Wednesday, June 13, 2007
This issue is full of men-folk: men we love and those we like, guys we've known for a while and those who are coming through town for the first time, dudes we sometimes question and some others we love to hate.
The older I get, the more it becomes clear to me that not all males are men. It's not easy being a man—if it were, they would all do it. Being a man means taking responsibility, and responsibility doesn't always add excitement to the game of life. Sometimes, it adds heartache and requires sacrifice.
As the public outcry surrounding the public disrespect of the Rutger's women's basketball team dissipates, the problem that is larger than the shock-jock who spewed racist and misogynistic epithets on his morning talk show still looms: Women, particularly black women, are still seen as society's "less thans" when compared to their male counterparts.
Recently, the NAACP, Progressive Women and the Jackson Free Press hosted a town hall meeting, "It's a Rap," to talk about who should take the blame for the degradation of women in today's society. The center stage area at the Jackson Medical Mall was overwhelmingly filled with women of color. There were other people in attendance, but their numbers were few in comparison to individuals who look like I do. Panelists addressed the questions audience members had written down on index cards, and the audience listened intently.
After the forum, I felt invigorated by the conversation, but my balloon slowly deflated when I heard myself ask myself out loud, "So what do we do now?" What's next? That's the question that always gets me.
Every weekend—yes, every single weekend—during my senior year in high school I watched "Love Jones." In one scene of the movie, as the two main characters are walking down the sidewalk chatting, Nia says to Darius, "You have all the answers, don't you?"
"Nah," he says, shaking his head, "just all the questions."
She said his response was cocky, but his answer speaks to this situation. It's much easier to come up with questions than it is with solutions. That's why it was such a disappointment to have so few men in attendance at the forum at the Medical Mall, to hear so few speak out about women being degraded or to accept at least some of the blame for the depraved state of gender relations.
We can distance ourselves from the questions we ask, but finding solutions requires scrutinizing the problem, not just giving it a cursory glance. We also have to acknowledge the role we've played. One individual may not have disrespected women himself, but he has surely stood by and watched women be disrespected. And the first step toward healing for an offender is repentance.
Common, a hip-hop artist who sat on a panel among other hip-hop heavyweights and a small group of Spelman women on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" not long after Don Imus was fired, interrupted the sometimes seemingly pointless back and forth between guests and addressed the Spelman women directly. He told them that he acknowledged that hip-hop lyrics often speak ill of women undeservingly. Though he tries never to do so in his music, as a member of hip-hop culture, he wanted to apologize for the disrespect of black women.
What a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, a majority of the women were unimpressed by the gravity of what the rapper had just done. Before he'd finished his final sentence, some of them started talking immediately—and not about how much they appreciated his apology.
While women must teach our daughters, granddaughters, sisters, friends and mentees to love ourselves and accept nothing less than respect from men, it's also vital that we love and support the men who do right. We cannot allow ourselves to be so consumed with what we won't take from men that we become blind to sincere efforts to reach out.
This does not let guys off the hook, however, and one apology from one rapper is not enough. Standing by and saying nothing only enables our degradation. Excusing yourself from an incident or justifying wrongdoing by saying, "He wasn't talking about you in that song" is punking out. Just standing there is not the responsible thing—the manly thing—to do. It's the easy thing to do.
I was initially unfazed by the most recent incident I had with a man just standing there. In the supermarket, a man approached me.
"Hey, my baby mama," he shouted as he walked closer to me.
Ignoring him, I kept walking. When he got closer, he continued talking, and I continued to ignore him. When he asked for my phone number, and I told him there would be no need for him to call me, he said pointedly and loudly, "Fine then, bitch."
The man who had stood no more than 5 feet away during the entire interaction said nothing. He just looked at me sympathetically and shrugged his shoulders. By the time I got home, the onlooker disturbed me more than the other man.
In Rev. Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," he talks about the white moderate. In the letter, he says he's learned that the Negro's greatest stumbling block to freedom isn't the White Citizens Council or the Ku Klux Klan, but rather the white moderate who urges the oppressed to wait for a more convenient season. "Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will," King wrote.
There will probably always be those who disrespect women, even other women, but that doesn't make it OK. Men, we are not someone else's women, we are yours. Yes, we define who we are, but we are yours, just as you are our brothers, fathers, sons and husbands. Show us and each other how much you love us by respecting us and demanding that others do it as well. Especially now, as we celebrate you.
Natlie, Your article was very thought provoking and stimulating. You are right on so many points and aspecially your inclusion of Dr. King's Letter From a Birmingham Jail wherein he so eloquently described those who urge us to wait for a more convient time. The time is NOW. This is priceless. You have stepped up to the plate and asked for something, "RESPECT." Just the tone of your article gives me hope that it will be given and for darn sure, I know that you will settle for nothing less. It is my sincere hope that women around the world will accept this as their motto: LOVE ME OR HATE ME; BUT, DON'T DISRESPECT ME. I saw you at the Town Meeting @ Jackson Mall earlier in the month. You were very impressive and your understanding of the issues made me proud. Just as I was beginning to think that the generation was loss, you helped restore my faith. Keep up the good work!
This is a wonderfully written challenge. Our African brothers, especially the Nigerians, can teach African-American males a thing or two about how to treat a woman when dating or trying to date her. I mean, if they would leave out some of the lies and games. Of course, I'm not speaking to how they treat you once they have succeeded at dating or marriage. I'm sorry how the fellow treated you, Natalie. I guess this is kind of common these days. A popular Atlanta comedian said a brother walked up to her and said, "you're a fine bitch." She said in return, "thanks, you ugly bastards."
- Ray Carter
While women must teach our daughters, granddaughters, sisters, friends and mentees to love ourselves and accept nothing less than respect from men, it’s also vital that we love and support the men who do right. We cannot allow ourselves to be so consumed with what we won’t take from men that we become blind to sincere efforts to reach out. Amen! I'm sorry how the fellow treated you, Natalie. I guess this is kind of common these days. A popular Atlanta comedian said a brother walked up to her and said, "you're a fine b****." She said in return, "thanks, you ugly bastards." ROTFL! LOVE ME OR HATE ME; BUT, DON'T DISRESPECT ME. Coming to a T-shirt near you. :-)
Be sure to spell basasd correct. I accidentally put an s on the word.
- Ray Carter
Good one Nat. Reminds me of the guy in high school who tried to insult me into a date. Then called me bitch in front of the WHOLE CLASS when I shot him down. Yeah. He may think I'm a bitch, but he's still the asshole who can't get a date.