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Friday, February 3, 2023

Make Black Women and Girls’ Lives Matter More

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In the wake of another police killing of an unarmed African-American in Chicago and the acquittal of the officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore the importance of the Black Lives Matter Movement is crystal clear.  As I have mentioned in previous columns, rather than a fluke, police killings of African-Americans are a regular occurrence that reflect America’s racial hierarchy and African-Americans continued subordination within it.  However, African-American subordination is not limited to issues of race.  African-American women and girls face individual and group discrimination across American society and within African-American communities because of their gender daily and we need an effective movement to change it. 

The consequences are greater impoverishment, less wealth and fewer opportunities in management and the professions for Black women despite their steady and impressive educational achievements over the last decade. Within African-American communities, gender dominance means Black women are denied leadership opportunities they are more than qualified for as well the support they need when they get them. Moreover, sexual assault and violence as well as domestic abuse continue to disrupt the lives of far too many Black women and girls. Studies place the percent of Black women who have experienced some type of sexual assault between forty and sixty.  Although all of these criminal incidents have not been perpetrated by Black men, most have and yet this issue and other challenges unique to Black women and girls get short shrift in our discussions of community priorities. 

In the same way, the broader society neglects issues particular to Black women and girls.  From the media to politics and from corporate America to the church, Black women are pressed into support rather than lead roles.  Black women are as capable if not more so than any other persons in our society.  Society’s continued denial of this on a daily basis is an outrage that warrants…no demands immediate attention.  Black women are not unique in this experience.  White women, Latinas, Native, Asian and Pacific Island women all know the sting of male dominance.  These society wide inequities necessitate our collaboration across race, language and religious groups.

In Black organizations and institutions we need to prioritize the empowerment of Black girls as well as boys and be more intentional and zealous about fighting against gender discrimination in employment, civic organizations and our religious bodies.  Sexual violence and domestic abuse perpetrated against Black women can no longer be ignored or avoided as taboo topics. When Black men or boys harm Black women and girls we are all injured and diminished. We all then have a stake and a responsibility to end this through education, accountability and other means of prevention. Breaking silence and ending traditions that shame girls and blame them for their victimization stand out as critical steps on the path to ending these behaviors.

In the same way, to replace gender dominance with justice we must fight against traditions, practices and ideas that justify and support discrimination against women.  We Black men especially have to recognize our own role in limiting opportunities for Black women.  Our biases and stereotypes held about Black women do a disservice to our communities and inhibit progress for all of us.  Further, those of us in positions of authority have an even greater responsibility to mentor, encourage and support women in their development as well.

While some may think that Black women’s academic success has ended the inequities Black women face relative to Black men that does not hold up to scrutiny. At comparable economic levels Black women fall below Black men.  At the highest echelon, Black men have more wealth and income than Black women and at the lowest levels Black women face greater poverty than Black men.  At the middle level there is much greater parity but because Black women continue to bear greater responsibility for raising children and carrying for the elderly even that is illusory.

We are far too silent and far too complicit as a community and a society in maintaining gender injustice. It is past time to dismantle gender dominance and to replace it with gender justice for all.

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