Nearly two Wednesdays ago, after a long day in the office, I frantically drove home, donned one of three dark hoodies that I own, hopped a train to NYC from Jersey, met another Sista Prof friend and made it via taxi to Union Square just in time to participate in the first One Million Hoodies for Trayvon Martin March, which had been announced only the day before.
After hearing from Trayvon’s parents and the family’s attorney, we burst into the streets of Manhattan, speaking Trayvon’s name, almost as if the fervency of our incantations would call this boy, this young Lazarus, back to life. The energy in the air was nothing short of electric. We were not there when Trayvon begged for his life on a suburban lawn in Florida. But our collective screams on his behalf hopefully served to amplify his own screams that night.
I have been taken aback by the degree to which this case has touched the nation. With more than 2,000, 000 signatures on the Change.org petition and many public figures donning hoodies on his behalf, Trayvon’s murder has the potential to galvanize national conversations about racial profiling, the criminalization of Black male bodies, and the unequal way that arrests, conviction, and sentencing are applied to Black v. non-Black persons.
But as I sat home the next day and reflected on how simple a decision it was for me to attend the March and how glad I was that I went, I thought about my more ambivalent stance toward another movement that is also central to my political commitments.
It occurred to me that there was a central point of connection between the organizing principle of the Hoodie Marches and of SlutWalk, namely that each movement has sought to dramatize the intrinsic illogic of suggesting that one’s clothing choices invite–and more to the point– justify violent treatment. Not two days after the NYC hoodie march and one day after more than 30,000 people showed up in Sanford, Fl on Trayvon’s behalf, Geraldo Rivera said on Fox News that in fact Trayvon’s hoodie has as much to do with his murder as Zimmerman’s gun.
But then all of a sudden, dudes understood. I saw FB status after FB status saying, “a hoodie is no more to blame for Trayvon’s murder than a woman’s clothing choices are to blame for rape.” I might have cheered.
But really, what I had was a larger question. Why had I, an ardent (CRUNK) feminist refused to support SlutWalk? My primary reason as I’ve said before was about the inherent white privilege signaled by a movement that wanted to “reclaim” the word “slut.” Moreover, I felt like there was simply much more at stake to ask a woman of color to come and actively identify as a slut, than was at stake for the white women who readily jumped on the bandwagon. Also, as Trayvon’s case has demonstrated, the larger issue within SlutWalk was policing. I told organizers months ago in a dialogue in our comments section, that a critique of policing would invite all kinds of folks to come to the table. Because what has become abundantly clear is that both gender and racial ideologies are deployed to constrict the rights of women and men, Black and Brown to take up public space. So my choice not to participate was an active assertion of the principle that I don’t want to be a part of any feminism that fails to actively critique racism.
Yet, I know that contemporary Black feminism emerged not just as a critique of white women’s racism, but also as a critique of Black men’s strident sexism.
Nothing infuriates me more than race-based organizing in which Black men take up all the space in the room. And it is precisely because of the long history of unjustified murders of Black men, that brothas feel entitled to exist at the center of the Black racial universe and feel justified in having the struggles that they face take up more than their fair share of the finite political, financial, and emotional energy and resources that we have to organize.
The result is that Black women find it incredibly difficult to make the case that the issues which affect us– alarmingly high rates of AIDS/HIV infection, disturbing statistics around Intimate Partner Violence, homicide, and rape, disproportionate rates of poverty, increasing numbers of incarceration and policing, the explosion of sex trafficking of young women, and copious amounts of street harassment—matter as much, are worth as much attention.
To put it the way some brothers have more or less put it to me: YES, sistas are being beaten, raped, and making do by themselves, but brothers are being KILLED. *Brotha drops mic. Walks away* Conversation over. (with no acknowledgement of the kind of privilege it is to both have the mic in the first place AND an audience when you do get the chance to speak.)
And now, another black boy is dead. And we are all rightfully angry.
But this position does not come without its risks.
Consider that there are no mass marches for Rekia Boyd, no massive national outcry, though her story has received more coverage in light of the Trayvon Martin situation.
In a zero-sum universe where resources are finite, and we have to pick our battles, rape/beating/harassment is (apparently) no match for state violence and murder. Within Black communities, high rates of Black male-on-Black male homicide matter more than the numbers of Black women killed at the hands of their Black male partners.
Feminist or not, it remains clear that Black women’s collective racial love affair with Black men is still going strong.
As a feminist, I personally struggle with what it means that on any given day, racism still seems to matter more to me than sexism.
I marched for Trayvon almost without a second thought; with SlutWalk, its shortcomings were enough to keep me away.
And while I could chalk up my choices to my experiences with violence– I have seen lots of violence in my lifetime, having lost my own father to gun violence—my choices are not quite so simple, when I acknowledge that I also have many, many women friends –and quite a few male friends, too—who are the victims of rape and sexual abuse and far too many female relatives who’ve confronted near-deadly violence at the hands of their male partners.
A couple of days after the Hoodie March, I had the pleasure of participating in a conference called Women of Power in Harlem. At the behest of the conference’s fierce Feminist Enough organizer, Shantrelle P. Lewis, we panelists rocked our hoodies at the morning sessions.
Photo by Jati Lindsay
That simple request and the seriousness with which we all took it, reminded me of just how much it continues to matter to Black women that our Black feminism not alienate us from Black men.
In fact, if I could just keep it one hundred, I think Black women care much less about whether our racial commitments or feminist expressions alienate us from white women.
Yet, the question remains
Do Black men love us as much as we love them? Do they care enough to make sure their racial commitments and their gender politics and investments in unhealthy forms of masculinity don’t alienate us? Are they outraged about the shit we’re facing?
How do we make it so that our choice to stand up for Trayvon and acknowledge the injustices perpetrated in his name doesn’t set Black feminist organizing back three decades, by reinforcing notions about Black men being an endangered species, particularly since in this moment, it feels in some ways, like they are?
I don’t have answers, but I do invite dialogue. Feel free to share your thoughts.