Black Women Are Not Your Stepping Stone to Liberation

2 years ago Alger Mag Editor 0


One year after Laquan McDonald’s murder, the dashcam video of the encounter between him and Chicago police officers was released by the Chicago Police Department. In the video, Officer Van Dyke is seen shooting McDonald sixteen times after McDonald walks away from the officers. The video’s release on November 24th was met with citywide protests later that day; hundreds of citizens immediately took to the streets, where police officers awaited their arrival. Involved in these tense standoffs was Malcolm London, a prominent organizer with BYP100, a Chicago-based organization “dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people.”

After a brief skirmish with Chicago police during these protests, London was one of five organizers arrested in Chicago on November 24th. Chicago organizers called upon the nation to demand that the city of Chicago both release those arrested and drop the charges against them. London was the last organizer to have this demand met.

Shortly after London was released on November 25th, an account of London sexually assaulting a woman surfaced on Facebook. She recounted going on a date with London, at the end of which he sexually assaulted her.

The survivor received a response from BYP100 shortly after:

We have been made aware of a sexual assault allegation involving a BYP100 leader. As an organization rooted in a Black queer feminist framework, we take reports of sexual assault extremely seriously. When this allegation came to our attention, we immediately embarked on our accountability process. We are committed to seeing it through. The BYP100 member has been placed on a mandatory membership hiatus. BYP100 has initiated a course of action involving both parties to assess next steps. Our next steps will be centered in a transformative and restorative justice process, rooted in compassion, accountability and a belief that no one is disposable. We ask that throughout this process that no one resorts to victim blaming, conspiracy accusations or any other defamation against the intentionally unnamed party who brought forth the report.

To be rooted in a feminist framework is to create a space in which women feel valued and safe. If BYP100 were to take this accusation seriously, Malcolm London would have been expelled from the organization immediately. A hiatus isn’t enough; it alludes to the possibility that London may return. Having feminist foundations means that London should never be permitted into the organizing space again because his history inevitably soils the safe environment made for women within BYP100. Restorative justice processes must encompass the immediate expulsion of London from BYP100, because London is disposable.

Just as we saw with the Black Lives Matter movement, men have, yet again, infiltrated spaces created as safe havens for gender nonconforming persons and women. Black Lives Matter, rooted “in the labor and love of queer Black women,” has experienced erasure of both aforementioned groups from within.

“All lives matter” rhetoric has plagued the world. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” has been altered in a way which erases the driving force behind the movement: the violence that all members of the Black community face on a daily basis. Stating that “all lives matter” completely overlooks the focus given to a specific marginalized group. Incorrect use of the phrase also comes from within the movement. Members of the Black community have used the statement without acknowledging its whole meaning. Black Lives Matter has narrowed to exclude notions of Blackness that don’t adhere to societal norms. The political left leisurely uses “Black Lives Matter” as a net with which they attempt to catch the Black vote. Needless to say, the phrase is being misused.

Fighting for Black liberation won’t work if we don’t respect, acknowledge, and fight for every part of Blackness. The outright disrespect and unacknowledgement of the diversity of Blackness is occurring within BYP100, which, like Black Lives Matter, is “rooted in a Black queer feminist framework.

The recent incident with BYP100, as with countless other stories of sexual violence, regurgitates apologist rhetoric, claiming that “no one is disposable,” but I disagree. If someone isn’t prepared to stand with all members of the Black community, they aren’t down with the cause. If you are not uplifting and defending marginalized groups within a community, you are not creating justice and freedom for all people. Instead, you’re creating it for some people. Intra-communal solidarity cannot be built with intra-communal divides. This movement isn’t just fighting for cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied Black male liberation. This movement can’t solely focus on that.

The claim that “no one is disposable” is alarming because there’s a grand history of men in social movements taking advantage of women. The history is accompanied by inadequate responses, or lack of response, from the community. Elaine Brown, a former leader of the Black Panther Party, recounts that the women within the party were subjected to complete and total mistreatment by their fellow male members. Treatment included “physical abuse, exploitation as sexual prizes and workhorses, and denigration of their abilities.” Regina Davis, the driving force behind the Panthers’ school, was put in the hospital after she criticized a male member of the party for not accomplishing a task. She was beaten up, her jaw broken. Brown expressed these concerns to Huey Newton, the dominant figurehead of the Panthers, yet he refused to address the situation. He didn’t want to break solidarity with the males of the party; he was so unwilling to break solidarity that he was willing to compromise the rights of the women within the party.

Women of the Black Panther Party carried the party on their backs. Without women, the idea that the Panthers would have been half as successful as they were during its heyday is a sheer impossibility. The Panthers stood for gender equality on paper, but failed to implement it within their internal structure. This shortcoming was one of the reasons which led to the ultimate downfall of the Panthers.

Huey Newton does not have my respect and neither does Malcolm London. Those who claim to be fighting for the liberty of Black people must realize the implications of that statement: Blackness extends beyond the stereotypical notion of cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied men. Blackness includes women, the LGBT community, and ableist concerns. Blackness isn’t exclusive to the upper class. Newton and London, who so blatantly ignore these standards, cannot be for all Black people. If Newton was fighting for the true liberty of the Black community, he would have spoken out against the men of the Panthers. If London was fighting for the true liberty of the Black community, he would not have sexually assaulted a woman.

Now more than ever, it’s clear that there’s blatant disrespect for women in social movements.

Women, for far too long, have had to compromise one or more parts of their identity for the sake of another. In Black spaces, I must compromise my gender for the sake of my race. In female spaces, I must compromise my race for the sake of my gender. The second I scream, “But wait! I’m more than my gender and my race. I’m oppressed in a multidimensional fashion,” I’m accused of not caring about the singular issue at hand. The Black woman is stuck. Our issues aren’t welcomed in many of the communities to which we belong. Where do Black women go?

Every single social movement is carried on the backs of women, but when our backs begin to break, the men of the movement turn their heads.

But for the sake of the movement, we don’t hear about these stories. We don’t recognize that women face out-and-out violence from both within and outside of their communities. We’re scrutinized, challenged by questions such as, “Do you want to see more of your community behind bars? Do you want to lessen the number of people in your community who are fighting for your cause? What’s wrong with you?”

It isn’t enough to state that women’s rights are important. It isn’t enough to incorporate women into structures built by men. It isn’t enough for male heads of organizations and figureheads of movements to ply female organizers, as I have been told, with empty reassurances that the organizing work women do is the best work. Assimilation does not work. Women cannot be treated as second-class citizens within social movements. It will not work that way. We must challenge the lack of intersectional approach to these claims. Do the people parroting these questions not care about the alarming amount of Black women being sexually assaulted daily? Do they not care about the twenty-one Black trans women that have been murdered this year? Do they not care about the Black gender nonconforming persons and women that are forced to organize with their assaulters for the “sake of the movement?”

Black women are consistently used as stepping stones to liberation, but we never get to embark on the journey to liberation ourselves. If current male organizational leadership can recognize the necessary role of women within these movements, they need to step down immediately. Let women break themselves out of the matrix. And to the women who head organizations: don’t allow men to slip through the cracks unnoticed. Hold them accountable to the highest degree. They’re creating internal damage to our causes.

If we want total and complete liberation, men need to, once and for all, step aside. Let women lead the fight; if women don’t lead the way, this current wave of activism will end in the same way that the Panthers did.

We don’t have time for another downfall. Black people are being gunned down daily. Injustice is everywhere around us. We need liberation to work this time.


by Sarah Mamo

(photo credit: otto-yamamoto on flickr)

The title of this article was taken from “Stay Woke,” a poem by Kai David and Miriam Harris.