Black Women’s Complicity in Being Dominated

RHOA fight b/w Kim and Nene.

@tkoed and ‘Toya. See, I wrote it!

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Last day to vote for my #SXSW presentation here.

After writing several posts in June about Black men, Love, and domination John challenged me to talk about the ways in which Black women are complicit in being dominated, to talk about the role that women play on the streets, in heterosexual relationships, in being dominated.

John said four profound things in the comment section.

The first was that:

I think that most black men have just built up walls that we don?t get hurt by women but especially black women. therefore, I think alot of black men refer to black women as bitches and hoes because that display of emotion has gotten them actually more action than being kind, vulnerable and understanding. As a man why trade that if the other as harmful as it maybe still gets me the award that I seek!

I had never thought of the fact that men may call us crazy assed names in the street because it has gotten them more play than being polite. This is why, in Black feminist theory that experience matters. The fact that he shared this forced me to take it into consideration.

The second was that:

Now before anyone says that I am condoning the way black women are treated in music, in the media, or in our own societies I am not. What I am saying is most men are not going to change the way they are emotionally to accommodate one woman. They are going to go by what they perceive the standard to be. They could have something to do with what demographic their in.

The third was that:

But for the most part when it comes to a white women regardless of what the environment is he will approach her with some respect in fear of punishment if he steps incorrect. But that?s not good either regardless of race women should be treated and approached with respect and dignity.

I appreciated the fact that John was honest about how the risks and consequences are different both currently and historically when it comes to how Black men step to white women and women of color.

The fourth was that:

To touch on something else I think you leave the woman out of fault on this. Like someone stated in one of the earlier post ?women let men get away with certain things because they were men?. That continues to happen not just in the HOOD but throughout society yet as a black woman you scream for change. While your counterparts around you stand silently by waiting for a man to take care of them. How do you expect to change this black male masculine trait if a majority of black women especially in the hood feed into in order to survive in some cases.

On leaving the women out of this.

This piece was hard to write in the same way in which my other pieces are hard for Black men to read. I told @tkoed that I needed to write this, that it was hard and I didn’t want to. He responded saying that I needed to write it and say that, because IT IS HARD for Black men to read many of the things that I say about them. Touche.

The first time that I personally came to terms with being complicit in being dominated and I wrote about it was in December of 2008. I was at a party, the first party in a long time. I had just finished my grad school applications so I came up from under my rock. I wrote,

So I am there, rapping along to Black Moon, or Ghost or CL
and this dude grabs my wrist and I unfurl his fingers from around it. A little bit later, and he does it again and I almost flipped out on him.

I remember that historically, I would take my thumb finger and stick it into a dudes hand if he ain’t get the picture. In many ways, it was a small act of resistance.

I go on to say,

I am thinking about how I am complicit in contributing to an environment that normalizes or is neutral on violence against women. My wrist was grabbed, yet thirty minutes later I still sang along with Snoop, “I got freaks in the living room getting it on and they ain’t leaving to till six in the mo’ning.” I am thinking about what it means to finally realize, after all these years
that I, and arguably we, have been trained to tolerate being touched, and how all hell breaks loose when we say stop.

So yes John, you are right. Black women DO play a role in the domination struggle, and three ways? immediately come to mind.

First, many of us don’t want to give up the little privilege that we have. In the book Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins talks about Black women are reluctant to give up patriarchal privileges, the privileges that come with along with sexism. She writes, quoting Barbara Smith,

Heterosexual privileges is usually the only privilege that Black women have. None of us have racial or sexual privilege, almost none of us have class privilege, maintaining straightness is a last resort.

While this quote is in response to how man Black women are silent around what it means to be both Black and queer, for me, the quote also speaks to how many Black women are unwilling to examine what it means to tolerate or even respond favorably to being got at in the street.

Second, both men and women, boys and girls watch how women treat OTHER WOMEN and proceed accordingly.

As a teenager who was heavily invested in Rap music and Hip hop, I privileged my relationships with boys and routinely said out loud, “I don’t have any close girl friends, girls are childish and trifling.” I know. I was sixteen. I ain’t know no better.

Now that I am grown, I listen to Black women when they tell me things. Their relationships matter to me. I try to be a Love bear. But look what it took for me to get here.

What I am saying here is that how we treat each other, Love each other, talk to each other sets the tone for how OTHERS treat us. In the article “Black Women Behaving Badly” Kierna Mayo connects some of beef that we have with each other to the beef that takes place in pop culture at large. She writes,

One reason it’s hard to ignore or simply overlook the insecure and combative nature in some sister-to-sister relationships is because in pop culture they show up everywhere. Venomous exchanges among Black women are more than acceptable-they’re commodified and sold. The spectacle of 14 beautiful women piling into a house for weeks, verbally ripping one another apart for the affection of one man-? la VH1 shows like Flavor of Love and its successor, For the Love of Ray J-has become the guilty pleasure of millions of us. The Real Housewives of Atlanta, a gossip-filled hit Bravo reality series that follows the lives of five of that city’s wealthier women, even decided not to invite one Black cast member back for season two because, as she told ESSENCE.com, she failed to provoke negative controversy.

In short, how we treat each other matters.

Third, we have to think about the connection between our actions, the behavior that we accept and the treatment that we receive. I want to be real clear here.

I am not saying that blaming the victim of violence is EVER acceptable.

It isn’t. Full stop.

What I am saying is that when Black women do accept out of pocket street cat calls, when we do sing to Snoop and are reluctant to connect his singing “bitches ain’t shit” to the bitches ain’t shit we hear in our day to day lives, we are certainly playing some KIND of role in creating a climate of domination.

People have said to me, well Renina what about the women WHO do want to be dominated and got at on the street, the women who don’t mind.

To me that sounds like a token Black employee saying that they enjoy being the only negro Woman at a job, and there doesn’t need to be more diversity because everything is okey dokey. Negro please.

My response is that I am concerned about who we are collectively.? So if some women enjoy it, then so be it however there are many of us who don’t. There are many of us who stay in the house in the summer rather than be dominated and harassed in the streets.

Furthermore, we need to find another way to relate to each other in the streets that isn’t based on a predator-prey model. One that isn’t based on men getting at women. As JJ Bear says, “Why do you get to shape my desire?”

If men can get our attention calling some us ho’s in the street, how do we address such a cultural phenomena?

Have you thought about how they way that Black women treat each other impacts how others treat us?

What do you think of the idea of being complicit in being dominated?

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Comments

  1. msdailey says

    Great post, it is very important how we as women treat each other.

    Everyone is judgmental, if we just step back and see each other with some kind of compassion and relativity we would maybe not be so harsh to one another.

  2. says

    The part about holding on to heterosexual privilege made so many things click for me. If black women are ignored/erased/powerless in so many areas of life, then I can now understand (a little) why some would “not mind” being harassed/dominated. Doesn’t make it right, but they are meeting a basic need for recognition. Until that basic need is met, which ultimately should be coming from society valuing ALL human beings, they can’t move on to deconstructing the type of interaction they encounter and reshaping it to be positive and mutual.

    Good post!

  3. Renina says

    Girl. You said it better than me.

    Can I use your comment for a post. It be hard to take really theoritical stuff and explain it. Feel me?

    Peep GAME. Many Black men are powerless in mad areas of Life to then they turn around and BEAT the shit out of us.
    You see the patter here. No bueno. <<<Just thought of this connection.

    ~R

  4. says

    Notes:
    It’s not hard to read what you write about Black men, it’s refreshing and interesting whether I agree with all points or not. People often sugar coat and praise mediocrity when it comes to issues about black men or damn brothers completely without fair critical thought. Feel me?

    I’ve witnessed the phenomena that John mentions. But I will say just because I see 4 or 5 brothers get what they seek by grabbing a woman’s arm, being rude or disrespectful that doesn’t mean I will do it or have to do it to get a woman’s attention. I’m not just talking about myself, I know many brothers who would dare behave that way. With that said, the bold and dare I say brave guys often win in some instances.

    How do you change our communities behavior in a cultural climate that celebrates bad behavior? Wow that’s going to be hard work. Some women that are aware they are complicit in being dominated will simply state “men will be men” and raise their children to be “men.”

  5. says

    Was just having a similar conversation with a guy I was dating. I was very disturbed by the way women were treated by men and wanted to hear his take about how he treated me compared to other women in his past.

    I realized I had to start being mindful of how I treated myself because it invited others to treat me the same way. Men also push the limits on what they can get away with, hence damn near murder (domestic violence, cat calling on the streets and calling us “bitches” when they do not get the response “they want”). I’ve allowed myself to be dominated in a toxic relationship before. In a better place mentally and spiritually now but what about all the women that aren’t there yet?

    Always enjoy your posts. Thanks.