They Call Our Feminism Petty: A Response to the Recent Attacks on Black Feminists
"Black Feminism Series: Resistance (A3 Red Poster), Equality (A3 Purple Poster) and Respect (A3 Yellow Poster) | Imkaan."Black Feminism Series: Resistance (A3 Red Poster), Equality (A3 Purple Poster) and Respect (A3 Yellow Poster) | Imkaan. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.
They call our feminism petty. Nate Parker is a rapist and that’s not petty.
One morning I was listening to Power 105.1. The Breakfast Club morning show was on and Charlemange Tha God announced that Nate Parker would be speaking shortly. After a lengthy eye roll, I decided not to change the station. Charlemagne called Nate Parker’s rape incident his “college stupidity”, taking the side that he shouldn’t have to suffer for it now. A lot of Nate Parker supporters, like Charlemagne are trying to diminish his identity as a rapist by calling it “what happened in the past” or Nate Parker’s “college stupidity.” Solidifying rape culture in colleges as normal and acceptable is all this statement accomplishes. Connecting “college rape culture” with youthfulness makes it seem like rape only happens in a college setting among young adults. I even purposefully surround the terminology of “college rape culture” in parenthesis not to ignore its realities but to challenge its misuse when excusing sexual assault or diminishing survivors’ accusations. Just because you talk about the issue does not mean you are helping the issue and in fact you can further validate rapists like Nate Parker.
We also cannot individualize rape without looking at how sexual assault has been used historically to control and oppress women.
Rape and sexual assault are not petty subjects so stop trying to normalize and justify them using it’s the college “rape culture” as an excuse or by saying it happened a long time ago. A Black woman right in this moment is probably being raped because history has not held their rapists accountable since slavery and antebellum America to today’s millennium. Sexual assault can happen to anyone, man, woman, child and by anyone, men, women, relatives, clergy. Some of the highest rates of sexual assault are among the Black community with 60% of Black women experiencing sexual assault at the hands of Black men specifically before they reach the age of 18 according to an ongoing study conducted by Black Women’s Blueprint.
What is difficult for me to understand is why some people think that a Black feminist critique of Nate Parker like this one is petty when the premise is preventing and denouncing sexual assault. Do we complain about minute problems or do people misunderstand and therefore change the narrative of Black feminists? Do Black men hear “man-hating anger?” Does Parker’s production team hear “the silent void of unfilled movie theater seats that hinder their pockets from overflowing with white capital?” Do white people hear “the divisions in the Black community that validate their images of our disordered culture”? Do critics internalize these groups’ judgment and feel threatened by Black feminism?
I hope no one is hearing or internalizing any of these judgments because they are not being said by Black feminists. I cannot speak for all Black feminists because I am sure some are angry and want the box office ratings of Birth of a Nation to plummet. But this is not the point nor the issue at hand. The issue I think is intersectionally two folded; first, sexual assault is rarely talked about in the Black community because of a mythically fear of “bringing down the Black man and therefore bringing down the Black race”. Second, Black feminist, usually the ones voicing the issue of sexual assault in the Black community, are historically the most silenced by society and even other liberation groups silenced because they force society to rethink what is normal and what is the good in this good/bad based world we live in.
What I would respond to accusations of pettiness against Black feminists: don’t call Black feminists petty to silence us and don’t call us petty if you are trying to ignore the problems of rape culture and sexual assault. There exists this myth that Black feminists are dividing the Black community by calling out successful Black men with petty criticism. But there also exists a tendency to ignore the problems Black women are pointing out by creating a narrative that successful Black men emulating whiteness will uplift the Black community and the Black feminists who speak up against them are the problem because they are blocking Black liberation.
I want to resist the narrative that Black Feminism fosters division in the Black community by demonstrating that Black emancipation is dependent on the freedom of all Black people and that includes Black women. If the patriarchal violence at the hands of Black men continue to objectify Black women through rape then the Black woman is not yet free. Solidarity in the Black community can no longer be based on the invisibility of misogynoir, Black women’s pain is valid.
Nate Parker and the Nat Turner movie are just examples of a greater issue. This situation is an easy way to look at this issue and create a conversation that is usually not talked about due to its accessibility or popularity. Ironically, aside from Nate Parker’s acts of misogynoir, his film Nat Turner resembles the cliché slave story centering a Black-male leader. I am in no way undermining the struggles of Nat Turner in his liberation movement nor am I saying do not go see the movie. I am saying that the main stream cinema world only has room for single narrative of Black oppression and that lies within the confines of Black male hold and southern plantation slavery. We rarely see movies about Black women activists of the like Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hammer, or Rosa Parks not even Harriet Tubman, who’s statue by the way is the only Black leader represented in the capital building today. These are my opinions; I have not seen the film nor am I an expert in the cinema world. A recently published list of films Produced, Directed and/or Co-Directed by Black filmmakers of the African Diaspora in the article Honoring Black Resistance Without Supporting Nate Parker really helps put things into perspective.
With this in mind, Black women and their stories are largely unheard when they stand up against rape as a survivor or as a feminist and even when they fight of equal rights and lead the organization of the Montgomery bus boycott; their stories get lost and re-told under wrong narratives. Misogynoir is not petty and it can take the form of rape as well as diminishing Black women’s voices to pettiness.