The Unspoken Rule: Why Black Women Protect Abusive Black Men
I will probably get in trouble for this, but it needs to be said in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement. Because of the violence perpetrated against Black men, Black women are in triple jeopardy. Jeopardy from White America, the police and Black men.
It is an unspoken rule in the Black community to never speak ill of a Black man because he is oppressed by the White man and we should protect him at all costs. This way of thinking cost me my childhood and my mental health. I was abused at the hands of multiple Black men and my culture silenced me; other women in my family silenced me. My culture silences me.
When Alice Walker wrote “The Color Purple,” she was persecuted in the Black community for exposing the Black men in her stories as abusive. When I read her book as a young adult, I felt affirmed and less alone. When Oprah Winfrey came out about her sexual abuse truth, I also felt empowered to speak the truth about my own life. Oprah Winfrey also received backlash from the Black community when she hosted Michael Jackson’s victims; listening to them, I felt heard. Both brave and powerful women experienced backlash but still chose to speak truth to power even if at great personal and professional risk.
I do not need to say most Black men are not abusive, but I do need to say that many Black women are abused at the hands of Black men and boys. Black women are trained from slavery times to not turn in a Black man to the powers that be. Black women fear Black men will be abused and/or killed at the hands of White men. This puts us in a double bind. If we turn him in to save our lives, we risk endangering his.
On October 3, 1995, I was working at a women’s shelter. We were going about our day doing temporary protective orders for women who had been beaten the night before by their Black lovers. There was soon a buzz in the office. The OJ Simpson verdict was about to be read. All the staff and the women getting protective orders circled the small TV in one of our offices so we could all watch. As the verdict was read, the staff groaned and the battered women cheered. Many of them over the past few months had told us stories of their lovers telling them that they were going to “OJ them” and later we heard of men placing the newspaper clipping announcing the verdict on the refrigerator and claiming “I can kill you and get away with it.” I was stunned at the women’s responses and then I remembered we had to protect the image of Black men at all costs.
The assumption is if you do not worship the Black man, you are a bad Black woman. I have Black men in my life who are incredible human beings, and they respect women and feel we deserve to be cared for and have power. Just because I speak the truth about some of the Black men I have encountered, I am no less a Black person. I am a woman who deserves to be safe. As a little girl, I was not safe like many little girls. We were all forced to remain silent because of a secret code that protects Black men and exposes Black women and girls to all kinds of abuse.
I encourage Black women to rise and claim your space in the Black Lives Matter movement. Our lives are important too and should not be silenced to maintain the position of the Black man. We can simultaneously fight for the end to the oppression and violence against Black men while also speaking our truth and protect ourselves and our girls. The boys we are raising need to see this strength in us, so they know to value us.
Black women, we can be a priority. We are the backbone of the Black family, church, workplace (just see how many of us are essential workers) and the Democratic Party. We can no longer be relegated to the sidelines. Healing our traumas and speaking our truth is paramount. Black men need to ally with us and demand that we are treated with respect and that valuing a Black woman and protecting her is core to our culture.
So, I protest in the Black Lives Matter movement because all Black people deserve to be free from oppression and discrimination. I just need everyone marching alongside of me to believe that includes me.
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Photo by Ian Kiragu on Unsplash