Who Will Keep Our Sisters? A Rant About the Incredibly Bad Arguments in Defense of My Brother’s Keeper

It’s Saturday Morning. It’s International Women’s Day. And I have a rant. A rant that I need to share in this community of like-minded folks. A rant so that I don’t lose my shit with some educated Black men, who need to be hemmed up by the cufflinks.

On Thursday, in my weekly column at Salon, I wrote about the President’s new My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, and what it means for Black and Brown women and girls, who have yet again been decentered from the national conversation on race and class disparities.

Now if you follow my work at Salon, you’ll know that I have spent an inordinate and disproportionate amount of time there writing about the violent racism that has largely been targeted to Black men like Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Johnathan Ferrell. I don’t always share the pieces at CFC because for many months I have felt like I haven’t been pulling my feminist weight, because so much bad shit has been happening to our boys.

But this week, I talked about Black and Brown women and girls. Read the piece here.  Here is a pertinent excerpt:

I am ambivalent about My Brother’s Keeper. Yes, by almost every social measure, African-American men, and boys in particular, fall behind at alarming rates. They are suspended from school the most, incarcerated the most, have the highest rates of unemployment, commit disproportionate amounts of violent crime, and have some of the lowest high school and college graduation rates. Frequently their encounters with law enforcement and white male authority figures end with black men dead.

These are alarming times. Times that would make Ida B. Wells weep. Over these many months, as I have watched the failure to convict both Trayvon Martin’s and Jordan Davis’ killers, I have worried. Worried because I know that when African-American boys are being killed with impunity by white people this triggers every kind of deeply held race trauma that African-Americans have. We circle the wagons. We fight fiercely to protect our beloved boys. We demand their right to grow into men. And we should.

The thing is: This “we” is mostly African-American women – doing the fighting, the organizing, the praying, the rearing, the fussing, the protecting, the loving. And the losing.  Black women have been their brothers’ biggest and best keepers.

But when black men occupy space at the center of the discourse, black women lose critical ground. I wish these struggles did not feel like zero sum struggles. I wish that black men — Barack Obama included — had the kind of social analysis that saw our struggles as deeply intertwined.

According to the African American Policy Forum, black girls are suspended at a higher rate than all other girls and white and Latino boys. Sixty-seven percent of black girls reported feelings of sadness or hopelessness for more than two weeks straight compared to 31 percent of white girls and 40 percent of Latinas. Single black women have the lowest net wealth of any group, with research showing a median wealth of $100. Single black men by contrast have an average net wealth of $7,900 and single white women have an average net wealth of $41,500. Fifty-five percent of black women (and black men) have never been married, compared to 34 percent for white women.

This situation is dire at every level. But perhaps the most troubling thing of all: The report indicates that while over 100 million philanthropic dollars have been spent in the last decade creating mentoring and educational initiatives for black and brown boys, less than a million dollars has been given to the study of black and brown girls!


And then a colleague, a guy I know only through other people, wrote this rant against my piece, and tagged me into an asinine FB discussion about it.

I shared a few responses with Joshua on FB. And I’ll say them in short here:

1.) If you have a problem with my *tone*, you should check this piece on the fallacy of tone argument. Although given that the tone of this piece I’m writing right now is far more strident than what I wrote at Salon, I’m sure you’ll be even more aggrieved. Oh well.

2.) We know the “program isn’t designed for Black women. Period. Point Blank.” The problem is when it comes to us, the blank is always left Blank. And check it. We don’t want your program. Mychal Denzel Smith did a great job in this piece of outlining all that’s wrong with it anyway. But can we have  a real conversation about ameliorating the social plight of all Black and Brown people, Black and Brown women included? That’s all I’m asking.

3.) Advocating for the inclusion of Black women is not the same as advocating for the replacement of Black men. Learn how to read and understand arguments. One of these is not like the other.

But here is the thing I want to get to. The reason I’m so mad. As this conversation progressed on social media, the various Ph.D. having brothers who came to back up Joshua’s point, all felt the need to talk about the 100 to 1 funding disparity of programs aimed at Black men and boys versus Black women and girls.

These brothers all argued that $100 million is itself a paltry amount of funding. Conceded. The idea that only $10 million dollars on average per year has been spent on Black and Brown boys over the last 10 years is deeply appalling and disturbing. I said so during our exchange. But if we agree that it is a paltry sum, then should we not also be outraged at the mere $100,000 a year spent on Black girls? NOPE. No outrage. These brothers can manage to muster no outrage for us, because enough is not being done for them.

And that folks is why these debates are so disingenuous. These brothers when presented with hard evidence of disparity have no qualms about looking at the evidence and still making it about how they deserve more. I mean they won’t even concede that we deserve more of other people’s money. You can’t even be charitable with other people’s money?!!!

This is the thing: if we are all sick from the ills wrought by racism, patriarchy, capitalism, etc, then the fact that in some instances your illnesses are more severe (and only in some instances), does not mean our illnesses should be left untreated.
If this logic doesn’t give you a clue about how the masses of brothers, excepting a few feminist and egalitarian minded ones, would actually divide and share material resources if they were in control of them, I don’t know what other evidence you need.  I mean they are literally saying that they do not care AT ALL what happens to black women, not if they perceive that Black women’s needs might in some way demand a redistribution of their own resources. Black women are the poorest demographic in this country not just because of broad and severe systemic challenges, but also because we have no problem redistributing our meager resources to make sure our brothers are eating, riding, laying their heads somewhere and looking halfway decent while doing it.

This conversation reminds me in an odd way of Derrick Bell’s story Space Traders. In the race version, white folks are given everything they need to save themselves from failing Planet Earth as long as they are willing to leave Black people behind to the space traders. We all know how that scenario ends.

I think if we did a gendered version and told Black men that they could have all the wealth and power of white men to rule the world as long as they were willing to leave sisters behind, they’d jump at it. Would barely give it a second thought. Might broker a deal to save their mama, grandmama, and other female family members. But even if they couldn’t do that, they’d march off into that good night with empty promises to return for us. Black men may not be patriarchs, but an alarmingly large lot of them damn sure want to be.

Two weeks ago, I received death threats and  all manner of troll behavior on twitter, because I wrote a piece being outraged over the failure to convict Michael Dunn of Jordan Davis’ murder. Two weeks ago, a few terrible white folks communicated in every which way they could that Black folks lives don’t matter, that my life didn’t matter. This week, a few brothers with jacked up thinking have communicated the same–Black women’s lives do.not.fucking.matter.

So I’m so discouraged. Discouraged that these brothers (several of whom in the thread I was in have Ph.D.s, and so have high levels of training to evaluate sociological evidence) could be so disingenuous, so uncaring, so patriarchal-minded, all while claiming that the problem is not with their sexism but with my argumentation. As if. A lot of times folks say that the problems between Black men and women have to do with our failure to talk *to each other.* I actually hate stances like that.  We are not all *equally* to blame. Black men — brothers– owe us more than this.

However, much sisters might get mad and go on a Nicki Minaj style “Lookin Ass N…” rant, when push comes to shove, we’ll give y’all our last, fight in the streets for you, catch a case for you and lay down and die for you.

Meanwhile, it will never occur to you on something as basic as that when you are receiving 100% more resources than we are to even advocate that we get more attention, even as you advocate for yourselves. And even as we advocate for you.  And to flip the script on the old logic,  if this is how our men think (about us), then Black America got a hard damn row to hoe.

36 thoughts on “Who Will Keep Our Sisters? A Rant About the Incredibly Bad Arguments in Defense of My Brother’s Keeper

  1. Right on girl. We been talking about this SAME damn shit since the Combahee River Collective made their statement on “simultaneity,” which has since been renamed intersectionality. I’m also having a Million Man March flashback. For us older sisters this is very dispiriting.

  2. Sista bravo. Your angst, disappointment and discouragement are definitely shared by so many black women. It’s almost absurd that we still have the instinct to protect those who would never even flinch a finger for us. We as people absolutely have a “hard damn row to hoe”.

  3. Don’t be discouraged! Don’t be discouraged. I need you. You hold it down and, in the process, remind me of the truth and worth of the issues I want to talk about, the sentiments I experience, and the alien alterity I represent just by being.

    Speak. Write. I, a forty-year old academic, need you. Black female students as well as black females outside academia, but with a smartphone in hand, need you. Black male America needs you. White America needs you.

  4. Stated so well. Thank you for giving voice to this. There is no way for Black boys to suffer without Black women suffering as well. Likewise, we suffer in ways that often go under the radar, but are equally damaging. It hurts that brothers can’t/won’t see this- especially given how sacrificial we have been towards them.

  5. Thank you for embedding links to articles that delineate what is wrong with the President’s initiative, besides its non-attention to black women, so I don’t have to go there. Your points are spot on, but I encourage you to be encouraged because I believe the sisters are talking planning and organizing to make sure our voices are heard, as you are, and that our needs are met. Women who know of organizations for us should post information wherever and whenever they can so that we can connect them to build the grass roots campaign that will be needed to get the work started.

    Trying to stay positive,
    a sister in service

  6. We can do so much more, working together. That coalition can only come from those at the very bottom because many who have “made it” buy into so many myths about their success…that somehow what they did, what they accomplished was their own singular success, that their success was a result of their own brilliance, their own “stick-to-itness”, their own extraodinaryness…or at least this is what they make themselves believe. To believe anything else, in their manner of thinking, risks losing what they have accomplished, risks being revealed for what they are–not 1 in a 100, but 99 in a 100. What these who claim this as their success story fail to realize, is that they have fallen hook, line, and sinker for the myth of white supremacy, white patriarchy. Yes, they may be invited into that exclusive realm, but it is only as a token…because they are “different”, not like “the others”…

    I am sorry that you have been hurt for speaking the truth. I don’t know what it’s like for you. I do know what it’s like for me when ranks are closed, doors are slammed in my face, and other voices make up lies and create fiction from fact to silence the message. As an elder, I too shake my head, and wonder how we got here…

  7. Thanks for sharing, Sister Cooper. Your argument gets at an important issue re: capital, resources (material and immaterial), particularly giving within the black community, that I’ve been grappling with in my doctoral research. With all this talk about the President’s initiative for black men and boys, the public-private partnerships, and philanthropic dollars invested to support this work, there’s a deafening silence around internal supports via black community philanthropy–its history, meaning and mission–and how it can be better utilized in the struggle.

    This piece exposes a glaring need for a more strategic push to build black philanthropic capital (including time, talent and treasure) across gender and class divides–specifically focused, in my opinion, on closing the cognitive gap between black and brown men and women who often see their collective struggles as mutually exclusive. You said it best, we “can’t be charitable with other people’s money.” I argue that we can, and often are, but there has to be a strategic drive to generate internal wealth (broadening the meaning of that term) while leveraging external resources. The goal: collective realization of how ‘resource-rich’ we are, and utilization of these resources to effect positive, systemic change for black men *and* women.

    I think the first step is critical (crunk) discourse. Thanks for widening the circle. I hope more folks share their feedback to push this important conversation further.

  8. You wrote a great essay, and I wish I could express myself the way you did here. There have been several instances where I’ve seen programs directed toward black boys/men and I see women who ask “what about the black girls/women?” At first, I rolled my eyes, as I was starting to do when you first started this piece. My first argument would be “if you don’t see it, then you create it!” I’m not perfect. Then a switch flipped when you pointed out that behind every cause championing and helping black men/boys are black women. Facts! This is so true.

    Black women are the biggest cheerleaders for black boys/men, in all categories, but we don’t receive the same amount of support sadly. And it is discouraging, especially when you have the exchange you had with the men in the FB group. How are we supposed to get better, do better, be better when the same men we helped out are the same ones leaving us to fend for ourselves once they get a degree saying they are somebody? It’s frustrating!

    It is sad, and it is true, and while it doesn’t include all black men (thank God), it includes enough to make us feel some type of way, and rightfully so. Who’s got our backs? Who will keep us? I do believe we often have it worse because we’re EXPECTED to hold down the men and boys, but we are shamed when we have the audacity to even want them to have ours. We’re also expected to stay strong and continue to fight. That expectation is even more important in this argument. We don’t give up, we don’t stop, we keep going.

  9. Thank you for this and for the Salon piece Brittney. I missed it because I was on the road. It needs to said but I also know the weight of saying it. So take care of yourself. Be selfish with and for yourself. Because this work aint easy, it is often under appreciated, but it is necessary. Love you.

  10. *reads Salon piece*

    And your colleague complained about your TONE in that article?

    It’s not exactly news that the Tone Argument ultimately boils down to the complaint of “don’t make us uncomfortable,” but…this just drives it home. Your analysis made someone uncomfortable, and he absolved himself of that discomfort by complaining about your tone. I’m not sure how you could’ve expressed those insights with a gentler tone. It’s so clearly “La la la I’m not listening!”

  11. The jig is up y’all. BW have had enough. This was such a well done article. Very well thought out. But why be discouraged. As I said, the blanket has been pulled back! We see. We’re conscious now. And never underestimate BW!

  12. BM have finally made it crystal clear that they’re not about to give up their patriarchal stance and the resulting benefits. Okay, cool. In response, I’ll quote my favorite FB BWE meme: “One-sided loyalty is for suckers.”

    My support of them has ceased; I only deal with people who support me reciprocally.

  13. I agree that there should be funding for programs targeting both young black boys and young black girls, but I feel that the launch of the “My Brother’s Keeper” program wasn’t the time and place to make that argument. Instead of creating an inclusive discussion, I feel like many black woman authors turned it into the Oppression Olympics, which isn’t very productive.

    Yes, little black girls are suffering, but as someone who has attended top higher ed institutions and is currently in medical school, the black women to black man ratio has been ~10:1 at every step along the way once I graduated from high school (where the numbers where closer to 50:50). This year, the NCES released a report stating that among U.S. residents, Black females earned 68 percent of associate’s degrees, 66 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 71 percent of master’s degrees, and 65 percent of all doctor’s degrees awarded to Black students…

    [Back to my point, before this becomes a 10-pg thesis.] There needs to be more support for programs for black girls and teenagers- I 1,000,000% agree (See? This black woman can’t even express proper math terms. jk!). The time and way to make that argument is to not to criticize and detract from a program aimed at helping black boys, though. Instead of it being a backlash, I thing it would have been better to create the movement as a separate and unrelated conversation. That’s all.

  14. I stopped supporting Black men and boys about 2 years ago. They think success is a zero sum game. They view Black women as the competition and will use racial loyalty to sucker Black women into supporting them. Thankfully, more Black women are becoming hip to their, poor downtrodden oppressed Black man, hustle. Educated Black men are the worse. Most of them wouldn’t even have PhD’s if it wasn’t for the support of their female relatives. Since so many black women are racial loyalty bots and will support Black men and boys no matter what they do; there is no need for Black men to ever return the favor.

  15. It’s seems like a lot of Willie Lynch going on right now. I am so saddened by this position and reaction. Black men have a lot of issues including sexism permeating their souls. But, what is going on with this protracted reaction? I understand the venom to a degree. I don’t understand the reaction of some women who deem supporting Black men and boys a fools errand. Could our mental energies be put toward making the program better? Is the goal to carve out a piece and ensure that Black/brown women and girls get an equal share–an equal emphasis? Is there any disparity between male and female success in the Black/brown community? Should we address the differences, if so how can we do it fairly–so as to avoid alienating Black/brown women? Should Black women really no longer support Black men? Should Black men then stop supporting Black women. What are the goals for this. If a Black woman supports this program is she a fool brainwashed by Black male hegemony? Are there women advocating that feminist readings and narratives are included with whatever curriculum is created to (in some way) address the issue of sexism and patriarchy. What is the end game here? It just feels a lot like Willie Lynch right now. Our best and brightest are attempting to destroy one another intellectually for what gain? What are the degrees for? Why are we reading all these books, writing all these papers? How can we target resources to address a significant need why also addressing other significant needs? Is that even possible in this environment or conversation. I fear we are all lost in our own intellectual fog, a sad day all around.

  16. Professor Devon Carbado noted that Black males have a privileged victim status.
    The Gendered Construction of Black Racial Victimhood:
    “…Heterosexual Black men occupy a privileged victim status in antiracist discourse…”
    “…A central project of antiracist discourse is to reveal the extent to which Black men are victims of a “racist criminal justice system.…”
    “…Nevertheless, as a result of this focus on Black men, without a similar focus on Black women, Black men are perceived to be significantly more vulnerable, and significantly for “endangered” than Black women…”
    “…Consider the discourse supporting the establishment of all African American male academies…the discourse about these academies often ignore the degree to which Black girls are burdened by racism, discards the particular difficulties with which Black girls are confronted…”
    “…The focus on Black boys and not Black girls creates the false impression that the educational status of Black female adolescents is such that they are not in need of these kinds of academies, or that, if they are in need of such academies, in a zero sum political world their needs have to be subordinated to the perceived needs of Black male adolescents…”
    From “Black Men on Race, Gender, and Sexuality: A Critical Reader” Edited by Devon Carbado, 1999
    Devon Carbado is a Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law

    1. I find this agreement of black male victim status interesting and incomplete, because the black male victim has become perpetrator ,collaborator and facilitator of his and our oppression [ internalised oppression/self -negation within a white racist system designed to destroy him]and this goes for Black women as well[ black women collaboration in raising unconscious /white identified -black males and females],

      Nevertheless! We are one [MBUNTU] from one body ,when he destroys her[Black women] ,he destroys himself, this is a collective/spiritual effort for liberation.
      The white woman in her fight for liberation has shown that white women never stop supporting their sexist /racist /capitalist- fathers, sons,brothers, they have helped to maintain the white hegemony/white power structure. African people against SELF GENOCIDE, don’t have the luxury to stop working as a people,even with those family members that will deny us, we have to handle them with a very long spoon,[ they are our children relatives!!] but when the S**t hits the fan, negros always come running to the African conscious progressives for help…We as African in amerikkka have to analyse all issues related to the african within historical context, however personal as political, Black women have to be the..” Ones We Have Been Waiting For”.. LOVE OURSELVES BY CARING and KEEPING OURSELVES SAFE … raiseup!! our Black woman consciousness and self respect .

  17. This was damn good. It actually reminds me of something I wrote a few months ago (http://theblacktongue.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/is-rap-really-black-peoples-cnn/) about how rap is thought of as black people’s CNN, which I thought of after listening to a dream hampton interview. In both instances, black women’s experiences and concerns are actively sidelined, despite women ALWAYS showing tremendous support for men.

    Also, thanks for the link to the tone fallacy!

  18. This is both a superb and necessary piece of writing. I think it was Erica Brazelton who started the #blackpowerisforblackmen hashtag on Twitter. And I can’t disagree. We (as in black men) are constantly failing black women. This “I’m alright, Jack” mindset is nothing short of embarrassing. We need to do so much better than this.

  19. I don’t think we should deny brothers getting this attention. My problem, actually, is that you would deny the brothers getting this attention, yet lump sisters with Latinas to get attention. Huh? Latinas have fathers present in their lives. They have a real connection to their heritage and country. Stop all of the Black and Brown rhetoric. Latino leaders do not include us in their quest for La Raza.

    1. HIDDEN COLORS;I have to direct you to fact that there is more Africans in JUST TWO Spanish speaking-Latin American countries of Brazil, Salvador then the Nation state of Nigerian and Sierra Leone combined ,In total there are some 90 million people African descent in South and Central Americas and Spanish Caribbean, but They are living in an apartheid/Jim-Crow conditions- state ,oh yes!! 50 years behind us in Civil rights, these black sisters and brother are watching us and our gains as Black people and trying to emulate our liberation theories in civil rights , for one they are dropping the Spanish/ Creole racial ID for Designation of Afro-Latino,They unification of the Africans in USA and the Africans in the southern Hemisphere is the Next wave of Black liberation Movement in the Western Hemisphere and those white Hispanics know it and thats is why they do not let us even see, or communicate with them, but the unification is in the works…don’t confuse the white identified Hispanics with the African Latinos /Afro-Latinos. Go to AUTURO SCHOMBERG LIBRARY NY.NY

      Halima inPHILLY

  20. Thank you for posting this. Working in academia and especially psychology has been a constant experience of in your face black male centered patriarchy that has never failed to leave me winded, depressed, empty and furious all at the same dam time. I have no answer as to how is it we read the same books and understand the way oppression works, yet BM continue to walk away with their thirst for patriarchy privilege uninterrogated. I love how you explain that that (ultimately violent) thirst which black women confront from black men on a personal and social level is an essential component of the chains that keep us both down. SMH. I am exhausted and have, ironically, called on my white sisters to take up this cause (the good ones). Black men struggle less when it comes from an ideal. #shadeintended Take care of yourself. Talking about this openly is a dangerous thing. On one side you (we) are in danger of excise from the community in a variety of ways and in co-option by the dominant discourse on the other. This bridge called my back is real life.

  21. I will happy say this is the calibre of feminist critique I am expecting from this site, not a review of how ms bey***ce* is a Feminist!! HELL -F**KING!! no way!!!!, thats the biggest BS hype in history, you can give REAL HISTORICAL CONTEXTUALIZED ,BLACK WIMIN ,who have done the grassroots work, struggled in the trenches,as well as a more Radical feminist /womanist analytical perspective, and I will continue to read, enjoy and learn, Give Bell Hooks a shout out,Wari Maathai Angela Davis, Sunni Paterson, old-school:Darlene Clarke, Audre /Zami/Lourde,Grace Boggs,Asian.Islamic wimin collectives ,all of whom real radical wiminst thinkers, social liberation theorist and activist, KEEP IT REAL!! don’t try to redefine anti Patriarchal / male domination and sexual opposition with commercialized and non threatening caricatures of women fight for real change and being jailed and killed for it ,there is no comparison.
    Halima in Philly

    1. We’ve always managed to do both kinds of critique here and we will continue to. We are they ‘Crunk’ feminist collective after all. Thanks for reading.

  22. #panthersblog
    Im a high school student. We have been studying various blogs and this one stuck out to me the most. We as females had been the back bone of our men. We put more effort into them to ensure their success. No attention seems to go towards the females. We must do the work, ensure the family is secure, then stand strong as an independent woman. All these organizations are produced only for our men in disregard that we suffer as well while trying to be the rock

  23. To combat your rhetoric and propaganda about the Trayvon Martin matter let make sure you get the facts right;
    “On voter registration forms, George Zimmerman identified himself as Hispanic, as did his mother. His father, Robert, listed himself as white on voter registration forms. Zimmerman’s mother, Gladys, is originally from Peru.”

    Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/race-issues-trayvon-martin-case-black-amp-white-article-1.1052622#ixzz30aQjUozj

    So much for your claim;
    “These are alarming times. Times that would make Ida B. Wells weep. Over these many months, as I have watched the failure to convict both Trayvon Martin’s and Jordan Davis’ killers, I have worried. Worried because I know that when African-American boys are being killed with impunity by white people this triggers every kind of deeply held race trauma that African-Americans have. We circle the wagons. We fight fiercely to protect our beloved boys. We demand their right to grow into men. And we should.”

    I’m not saying the killing was right, I am saying you need to be factual in your reporting lest you create further tensions.
    Or maybe that’s what you are trying to do, increase tensions so more people of all races are killed..

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