Diary Note: I remember when I was in my late 20s, I dated a woman who lived in Manchester. We met at a club night in Leeds and decided to keep this going for as long as we could. I would travel up to see her in Manchester, and she loved coming down to London. We would always do dinner and hit the clubs wherever we went, and we seemed to be having a good time. Then one day, she contacted me to say she had not only met someone else, but that he was white, and because her view of black men was that they would never commit to her, that she wanted to end things as she wanted to make things work with this man. She said she’d had a good time. She said that it was time for her to settle down. She said goodbye.
It was Angela Davis who famously said that the challenge for the 21st century was not so much to demand equal rights and opportunities within the machinery of oppression, but rasther to identify and dismantle those structures within which racism was embedded. Her call to arms recognised the challenge for the leader of many of the disadvantaged groups, including those from the civil rights factions and feminists, in their intersecting challenges. So whereas for many activists their fight for a seat at the top table was their main aim, with my reading of Davis, words the fight continued, towards and inner morality which would take apart the next form of oppression, racism, then the next and so on until equity was finally achieved. Where the structures of not only patriarchy, but white supremacy and capitalism were challenged and reformed (Collins & Bilge, 2016). This was the route towards equity, a path completed not now, not within my lifetime, but over the next few generations as these systems gradually come to an end.
This recognising the differing twin paths that the fights for equity might take, sees through the split between their advocates being co-opted and therefore having their ideals watered down by the supremacy’s systemic triumvirate, versus their being able to consistently and non-violently reinvent itself or oneself in the ongoing struggles to self-identify and self-direct. This month’s blog though explores the cost to the racial other when a sibling minority allows itself to be co-opted by one of the other forms of supremacy, and considers how when this sibling fails to recognise, or even consciously engages within, its own complicit nature in said system it can cause considerable pain to the racial other.
I do though have one issue with our conversation yesterday and that is to do with the idea that you can tell me how I should move on from my last relationship. Given it’s taken you this long for you to even consider that I might need an apology for how you’ve treated me, given how often I have had you on the phone complaining when (white) men do not want you, that was horribly unfair and unfeeling to even approach a subject you know nothing about. That sense of entitlement is in part what is your problem, especially as you seem to forget you are talking to a Dr of Psychotherapy how has done many more years work on himself than you, and continues to do so.
In the now infamous film Birth of a Nation (Griffiths, 1915), a film often cited as a recruitment film for the Klan one of the worst scenes comes when a white woman is trapped on a bridge by ‘black savages’ (who were white men wearing black makeup). The scene intimates that these ‘savages’ would then abuse said woman, so instead of subjecting to any form of sexual annihilation the woman decides to throw herself from the bridge and instead sacrifices herself.
Whilst it might be assumed to be a fantasy, this obvious and often real projection of savagery onto the racial other is a trope which has existed for hundreds of years and still exists to this day. For example, in the book To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee, 2004), although the story is often presented as a tale of lost innocence for one young girl who watches her father at work, the intersectional oppressions apparent in the text are just as important. That the story is about the false accusations meted out against a black man by a white woman, a woman who only retracts her story once the accused has already been incarcerated and subsequently lost his life, this says a lot about the power that women have within the patriarchy.
From the sheer numbers of mature white women who venture to the former colonies such as Malaysia, or Jamaica, or Senegal, in search of a younger black buck to play with, to the preponderance of amateur interracial cuckolding porn on numerous websites, the idea white female power over black men, over blackness, is an underdiscussed or barely hidden factor within the annals of white supremacy.
A modern version even emerged around the time that George Floyd was murdered, and came in the guise of the white woman who made a false accusation that a black birdwatcher was attacking her in Central Park, New York (Vera, 2020). What made this particularly impactful was the fact the birdwatcher filmed the whole exchange, his wisdom most probably being driven by a fear for, and thereby saving, his life. This is the fear that black men walk with so much of the time. That the repressed anger of whiteness, when filtered through those who have been left speech-less, position-less, and power-less, by the patriarchy then find their position, strength and voice through the oppression of another.
Supremacy maintains itself by ignoring its own collective morality and by finding another inhuman other to hate.
When people with low self-love, like you, need to feel superior, they will come to someone like me to feel better about themselves. This, for me, is why you keep on telling me that you know more about me than I do about myself. The fact is you don’t. So, I am politely asking you o stop acting as if you do. I find it disrespectful, and dishonest, from a woman who says herself that she struggles to do and be the best she can be, especially when she watches me do the best I can do with my life. If you want to be a friend, then just hear me and support me. If you want someone you can feel superior to then find someone else. I will not be that man.
As a man of colour, as a black man, being on the receiving end of such internalised racial hatred is incredibly difficult. From consciously choosing partners who are white over black because of stereotypical ideas, to the vilification endured by black colleagues for merely speaking out on issues of race and racism, the reinforced racialised injunctions or suggestions that one complies, that one stay in their lane, that one remains exotic, and undemanding is as objectifying as the Stepford Wives stereotype of a mere generation ago. This though has an enormous impact upon the other, an impact which is best explored through the metaphor of it is like forcing a Wakizashi sword through the gut.
Going deeper still, much like the internalised messages that blackness has about our right to be vulnerable, to be in pain and to be depressed, for examples, whiteness also fails to see that we might be sensitive as well. When I wrote in the past about love, the outpouring of concern, surprise, and validation, was not only touching it was also quite surprising. This collective racialised sense that black men should not be impacted by being objectified, by being stereotyped, by being silenced, or falsely vilified denies the fact that we experience so much pain in white environments, so much, so often, so deeply as well.
We are no longer the slaves tied to the auction tree to be whipped to show our worth. We are the artists, the singers, the craftsmen, the psychotherapists, who dare to break these psychological chains which have bound us intergenerationally post slavery, and who want to be the best men we can be for our partners, and our daughters, and our sons (DeGruy, 2005). These are the ways we have always used to express our pain. I would therefore encourage you to hear us.
I’ve watched you do some extraordinary things with (white) men where you seem to have made some strange and I’d say selfish decisions, and whilst I was happy to be a friend and help you pick up the pieces I’m aware that your selfishness has meant that has only been one way. How you’ve treated me as a friend has at times been quite horrific, yet at no point have you ever considered that. It has always been about you.
I should clearly state here that the conversations in italics are not all from white women. They are from women who have bought into the idea of that idealised specialism which is white patriarchy. Whiteness, and patriarchy, these intersectional brothers in arms, have long held sway over the ideals of what it is to be a man, and what one should desire in said heterosexual relationships with masculinity. This incredibly powerful force has hindered, or repressed, the identities not only of those of colour, but of those who identify as LGBTQ+. It has broken boys, leads to the depression of young men, and is the main force behind Toxic Masculinity.
Lastly though, these examples are here to remind my readers, most of whom will work in the helping professions, the majority of whom will be women, of their power in the room with black men. Whilst, to echo the messages you have been fed over generations, you may position us as terrifying, as angry, or as overly sexual, always remember that for most of us the most terrifying people we will ever encounter will probably be you.
So, in order to feel safe we need you to recognise this power, to own it, recognise it, and challenge it, as we need your allyship too.
Collins, P. H., & Bilge, S. (2016). Intersectionality: Key Concepts. Polity Press.
DeGruy, J. (2005). Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s legacy of enduring injury and healing. Joy Degruy Publications.
Griffiths, D. W. (1915). Birth of a nation. Epoch Producing Co.
Lee, H. (2004). To Kill a Mockingbird. Vintage BooksQ.
Vera, A. (2020). White woman who called police on a black man bird-watching in Central Park has been fired. CNN US. https://edition.cnn.com/2020/05/26/us/central-park-video-dog-video-african-american-trnd/index.html