The Root published an article written by Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele in response to the murder of Michael Brown. Eromosele boldly stated:
Yep, you read that right—I’m touting my privileges as a black female, not my woes, which are typically what are written about and expressed.
I recently encountered (not the first or last) a situation similar to the one in which Eromosele speaks of in her article when I was sitting at the bar with a Black female friend of mine and a White woman came from her table to approach the bartender for a drink. The woman was pretty, blonde, and she had a banging body. I visually acknowledged the woman’s attractiveness and my friend say “She has a great body. I’m going to tell her I like her body.” I asked her not to do it and told her I was going to step outside if she did. She sucked her teeth leaned past me and called out to the woman…I got up and stepped outside for a few minutes and came back. We didn’t discuss the situation however, it was clear that she didn’t understand that as a Black man I didn’t feel comfortable speaking to a strange White woman from a table of all White people specifically about her body. That is something that is generally misconstrued when men do it to women and could turn ugly simply because a Black man says it to a White woman. Maybe it would have turned out okay…I wasn’t in the mood to risk it.
The truth illustrated in the article set Black Feminists on fire and many took twitter chastising and critizing Eromosele for writing the article and The Root for publishing it. However, Eromosele stood her ground and wrote a response to her opposition:
Taking into consideration all of the responses—and recognizing the many harms suffered by black women in this country because of racism, sexism and, while we’re at it, sexual orientation—I still maintain that I enjoy certain benefits as a woman that evade black men.
Many of Eromosele’s protestors missed the most significant point that she made about the nuances of the way Black men survive America through an unspoken code of actions that does not always relate to the way any other person, including Black women, lives by. Eromosele simply acknowledged that even though she is Black, some of the ways of acting and thinking that Black men seemed foreign to her but through a conversation with a friend she realized why they do it and why it has never occurred to her to use those same practices. In short, as a woman she did not have the same dangers and fears that a Black man does.
I cannot imagine that other Black women have not been in situations that Eromosele describes. Instead of discussing and analyzing those situations the focus has been on the term “Black Female Privilege” and the ways in which it did not negate the oppression and disenfranchisement of Black women (no one said it did), which is not the conversation Eromosele is having.
The Black community has a disgusting hubris that is killing our relations with one another, specifically between Black men and Black women. That hubris is that as we struggle for justice and equality we are so afraid of being ignored (although we often are) that we refuse to share the platform of justice with voices that do not first and foremost affirm our victimization. We are always trying to out disenfranchise one another: my struggle is greater than your struggle. I don’t know where we got the idea that only one struggle can exist and that only the greatest struggle will be acknowledged. It is true that at any given time America at large is only acknowledging one struggle at a time and often during that time ignores all others but that is the behavior of the oppressors and not one that we should mirror. What all disenfranchised groups know is that America is powerful enough to oppress us all at once and we have to strand in solidarity with one another despite the nuances that differentiate our struggles.
Terms like privilege have existed as part of the articulation of oppression; however, they are ineffective for describing what we now know and experience. The term privilege on it’s true definition is not a bad word to describe certain entitlements given to some people; however, in the context of liberation and equality struggles it has been given a negative connotation that people from disenfranchised groups cannot relate to. So when combining the term privilege with anything other than White, people from disenfranchised groups get offended. If we get out of our feelings long enough to intellectually consider the point being made, we might find some truth in it. The term “Black Female Privilege” may be provocative but the sentiment being expressed is a fact. And that fact doesn’t make Black women not oppressed or disenfranchised. It just means they aren’t the only ones.
Overall I believe that we should stop trying to describe and define discrimination in coinphrases that negate the complexity of the situation. Furthermore, we should avoid language that describes our struggles in a contrast to another disenfranchised group. Such behavior turns the discussion into a match between the two groups and polarizes the struggle when, in fact, the two are similar and yet distinctly different…and that’s okay. Aren’t we fighting for the equality of ALL people?? Anything less supports and reinforces the system of oppression which thrives our division and assaults upon each other. The presence of one group’s struggle in the conversation does not mean the absence of another’s. So while the system of oppression and survival for Black men may have nuances that do not affect Black women, no one group is more victimized than the other. In the end we are all in the same struggle against discrimination which happens across genders, races, social classes.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man