Angry black woman! Who coined the phrase? Was it the exhausted ancestor who defended her right to a white store owner for telling her she, in fact, had no right to shop there? Was it the mother who'd had enough of her man taking advantage of her nurturing spirit? It must have been Sophia, in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, who spent years in jail and nearly lost sight in one eye for telling the mayor’s wife, Miss Millie, “Hell no!” after Millie offered for Sophia’s children to work for her as maids.
This is what I spent a majority of my time thinking about in African-American Lit. class last semester. Then I realized that history cannot seize to repeat itself, especially concerning “black folk.” Due to this epiphany, there is now a definite reason why black women cannot relate to white feminism—it is not our struggle. In his essay, "The Damnation of Women," the scholar, W.E.B Du Bois, exposes the sorrows and neglect of African-American women after being detached from African traditions because of the transatlantic slave trade.
Du Bois appeals to emotion without effort. “Their youth sunk into…silent hatred of the pale world around them…wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me a stranger in mine own house?” (Souls of Black Folk, 689) This is a feeling black women can attest to as many of us in our youth are forced to grow up too fast. “No chance was given her for delicate reserve or tender modesty.” (The Damnation of Women, 764) This is due to the lack of protection for black women and somehow this fast growth is a shield for the timid girl as she tries daily to escape physical and sexual abuse. “There is one thing I shall never forgive…wanton and continued and persistent insulting of the black womanhood which [the white South] sought and seeks to prostitute to its lust.” (The Damnation of Women, 765) It is hard to imagine a girl who is never allowed to be a girl. It hurts to know that a system has been designed for that girl to miss out on girlhood only to be pushed into an unpromising womanhood that may or may not grant her the luxury of the love she couldn’t afford as a child.
When it comes to black people, it is not a question of whether our world-wide treatment and legal genocides are ethical, but Du Bois has a way of encouraging black readers to wander away from whether what is done to us is right or not, but to start questioning the ethics we have adopted because of our condition. “The dark pupils…know how faithfully, how piteously, this people strove to learn...To the tired climbers, the horizon was ever dark, the mists were often cold, the Canaan was always dim and far away.” (The Souls of Black Folk, 691) I wonder where hope can be found in our community. I am not talking about our constant concern of whether white people will understand what we’re going through, or what they are doing to us. Convincing your oppressor to discontinue oppressing you is ridiculous. I am talking about hope in us, especially our women. After all, “the hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world.” (The Damnation of Women, 762) While Africa and the black community as a whole is not the world, it is worth considering the true spirit of our African nature to uplift our women, as we are the key to the revolution we are working towards. There is no doubt we have been through much as a people and that there is a system in place to separate us, yet still, we should not allow our condition to condition us into being a people who no longer know the road to our Canaan.
The logistics can be a fearful thing to think about: it makes our oppression so real and the desire for a revolution seem like a ludicrous idea. But my people, the burden is not ours alone. Earlier, I mentioned white people and their involvement—or lack thereof—in our revolution. With embarrassment, I contradict myself because 1) I can and 2) Du Bois states, “the burden belongs to the nation.” (The Souls of Black Folk, 702) While I find this to be true in theory, it has yet to prove itself in actuality. Discussions of reparations do not happen often. To this day, “the crushing weight of slavery [falls] on black women,” (The Damnation of Women, 763) and our men have yet to “make our yokes easy and our burdens light,” as Christ did for the church. (Matthew 11: 28-30) The heartbreak, the unending effort, and despair that comes with a revolution do not only belong to black women. The load belongs to us all. My brothas, can you carry it?
I would count myself a dishonest writer if I did not mention that we have used our burdens to our advantage with song, dance, and various forms of self-expression. For that, I give us props. Having said that, there is still a lot of work to be done outside of entertainment, contentment, and complacency.
Black men, my first love, you must come forth and take the lead. That is our way. However, you do seem to be caught between two worlds: the God-given African civilization of community with your women, where you are not too pompous to discuss issues with us, looking to us for trusted advice; all the while knowing we will do a superb job in “rocking the cradle” and “ruling the world.” And then there are the options white men have tricked you, black men, into believing you had: Western male privilege and Western masculinity, when, in actuality, nothing in your soul is Western. As a woman in America, I am far too aware of the man having the last say in the household. Nevertheless, the African in me must warn our men: you cannot benefit from the African culture of women operating the household as well as being more than a helping hand in the community, while you get to sit on your Western idea of authority because you were born with a dick. Pick one.