Sometimes I feel as though I need to start referring to myself as a “blackwoman,” one word, so people will stop trying to separate those two parts of my identity. This is a sentiment that has been heavy on my mind these past few months since news of Nate Parker’s old rape case came into the forefront. It was upsetting to see another black male creative, who is making supposedly important media for black people, have a history of mistreating women. The news left me disappointed. However, the online reaction I saw after was what truly devastated me. My timeline was flooded with black men and women (but mostly men) saying the news was false, just another attempt to take the black man down; saying, “bitches lie about rape all the time.” Even worse were the ones who said things such as, “Maybe it’s true, but it doesn’t matter. It was 19 years ago. White men in the entertainment industry do this all the time and no one cares. This movie is more important than that. You need to support your fellow black man!”
Yes. I am black. But ain’t I a woman too?
According to a study conducted by the Black Women’s Blueprint, sixty percent of black girls are sexually assaulted at the hands of black men by the age of 18. That is 3 out of 5 black girls. That is clearly an issue occurring within the black community, deeply affecting black girls. Occurring at the hands of black men, and yet so many people ignore these facts. They say sexual assault is a “women’s issue,” and things such as police brutality are “black issues,” and no one seems to care about the black women standing at the intersection of both. This separation idea makes it easy for black men to brush off Nate Parker’s rape allegations, Bill Cosby’s rape allegations, R. Kelly’s rape allegations. They don’t see rape or sexual assault as something they need to fight against. And their sisters, cousins, mothers, friends-- black girls they don’t know but express solidarity with on the Internet when it benefits them-- are left to defend themselves, alone in the battle.
This isn’t to say only black men are guilty of ignoring the issue. On the contrary, black women are absolutely complicit. Last winter, I spent an hour on Facebook arguing with black people, men and women alike, after posting a status about Bill Cosby. They told me “there was no evidence,” “this was another example of someone trying to take the black man down,” “this was representative of that time period and therefore not a big deal,” etc. Eventually, another black woman said to me, “I don’t care at all about the women who were ““raped.’” She said it just like that, with “raped” in quotes. I cried. Admittedly, I had been crying the majority of the conversation, in both sadness and anger that allegiance to a man who didn’t even have nice things to say about black people had them so willing to throw dozens of women to the wayside. But seeing those words directly, from another black woman, was when I couldn't deal with it anymore. I logged off. There was no use in fighting. I wondered if it was a conscious decision she had made: to put her blackness first, and her womanhood second. I wondered if she had thought about it or simply had been trained to do so. I wondered if she ever doubted herself. I’ve heard women say it before. I’ve heard “I’m black before I’m a woman,” and slightly less often, “I’m a woman before I’m black.” I say neither. In defending boycotts of Birth of a Nation, Aunjane Ellis, who plays a character in the movie said, “You will have black women having to make the choice of Am I going to be black or am I going to be a woman?” I appreciate her support and consideration of the feelings of many women, but I disagree. When I decided not to see the movie, I did not have to make that choice.
I am always black and I am always a woman and I am always both at the same time.
Why do we have to choose? People always want us to. “Feminists” have wanted us to choose. Black men want us to choose. Why can’t we be both?
One of the retorts when defending these black men who have raped women is how white men don’t face repercussions for the same actions. Yes, it is absolutely true that white men get away with things that black men would never be able to do without consequence. There is a long list of white male celebrities who have abused and assaulted women but still have successful careers rather than being publicly shamed like Cosby or Parker. Recently, the story of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer (as the headlines made sure to inform us) who was caught raping a girl behind a dumpster, caught national attention. Despite two eyewitnesses to attest to his heinous action, he was only served with a six month sentence, and got out in three for “good behavior.” Many were outraged by this, and pointed out how if this were a black man, he never would have gotten such a short amount of time. That is something I absolutely believe to be true. However, because so many of the people who shared this were the same black men I saw defending Bill Cosby and Nate Parker (victim-blaming women who are raped, downplaying the act, and more,) I wondered: Were they upset that a woman was raped or just upset that the rapist got less time than they would’ve had they committed the same act?
Yes, white men get away with crimes that black men don’t, but that doesn’t mean we want black men to get away with it too. I don’t want Bill Cosby’s horrendous rape accusations to be ignored. Instead, what I want is for us to give equal treatment to Woody Allen, Sean Penn, and Charlie Sheen. Letting black men who rape women go free, in the way white men often do, is not equality. It simply means that I have the fortune of my oppressors having the same skin tone as me. This comes at the expense of women. It comes at the expense of black women.
I am a blackwoman. I am always black and I am always a woman and I am always both at the same damn time. I am not going to forget that I am a woman and fight for a man who wouldn’t fight for me, all because he’s making a movie that might be important. I am tired of being asked to choose. I am tired of being ignored. I am tired.