I decided to begin a five-part examination into the ways patriarchy expresses itself specifically within the context and confines of Black America. I believe this needs addressing, primarily from the mouth of a Black man to the ears of Black men. We are the ones perpetuating the gendered violence that black women must endure with our expected silence of them, even as we make no collective efforts to end the injustice against them. I surveyed Black women on what they wished Black men collectively understood about patriarchy in order to gain insight on what I should focus on. I was blown away at both the volume and the depth to which patriarchy actually extended. Before I get into some of the excellent insights provided by these women, I would like to take a moment to provide a basic definition of patriarchy for those who may be unfamiliar.
The sociological definition of patriarchy is as follows: a social system in which family systems or entire societies are organized around the idea of father-rule, where males are the primary authority figures. A more expanded understanding of patriarchy, and the fashion in which I wish to discuss it, is found when one looks at the idea of a society which is built on the premise that men should optimally be the ones in charge. America is one such society and, in a more controlled viewpoint, Black America as a whole rarely delineates from this ideal.
As explained here: “A patriarchal society consists of a male-dominated power structure throughout organized society and in individual relationships. A patriarchy, from the ancient Greek patriarchs, was a society where power was held by and passed down through the elder males. When modern historians and sociologists describe a “patriarchal society,” they mean that men hold the positions of power: head of the family unit, leaders of social groups, boss in the workplace and heads of government.”
I believe this needs addressing, primarily from the mouth of a Black man to the ears of Black men. We are the ones perpetuating the gendered violence that black women must endure with our expected silence of them, even as we make no collective efforts to end the injustice against them.
When asked about the subject, Black women generally expressed the idea that the ways Black men oppress them is not at all different from the ways that White men oppress them. They believe that:
- Black men should listen to the lived experiences of Black women without debates on those experiences.
- Patriarchy is a system of emotional, physical, and spiritual violence towards women.
- Gay Black men should know they are not exempt from expressing anti-Black woman sentiments.
- Black women don’t have to choose between being Black and being a woman because they are simultaneously both at the same time and thus face double the weight in the context of their existence in America.
- Black women should have to have their humanity conditioned upon the relationship of other Black women to Black men, because their humanity should be enough for Black men to respect them outright and,
- Black women are not sluts for expressing their sexual nature with whoever they choose to and that “body counts” are only another tool used by Black men who adhere to Patriarchy to oppress Black women with.
There was also a discussion on patriarchy’s oppression of men in general, and Black men in particular, within the Black American cultural conceptualization of patriarchy. Patriarchy does not only keep Black women in a particular place, space or context. It does the exact same to Black men, prescribing rigidly imposed gender roles which serve to instruct men that they cannot cry or they are weak. Also, patriarchy insinuates that men should not want a woman who cannot cook because cooking is an expected role for women, which implies that men should wait for a woman to cook, thus demeaning both men and women at the same time with the same set of warped expectations along the gender lines.
In addition to this, the general consensus of patriarchy is that it frowns on any hint of softness or sensuality from men towards other men. This irrational fear of the gay Black man exposes a critical flaw which assigns less value to femininity. This is further exposed in the way that patriarchy demands the subservience of women, even if they are more qualified to lead themselves.
Patriarchy does not only keep Black women in a particular place, space or context. It does the exact same to Black men, prescribing rigidly imposed gender roles which serve to instruct men that they cannot cry or they are weak.
Patriarchy reduces women as things to be used and does not allow for their humanity. Patriarchy also allows the rampant sexual abuse of both Black girls and Black boys, especially by members of the opposite sex, because the system tells us that boys and men have a “natural inclination” towards sex and therefore cannot be raped or violated. This system also allows the sexual abuse of girls and women because it is expected for women to be dismissed as “lying because sex wasn’t what they expected.” First and foremost, our understanding of sex is not filtered through the lens that consent should be established. Sex, as established under patriarchy, is an extension of the male ego which is why there are so many experiences of women rejecting men’s advances that end with verbal and physical assault. Men view rejection as a refusal of their masculinity because that’s how we’ve established it within the framework of our society.
Trapping Black men in a gold plated prison does not mean it is not still brutal towards us. This information is something we have to learn for ourselves, particularly as we work towards the ultimate liberation of Black women from this system which constantly has our boots on their necks. Patriarchy removes our humanity just as it dehumanizes Black women and forces them into a social position which is the antithesis of a true revolution. Even as we watch the police brutalize and kill Black men, it does not excuse our silence concerning the oppression of Black women. Our absence at marches for Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Natasha McKenna and many more is inexsusable, because without Black women amplifying our collective pain we would not have such a powerful movement for Black lives as we do right now.
Although patriarchy also negatively impacts Black men, the brunt of its force is placed squarely on the backs of Black women. Its impact on Black men is only felt peripherally because patriarchy, as it functions in Black America, is the result of centuries of White Supremacist and cultural violence on Black structures and families. Patriarchy is inherently male and man-centric. The concerns, experiences and frustration of women, and as it pertains to this discussion, Black women, are placed on the back-burner and dismissed wholly by Black men because we are repeatedly stressed to focus on the issues of Black men first.
Patriarchy reduces women as things to be used and does not allow for their humanity.
This plays itself out in several instances, most notably in the discussion of the school-to-prison pipeline which nearly always centers the marginalization and criminalization of Black boys by the larger society, but generally never even mentions Black girls. Black girls are six times more likely than White girls to be expelled or suspended from school. If there is indeed an attack on our children, it is more than likely just as gendered as the mass incarceration system which actually locks up Black women at a higher proportional rate than Black men. Even with the Obama administration’s efforts to fix the education system and support Black/inner city youth, Black girls were essentially told “wait your turn while we get the boys on track first.”It was not until last month that there was a caucus created specifically to address the unique issues and struggles of Black girls and women in America.
There are a number of obstacles on the road to the eradication of patriarchy in the African American experience. They largely take up the form of institutions such as churches, schools, and the financial industry. Churches tend to couch patriarchy deep inside their religious rhetoric and repeatedly insist that women cannot preach, cannot pastor, and cannot be deacons. They generally reinforce the idea that leadership is the exclusive domain of men and that women who aspire to any kind of leadership within the church must be doing something wrong or outside of the norm. There’s also the problem of gendering of God. God generally is conceptualized in the masculine and essentially any attempts to re-gender God in the feminine are met with scrutiny and/or scorn from the faithful. The question I have is, “what actually changes if God is a woman?”
When it comes to school, teachers tend to ignore or outright dismiss the talent and ability of Black girls, suspecting them of cheating which can lead to depriving them of access to gifted and talented programs or removing their eligibility from AP or dual credit classes. In the financial industry, Black women who run businesses are the least supported demographic by banks or other money lending organizations. This flies in contraction to the fact that Black women are the most successful business owners in America. Patriarchy and misogynoir are equally responsible as Black men do not start businesses as often or as successfully as Black women, yet still receive grants or loans largely due to the idea that Black men will be able to pay it off.
To eradicate patriarchy, Black men will have to remove ourselves from the center of the conversation, from the center of the room, and from the center of the “default” in discussions of the marginalization of Blackness.
To eradicate patriarchy, Black men will have to remove ourselves from the center of the conversation, from the center of the room, and from the center of the “default” in discussions of the marginalization of Blackness. Until we learn how to effectively take back seats to Black women, this system will continue to control their lives. We will have to remove our feelings when Black women are talking about their experiences with Black men, especially when the discussion is about how we contribute to their oppression and subjugation. We will have to stop interrupting them with our incessant cries of “not all men” and we should listen when they tell us how we continue to destroy them while saying we love them.
The eradication of patriarchy will inevitably lead to a better and a more fair society. A society where we do not overvalue men while devaluing women and one in which women will they are truly on equal footing with us. But, it will take us working to actively dismantle our privilege in the same way we collectively call on White Americans to do the same. It is my sincere hope that this series is the first step in getting Black men to recognize and grapple with our privilege.