We Want Black Liberation, You Want Black Male Supremacy

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by Briana Perry

As an organizer within the Black Lives Matter global network, I often encounter a seemingly innocuous but pointed question in my work: What about Black men? I have encountered this question from other organizers who do racial justice work and on social media outlets. Recently, I came across an article where a professor suggested that Black Lives Matter (the network) excludes Black men because there is no mention of them in the network’s 13 guiding principles. I have also read a piece where the author argues that based on the principles, there is no role for Black men, especially as fathers and husbands, within Black Lives Matter; he even suggests that for centuries, Black men have been used as the impetus for others’ agendas and platforms, and that Black Lives Matter is the recent culprit of this scheme.

Whenever I come across these impassioned sentiments, I often have the same response: laughter. No, I am not laughing because I find the comments to be humorous (although some are laughable); I am laughing at the audacity of Black men (when I refer to Black men here, I am talking about Black cisgender men) to make such sweeping claims when history has shown quite the contrary. Historically and presently, I can’t recall organizations that have been committed to racial justice work, including Black Lives Matter, denying the blood that Black men have shed. Yes, it is true that the Black Lives Matter phrase and subsequent network were formed in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal for Trayvon Martin’s murder. Have Black men been subjected to state violence for centuries? Yes. Have Black women and non-binary folks ridden for Black men when these atrocities took place? Yes. Have Black men done the same? Eh.

Here is the issue that has been stated time and time again: historically and presently, Black women have worked to obtain justice for the slayings of Black men. Black women have put their bodies on the line for Black men. However, when violence is committed against our bodies, there seems to be a different response, and sometimes no response at all, from Black men. This was even observed during the Civil Rights Movement when Black women experienced sexual violence. While Rosa Parks is well known for her efforts during the bus boycott, her work as an anti-rape activist for Black women, such as Recy Taylor, is not as prevalent. The co-founders of the Black Lives Matter global network were aware of this disparity. They recognized how Black women’s experiences have often been overlooked in society, including their own lived experiences. That is why they were intentional about centering this group in addition to other Black people who have been left out, including trans and non-binary folks. It clearly states this on the website, but I suppose the critics overlook this part.

To suggest that Black men are the only ones who have shed blood in the struggle for freedom is dangerous and a form of erasure. To suggest that Black men must be present in the home as fathers and husbands denies the existence of non-nuclear familial structures. What Black men who claim that they are being excluded from the movement don’t realize is that they are ignoring the well-documented history of them being centered. This includes how men have been credited with being the pioneers and leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. When Black men claim they are being excluded, they are ignoring the sacrifices and contributions that Black women freedom fighters have made for them, such as Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Pauli Murray. These men are also ignoring how other systems of oppression, including sexism, homophobia, and transphobia, intersect with racism. Furthermore, they are ignoring how they have been complicit in these systems, even playing a role in perpetuating them.

So for the Black men who feel excluded, I challenge you to consider a few factors. Consider how during slavery, because that’s often a reference point, Black women experienced violence and abuse, and this included rape. They also shed blood. Consider how toxic masculinity has and continues to emerge within social justice movements. Furthermore, consider how Black men continue to perpetuate toxic masculinity, which includes committing violence against Black women. In August, Joyce Quaweay was killed at the hands of her boyfriend and his friend, two Black men, for not being submissive enough. A few weeks after Joyce’s death, Rae’Lynn Thomas, a Black trans woman, was murdered at the hands of her mother’s ex-boyfriend because of his transphobia. He was also a Black man. These cases have not received nearly as much outrage and notoriety as the murders of Black men.

Black women have also been brutally attacked and murdered for turning down Black men’s advances. Although there are documented cases of this terror, I can’t even begin to list the number of Facebook debates that I’ve witnessed where Black women share harassment at the hands of Black men, and they are told (by Black men) that they are lying and/or asked to provide “statistics” to back up their lived experiences. In my opinion, the act of denying stories is violent, as it does cause harm. It tells us, Black women, that our experiences are not valid or worthy. It sends us the message that the only experiences with violence should be those of Black men.

I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but Black men, this movement isn’t solely about you. Now this does not mean that it doesn’t include you; however, it does mean that you are not the only focal point. We are not fighting for Black male supremacy, but the liberation of all Black people. And that liberation is both collective and individualized. So y’all can miss me with the "Why doesn't Black Lives Matter mention Black men in the principles?” It is undeniable that we have and continue to live in a male-dominated society (interwoven with homophobia, transphobia, classism, and ableism). In this present time, we are making space for Black folks who have been traditionally left out of Black liberation movements. That is not being exclusive. That is being equitable and accessible. What really is cause for concern is that some Black men aren't for the liberation for ALL Black people; some are just trying to get their freedom while other Black folks continue to be pushed to the margins.

This bridge called my back can’t continue to be the bridge for Black men.

Briana Perry is a proud Black feminist from the South. Her interests include storytelling, Black girls' experiences in K-12 school settings, and reproductive justice.

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