Because She Is Black

28 May 2018

Love, protection, beauty, royalty are all things that have all too readily been denied to Black women. Instead our expected role has been one of servitude, sexually, domestically, and politically, for White men and White women, and even Black men.

On the 19th May 2018, many (not all) Black women watched on as a Black woman married a Prince. It was the stuff of fairytales, even moreso because Black women have rarely been cast in the role of Princess.  So yeah, it was a thing, and regardless of how one feels about the colonisers – a Black Princess, her Black single mother and a Blackity-Black preacher with a Black choir singing Stand By Me was a little bit Black.

But just days after the Blackest royal wedding in the Western world, ABC personality Stan Grant tried to answer the question that no one asked. His opinion piece for ABC News opened with “what race is Meghan Markle?”.

Firstly, her name is Princess Meghan (okay it’s actually Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex but whatever, we are calling her a Princess, just like we call Beyonce Queen B).

Secondly, had Uncle done some research, he would know precisely how the Princess identifies. Just a few years ago she articulated at length the complexities of her racialized identity as “mixed race” and her desire to “draw her own box” to fit within.  It was surprising that Stan would use the “mixed race” Princess to launch his rather unsophisticated race analysis without citing her, not least because the last time a man made claims about Black peoples’ identities in this country without doing proper research, it didn’t end too well.

But there was something particularly insulting about his insistence that Princess Meghan wasn’t really Black, or even her self-ascribed label of “mixed race”. You see when, Uncle launched his book (Talking To My Country) just a few years ago, he dedicated it to:

“My grandmother Ivy and my wife Tracey – White women who have loved us”

Okay, so by “us” he really means him, but if you read enough of Grant’s writing you know he has a tendency toward universalising his position.

Now, there is nothing at all wrong with White women loving him; it was the fact that the race of White women was rendered hypervisible through the act of love for him (or as he would have you believe, “us”).  Yet in the moment that a Black woman (albeit “mixed race”) is loved by a White man, and/or the world over, Uncle feels compelled to insist that her race is suddenly irrelevant.

We see the possibility of White women as loving, while Black women who are loved are framed as not really Black, or even “mixed race” because, suddenly, race isn’t real after all. For me, this isn’t about whether the new Princess is really Black or whether race is really real, but instead speaks to the racialized imaginings that insist that Black women aren’t really capable of being loved.

Love, protection, beauty, royalty are all things that have all too readily been  denied to Black women. Instead our expected role has been one of servitude, sexually, domestically, and politically, for White men and White women, and even Black men.

Bell Hook’s notes:

“Black women are one of the most devalued female groups in American society, and thus they have been the recipients of a male abuse and cruelty that has known no bounds or limits. Since the Black woman has been stereotyped by both White and Black men as the “bad” woman, she has not been able to ally herself with men from either group to get protection from the other. Neither group feels that she deserves protection.” 

Sam Thaiday’s joke last year about sexual relations with a Black woman as his “jungle fever phase” when he was hanging out with his mates on The Footy Show really wasn’t the exception that most folks think it was. Many other Black men have let us down in their desire to be in closer proximity to Whiteness.

Recently I had an encounter with a prominent Aboriginal male personality who I had never met personally before. I’m fairly certain he was unfamiliar with me or my work, but within an hour he had positioned himself as the “tribal man” and I, the “radical” woman, and yes, those were his descriptors that he used in positioning us to the White man we were meeting with.

Not that it matters, but this Uncle too, has a White woman who loves him.

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I politely insisted to Unc that being radical or cultural were not mutually exclusive but not before I rejected the label he had imposed upon me. I had to let Uncle know that the act of talking about my everyday realities was both reasonable and rational. But his framing of me as “radical” against his position as “tribal”, in my opinion, was to subjugate me as both culturally inauthentic and emotionally unstable – and thus is the beauty of intersectionality in action as defined by Kimberle Crenshaw.

I remember this other time another brother came @ me on Twitter to chastise me for talking about the gendered nature of my experience. He had declared his solidarity with sister Tarneen Onus Williams with #IstandwithTarneen too “but” (and yes he had a “but”) he cautioned us to “not focus on gender”. When I highlighted the impossibility of such a task, and that perhaps we could just stand with a Black woman unconditionally in that moment, he advised me “to be cautious of mainstream gender politics”. He instructed that we needed to respect culture, proceeding to tell me about “our culture” and men’s and women’s business (and to be fair, he is not alone).

Needless to say I’m a bit over getting beat round the head with Black men’s culture stick as a means of silencing us in the processes of articulating our experiences of oppression – which as Aileen Moreton-Robinson notes is both racialized and gendered.

There is little distinction between those men who use “culture” as a justification for the abuse of Aboriginal woman physically, from those who use “culture” as a mechanism for silencing Aboriginal women politically. Langton has long refuted the claims that violence against women is instrumental to Aboriginal culture arguing “If these were traditional laws, there would be no Aboriginal society in existence today”.

As the daughter of a Black man and the wife of a Black man who has invested a fair amount of labour defending the brothers, I’m getting tired both of the abuse and the lack of solidarity from those members of the brotherhood who seek validation from White men and White women.

It is not enough that Black women must bear being the brunt of the joke but we also suffer the brunt of the brutality of colonisation. And when we speak we are ignored, admonished or hushed into silence. And despite this, it is Black women’s voices that still sing the loudest of truths about the colonial project. I think it is both because and in spite of the fact that we are situated on the bottom rung beneath White men, White women, and Black men. It was Black women’s bodies that were exploited sexually and economically by the colonisers, and it was Black women’s babies that were stolen, and it was Black women’s roles that were deemed culturally insignificant by anthropologists; and the latter is a narrative that too many of our men are too busy running with, because it works for them.

The patriarchy works well for some Black men.

Yet when our men and children are attacked, it is the Black women who are the first ones to fight, and there’s any number of Black men who have claimed credit for Black women’s labour in our resistance to the colonial project.

Sadly there’s too many brothers that are unashamedly in it for the RT, the TEDX talk, the book sales or the TV show and think that silencing, erasing, or invisibilising Black women is acceptable (and not just culturally).

But enough about Black men… As a young girl, I never much cared for fairytales about Princesses who made it simply from being kissed without consent, kissing a frog or marrying a Prince.

It was Dr Seuss that reminded me of the exciting places that I could go, and the mountains I could move. He told me the of the little turtle named Mack (who I’m fairly certain was a Black woman). I aspired to be Mack, not the wife of King Yertle. The King wanted to rule the pond and all that he could see so he climbed higher and higher, by standing on the backs of more and more turtles all the while boasting of the great heights he had reached (sounding familiar?). The King was powerful, but turns out (spoiler alert) so too was the little turtle named Mack at the bottom of the stack who politely objected; basically, because it was her back that hurt the most. Each time Mack complained, she was berated for not knowing her place. One day Mack “got a little bit mad” and burped, a simple act that “shook the throne of the king” (okay maybe Mack was a man after all). The King fell into the mud, as did those who had climbed upon Mack’s back. Though, in doing so, all the turtles were freed “as turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be”.

To my brothers, this isn’t an attack against you – it is a call for you to love us more than you love the patriarchy.

In the year of #BecauseOfHerWeCan, it too is a cautionary disclaimer:  Black women are not the backbone to your throne or your emancipatory work. The Black woman is a keeper of knowledge and giver of life, a thinker and warrior, troublemaker and peacemaker, cultural and reasonable, and just as importantly, she too is both capable of giving, and deserving of love… #BecauseSheIsBlack.

“It is not that we [Black women] haven’t always been here, since there was a here.”

Audre Lorde

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