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.