Category Archives: Black Women

#Invisible Sisters: Are “Good Black Women” Invisible to Black Men?

“I am an invisible man. No I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe: Nor am I one of your Hollywood movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, simply because people refuse to see me.” 

(Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man)

I recently had the pleasure of serving as the moderator for a community panel discussion at the African-American Library in the 4th Ward of Houston, Texas. As a writer, I do my best to stay keenly aware of discussions as they provide the basis for much of what I write about regarding Race in America, hence, I was particularly attentive to a panel composed of prodigious scholars and intellectuals such as Dr. Kaarin Perkins, Dr. James Conyers, Dr. Ronald Goodwin, Dr. Derrick Wilson, and Dr. Jasmine D. Parker. I intuitively realized that this group would provide innumerable moments of brilliance that I would do my best to first seize and then expound on in this space.

I am quite confident that if you have sat at the foot of those mentioned above that you already realize the depth and breadth of their insight regarding being black in America. While listening to riveting comments by the esteemed Dr. Kaarin Perkins, a sister who carries her passion on her sleeve, it dawned on me that a recent construct that I borrowed from the great writer Ralph Ellison was woefully incomplete.

In an earlier post, I posited that today’s progressive black man is an “Invisible Man” whose existence mirrors that of the figure that Ellison wrote about sixty-five years ago. Although I maintain that my analysis is spot on, it was Dr. Perkins whose poignant comments pointed out that my construct was a far too abbreviated idea as African-American men have much company in being rendered “Invisible” by an outside world that refuses to see them. Most disconcerting is Perkins’ contention that she could care less about the viewpoints of the outside world, her indictment was aimed at black men who render her invisible.

According to Perkins, progressive-minded black women whose entire being is aimed at uplifting the black community and those that call it home are routinely grouped with others whose entire existence has nothing to do with being politically astute, pillars of their community, and savvy enough to battle those seeking to destroy our community on their turf. Instead of seeing these women, far too often black men only see a figure onto which they are able to project their insecurities, hatred, and disdain. “Instead of seeing their sister who is here to aid them, they see a hoe, a bitch, or a slut.” This matter reminds me of an observation that W.E.B. Du Bois made in his classic text The Souls of Black Folk regarding it being a “peculiar sensation to view oneself through the lens of another.”

This matter leads me to an interesting query. Is it a reasonable assertion that African-American males have allowed their negative interactions with what many would term “basic” black women to destroy their understanding that black women are not a monolithic population? Although I hate to say it, I know for a fact that the negative interactions with a few “basic” sisters is integral to black men grouping all “sisters” together and thereby making those who serve as pillars in our community as Ellison would term it, “Invisible (Wo)men.”

While listening to Dr. Perkins passionately explain this conundrum that affects nearly every black woman that I consider a friend, it dawned on me that this situation is tied to an oppressive white world supremacy that has ensnared far too many of us. Most unfortunate is the reality that until we are able to somehow free ourselves from the reverberating damage that being black in America has wrought on our souls, sisters like Dr. Kaarin Perkins will remain invisible to the vast majority of black men. And that is a shame!!!!!!

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

Why Black Men Should Applaud the Development of a Black Woman’s Movement and Political Agenda

I must be forthright and state that I believe public protests and marches should be at best a minimal portion of strategies aimed at liberating Black America. A century ago, public protests and marches were a phenomenal way to inform naïve whites of bigotry, racial discrimination, and institutional racism, the need for such measures are long gone as all Americans realize that we have a Race problem in this nation. The historical record indicates that over the past half-century public protests have failed to make significant strides toward solving the underlying catalysts to racial inequality. Put simply; the typical march for racial justice amounts to little more than our people talking loud and achieving nothing.

Although I hold fast to the belief that marches such as the March for Racial Justice and the March for Black Women planned today in Washington, D.C. will fail to make a tangible difference in the plight of black people in America; there is a silver lining to be found regarding the latter. To the chagrin of many who oppose black liberation, it appears that a segment of African-American women have channeled the spirit and intelligence of their brave sisters of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, and the Black Liberation Army and realized that black women have tended to exist in a peculiar space that lends itself to political invisibility.

Consider for a moment that it is common for the needs, wants, and particular issues facing black women to be muted by their identity. Unfortunately, black women are too female to be adequately represented in the male-dominated African-American freedom struggle and too black to be centered in a women’s movement that disregards the pernicious evil of racial oppression. Verification of such an assertion is found throughout the entire feminist movement that has “welcomed” black women into their fold under the condition that they must adopt a pre-existing agenda that has nothing to do with their particular needs, wants, and desires. The issues that matter most to black women conflict with the “white world supremacy” that provides great privilege to white women; it is, after all, their first inheritance as an America.

In many ways, it should be difficult for anyone who has any love for black women not to applaud this courageous decision by march leaders to articulate a political agenda that highlights peculiar issues that will never be found within either the African-American freedom struggle or the feminist movement. This decision should ensure that black women are no longer eclipsed by an African-American freedom struggle that accentuates racial matters at the cost of ignoring gender issues or a white female-headed feminist movement that will never work toward eradicating white supremacy.

Although I know that many black men will shudder at the prospect of black women having a separate political agenda, they have little to worry about as African-American women have historically supported the African-American freedom struggle. I am confident that the March for Black Women will not change that fact. The alluded to fears should be quieted by the reality that politically astute, courageous, disciplined, and educated black women are central to the creation of and the maintenance of an active black community.

Failure to understand this fact dooms us all and ensures that racial disparities will continue unabated. And that is a reality that all of Black America should consider revolting.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

WHY BLACK WOMEN MUST BE CAUTIOUS WHEN DEALING WITH THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT

It has always saddened me when people harboring good intentions are ensnared in unnecessary conflict; particularly when the dispute revolves around substantive issues that could be easily solved.

So I am confident that you can imagine how disturbing it was to listen to the endless debate among our community regarding the participation of black women in the new women’s march. A firestorm of rhetoric revolved around matters such as should black women have abstained from participation due to the past betrayals their kind have experienced within feminist movements or do not the interests of black women coincide with those of white women. It did not take long for a legitimate debate to devolve into a mess of vitriolic hatred and name calling.

Most disappointing of all is the reality that this matter is a relatively fundamental issue that a cursory understanding of the history of American race and gender dynamics would quickly solve. So I offer the following to those whose emotions remain heightened and their vision clouded by an issue that has driven yet another wedge among an already divided African-American populace.

To the question of should black women have participated in the women’s march, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Now I am certain that there is a segment of black women who will rejoice at this firm assertion, as well as a part that will instantaneously recoil at the assertion. I am asking each of these adversaries to pause for a moment and understand that my firm belief that black women should have participated in the historic march comes with a few conditions.

The paths to understanding the conditions and qualifiers that must be attached to African-Americans engagement with any political movement is to an understanding of the large difference between joining a movement and creating an alliance.

At the center of the public outcries regarding the participation of black women in the women’s march focused on the fact that by joining that movement one is now beholden to an agenda that does not reflect the totality of the political issues facing black women.

Historically speaking, movements headed by elite white women have failed to accommodate the issues facing poor and working-class women whose status do not mirror their own; rest assured that the unrepresented includes a significant population of white women as well as black.

Alice Walker, the famous thinker, and promoter of womanism, poignantly accentuates this point by highlighting that the issues facing black women are different from those facing the elite white women who lead the feminist movement. Walker reminds all of this difference in her reverberating assertion that “Womanism is to Feminism as purple is to lavender.”

Most critics of black women’s participation in the women’s movement agree that instead of joining a feminist movement that has at opportune moments muted the voices of African-American women and thereby needlessly prolonged their pressing political issues. According to such individuals, if black women formed their organizations to promote a developed political agenda highlighting their problems and promoting solutions to their grievances, they would then be on the road to liberation. Had black women taken this reasonable course of action, they would have been positioned to negotiate a mutually beneficial alliance that allowed them to simultaneously work toward the amelioration of pressing issues that faced all women, regardless of race or economic status, and still maintained their focus upon their political agenda.

It is time that African-American activists graduate with an understanding there is nothing wrong with creating a mutually benefiting alliance. However, they must also understand that when such a political arrangement is no longer helping either party, it is time to abandon the agreement.

Put simply; I see absolutely nothing wrong with black women’s participation as allies in a feminist march as there are issues that affect females regardless of their racial identity. However, history has taught us that it is unwise for black women to join feminist movements as their voices will invariably be muted at critical junctures when the specter of race appears.

History is very clear that our path to liberation does not include joining white-headed movements and groups whose leadership tends to have pervasive ‘blind spots’ when it comes to race and class. The only reasonable path to liberation in regards to political matters is found in the developing of black agendas and political currency before pursuing mutually beneficial alliances with non-black groups. Failure to do such not only reveals how little black leaders know about liberation and guarantees that they will continue their grandest tradition of “talking loud and saying nothing.”

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

‘I’VE SEEN THIS BEFORE’: WHY THE POLITICAL DILEMMAS OF BLACK WOMEN ARE RARELY ADDRESSED OR SOLVED BY ANY POLITICAL MOVEMENT AND WHAT THEY SHOULD DO ABOUT IT

Yesterday, the largest single-day protest on American soil occurred with a diverse crowd of men and women taking to American cities in the following numbers.

  • Atlanta (250,000 protestors)
  • Chicago (250,000 protestors)
  • Boston (250,000 protestors)
  • Denver (200,000 protestors)
  • New York (350,000 protestors)
  • Washington C. (500,000 protestors)
  • Los Angeles (500,000 protestors)

For comparison’s sake, a relatively modest 250,000 assembled for the 1963 March on Washington.

This historic assembly appears to be a serious attempt at renewing American democracy by issuing a powerful statement against the new Presidential administration. However, as with most political matters in this nation, one has to question will the peculiar issues facing the African-American community, in this case, black women, be acknowledged, let alone ameliorated in this rising tide of political activism.

The above concerns regarding the addressing of issues facing African-American women, many of which flow directly from black men performing a perverse blackface minstrel performance that mirrors white male patriarchy, are reasonable when one considers the historical subordination of such matters by both Black Nationalist and White Feminist leaders.

One must remember that political elitism facilitated white feminist leaders inability to acknowledge that the issues facing white, married, heterosexual, wealthy women in no way covered the complex problems facing black women, a flaw that forced African-American women to forge their path toward gender equality about both white women and black men. Noted intellectual Alice Walker acknowledged the differences found within the struggles of black and white women with her reverberating comment that “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” Put simply, the Black Nationalist and Feminist movements often fail to represent, let alone solve, the issues of black women.

Hopefully, those leading this reiteration of female political agitation are astute enough to realize that racial matters are a significant negative in the lives of African-American women and must be addressed with the same intensity that patriarchy has historically been. Failure at this mundane task dooms African-American women to assume their usual position behind not only white women but also behind black men.

A close reading of history displays the ease with which black women are made invisible. African-American women are frequently asked to choose which is the greater part of them, their gender or race as if they can easily split not only their identities but also their political desires. Far too frequently, Black women have been too female to be a significant element in the African-American freedom struggle and too black to be considered full partners in the feminist movement. It is a damning quandary that can never be solved.

So as many bask in the after-effects of the historic nature of this march, a historical achievement only in the number of participants I might add, the politically astute are carefully examining the political agendas that emerge from this latest push for women’s rights.

I hope that this time things will be different for black women and they will assume the ‘nasty woman’ persona that so many of their white sisters have historically embraced. I pray that there are more than a few ‘nasty black women’ in our midst who are willing to advance the politicoeconomic needs of their sisters “by any means necessary,” even if it means strategically separating themselves from other movements at opportune moments. The tendency of African-American women to mute their voice due to what often appears to be a desperate desire to maintain decorum in the face of political pressure from other groups must cease if black women are serious about solving their issues.

I pray that all of the previous activism and political experiences black women have engaged in have prepared them to avoid a repeat of past moments of activism that left them at the back of the bus. Hopefully, black women have grown weary enough of being “Sick and tired of being sick and tired” that they step forward with a collective consciousness that emphasizes both their unique identity and the resulting issues that flow from it with an uncommon fervor. History has taught us that the only women that have ever changed the world have been “nasty women,” it is the time that black women accepted that fact and make it a policy going forward that their political agenda is the only one that matters.

At least that is what I hope and pray for them.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

TRADING PLACES: HOW MANY BLACK MEN HAVE CHOSEN TO ABANDON THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES BY TRADING PLACES WITH THE WOMEN IN THEIR LIVES

Although the exact date that Pastor Johnny R. Heckard shared the message eludes my mind, that does not matter because it is much more important that the sermon’s content remains prominent in my mind.

As was his tendency, Dr. Heckard used an unconscionable, yet scripturally grounded, verbal assault to admonish the Mount Calvary Baptist Church congregation, particularly the males, that one of the most troubling aspects of Black America is the manner in which the roles of African-American men and women have reversed.

The entire church shook as Rev. Heckard’s baritone voice boomed “We now have men asking women, ‘Do you make enough to take care of a man like me?’” As one would expect, this piercing question elicited a symphony of ‘Hallelujah’s,’ ‘Preach,’ and ‘Walk with it’ from the overwhelmingly female audience. Ironically, the overwhelmingly female congregation filled with women who never realize that they are partially responsible for the production of son’s who will become worthless African-American males, as well as hurriedly “laying down their religion” to allow a financially and emotionally parasitic grown man into their lives.

For me, Pastor Heckard’s sermon was surreal as it was a powerful rebuke of a cast of characters I recently encountered in a local barbershop, a place that could also be called the black man’s country club.

Anyone who has been to a real black barber will tell you that you are destined to engage a cast of characters with incredible stories regarding life. Without fail, there is always a few ‘brothers’ present who will share stories regarding their refusal to support the women in their lives and the inventive methods they use to escape responsibility for the women in their lives.

Although hilarious at the moment, upon reflection these tales sadden me because I realized that there are a silent woman and children in the background of each story.  African-American males dereliction of duty routinely compromises the present and future opportunities for the women and children that rely on them for things that extend further than financial contributions. There is no possible way that any attentive introspective person could listen to these fantastic barbershop tales and not realize that as Dr. Heckard’s sermon pointed out, the dynamics between black men and women have dramatically changed.

Unfortunately, I am uncertain if even Dr. Heckard’s criticism would have caused even a moment of self-reflection upon the most dynamic performers one finds in any local barbershop as they appeared to be devoid of either a sense of pride or an inkling of morality. If nothing else, the alluded to individuals were a public testimony that so many African-American males had voluntarily retreated from the traditional role of provider and protector that Black men have traditionally occupied. The increasing numbers of such individuals highlight the depths of trouble that our community is experiencing at this present moment.

It appears that the days of the average black man being able to simultaneously occupy many roles that vacillated between displaying the ‘cool pose’ while among their peers, being the primary breadwinner in their homes, spending precious time with offspring, and being unconscionably chivalrous toward their wife are no more.

This abandonment of our traditional position within our community begs a simple question of, ‘Why has this occurred?’

A thorough answer to the above question is multi-faceted, complex, and involves shifts in the American economy, the African-American community, and the educational system that has simply not served as much utility to African-American men in particular. I am certain that you agree that this space is much too small to address each of these areas. So I will turn my focus toward the addressing of one of the essential parts of this problem; that being, the lack of socialization regarding manhood within the African-American community.

Although many have created complex formulas and equations relating to the extension of manhood from one generation to the next, in actuality the process is incredibly simple. Boys learn the duties, role, and expectations of Manhood and therefore how to ‘be a man’ by engaging and learning from Men. There is nothing racially specific about this as it is the same socialization process that occurs generation-after-generation around the entire globe.

Unfortunately for the African-American community, there has been a disruption in this tried-and-true socialization process that taught ‘What a man is and Ought to do’ for African-American boys and girls.

Although it is often not a formal process, any examination of the transference of manhood ideology reveals some form of a ‘rites of passage’ program that teaches agreed upon understandings of what it means to be a man in a particular society. The referenced ‘rites of passage’ training not only shows the expected duties but also constructs rigid parameters regarding activities that are impermissible. Generally speaking, any actions that result in hurt, harm, or damage to others are located in the realm of the impermissible and logically lead to the shunning of those who have even flirted with such things.

Indicative of the African-American community’s failure to instruct succeeding generations of black boys on what they should and should not do has been them making the realm of the impermissible and inappropriate their official residence. Making their dastardly lifestyle more damaging is the black community failing to banish those who have compromised it from its midst. Far too frequently, it appears as if their negative behavior earns them kudos from females who are also devoid of an understanding of what either a man or woman ‘ought to be and ought to do.’ Make no mistake about it, the selfish life that far too many African-American males have adopted damages the entire community.

Considering the blockage that has led to a significant segment of African-American males not receiving appropriate Manhood training, it is not surprising that we have devolved to an unprecedented moment in our history that sees immoral and misguided Black men viewing Black women, in the words of Dr. Heckard as a survival mechanism. And trust me when I say that such maneuvers are certainly not a positive manhood quality.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2016