Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Late Black Feminist Reflections on the Millions More Movement, Oct. 15, 2005, Washington D.C.

Austin, TX -- I am one absolutely of that generation of activists who believe that any time Black people gather together it is a positive thing. What I haven’t worked out is whether or not that gathering is always productive. We certainly have our examples of mass gatherings of Black (and other progressively minded) groups that have yielded amazing, and occasionally, substantial results. Many scholars of Black political history in the United States cite the 1963 March on Washington as an influential factor in the passage of the 1965 and subsequent 1968 Civil Rights bills. However, it’s been a while since we’ve seen mass gatherings that have significantly influenced public policy – the massive protests that we’ve seen against the war in Iraq, transnational free trade agreements, and the chaos of the Bush administration attest to this sobering fact. Still, there’s nothing like a demonstration to get an activist going.
So I went.
It is now common (Black) knowledge that the original Million Man March in October 1995 inspired the wrath of many a Black feminist by arguing that the salvation of the race lay in Black men’s ability to atone for their weakness and assert strength in their communities. Now I am a firm believer in the necessity of strong Black men in our communities. I was fortunate as a young woman to grow up in a community of such men including my father, my grandfather, local mentors, and, I am proud to say, an amazing little brother who continues to astonish me with his sensitivity and passion. However, the call for strength was not the problem. The problem lay in the assumption that Black men can or should attempt to save the race singlehandedly or that their inability to do so was the fault of overbearing Strong Black Women who do not know their place. It is not and never was unruly Black women who are holding Black men back. Racism, Capitalism, and Sexism (yes, sexism) are the real culprits to blame in our struggle for liberation. As any reading of black social movements in the United States will quickly reveal, Black women have always been involved in fighting for racial and economic justice. This is hardly the time to begin writing us out.
Still, many Black women gave the brothers the space to do what they felt they needed to do and, whether they agreed or disagreed with the politics of the event, held their tongues and waited to see what would happen. Ten years later, Minister Louis Farrakhan agreed to invite women to the Millions More Movement, a gesture that on the surface appeared to be a progressive move on the part of the Nation of Islam. At least, until we realized that we were being invited because the NOI still believes that Black women are just a little too out of hand, and it is Black men’s job to get us back in line.
Three steps forward, two steps back.
So it is clear that I had a number of political, personal, and intellectual reasons for why I should not have been in D.C.
But I went.
I let myself be convinced by a dear homegirl in California to buy my ticket and meet her in D.C. For a self-proclaimed Black feminist this was no small decision. When I announced to friends that I would be attending the march I was immediately questioned by comrades and colleagues alike. Why, they asked, would I attend a march that had not only requested, but instructed women to stay home 10 years earlier while the black man went to Washington to atone? I went, because I had reasons of my own to be there.
The first and most obvious reason is that I simply could not resist the idea of being able to gather together with Black folks from around the country who were coming to this march as hungry and desperate as I was. It never occurred to me that Minister Farrakhan had the answers, but I suspected that I might begin to find what I was looking for in the hundreds of thousands of sisters and brothers who flocked to the Capitol in search of something real. I wasn’t (and am not) the only young Black person in this country in search of a movement.
So I went. And yet, I have to admit that didn’t find everything that I was looking for. In The Final Call, the NOI’s newspaper, the event was declared a success that reflected the “full spectrum of Black thought.” I’m inclined to disagree. I know that a number of Black LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) organizations would disagree, as would many women’s organizations, anti-capitalist groups, etc. Despite the move to an obstensibly more progressive political agenda, the NOI continues to embrace an ethos of capitalist development, patriarchy and rigid intolerance that undermines any attempt to truly bring ALL Black people together.
In truth I was a bit disappointed. Despite the development of a progressive agenda which included fighting against the prison industrial complex, demanding universal (quality) healthcare, and calls for economic justice the Nation of Islam still has precious little to say about the reality of sexism within the Black community. Now I am not talking about being someone’s Black queen – although that is nice – that doesn’t necessarily make one anti-sexist. And when I say sexism I am referring to a form of oppression in which women are denied access to social resources, political power, economic power, sexual freedom, etc. There are many who would argue that sexism in the Black community does not exist but it does.
It exists when the Centers for Disease Control announce that young Black women constitute the highest number of new HIV/AIDS cases annually.
It exists when studies show that Black women’s earnings are substantially lower than white men, white women, and Black men despite the growing numbers of Black women obtaining advanced and professional degrees.
It exists when statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice state the Black women in abusive relationships are most likely to die at the hands of their (often Black) male partners, most likely to experience rape and/or sexual assault in their lifetimes, and most often to be the victims of violent crimes than any other group of women in the United States, excluding indigenous women living on reservations.
Sexism is real.
And so are Black feminists. However, according to Louis Farrakhan we don’t exist and neither do the specific forms of oppresion that affect Black women. Although there were a number of truly inspiring speakers, such as the representatives of Black labor organizers, youth activists, and the women of Mothers In Charge, a group of mothers who have lost children to street violence, I was disappointed to see that there were no representatives of black women activists organizing around issues of gender inequality. And even the women with Mothers In Charge were quickly hurried off stage to welcome popular hip-hop performer Wyclef Jean. Why, was there not more attention given to the issues that affect half of our community? This is not about pitting Black women and men against each other but rather an attempt to begin a discussion on one aspect of the Black community that we are often hesitant to talk about.
I was ambivalent about going to the march. And now some two weeks after the fact, I find that in some ways, I am still ambivalent. I was literally moved to tears that crisp autumn morning in D.C. witnessing the sheer numbers of passionate, committed people who came to the National Mall looking to build a movement. And yet, I left feeling slightly empty – mostly because, I was not and am still not sure what concrete actions or future strategies will emerge from this event. Was it truly about building a movement or merely an opportunity for Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam to posture themselves as the primary Black organization in this country.
After all of this what did I find by going to D.C.? After sitting and listening to the Minister speak for nearly two hours and offer little in the way of truly inspirational and revolutionary political strategies, I realized that I had traveled to D.C. to affirm what I had suspected all along. The day of the one-man show is over and it has become increasingly clear to me that we no longer need a Sharpton, a Jackson, or a Farrakhan to “lead” us. It is time that we begin to look to each other, as Malcolm X said, with new eyes, and begin to view one another as leaders. We need to reach out to each other in our communities, our schools, our workplaces, in the prisons, in our churches. We can lead together, as a community, and fight to build a world that is worth living in. A world that is big enough for all of us – feminists, ministers, gays, children, immigrants, the poor, lesbians, the incarcerated, and all of us who struggle each day to decolonize our minds and liberate ourselves. By leading together and taking our eyes off of heroes we can begin to take the steps necessary to build a movement that has room for us all. This Black feminist certainly hopes there’s room for one more.

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