Gender & Nationalism in #BlackLivesMatter

By DARASIA ALAADE originally posted on

On Monday, July 27 there was a demonstration in my hometown Philly in honor of Sandra Bland and other Black women who have died at the hands of police. This #SayHerName demonstration was organized by “Black Men in Defense of Black Womanhood.”
I had every intention of getting to the protest a little after 4, which was the start time. However, after missing a day of work to attend the Movement for Black Lives National Convening in Cleveland, the catching-up I needed to do had me leaving work a half hour before the rally ended. I darted out the door, texting folks to let them know I was coming.
“Can you talk?” This was the response I got from one of the sistas I knew was at the demonstration.
I called her. “Yeah…there is a situation down here. How far are you?”
At this point I was about 10 minutes away, but traffic was good so I made it in 5.
When I got to the Clothespin, it was clear that something had gone awry. This article describes what happened at the demonstration so there is no need for me to give a full rundown but, basically, there were Black women at the demonstration who shared publicly that they didn’t appreciate that brothas were taking over Black women’s space, that they shouldn’t be speaking at a #SayHerName demonstration, that Black women did not need Black men to defend them, to think otherwise was rooted in sexism and patriarchy, and some of the Black men present were guilty of sexism.
This situation occured before I got there and the women who made these proclamations had already left the scene. However, the energy was still very tense, with many people feeling unsure of how to proceed. “This was an argument, a schism, between the nationalists and the feminists,” one of the female activists present stated. Eventually, we were all able to circle-up, air some grievances, and then hug each other in solidarity and unity. So it all ended on a positive, though somewhat shaky, note.
There were a few things that really bothered me about what happened and reading the article I posted brought it all back to me. As a Black nationalist who is also a a feminist, I find myself often explaining what revolutionary nationalism is and what feminism is to people against a background of false knowledge, stereotypes, and genuinely negative experiences with both nationalism and feminism. And the situation that occurred two days ago, at a demonstration meant to honor Black women, was one of the worst examples of “feminist” thought and practice; in fact, I don’t even want to call it feminism.
For one, Black men and women are in this together. This understanding should always been our Ground Zero, our starting place, the core from which we live and breathe and organize. Black women and Black men should condemn sexism but we have to learn to do this from a space of love and unified struggle. This does not mean that we should allow ourselves to be abused or to suffer but each of us has a ton of work we need to do in the transformation of our consciousness, and understanding this should help open ourselves to be patient and understanding with our comrades. We all have to grow in this together.
Secondly, I have heard Black women complain that when Black men are killed by police or vigilantes, both Black women and men organize around their cases but when Black women are killed by police or vigilantes, only Black women (and sometimes fewer Black women) organize around their cases. So when we have Black men who are intentional about remembering Black women who were killed, why would we close them down and shut them out? The article quotes one woman as saying,”We have been in the forefront of protecting not just Black women, but also Black men. We were on the forefront when Trayvon Martin was killed, when Michael Brown was killed, when Tamir Rice was killed. So, now we’re asking for our brothers, our Black men, to do the same thing in return…” Isn’t that what happened? In this case, didn’t Black men do just that, jump up to protect Black women as we have done for Black men countless times?
Third, some of what was said suggests that fighting for Black women and honoring Black women should be work that is exclusive to women. The organizer interviewed for the article said, “I’m extremely troubled by the fact that we say we are having a #SayHerName demonstration and brothers are speaking…It’s men taking over spaces that are reserved for women.” This is downright craziness. Yes, some spaces should be intentionally led by sistas. But this rally was not meant to be female-only space, or that would have been stated. Not only that, one of my homegirls hosted the demonstration and said she was practically pleading for Black women to come and speak. So when the brother started speaking it was only after space was made for women to speak.
Finally, nationalism is not inherently sexist or patriarchal. Sure, you have men who claim to be nationalists who think that Black women’s role in movement is to be barefoot and pregnant. But revolutionary Black nationalism states that Black people in the US are one nation, that we need land (Malcolm X said the land is the basis of all independence), and that our struggle for self-determination is linked to the global struggle for African liberation. Black nationalism doesn’t mean Black male-centric. Queen Mother Moore is one of the founders of the Republic of New Afrika, which is based in Black nationalism.
We have to do better. We have to treat each other better. We have to learn when, where, and how to address issues in a way that will bring clarity instead of alienation. As the Combahee River Collective Statement says, “We struggle together with Black men against racism, while we also struggle with Black men about sexism.” Black feminists are with Black men, not against them.


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