You Shouldn’t Have to Think About Your Mother or Sister to Protect Black Women

by Anna Gibson

In a recent spat of jackassery, rapper Nipsey Hussle took to Twitter to affirm his views on black women by responding to the following tweet from another user: “BLACC [sic] FEMALES ARE A DISGRACE TO BLACK CULTURE.” After Black Twitter dragged him by his snapback all over the Internet, he attempted to backpedal, saying, “Shout out to all my Queens out there though.”

He subsequently apologized for his actions, stating that he simply meant it in jest and that the comment was in poor taste. However, he left most of his followers—particularly women—angry and exasperated. This isn’t the first time black women have been criticized by a black male celebrity.

Bossip, a popular Black entertainment news and gossip site, recently pointed out the cowardice of his actions. They said: “We wonder what Nipsey’s Black mother, sisters, aunties, friends, fans, and girlfriend think of his insult against Black women.”

I understand Bossip’s point. They’re attempting to get Nipsey to empathize with the women around him, so that he can see the error of his ways. However, there’s a deeper problem here—one that Bossip seems to overlook—society's tendency to assume a woman’s worth exists only in relation to the men in her life. This not only diminishes women’s power but it also completely strips them of their autonomy. Let’s get one thing clear: Women are valuable and deserve respect. Period. Whether they are someone’s wife, mother, or sister is irrelevant to this argument.

How often does our society try to prove men’s value by stating, “He is someone’s father, brother, husband?” If a man experiences disrespect or injustice, we never ask the perpetrators to think of their male relatives. That’s because a man’s power, autonomy, and inherent value as a human being is assumed.

Nipsey’s endorsement of the statement, “Black women are a disgrace to black culture,” did not occur in a vacuum. It is the product of centuries of systemic oppression through patriarchy and the forces of misogynoir in the black community.

The fact that we even have to point out that women deserve basic human respect further unveils how deeply embedded patriarchy is in our society. From biblical times through today, a woman has always been seen as subordinate and a mere “extension” of the men around her. Because of this, men have the privilege of ignoring women’s autonomy—unless, of course, they feel it relates to them. In her essay, "Understanding Patriarchy," feminist scholar bell hooks writes briefly about how men in her audience often ask what she means when talks about patriarchy. Her response:
"Nothing discounts the old anti-feminist projection of men as all-powerful more than their basic ignorance of a major facet of the political system that shapes and informs male identity and sense of self from birth until death."
This ignorance doesn’t come without consequences. It causes men to unconsciously act as if women are less than, which given the way men are raised, is a natural consequence of this twisted ideology. If we examine the society we live in, we'll see that this subtle disdain—and eventual hatred—of women begins very early in childhood, in the distinct ways that men and women are raised.

Boys are often told to “man up” and to "stop acting like a girl." Any “soft” or “feminine” emotions they display are considered weak. (The exception to this, of course, is anger, as it’s deemed a masculine emotion.) As they grow older, religion, social norms, and other institutions reinforce the idea that men are stronger, and therefore, superior to women. This eventually causes them to disregard women's personhood and humanity in the process.

Women, on the other hand, are brought up to be “ladylike” and “delicate.” We are told we must support the men in our lives. We are encouraged to show the full range of our emotions, except for anger. This is telling, as psychologists have long considered anger a boundary-setting emotion when applied appropriately; one that keeps others from taking advantage of us. If women have problems setting boundaries, they also struggle with owning their power. This grants further credence to the false notion that they can only have power if they have some type of relationship with the men around them.

It’s easy to forget the cultural context of misogyny that Nipsey’s endorsement of the statement—and the subsequent reaction—implied. Misogynoir causes black men to hate black women based on the stereotypes that society places upon them. In “Why Black Men Hate Black Women,” writer Kovie Biakolo explains how misogynoir is embraced by black men and how damaging it can be to black men’s perception of black women. She states:
“The stereotypes that Black women often have to face in the United States— stereotypes about being “loud;” having bad attitudes or being rude; [and] commentary about having “fake” hair or being “over sexualized” are not only prominent among non-Black communities, they are internalized by many in the Black community and used to shame others.”
This goes hand in hand with misogyny. Many women are criticized for being “too independent,” as their strength opposes dominant society’s perception of women.

However, black men and women have an additional layer of trauma, creating stereotypes that extend back to our collective history of enslavement in the U.S. and abroad. Biakolo goes on to explain misogynoir’s origins and the fact that it’s actually an extension of trauma rooted in slavery. She says:
“There are some who think that because of the way slavery occurred in the United States families were separated from each other. Black women were often raped by White slave masters, Black men often accused of raping White women. [T]hese cultural memories maintain a certain division in the Black community in terms of gender. There are others who also discuss that second-wave White feminism interrupted the Black movement, causing countless numbers of Black women to leave the latter for the former, at least initially. All of these contexts are perhaps important in understanding what appears to be a certain subconscious tension in the Black community.”
In short, dismantling misogyny and patriarchy against Black women goes far beyond simply tasking problematic men to “think of their mothers, daughters, and girlfriends.” Instead, we need to work together to deconstruct the oppressive systems in place that force men to dehumanize women to begin with.

Photo: Shutterstock

Anna Gibson is a student at Wayne State University, who seeks to create a safe space for the marginalized to tell their stories. If you’d like to talk, (and why wouldn’t you? She’s pretty cool) you can reach her on Twitter @TheRealSankofa and on Facebook under the name Anna Gibson.

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