I have to admit, as a Black man, when I first heard Protect Black Women, it felt like a punch in the gut. The phrase was unapologetic and read like another attack on Black men created by the social media universe. My blindspot came from my personal journey, like most Black men who have always felt the weight of America’s sins: historical Hollywood portrayals that promoted negative, stereotypical images of us being hypersexual or deadbeat dads; news media stats that highlighted Black male crime rates; and random Karens who’d sick police on us for the fun of it. But having valid feelings does not excuse malicious behavior—whether intentional or unintentional—and being a victim does not disqualify me (or other Black men) from privilege.
Black men are socially conditioned to associate the word “protect” with our physical being. We’ve inherited the idea that our ability to protect our mothers, sisters, wives/partners, and daughters relies only on our physical strength and capabilities. Much of our upbringing came with warnings from Black elders like, “Don’t interfere with another man and woman’s business,” regardless of whether or not that business was abusive. Such statements were meant as a form of protection. However, despite positive intentions, a seed was planted that would prevent a Black male from assisting a Black woman for fear of harm, death, or imprisonment—especially if there was a chance she may return to her abuser. He’s further desensitized by television, film, music and media that disregards the worth of Black women. Unfortunately, the Black man is less likely to challenge the same destructive thinking that helped him survive for so many years.
America’s racially oppressive structure does not allow many spaces of Black comfort, hence the neighborhood barbershop is considered a Mecca for Black male acceptance. Nevertheless, it can also be the birthplace and incubator of Black patriarchy. The sexist overtones toward Black women blend with the same rhetorical frustrations of White America and create a false equivalency. The present, yet silent, Black man ignores hate speech toward Black women for fear of being an outcast. He unconsciously pushes negative narratives of Black women for fear of losing his friend(s) who may turn on and shame him. The silent Black man carries these actions throughout his work life by participating in dangerous groupthink, not defending nor speaking up for Black women coworkers for fear of losing a hard-earned position. He chooses loyalty to himself and other men (black & white) over what is ethically and morally right.
Black men often refuse to see the evils of patriarchy while thinking themselves immune to it. Their treatment of a Black woman based on perceived beauty mirrors the actions of the privileged white male. The societally-deemed unattractive Black woman has her concerns ignored because her physical exterior is of no use. The Black man who views the Black woman’s body for either consumption, bearing children, or both, is the same as the white slave owners of the past. Historically, the Black man’s worth is destroyed and rebuilt through a systematically racist American system that preaches the importance of white legacy through children while using its women for breeding. To recognize a Black woman’s value only as a resource to further a Black man’s lineage diminishes her worth, dehumanizes her, and breeds misogyny.
But the protection of the Black woman is achievable with the destruction of the Black man’s ego. A deep emotional dive has to eliminate past loved ones’ disastrous teachings about the Black woman, and colonizer whiteness cannot be the green light standard for success. The solution is neither absolute nor monolithic, but a continuous journey of positive purpose. The Black woman’s plight does not shame, ignore, nor dismiss the Black man’s. Accountability within Black male circles is a must, and grace is given to those Black men who are willing to do the work. Betterment in the Black community is only attainable through solidarity with Black women and when Black men (myself included) continuously challenge the wrongs of white oppression that benefit us.