We Really Need Black Men to Stop Trying to Police Black Women's Self-Definition

by Jenn M. Jackson Recently, as I was perusing my social media timeline, I saw a video of a gor...


by Jenn M. Jackson



Recently, as I was perusing my social media timeline, I saw a video of a gorgeous Black woman. Painted on her backside was the face of a panda bear. And, as she danced, the panda’s mouth opened and closed.

While I enjoyed the video, impressed by this woman’s physical discipline and ample derriere, I noticed eight words posted beneath the video by a Black man. They read: “Poor queen. She doesn’t even know her worth.”

But, how did he know that? What about her dancing skills, sexy pose, and fit body said, “I don’t know my worth?” In my opinion, nothing indicated this woman didn’t know her worth. In fact, I saw a confident woman with the courage to flaunt what her mama gave her. This Black man’s policing of her body, therefore, was coming from somewhere else.

The truth is: many Black men don’t understand that Black women are complex human beings, capable of being sexy and intelligent, empowered and submissive, and ambitious and outspoken, simultaneously. Their denial of Black women’s multi-faceted self-definition has nothing to do with what Black women know of themselves. Instead, it has to do with their unwillingness to respect the fullness of Black womanhood and Black women’s right to exist freely in public spaces.

Not too long ago, an image surfaced of a young Black woman dressed in a cap and gown and strappy shoes. She was kneeling over kissing her young daughter. Apparently, the young woman was graduating from college while her daughter was graduating from kindergarten. Soon, the image was edited into a collage meant to contrast with another image of the young woman dressed provocatively. It turns out that she was employed as an exotic dancer. Comments about her being a “hoe” or “THOT” started to drown out the positivity evoked by the original image. Unsurprisingly, it was mainly Black men on a crusade to delimit this young Black woman’s self-definition and public persona.


Like the woman in the video, this newly minted college grad was denied the fullness of herself. While there are many issues with the idea that exotic dancers are just hoes and THOTs, it is truly concerning that, even when presented with an image showing that this young woman was ambitious, go-getting, and securing a better future for her family, Black men sought to limit this Black woman rather than uplift her.

Perhaps what is most disappointing about the policing of Black women’s bodies and existence by Black men is its contradictory juxtaposition with their efforts to make space for themselves. For example, in an effort to proclaim the fullness of Black male life, campaigns like #IfTheyGunnedMeDown have maintained a laser-like focus on the narrow framing mainstream media uses when describing (predominantly unarmed Black male) victims of police violence. Specifically created in reaction to the portrayals of Mike Brown as a “thug,” the hashtag sums up why framing Black people in such limiting ways is both harmful and misleading. Essentially, the declaration that Black men are more than criminals, or socially deviant members of society demands that Black men and boys be seen as more than stereotypes or tropes. But what about Black women and girls?

At the heart of this phenomenon is the issue of respectability. The politics of respectability rest upon the contours of White heteropatriarchy – a system which puts Whiteness, maleness, and heterosexual-ness ahead of every other permutation of human existence. Many Black men demand that Black women behave in a “respectable” manner – like the traditional “good girl” – so that these women will fall in alignment with mainstream (read: White) society. White heteropatriarchy only approves of twerking when it’s being appropriated by the likes of Miley Cyrus and Iggy Azalea. Bare bodied Black women, on the other hand, are pathologized as shallow and basic.

Under this framework, Black women’s sexual or political empowerment will always be seen by Black men as a threat to group social mobility and success. Black men, in essence, drink the White Supremacist Kool-Aid that touts assimilation over cultural difference. In the process, they, too, reduce Black women to stereotypes and caricatures. The very same liberation of self-definition they seek for themselves, by demanding that Black men be seen as multi-dimensional, multi-faceted, and complex, they deny their significant others, mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, and friends.

By policing Black women’s self-definition, Black men legitimize and justify the systems that reduce them too. When these men assume Black women are nothing more than the stereotypes they conjure up in their own imaginations, they signal agreement with those who regard them as infantile, socially inept deviants incapable of existing in a civilized society. Black men, rather than dismantle these oppressive systems, echo and reproduce them against the very women who stand on the frontlines as they are viciously murdered, clipped down by unapologetic cops who are rewarded for their homicidal acts. Even worse, when Black men don’t stand up for the fullness of Black womanhood, they give silent permission for violence and harm against Black communities at large.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Black womanhood isn’t one dimensional. It includes sexuality. It includes intellect. It includes myriad emotions, experiences, needs, and desires which inform Black women’s existence. And, like the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown campaign suggests, taking an undeveloped snapshot of a Black woman in any space simply isn’t enough to understand the complexity of that woman’s self-awareness or self-definition.

As Black men continue to level criticism at a larger society that seeks to police them, they should first question their complicity in the oppression and repression of Black women. They may find that this revolutionary act does more for group uplift than covering up and behaving could ever do.

Photo: Shutterstock

Jenn M. Jackson is a regular contributor at For Harriet. For more about her, tweet her at @JennMJack or visit her website at jennmjackson.com.


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