For the last month or so, I have been entertaining a new Friend. This brother is cute, sensitive, ambitious, educated, knowledgeable, adventurous and funny. For these reasons and others, he could most definitely get it.
Sounds great, right? Yes. And then Chris Brown happened. The day after the recent shamtabulousness occurred, I told Friend of my intention to discuss the whole ridiculous chair-throwing incident with students who are taking my Hip Hop class.
Here’s a brief excerpt from our text conversation:
Me: I’m supposed to be preparing a lecture on Hip Hop: The Modern Era, Part I: 1992-1994. But in light of the C Breezy shenanigans I’m gonna lecture on gender politics instead.
Him: Breezy Bad Now
Me: He needs a therapist like yesterday!
Him: In his defense…ppl fuckin with him for no good reason
What?! [Red Flags Waving]
Me: Nobody fucked with him. Robin Roberts asked very reasonable questions and she cleared them with his team first. Asking about the past is not the same thing as dwelling on it.
Him: Hey….I’m just thinking stop mentioning it….he’s suffered enough tho
Me: This is not about suffering. He beat that girl senselessly. He is nobody’s victim.
Him: Look. No one knows what happened in that car.
Him: Furthermore, it’s no one’s business. Yeah he shouldn’t have beat her…but that was years ago now.
Him: It’s over…talk about the man’s album not past transgressions.
Me: Domestic violence is our business. And clearly the past isn’t the past if dude destroys shit at the slightest provocation […]
Him: Let’s talk about Lindsay Lohan and how she can’t seem to put the bottle down. Or Charlie Sheen who can’t seem to put the pipe down.
Me: Re: Sheen, Lohan, and Hilton, all that you say is true. And yet racism is still not an excuse for bad behavior. That argument is the equivalent of blaming the man. Again it’s some bullshit.
Much more was said. But y’all get the gist. Given that Friend and I have had conversations of this ilk before, I wasn’t entirely shocked that he would take this tack. But I am wondering what this means in terms of my own gender politics and my own acute understanding of the personal as political.
The necessity of that question was driven home the next day as I broached the subject with my students. Disturbingly, all of my Black women students said almost exactly the same thing as Friend said—that the past was the past, that Robin Roberts goaded and pushed Chris, that we didn’t “know the whole story” with Rihanna.
I was/am livid, sad, and afraid for them. These same students who were visibly disturbed at many of the misogynistic lyrics we’d listened to in class failed to see how their own belief that a black woman could ever do something worthy of violence was a complete contradiction. Frankly, being mad that someone calls you a bitch or a ho, but not being mad that a dude beats a woman’s ass, seems to be an exercise in missing the point.
How do we change this thinking in our communities that a woman’s behavior is responsible for pushing a man over the edge? That she can ever do something to deserve to be beaten to a pulp? That a man has a right to a violent response simply because he doesn’t like the way he’s being talked to or treated? That violence is a legitimate response to being mistreated? That any policy other than non-violence (on all sides) is good for relationships? That men are out-of-control beings around whom we must tread on eggshells?
And if I ask my students to question their assumptions and to demand better treatment in their relationships, then what kinds of things must I demand in mine? And does that standard apply to all relationships, romantic and platonic?
Can you be a good feminist if you have intimate engagements with partners who have diametrically opposed gender politics?
In a post last year, I lamented the fact that I was meeting men who were rarely physically interested in me and who were always and only intrigued by my mind. Now I’ve met someone worthy of genuine interest, and my brain and my politics are getting in the way again. But while last time, I was concerned that my brain occupied too much space in my romantic encounters, this time around I’m afraid to check it at the door.
And that is exactly what I would have to do to share my intimate space with someone who doesn’t get the politics of intimate partner violence.
Can I share intimate space with someone who thinks that asking questions about questionable actions is antagonistic?
If you think opinionated women are threatening, will you use intimate space to dominate and tame them?
To what extent is and should my sex life be political?
I mean should I withhold sex from dudes with sexist attitudes as an act of solidarity with my sisters?
It wouldn’t be the first time that Black women withheld sex from Black men in service of larger racial interests. After the Civil War, Black men (but not Black women) could vote for a few brief years. Back then, most Black folks voted Republican as they were the more liberal party at the time and the party of Abraham Lincoln. But there were times when some Black men determined to vote Democrat so they wouldn’t be the target of white racial backlash. In addition to accompanying their men to the polls to monitor their votes, Black women banded together and encouraged each other to withhold sex from any man who voted against the community’s interests. These sisters knew how personal the political was long before white women said it. They knew that when it comes to Black women’s quality of life, there is nothing more political or personal than the person we’re sleeping with.
In a culture where sisters are dying in alarming numbers from domestic violence, what responsibility do I have to them and to myself to choose intimate partners whose thinking and actions are sound on these matters?
Doesn’t the fact that Friend and I had a civil and honest dialogue that ended amicably count for something? And if so, what does it count for? Honest dialogues are feminist right?
And since we’re being honest, I have some more questions:
How can I get next to you if I can’t get next to your politics?
How can I let you touch me if I wouldn’t touch your politics with a ten foot pole?
Can I feel safe in the softness of your touch if you don’t feel led to question a culture where other men routinely touch other women violently?
Can we really cuddle if you have the option to not care about women and violence?
Isn’t that choice, the choice to not care about how the world affects the woman you’re spending time with, a violent one?
How can I trust you to hold me when your beliefs hold me down?
Damn. Who knew politics were so intimate?
Fam, we’d love to hear how you’re grappling with these questions. Please share.