For most of my adult life I’ve been a journalist and writer blessed, or possibly cursed, to witness some of the worst things imaginable done by human beings to one another—particularly women—in places that most people can conjure only in their imaginations, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, post-genocide Rwanda, Colombia, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
I am also a black man with a teenage daughter, someone who has worked both in the gender-equality and sexual- and gender-based violence-prevention spaces, as well as the racial-justice community. Faced with the real possibility that the next four years will truly be “Winter in America,” I keep coming back to a question I’ve been asking myself for a long time now: Why isn’t gender equality held as a core component within the racial-justice struggle?
Now, I clearly recognize that within the leadership of movements such as Black Lives Matter, and other efforts focused on racial inclusion and opportunity, gender-related policies are increasingly discussed and often included in formal platforms. Not only are the founders of Black Lives Matter women, but more often than not, initiatives dealing with criminal justice and police brutality include black women in prominent positions of leadership, if they’re not the driving forces.
Still, so much of the outrage, public demonstrations, political hand-wringing and television punditry regarding race in this country focuses overwhelmingly on the condition of black men who have either been shot by law-enforcement officers, incarcerated, harassed, professionally or politically disrespected, or maybe dehumanized in some other particularly American way. Even within the black community, I see little uproar or few, if any, marches when a black woman is the focus, unless she has lost a black man in her life to one of the aforementioned wrongs (e.g., Mothers of the Movement), or in the cases of Sandra Bland and Korryn Gaines.
One of the key reasons is accountability. There are plenty of black folks who support women who are victims of violence, disenfranchisement, discrimination or other abuse—or who are these women—and yet are unable to call it out publicly in the same way that it’s done for black men. Until the violence and oppression exacted on women of color is recognized and condemned with fervor and attention that is equal to—nay, greater than—what is given to men, I don’t see how racial justice and equality will ever become a reality. Acceptance or tolerance of the harmful journeys that black women endure must be stopped, regardless of how it looks to “air dirty laundry in front of white folks” or the risk of “losing another black man to the system.”
As has been the case for too many years, black women endure rates of domestic violence, intimate-partner violence, poverty, undereducation, rape, suicide and homicide greater than those for white women and most other ethnic groups, save for indigenous and some Asian-American communities. While black women make up only 8 percent of the country’s population, more than 20 percent of the deaths resulting from domestic and intimate-partner violence are of black women, making it one of the leading causes of death for black women between the ages of 15 and 35, mainly at the hands of black men.
To be sure, sexual and gender violence is a matter of equality, especially for women of color, because when women are compelled to live under threat of violence and other forms of abuse, it diminishes their ability to create thriving and safe homes for their families, inhibits their chances of obtaining and keeping higher-paying jobs, often leads to housing displacement, and increases their chances of contracting sexually transmitted diseases or other health ailments.
Speaking truth to power about violence and inequality within the black community as part of our larger quest for racial justice isn’t vilifying black men but, rather, is creating greater space for those of us who openly declare ourselves feminists to ally with black women on the issues that specifically affect them, as well as hold our brothers accountable to one another. As a Liberian young man once told me, “When you rape a woman, you rape an entire village.” Every member of the black community, directly or otherwise, is affected when black women are stymied physically, emotionally or culturally in achieving their greatest potential and purpose.
My daughter is me: stubborn, passionate, moral. More importantly, she’s her mother, her stepmother, her grandmother and her mamita. All of us in collaboration are raising her to see beyond the limits of circumstances or an ever-evolving imagination of what she can do in the world. I want, as she wants, as all the women in her life want for her, equality and nothing less.
In less than two weeks’ time, America will be confronted with two highly momentous but incredibly divergent events in terms of tone, purpose and impact. The first marks the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States of America, a self-styled demagogue; the other, the Women’s March on Washington, is expected to draw more than 100,000 women—and hopefully the men who love and support them—to the capital. As the black father of a daughter, I expect to be there marching with her, and for her.