Ridin’ and Dyin’: An Open Letter to African-American Men

I like to think of myself as a lover of African-American men. It’s hard not to. Indeed, pledging my love and allegiance to your plight is treated as a sacred tenet of being a conscious/intellectual African-American woman. My commitment to you is informed by both my awareness of our shared history in this nation and my interactions with African-American males in my personal life. We share the bond of being the only group of people brought to this nation as chattel slaves, kept in that condition for centuries. Though the intersection of race and gender causes a divergence in our experience, I’ve often felt that I must be sensitive to and supportive of you. African-American women have been the original ride or die chicks, the Bonnie to your Clyde, down from day one. We were chained to you in the hold of slave ships and stood next to you slashing sugarcane and picking cotton. We wrote letters to presidents to protest you getting lynched and sat next to you in pews when our churches were bombed. We’ve marched and picketed when you’re beaten and racially profiled. Whenever anyone dares to insult you in my presence, to tell me that the worst stereotypes of you are actually true, I eviscerate them. I will bring the muthafuckin’ ruckus for you. I stay ready and willing to defend both your humanity and your honor. However I confess that I often feel quite hurt and disappointed, because I don’t feel that you are as ready and willing to defend me.

The repugnant Harriet Tubman Sex tape skit put out by Russell Simmons-and the manner in which it has been defended- is the latest chapter in sisters’ being clowned publicly by brothers. Events like this hurt and wound me in a way that the antics of the likes of Rush Limbaugh never can. I know that African-American women have no worth and value to mainstream America. After all, we were only brought here to serve as a source of labor. But to be demeaned and attacked by you, the one who has endured so much with me, the one who is my reflection, is the deepest betrayal.

I think of all the misogynoir in corporate hip-hop and how you defend it, of how you shout us down when we attempt to discuss Colorism and Sexism within our own community. I think of the way you attack us for being too strong and angry-without realizing the context, that we often must be this strong and angry in defending ourselves because you don’t defend and rep us. I think of how often I hear you criticize and judge African-American women for the choices they make regarding their hair-yet refuse to call out both the Eurocentric standards of beauty of this society and our own community for internalizing them. I think of the ease with which you can enumerate our “flaws” for the world: we’re too fat, too dark, too strong, too willful and we don’t know our place.

But through all of this, I’ve still rolled with you. For so long I’ve done what you asked, made the sacrifices that you said were necessary for the advancement of the race, and some of my sisters have suffered dearly for that. From the sisters in the hood to those in the manicured cul de sacs, we’ve done what was expected. I recall how African-American women were pushed to the side once the Civil Rights Movement took off, our contributions written out of the official story. I think of the African-American women who have suffered rape and/or domestic violence at the hands of African-American men, yet told they shouldn’t press charges because of how unfair the system is to brothers!

I’m expected to put you first, and I’ve often done that. But through our shared history I am so hurt, and I now wonder: is it worth it? Is the day going to come where you hold me down as fiercely? After all this ridin’ and dyin’ that African-American women have done I must pose a question. To flip a phrase used by Lauryn Hill: ‘brother who I have to be to gain some reciprocity’?

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A native Seattleite and East Coast transplant, I have been interested in politics, religion, and race from the day I saw “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on the bookshelf belonging to my BFF’s mom back in 1991. While my zealotry has thankfully diminished with maturity, I remain the deep thinking, passionate, and humble woman I have always been.

4 thoughts on “Ridin’ and Dyin’: An Open Letter to African-American Men

  1. This post is quite thought-provoking. I have never dated an African-American man but for years, I have heard so many AA men gripe about how Black women will, without hesitation, sell them out and call them out to be criticized and ridiculed on a public scale, calling them deadbeats, calling them out for having prison records and accusing them of being on the down-low. In Black films, we see the portrayal of an incredibly domineering, brow-beating wife who calls her man every name in the book and this is considered humourous while the reverse would be abusive.

    Both sides have their stories to tell. Perhaps it’s time for both genders to come together, leave behind the war wounds and figure out ways to build each other up instead of consistently breaking one another down.

    1. I certainly agree that yes, there are AA women who browbeat AA men as well. When it comes to doing it publicly though I still maintain that brothas take the cake. Degrading black women has become a key element of hip-hop, an art form dominated by AA men. When black men have power in Hollywood they barely even recognize the existence of AA women in what they produce, making brown and dark-skinned AA women invisible. And let’s not even get started on how hostile
      AA men are to discussing Feminism and the male privilege they enjoy.

  2. Yes, both sides do have a lot of members within their groups that attack the other side, but just like the “racism” expressed against by Black people against White people, the anger and prejudice expressed by Black women against Black men is a anger of response. It’s the anger of a marginalized group against the group that has more power over them and oppresses them. The prevailing culture is one in which Black women are marginalized, exploited, and mistreated, the “angry Black woman” persona is a direct response and defense from that culture, a culture that Black men help to perpetuate both actively and by their inactivity in resisting it. So while I do agree that both Black men and women have to come together, it is far more on the hands of Black men to end this toxic culture of misogyny against Black women in particular than it is for Black women to end the resentful and hard attitudes that begin to form with some of them as a direct result of this.

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