Today has been a hard one for me to wrap my head around.
It started off when the American Film Institute, or AFI, cancelled its upcoming screening of “Birth of a Nation” with director and star Nate Parker. This prompted tweets such as this one, from famous documentary producer Tariq Nasheed:
Just when I had finally collected myself enough to stop that subtweet I knew my fingers were itching to type out, I saw this from Nasheed:
I was angry to say the least. I won’t lie. Part of me wanted to say something, but I knew it would be useless until I could figure out what I could say in a coherent fashion.
That became significantly easier once I ran a quick Google search of Nasheed and found that he’s basically only interested in dismantling white supremacy as long as straight Black men get to call the shots. Women? Gay men? Transgender individuals? There’s no room for them in his worldview.
For Tariq Nasheed ― and many other people, I think ― the Nate Parker case is a dichotomous choice. You can do the right thing, support Parker’s film because it’s beneficial to the African-American cultural narrative, or you can do the wrong thing, which is get caught up in gender issues. Feminism, in his perspective, is a distraction from the real struggle against white supremacy.
Black women don’t get to make that choice.
The Black women in my life have been saying this for as long as I’ve known them, but apparently them saying it didn’t mean a whole lot to uninterested ears, so perhaps a different iteration of this might break through.
Black women do not get to choose between their Blackness and their womanhood.
Malcolm X was right: Black women are the most disrespected people in America. There is pressure from people like Nasheed to abandon the cause of gender equality in order to solely focus on their Blackness, and there is pressure from feminists to abandon their cause of racial equality in order to solely focus on their gender.
This model of Black liberation functions like an a la carte menu, in which people are supposed to pick and choose what types of freedom they would prefer and are limited to a selection or two. That’s not what life is like. There is no picking and choosing which identities you would like to focus on or live out at any given time. It’s not as if you can just turn off oppression or subjugation ― you have to live with the full weight of your identities.
Statements which overtly condemn the subjugation of an entire group of people and subtly reinforce the silence of units within that collective don’t seek to dismantle systems of dominance. They want a power transfer, from one authority to another. It’s an Animal Farm-esque brand of equality: Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.
Issues facing diverse populations are not distractions, or engineered conspiracies designed to silence dissent. The lizard people running America did not, at their bi-monthly meeting at the Marriott Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, decide to concoct a devious plot to destroy the credibility of Nate Parker. He did that all by himself, and with devastating efficacy. These are the effects of multi-layered, multi-dimensional networks of oppression that target people in different ways.
Leslie Jones knows the weight of this. When hackers leaked private photos of her onto the Internet ― after she had been bullied off Twitter by trolls corralled together by Angry White Man In Chief Milo Yiannopoulos ― users took glee in trashing her body, looks, and sexuality. Yiannopoulos thought the whole thing was hilarious. Not only is the leak an affront to Jones’ privacy, it is clearly targeted towards her Blackness and her womanhood. It is, for all intents and purposes, a hate crime, designed to humiliate and belittle her all because of who she is.
When you have Harry Belafonte and Jesse Jackson and two cowardly directors who refused to give their names to Variety say that they believe the public outcry over Nate Parker’s violent acts is engineered to stop the success of a film, that is rape culture. That is supremacy at the expense of women, including and especially Black women. That is a clear message that if you are assaulted by a powerful Black man, you’d better never say anything about it because you will automatically be dismissed. You have diverted the power flow away from the powerful and you are a nuisance. You will be the subject of what Tariq Nasheed calls “Bed Wenching” because you picked the wrong target, and that target will use whatever power they have in whatever identities they hold to drive you into the ground.
When a two-hour film is of greater communal importance than the depressingly common violence faced by so many women, distilled into one instance, that is a sacrifice that is forced on Black women. It’s not right. And it must stop.
When we fight for an end to systems of oppression, we fight for everyone. There is no checklist of criteria that you must meet to benefit from a better society. Even if you are a terrible person, you are not prohibited from reaping the benefits of collective change. Ideally, those who support and encourage systems of oppression have those benefits limited by virtue of their contradictory character, but they will reap some advantage along the way. An end to racism and white supremacy cannot come for a certain subsection of the population, while the rest continue to live under oppression. It doesn’t work that way.
I’ll clearly never know what it’s like to be a Black woman. I get that. I don’t speak from a place of authority through lived experience in either of those identities, nor do I pretend to. But I do speak from a place of authority on the other side of the coin: a silent oppressor, benefitting from the practices and structures embedded in white supremacist patriarchy. And I know that dismantling them takes work hard, uncomfortable work, that doesn’t always have a tangible end product. But the results, ephemeral as they are, are worth it.
Equalizing power dynamics between men and women won’t end racism. Giving power to Black men doesn’t end patriarchy. It’s hard to try and take on all of these issues at once, but it’s incredibly necessary. Unless we decide to fight on behalf of everyone, we will never overcome these oppressive realities. And as for Mr. Nasheed, who wanted to know today where feminists calling out Nate Parker were when Leslie Jones was hacked? We’re right here. Always have been. Always will be.