When it comes to standing up for black women, empathizing with us, and understanding our vulnerabilities, too often black men are not only missing from our side—they’re battling against us.
I’m so tired of black men.
I didn’t want to start with that thought, but there it is.
Before I started writing, I talked this over with a black male friend of mine who encouraged me to write from a positive place. To tell black men what I wish they would be, what kinds of things I hoped they would say and do to show their support for black women. To return to us the same back-breaking, hand-holding, back-rubbing, raise-your-kids, lie-to-the-cops, fight-in-the-streets, work-two-jobs, bail-you-out-of-jail, pray-for-you-all-night and-still-come-home-and-cook support that so many black women offer them.
But I’m tired of black men.
At this point, it’s hard to pin down the where and when this fatigue began. Maybe the domestic violence I witnessed in my own home, sanctioned by the male pastor who convinced my mom that staying and dying was better than leaving. Maybe it was the popular handsome guy in high school who raped a girl I loved dearly, the girl who wept in my arms as I struggled to figure out what to do in a world that always seems to blame us for what men do.
But it’s not that.
It’s possible that these past few weeks have been a tipping point. From the refusal of our President to include women in initiatives that target urban black youth, to men like Boyce Watkins victim-blaming a murdered teenage girl, I’m just done.
A few days before my birthday late last month, ESPN anchor Stephen A. Smith recommended that women avoid provoking men while discussing a case in which a football player was caught dragging his fiancée through a parking lot after beating her unconscious.
Smith was suspended for a week despite a swift apology, but since then I’ve witnessed black men in social networks loudly and belligerently declare that Smith was right. And I’ve watched black women plead, argue, debate, beg, negotiate, and otherwise attempt to explain to these men why using the word “provoke” is so dangerous. How we’ve suffered at the hands of men who insisted that we were the cause of their heavy fists and seething anger.
I asked them: “What would it take for black men to actually have our backs?”
It just seems I’ve grieved for so many black men who’ve lost dreams and lives to the battleground of white supremacy. For Amadou Diallo. For Patrick Dorismond. For Emmett Till. For the Scottsboro boys. For Martin, Malcolm, and Mandela. For Eric Garner. Damn, I sobbed for an hour after watching The Green Mile.
I’ve mourned since childhood, written poems, and shouted rage over these losses of black life and freedom. But no one seems to write plays about Tarika Wilson or Aiyana Jones. Not many people seem to know about Renisha McBride or care what happened to Laporshia Massey. People still talk about Sally Hemings like she was a character in a great romance novel, and everyone seems to forget that oft-trumpeted black civil rights leaders were notorious for their violence and sexual attacks on female comrades.
Who the hell mourns for us but us?
When it comes to standing up for black women, empathizing with us, understanding our vulnerabilities, challenging sexism and misogyny in locker rooms and on the streets, too often black men are not only missing from our side—they’re battling against us.
I’m not saying anything new, nothing that women like Angela Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, Audre Lorde, Ida B. Wells, haven’t already said. But the betrayal of so many black men and their refusal to acknowledge the ways that they participate and perpetuate our oppression, or deny we even suffer oppression at all—it still hurts. Over and over.
When we march, when we cry, when we organize, make trips to jail, send money to inmate deposits, flee from bullets, pay for caskets, or pray in courtrooms—we try not to wonder about whether our men would do the same for us.
Who the hell is marching for Romona Moore? Where’s the goddamn outrage over Kassandra Perkins? Why do so many of these self-identified “good black men” care more about offering support to Stephen A. Smith than Janay Rice?
And why the hell do we have to keep writing thinkpieces to explain this shit?
I’ve become convinced it’s just the way it is. Men will keep hurting and killing women. And other men will keep trying to make us believe it was the woman’s fault. Because “she provoked him.” Because “she stayed.” Because “she left.”
One day, hopefully these men will be more interested in dissuading each other from hurting women than trying to tell us how to stay unharmed by them. Maybe they’ll see beyond themselves and understand the kinds of threats we face everyday. And think deeply about what that means and what causes it.
I guess I’m hoping for empathy. For black men to be better. Not in some economic markers of success manner, but in the get down in the muck and see what we’re dealing with and help us dig out instead of piling it on kind of way. In the same way that my guy friend says he loves black women, that we understand so much of his struggles and hardships, and that he wants to be with someone who just gets it. We want that, too.
But I’m so tired of explaining that.
And for all you men who say I’m not talking about you—well then, I’m talking about your friend, your homeboy, your cousin, the one you kick it with and ignore his misogyny or laugh at his sexist jokes. That friend you watched go after that inebriated girl at the party, who gets a bit rough with his boo sometimes, the one who belittles his wife compulsively. Been friends for years right? You’re still tight?
So, yeah, I’m talking to you, too.
I guess I didn’t do what my friend suggested. I’m not courting or cajoling or persuading black men. I’m not trying to change their minds, because the kinds of folks whose minds I want to change aren’t willing to listen anyway. But this exhaustion is weighty and numbing, soul-wearying and heavy. And so I write.
I’m tired, y’all. Tired.
Khadijah Costley White is an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Find her on Twitter here.