My mother, my grandmother, and my sister are Black women. I cannot imagine one day being accepted into society as a Black man while they are not afforded this right. Not many educated people would be surprised if I said that Black women are oftentimes the forgotten group when it comes to establishing a right to equality.
Earlier this year, Rebecca Leber of the New Republic discussed how the pay gap between white men and white women is bad, but the pay gap between white men and women of color is much worse. For example, the male-female wage gap between African American women and white men is 64%, while the gap between white women and white men is 22%. Though this is startling information, sadly, it is hardly a surprising statistic.
Now, tie this into the series of race-related events that have taken over the country recently, and you will hopefully realize Black women again have been left behind. It is well known that the many high profile race cases today have caused activists, especially those in the Black community, to rise in unison with the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM). The movement organizes demonstrations and protests against racial profiling, police brutality, and racial inequality in the U.S. criminal justice system.
However, aside from the rare moments when cases like that of Sandra Bland make the news, action is only taken against the issues stated above when Black men have been the victims. The fact of the matter is that, on the surface, the BLM movement stands for the advancement of all Black people in a system, but it might be more specific than that. It might just be a movement against the oppression of Black men, not Black women.
Be it the BLM movement or the Civil Rights Movement, the fight for racial equality has been and remains difficult, especially when the movement stands for much more than one single cause. Therefore, it is not hard to imagine crucial points being left out. As important as it is to make sure not to knock the BLM movement for its efforts in ensuring a much-needed discussion on affirming justice for all Black lives, it is also important that we acknowledge the lack of attention the movement has garnered for the racial injustices which Black women face. The media has shown a tragic number of Black men lost at the hands of police brutality, mass incarceration, and racial profiling; however, what the media does not show, and what Black men often forget to stand for, is the significance of Black women.
Note the importance of President Obama’s visit to a men’s penitentiary in Oklahoma. The event was covered across a bevy of media outlets. It made sense, since President Obama was the first sitting president to ever visit a federal prison. However, as the president made sure to address the lack of opportunity and the stigma these men of color will mostly likely face for minor discretions, it would have been a perfect opportunity to shine light on the concerns uniquely faced by Black women in prison, especially because they are more than three times as likely as white women to be incarcerated.
Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi are the women who founded the BLM movement. I doubt any of them would support a movement which would only lead to racial equality for Black men. However, I argue based on past history that if some of the movement’s methods are not addressed, then the pattern that continually neglects women’s right to the same justices they fight for will lead to a doomed movement that once again will leave women behind.
Perhaps it's the continued ignorance of the sexist patriarchy, but Black men and our society as a whole cannot desire racial progress without acknowledging the disadvantages Black women face as well as their consistent leading role in a movement that disproportionately focuses on Black men.
There is no single solution to publicizing more of the injustices related to women than men. However, if we made a greater effort to include the sentiment that women of color are disadvantaged as well, it can go a long way. For instance, in an interview for MSNBC, the Mayor of Philadelphia mentioned how excited he was for the programs his team planned which would address the issues that men of color face. Yet, it was the interviewer who reminded him to not forget about the women. Examples like this should serve as an astute reminder that though Black men face concerns like racial profiling and police brutality, which indeed deserve society’s attention, it is so easily forgotten that women also face these plights.
Harriet Tubman, Dorothy Height, Mamie Till, Rosa Parks and Ella Baker were all dedicated and passionate leaders who strove to mobilize change for racial equality—and they were all women. However, only MLK has a national holiday in his name and receives the general recognition of being a leader in advancing the rights and agenda of the African American community. Furthermore, male civil rights leaders are disproportionately spotlighted in textbooks. A possible solution to publicizing more of the injustices related to women is to make sure credit for a movement's progress is appropriately given to the women behind it. This ensures at the very least that Black women become part of a very important dialogue.
The BLM movement’s goal is to require white America to affirm Black people and elevate their livelihoods so as to be comparable to their white counterparts. However, the movement must remember to turn the mirror on itself for the sake of Black women.
It might be easy to trace the historical oppression of Black men, but it is harder to realize the negligence of the needs of Black women. Black women have constantly strived for racial equality, yet they have never had the chance to reap the fruits of their labor. The BLM movement is not supposed to account for everything, and its main purpose does not stand to solve gender inequality. The BLM movement may be spread thin trying to raise awareness on the injustices Black women face, but it would definitely ensure that the sentiment that Black Lives Matter is not only associated with Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, but also with Natasha McKenna and Janisha Fonville. However, if BLM does not draw attention to the injustices dealt to Black women and the contributions of Black women go unnoticed, only Black men stand to be rewarded. If this happens, then perhaps the statement should change from “Black Lives Matter” to “Black Male Lives Matter.”
Ronald Claude, MCAS '16