A few weeks ago, a video surfaced of rapper Lil’ Reese grabbing, punching and ultimately stomping a young woman while his male friends stood around and cheered him on. This was, of course, not the first time the abuse of a Black woman has been capture and publicized. Shortly after Chris Brown’s attack against Rihanna, pictures went viral of her sustained injuries. A bus driving viciously uppercutting a woman passenger after an altercation in Baltimore spread like wildfire. All of these cases were met with criticism and outrage, but also exceedingly with jokes, memes and sentiments essentially culminating in victim-blaming.
After the video of Lil’ Reese was broadcast, I made the true statement that the physical safety of Black women is more threatened by the presence of Black men than White men. This upheaved centuries of one-minded racial resentment that places Black men in the singular, immutable position of “victim,” and White men in the only seat of oppressor. Many outraged Black men (and a notable number of Black women) accused me of being “racist” towards Black men, of siding with White men, of being a race traitor, and of creating statistics to advance an agenda that paints Black men as violent animals.
There are many potential reasons for the increased rate of violence against Black women—ghettoization, poverty, and under-education are all possible starts. But the forefather of abuse against women, Black or not, is patriarchal misogyny. If poverty creates the psychological potential for bouts of violent eruptions, it is misogyny that makes women the object of that violence. Black women suffer at the hands of Black men every day due to patriarchy and misogyny.
The kyriarchal structure of the United States situates most Black men near the very bottom of the proverbial ladder, thereby disenfranchising them and greatly circumscribing their power. In this sense, Black men, in general, do not have much societal influence or power, and have less agency over their own lives than most other demographics of people. It can also be said that because Black women are outpacing Black men in educational attainment and career advancement, that Black women in some respects have more social power, as a group, than Black men as a group. This suggestion is fiercely debated among sociologists, but if we do accept it to be true, it does not change the fact that Black men still presume power over Black women in interpersonal, romantic relationships. This is a power given to them by the larger social structure of patriarchy, one that then catalyzes their mistreatment, abuse and murder of Black women. The advances (and it is important to note that even these advances are disproportionate when demarcated by class) made by Black women in the educational and professional realm do not diminish the interpersonal power maintained by Black men in relationships.
Pointing this fact out does not erase the fact that Black women, like Black men, are subject to the oppressive power of White men. Black men dominate Black women in the areas of romantic pairings, sex and domestic roles such as child rearing and cleaning, while White men capture an incredible political and economic concentration of power that Black women are largely unable to escape. The oppression experienced by Black women under the rule of White patriarchal supremacy is institutional, pervasive and many times, covert, while the domination of Black women by Black men is more interpersonal and overt. The trajectory of a Black’s woman entire life is inevitably influenced by the weight of White male oppression. And for heterosexual Black women, the trajectory of her romantic and sexual life is molded by the hands of Black men.
In other words, Black women have no male-dominated safe place to turn. We are the victims of both Black men and White men. We are harmed, diminished and dehumanized by the will of White men and Black men. We are refugees from our own race and yet cannot seek harbor from the races outside of us. This isolation and invisibility is exasperated by the refusal by many Black men to view themselves as being actors of oppression themselves. The long history of racism against Black men has deluded many in our community to believe that they are victims, and only victims, without reproach. When confronted about their own transgressions against Black women, this single-minded state of victimhood causes them to accuse you of siding with their victimizer.
Black women face a myriad of oppressive forces from various directions. We are subjected to the raced, gendered and classed oppression of the empowered White male institution, which distorts our image in media, reduces our viability in life and dehumanizes us to sexualized beasts. We are subjected to the misogynistic domination of Black men, which, catalyzed by other oppressive forces like poverty, causes us to be raped, beaten and killed more frequently than any other woman. Until Black men accept their role as being active aggressors in the destruction of Black women, until they realize statuses like “victim” and “oppressor” can be held simultaneously by one person, until they renounce their subscription to White male patriarchy and stand on the side of the liberation of Black women, Black women remain a disowned group, at-risk, wherever we turn.