By Liz Brazile
For as long as black liberation movements have existed, black women have faithfully contributed blood, sweat, and tears in the name of defeating the “bigger” enemy. But for many generations, black women have been told that our coexisting concerns about addressing the misogyny directed towards us are a distraction. And that those concerns take away time, attention, and energy that should be expended fighting racism. Mainstream black society has erased women like Anna Murray-Douglass and Ella Baker–who stood by black men despite their misogynoir–while men like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr.– who habitually threw black women under the bus–continue to be household names in abolitionism and civil rights respectively.
The tradition of the black collective demanding one-sided, unconditional loyalty from black women lives on in 2018. We are still expected to be mules for the entire race, bearing the trauma of misogynoir in silence while screaming at the top of our lungs for racial justice on behalf of men who despise us. But black women seem to be increasingly making the decision to be more selective with their emotional labor.
When 22-year-old unarmed black man, Stephon Clark, was shot and killed by Sacramento police last week, his death sparked national outrage. There have been a string of anti-police brutality demonstrations since his death and cries for justice have been ringing through mainstream media and social media alike. But a new layer of controversy was added when a series of offensive tweets from Clark and girlfriend Salena Manni’s Twitter accounts surfaced:
Clark tweeted under the @zoewoodz handle and Manni under the @baelena handle.
The revelation that Clark had a history of making and endorsing derogatory comments about black women comes as a disappointment, but not necessarily a shock. Clark also wrote tweets that many have interpreted as him trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement. Consequently, there is a debate amongst black folks about whether or not Clark deserves to have black women–who have largely organized and continue to sustain present-day civil rights efforts–cape for him.
Let me be clear that Stephon Clark did not deserve to be shot eight times and killed by police. Nothing he could’ve done short of opening fire on police could justify that and I feel for the family and friends he left behind. And the American policing institution, which was founded for the purposes of controlling and exploiting black bodies, needs to be dismantled. But realize that racist policing practices affect black women too. So if we choose to opt out of this one, we have a right to do so. We do not owe Clark or his anti-black girlfriend our emotional energy or activism in return for their contempt.
You do not get to marginalize black women and simultaneously be entitled to our labor when you need advocacy. Some folks are making the argument that we’re all problematic in one way or another, and therefore Clark’s misogynoir ought to be excused. But how many times are we going to chastise black women for holding black men accountable for hating us, while also allowing black men to withhold respect from black women for the slightest perceived blemish on their respectability? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. And I have a sneaking suspicion that neither Clark nor Manni have ever broken a sweat to advocate for a black woman.
Black women who choose to put their integrity before racial reasoning are an anomaly in the grand scheme of black society. Historically, black women have held it down for the black male collective with blind loyalty, no matter what the emotional toll may be for us. And despite some of our sentiments in regard to Stephon Clark’s misogynoir, black women will overwhelmingly continue to empathize with and coddle black men in a very one-sided fashion. Black men have each other, black women and the non-black women they fetishize all running to their defense anytime they are subjected to an injustice. But who is showing up, unconditionally, for black women other than black women?