! Thank you.

  2. Insightful and powerful. Thank you! I feel affirmed.