#BlackPowerIsForBlackMen: Conversations on Inclusion and #Fauxpologies

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by Melanie Meadows

The twittersphere was ablaze last week when #blackpowerisforblackmen emerged, pregnant with the friction that exists between Black Activism and Black Feminism, addressing issues of Black male privilege and flipping rhetoric behind these conversations on its head. Women of color voiced strong opinions on feeling inadequately included in racial activism and conversations regarding Black empowerment.

A carry-forward of #solidarityisforwhitewomen started by Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia), #blackpowerisforblackmen was started by Ebony News and Life Editor Jamilah Lemieux (@JamilahLemieux) as a discussion by women of color worldwide expressing frustration of their experiences with racism at the hands of feminism. #blackpowerisforblackmen, delves deeper into the discussion to highlight the absence of adequate conversation and inclusion of the issues women of color face with regard to racial inequality, turning the gaze specifically to Black men. One might consider the contribution the resounding Black female voice hopes to add to these conversations.

It is clear from the #blackpowerisforblackmen conversation that Black women do not feel that we have an adequate voice in important discussions and movements within racial activism – there is an overwhelming consensus that we are not only being unheard within the spheres of racial activism and feminism, but that we are actively not included.

What Black women are greatly concerned about within the conversation #blackpowerisforblackmen: the absence of resounding Black male voices advocating for the rights of the Black woman. In a world where one minute a Black man can be a Black power activist and in the next minute demean the image of the Black woman both past and present, one might give this conversation adequate pause and contemplation.

Case in point: further fueling this conversation is a new video, the "Harriet Tubman Sex Tape," which was released last week by All Def Digital (ADD), the Russell Simmons YouTube channel. The controversial video comes on the heels of Simmon's letter to Don Lemon, a response and reprimand for his recent and very inadequate list of "5 Ways Black People Need To Change To Combat Racism."

Never mind Don Lemon’s inability to grasp the complexities of the struggles of Black America and the key issues that plague us as a people. Let us cast aside, just for a second, the fact that a prominent and respected Black male figure in popular mainstream media believes that simply pulling up our pants, not littering, and not having children out of wedlock (amongst other things) will magically even the playing field for people of color in America.

Russell Simmon’s letter to Don Lemon was a pointed and well thought out piece that exposes the inadequacies of Lemon’s proposal on what Black people can do to help Black America get a leg up in in this country.

“I respect your courage on many other issues, but I can’t accept that you would single out black teenagers as the cause of their own demise because they don’t speak the King’s English or wear belts around their waistbands.” –Russell Simmons

This much needed reprimand by was followed, not long after, by Simmons’ YouTube network’s well timed release of the “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape.” Apparently Black America doesn’t need to pull up our pants and wear a belt or stop saying the N word – making light of a complicated history of sexual exploitation of the Black female body and perpetrating a sexist and patriarchal present doesn’t contribute to the demise of Black America at all! Thanks, Mr. Simmons, for clearing that up. Oh. And your #fauxpology is dually noted.

What is alarming is how easy it is for a media big shot like Simmons to issue well thought out commentary on legitimate ways to combat racism while simultaneously making light of the historical and current exploitation of the Black female body. How easily he ignores the significant contributions Black women have had on the combatting of racism in America. To satirize one of the most successful Black female activists, Harriet Tubman, while jokingly attributing her successes and her contributions to the freedom of Black America to the exploitation of her body is disturbing to say the least. The implication is that our contributions, as Black women, to Black activism and discussions on racial equality can only be attributed to our bodies and how we use them for the pleasure of men – both Black and White.

The overwhelming issue at the soul of #blackpowerisforblackmen is the absence of a resounding Black male voice in advocating for the Black woman’s equally. As a Black woman, I am far from comforted by resounding voices like Lemon’s and Simmon’s that systematically eliminate and/or demean the inclusion of serious Black female voices in discussion of racial and gender equality.

"Silence equals consent. I’m specifically referring to this whole Harriet Tubman sex tape debacle. On Facebook and Twitter -- the silence from men to defend her/us/black women has been deafening to say the least. We go to bat..HARD for men..and very few return the favor.” –Myrna Orvam (@MsOrvam)

Not only did this Ms. Orvam use rhetoric often associated with male sexual prowess to highlight her belief that Black men have remained largely absent in conversations like #blackpowerisforblackmen, she implies that silence from the Black male community regarding the video itself is, in effect, consent to its publication and a refusal to support Black women in the conversation as a whole. Although this Black woman does not fully agree, as silence never implies consent in my book, I will admit that minimal participation of resounding Black male voices in conversations such as this is infuriating to say the least. We cannot uplift each other when Black women do not even have much of a voice in larger conversations on Black activism and racial equality to begin with.

At the same time, we as Black women need to take our own contributions to the conversation seriously. When we as Black women are angered by disgusting displays and exploitation of our bodies such as Simmons video tape, while at the same time supporting media that exploits us in the same way, we too are silencing ourselves. Raise your hand if you have attempted a twerk video to something as lyrically substantive as Juicy J’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance.”

In those instances, we are perpetrating the problem. We cannot funnel money into the exploitation of the Black female body one minute, while expecting Black men to contribute in a meaningful way to the conversation on our behalf and respect the presence of the Black female voice the next. And while White women disproportionately vote more than Black women for a whole host of reasons on a whole host of issues, we must assume renewed responsibility for our right and ability to speak and be heard.

And let us not forget the Black men that ARE contributing productively and actively to the conversation – to them I convey a heartfelt thank you.

Melanie Meadows is Associate Editor for The Fabulous Report, a fashion, beauty, and lifestyle blog. She is active on the Twitter, where she focuses on social justice, fashion, beauty, and philanthropy. Follow her on twitter: @MelanieAMeadows.

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