I grew up, like so many Black children of upwardly mobile parents, precariously situated between two worlds. Both Black and white women raised me. They were generous and loving, kind and brilliant. But as a kid, I sensed something different about the Black women in my life. They carried -- what I can only describe as -- a heaviness. The load wasn't self-pitying sadness but steely resolve. I admired it, even if I didn't completely understand its usefulness.
As a woman myself, I now recognize that heaviness. It has ensured our survival. That strength in spirit led Ida B. Wells-Barnett to risk life and limb in her crusade against Southern lynching. It directed Angela Davis to combat the prison industrial complex. It has guided innumerable Black women in their own communities to organize, work, and nurture simultaneously. Unfortunately that resolve often gets misread as needless anger even by those who should know better.
That is frustrating, and I'm struggling not to become hardened toward half of Black America. Many Black women have defined ourselves in relation to the men in our communities. As their mothers, wives, sisters, cousins, and friends, we were their keepers. We protected them when they could not protect themselves. All while trying to manage our own lives and livelihoods. Note that I'm using "we" and "us." I, personally, have done my best to refrain, but I've seen self-sacrifice in service of Black manhood too many times to count. I am beginning to wonder where that has left Black women.
While Black women have marched, mothered, and sacrificed, many Black men have used the mythology of the bitter, overbearing matriarchy as an excuse to pile on. This week, D.L. Hughley appeared on NPR to promote his new book. When asked his thoughts on Black women, he said, "I've never met an angrier group of people." The comment is interesting not only because Hughley has a wife and two daughters but because he, quite simply, would not be in a position to speak with Michel Martin on a national platform without us. Furthermore, he needs Black women to buy his book. Hughley's comments are representative of how so many Black men do not hesitate to disparage Black women because they know that they can do so without reprisal. Too often Black women do not reprimand Black men for degrading us. We reward them. For example, we allowed Steve Harvey and his army of relationship buffoons to repackage the myth of dysfunctional Black womanhood and sell it back to us.
We made them rich, and in doing so we cosigned the lie. Painting Black women as irrationally angry justifies the verbal and physical violence we endure daily. I did not see Hughley, Harvey or any of the other men who use their huge platforms to tell us how awful we are, comment on the recent viral videos of Black women being assaulted. With few exceptions, men abided a code of silence when video of rapper Lil Reese viciously beating a young became the talk of the internet. They didn't question why violence against "angry, unladylike" Black women like Shi'Dea Lane in Cleveland is deemed entertainment. And when I attempted to begin a conversation about why men would stand by and watch these woman be attacked, some men I knew opted to confront me about my unfair portrait of black men as abuse apologists. These experiences are disheartening but telling. Even when it is about Black women, it's about Black men. While we fight for their humanity, they fight for our silence.
Some Black women might be angry, but we are also loyal. We are joyful. We are resilient. Men like D.L. Hughley choose not to highlight those things because it is our anger that proves to be an inconvenience when they wish to dominate without question.
A wise woman once said, "You teach people how to treat you." Black women have taught black men that we will support them no matter what -- that their battles are ours and our devotion is limitless. It's time to question those limits for this is a load I am unwilling to carry.
We all should share the responsibility of working toward liberation; however, there's been an unequal division of labor. As someone who loves Black people and revels in Blackness, I cannot dismiss entirely half of Black communities. I have no desire to do so, and I deeply appreciate men like Mychal Smith, Bakari Kitwana and L'heureux Lewis-McCoy who actively fight for the concerns of Black women. Those voices, however, are far too few.
Black women must care for each other and for ourselves because we cannot rely fully on anyone else to do so. This has long been one of the uncomfortable truths of Black womanhood. Fictive unity is worthless; consequently, I can no longer invest in the restoration of Black masculinity as so many of my foremothers did. For the moment, I'm out. Black men will have to fight for themselves. This is my official withdrawal from the Battle for Black Manhood.
Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or Tweet her.
For Harriet is an online community for women of African ancestry. We encourage women, through storytelling and journalism, to engage in candid, revelatory dialogue about the beauty and complexity of Black womanhood. Learn more.