Michael Steele, former chair of the RNC, said the other day that the arrest of the Black-Hispanic CNN reporter while he did his job covering the protests in Minneapolis was an example of what it’s like to be a Black man in the United States. If you’re a Black man, it doesn’t matter how you dress, how much money you have, how polite or educated you are, you can be killed for being Black. That’s what lynching has alwasy been about. A way to remind all Black men that at any time they can be subjected to the rage of white violence. To remind them that they are second class citizens.
The #MeToo movement revealed something similar. As more and more women accused powerful men, from Bill Cosby to Harvey Weinstein, of sexual violence, it was clear it doesn’t matter what women wear, or how old they are, or how well they behave (not drinking or doing drugs, not attending frat parties, not having multiple sex partners), women are raped because they are women. A way to remind all women that at any time they can be subjected to the rage of men’s violence. To remind them that they are second class citizens.
The United States was built on two systems of hierarchy: white supremacy and patriarchy…these are the roots from which our society and country has grown. And these roots are intimately intertwined, mutually supporting each other, mutually supporting the institutions and structures and cultural norms and practices that undergird every aspect of life in the United States.
So, it’s no surprise that more often than not wrongful convictions and exonerations occur in cases where a Black man is falsely accused of the rape and/or murder of white women. White supremacy and patriarchy, like fraternal twins, producing and reproducing white power and male power and white-male power.
The violence in the streets of Minneapolis, Atlanta, Denver, New York, San Jose…
The accusations revealed under the hashtag #MeToo…
Both signal the persistence of the roots of white supremacy and patriarchy.
Black women’s bodies, then, become the canaries in the mine. When we focus our attention on the liberation of Black women, when we understand that the struggle for racial equity is bound up in the struggle for women’s liberation, we have our marching orders. Dismantle white supremacy and you will make progress toward gender equity. Dismantle patriarchy and you will make progress toward racial equity. Work on dismantling them both together and we move faster toward freedom and equity for all.
Ironic, isn’t it, that #MeToo is so often miscredited to Alyssa Milano, a white woman, when in fact, it was founded ten years earlier by Tarana Burke, a Black woman. What if we had all listened more carefully to Tarana Burke back then? How many women might have been spared the wrath of sexual violence? We all need to lift up the voices of Black women and listen. Even when the message is difficult, as it can be for both Black men and white women to hear.
Need a reading recommendation? Brittney Cooper’s book, Eloquent Rage.