Last year, I interviewed for the chief student affairs position at a
Black women's college in the South. During my interview, people kept
asking me "why do you want to be here?" I knew that the
seemingly-innocuous question obscured the one they really wanted to
ask: "why do you--a Latino/Jewish man who will be seen as white down
here and is also gay--want to work with and for Black women." In my
meeting with the all of my potential supervisees--all of them Black
women--I told the group "you do not have to be a Black woman to care
about and want to support Black women." I commented that few people who
looked like me had historically cared about Black women so I assumed
there might be mistrust. In fact, men who looked like me had often been
the source of great pain and oppression. However, I explained, that
mistrust would not stop me from working on behalf of Black women.
love Black women--personally, professionally and politically. I realize
that this surprises many people. Some wonder if I am simply fetishizing
Black women as sassy, "keepin' it real" sistas, sort of a 21st century Sapphire. Unfortunately, many gay men--white men particularly--love to conjure this stereotype when meeting Black women. Personally,
Black women have played a critical role in my life. I have known too
many Black women to ever pigeon-hole them. I know too well that Black
women are as diverse than any other group. No, my love comes from a keen understanding of the role Black women have played in my life and in American history.
my college career, it was a small group of Black women who helped me be
comfortable with myself as someone with multiple subordinated
identities. As a biracial gay man from a
working-class background, I often felt schizophrenic in a society that
could only see in one-dimensional terms. Most importantly, my friends
helped me survive at a college where I was the only openly gay man on
campus. These friends taught me how to hold my head high while walking through groups of people throwing slurs at me. These
women introduced me to the work of Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and other
Black feminists/womanists to help me work toward my own liberation by
understanding the systems that oppressed me. These works helped me
understand that I was not the problem, society was.
women have also shaped how I see the world. Since college, I have been
a student of Black feminism and womanism. 'Black feminism' argues that
sexism, classism, racism and other forms of oppression are inextricable
from one another. Social change movements, including other forms of
feminism, that only focus on single dimensions of identity will always
exclude large groups of people it purports to help. Black feminists
argue that the liberation of black women entails freedom for all
people, since it would require the end of racism, sexism, and class
Church Terrell, Mary McLoed Bethune, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer,
Shirley Chisholm, Angela Davis, Rose Parks, Ruby Dee, Betty Shabbaz,
Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ellen Brown, Faye Wattleton, Dorothy Height, Ida B. Wells-Barnett. All of these women--and many more--have worked to create a more just society for us all. Contemporary
Black women such as Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Julieanne Malveaux,
Barbara Lee, Valerie Jetter and Carol Mosely-Braun among many, many
others continue the work of creating a more equitable world. Not enough
thanks are given to Black women who have historically fought for the
dignity and well-being of all people.
a social justice activist, I know that white men and women are often
the face of an issue, even when Black women are disproportionately
affected. During the fight against the military ban against gay men and
lesbians in the early 1990s, the people highlighted who were discharged
were mostly white men with a few white women shown. This image hid the
fact that Black women were kicked out of the military for being
homosexual at a higher rate than whites of both sexes and Black men.
How did an issue that impacted Black women the most, like the military
ban on gay people, get seen as a white man's issue?
have also seen Black women's concerns be ignored. Lupus is a disease
that affects Black women in large numbers but does not get the
attention it deserves. It is seen as "merely" a Black women's disease
and thus not important. Black women have fought for the rest of us and
it is time that we fight for Black women.
- Advertisement -
that reason, I follow the leadership of Black women and listen to the
words of Black women. As I mentioned earlier, Black women are a diverse
group. Thus, I will not necessarily agree with the things all Black
women say. But as a progressive who is committed to a more just world
for all people, I know that Black women's opinions, research, and
voices are integral to ensuring that our politics are inclusive of all
people. This commitment includes the projects I support financially. I
donate regularly to the Black Women's Health Initiative, a national
organization that's committed to devoted solely to advancing the health
and wellness of America's
Black women and girls through advocacy, community health and wellness
education and leadership development. I donate to this organization
because too often the lives of Black women are not considered in health
care research. Moreover, I know from a
standpoint of enlightened self-interest that if healthcare is better
for Black women, it will be better for all people.
women are not the emotionless rocks of strength that society paints
them as. Black women are seen as selfless and never needing assistance.
While I appreciate the strength that Black women have needed to have
over the centuries, I insist on seeing Black women as human, not as
stereotypes. You have been demonized, abused, and ignored for too long.
Black women have been maligned as castrating, too angry and even the
source of the oppression of Black men. It is time that we stand by your
side and defend you, love you, thank you and listen to you. You have
given me so very much as a human being; I shall always be there for you.
Chris MacDonald-Dennis calls himself a gay mixed agnostic Jew who happens to think about social justice for a living. He is Assistant Dean of the Undergraduate College and Director of Intercultural Affairs at Bryn Mawr College. He has been a (more...
|The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author
and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.