I was inspired by Erica Boston, one of my dear friends on Facebook, as I usually am. Her posts are thoughtful and explicit, and she has a point of view I find very inspirational. I am dedicating this essay to her because a discussion on and Black men in relation to Black women and misogyny/noir sparked my intellect in such a way that I thought I’d write an essay about my opinion on the subject from a broader perspective than can be put into a Facebook comment.
Subjects surrounding the behavior of Black men and Black women toward one another are as complex as the subject of white supremacy itself. And make no mistake: yes, this essay, as most of mine are, is, on it face, about White Supremacy.
I must be careful, however, since it is extremely difficult not to find myself caught in an endless loop of circular referencing, a maddening rollercoaster ride that will always undoubtedly end in a confounding and angry discourse between otherwise rationally thinking people. It is important, therefore, for me to be extremely careful not to attempt to speak for others, and at the same time, it is also very important to see the larger picture that brought us here in this space where we question our loyalty to ourselves and our unity on an ever-increasing basis. Therefore, as you read this essay, understand that I am not trying to change your mind, but to open it. The subject of white supremacy, and Black male/female relationships is not comfortable, and I am not here to provide comfort. I am offering a perspective that may or may not have been considered before.
As a Black collective of human beings in this country, we have been living in a perpetual dilemma. This dilemma picks at Black men and Black women like a little child picking a nasty scab off an equally nasty wound. It is also like a sandwich, with a slice of white bread on top and a piece of Pumpernickel on the bottom, with an Angus burger in the middle, slathered in mayonnaise and covered in a sheet of white wrapping paper. What is this dilemma?
White supremacy is the wrapping that envelopes the sandwich. Black men are the Pumpernickel on the bottom, and White men are the White slice on top. The Black woman is the burger, and the Patriarchy is the mayo that covers her.
This is the dilemma.
That being said, I will find myself caught helplessly circled around the question of whether the chicken came before the egg, or vice versa, that circular reference that confounds by design if I don’t identify and examine this dilemma.
I will break down the components of the dilemma, not in the order they appear in the sandwich, but in the order in which the hierarchy appears. But first, what is a hierarchy?
It is a "system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority.” Therefore, I will be “ranking” the dilemma according to its “relative status or authority.”
Up first, Patriarchy, which is literally as old as Adam from the Bible and why within the hierarchy I placed it first. But this essay is not about the Bible or religion, although one must understand the whole “rib” thing in order to move forward toward my perspective about the dilemma. Patriarchy is fundamentally “a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it,” and is derived from 17th century medieval Latin, meaning, “Ruling Father.” We really do not need to ask ourselves why “the Father” is the head. We can start with “God,” the Father, and work our way down to the second rung, Man, the father, and who was “made in God’s image, and who, in Genesis, virtually gave birth to the first woman from his own body.”
Next up, White Supremacy. For purposes of this essay, the definition of “White Supremacist” is used, since within the culture of white supremacy it is important to frame it as “individual” and not ideologic, and therefore difficult to find a succinct definition for the ideology itself. Merriam Webster calls a white supremacist “a person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.” Understood as an ideology, then we can reasonably conclude that white supremacy is the belief that the “white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races. Why is white supremacy second? Because white as a constructed ideology did not come before the ideology of man as “superior.” It is as simple as that. Does it lose any of its potency? No. Because it has become interchangeable and synonymous with patriarchy over the generations and generations of the ideology.
In this country, where the top of the “relative status or authority” is a “system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it,” and where the “white race is inherently superior to other races and should have control over people of other races, we can also reasonably conclude that white men are the top of this food chain and have all the power there is to have, in whatever way that power is and can be expressed on this planet, short of God. Ironically, God, within this context is also white and male and therefore reigns over the entire universe. Based on their relative status or authority and the system of society to which we belong where women are largely excluded from it, and the history of white women in this hierarchy, we know that white men have always objectified white women. White women have fought and are still fighting under the banner of “Feminism” to be considered equal in this hierarchy and to diminish or eliminate the “patriarchy.” Of course, this will remain as difficult and as unlikely as eliminating the patriarchy in religion and of God. Nevertheless, this essay isn’t about white women, nor is it about feminism, although feminism will be mentioned in some sentences for context. Enter the Black man and woman, literally, on slave ships from Africa. There is a myriad of arguments which deal with patriarchy and Africa and the origins of patriarchy on the continent.
This essay is not about to go into the history of patriarchy in Africa or argue whether its origins were Western.
Here is something to consider as we move further along in this essay: Patriarchy for Black men and women in America is uniquely positioned within White Supremacy in such a way that without White Supremacy the need for Black male superiority over Black women would probably not exist in the way that it does today. Think about that statement within the context of the definitions of hierarchy, patriarchy and white supremacy provided and then read it again.
Historically, Black men and women were pitted against one another in one way or another during the Enslavement. Both were consistently demoralized, and dehumanized and Black men were punished severely in front of their women to emasculate them. They were also emasculated when they were forced to watch slave masters and other slaves raping their women. This, of course was a recipe for generational resentment between Black women and Black men, who, through generations of white supremacy and white patriarchy, eventually developed their own brand of “superiority” among themselves.
Fast forward to the so-called Civil Rights movement, which I call the Limited Economic Apportionment era, there is absolutely no secret Black women became a “Tofer,” meaning, colleges, universities and companies now forced to hire Black people decided hiring a Black woman meant they got two for the price of one – a Black and a woman. Couple that with the lack of opportunity, and outright opportunity denied Black men, many of whom were either being piped into prison or coming out felons with nothing, and some either forced from their homes because public assistance didn’t allow males in the family. Add to that, coming home damaged physically and mentally and addicted to heroin from the Vietnam War; the armed forces being the only avenue for many in poverty.
With Black men out of the home for a variety of reasons: not providing because either they couldn’t or gave up, just stopped trying because living real life didn’t fit the illusion of “superiority” of their manhood, and others, there was bound to be more resentment and individual strife-filled experiences among some of these Black families, as there certainly were and for the most part, still are.
Recall earlier in the essay, I wrote that in the hierarchy, or how the “members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority,” white men rank at the top of the food chain. Well, Black men fall to lowest link of this chain. Black men have no power. The power to control your life and body is in the hands of the people at the top of the food chain whether we all like it or not. This is the reality, although the individual dignity of Black men demands it to be otherwise, and many will then cling to the fallacy of the phallic symbology, the belief that because they share a physical phallic system with white men, and not realizing that they are living a delusion of power because of it, thus creating a feigned "superiority" over *their* women, like white men over *their* women.
In a nation, and in fact, a world where the Black man has absolutely no tangible power, and the only thing they do have is an illusion of such power based solely on the notion that a penis binds them inextricably to “patriarchy,” with the white man, some will hold onto this feigned power for dear life, coveting it as some real force, but creating enormous resentment among many Black women who may understand the broader nature of power in a white supremacist society, or Black women who live only in the moments of their individual lives and see no evidence of the Black man’s power or desire to change his circumstances, and are left to wonder why some of them behave in so many of the negative ways they do in order to “control their women” within their own, created Black hierarchy.
At this point in my essay, many men reading will probably be haunching their shoulders, lean forward and denying the reality of their powerlessness within white supremacist ideology in favor of their “individual” dignity as a “man.” This essay is not an indictment of your manhood. It is an indictment of patriarchy and how it is working to destroy your manhood. Bear in mind, in the desire to “have control over people of other races,” as white supremacy is defined, they have consistently controlled the narrative for the behavior of Black men and women toward each other.
Of course, this same patriarchy has been reinforced for generations by religion and the Black Church, e.g., "man at the head," "man at the top," and the man as the leader in the family, the "bread winner,” and many Black women in the Church support these notions of Black manhood either consciously or unconsciously, helping to stoke an illusion of a Black patriarchal power. Even within the church there are some who perpetuate Black patriarchal power knowing Black men have no real power in this country outside of the Church or within the confines of their spaces and live within the paradox of reality vs. illusion. Black men and women butt heads today in a constant struggle for an equality that IS already a reality and a patriarchy which is an illusion. If Black men were truly tied by virtue of their “manhood” to white men, then there would be no “white supremacy,” only the “patriarchy.”
This is actually the premise behind the series, “A Handmaid’s Tale.” To put it bluntly, Black men and women are equal in the struggle against white supremacy and racism and that is where the focus should be, since patriarchy for Black people is as divisive as it is for White people, and the supremacists know it. They bank on the emotional toll it brings to families and relationships. They understand the nature of patriarchal manhood and how some Black men will to hold onto it for lack of anything else, creating for themselves an illusion of power over Black women, and of course some of these men will express this illusion of power negatively as misogyny and misogynoir. But for a moment, and this statement is only for men reading this essay, you need to ask yourself an extremely difficult question in order to move forward in this discussion.
On what does your manhood depend?
For Black men and women as a collective, the challenge is to say "enough!" The challenge is to stop consciously or unconsciously reinforcing white patriarchy within the Black experience. Will this be difficult as hell on earth? Yes indeedy, since As a collective, we have been conditioned for generations to believe that a Black patriarchy does exist. We bought into the illusion of man on top and the delusion of an opportunity for the Black man to live there. For some Black men, this illusion of power is extremely seductive, even as it is a fallacy that causes destruction in its wake, and we don't even have to imagine the paradoxical volatility created by reality vs. illusion. We are living it right now, every day, in each and every institution of racism both Black men and women experience in America today.
For further reading and understanding read: Bell Hooks, “Understanding Patriarchy.”