By Charlene Carruthers
Yesterday’s Huffington Post Live segment “Do ‘Hood Sites’ Normalize Black Stereotypes” exposes a long held and counterproductive belief that gender should not and can not be centered in work to address violence in the Black Americans. The panelists include Amanda Seale, Che “Rhymefest” Smith, Dr. Shayne Lee, Dr. Brittney Cooper and Mandon Lovett. Among the many problematic perspectives shared about the responsibility of WorldStarHipHop.com, the provocative exchange about gender-based violence stands out.
I first learned about the segment’s fallout on Twitter and initially dismissed it as the typical “this is a race issue, not a gender issue” argument. After watching the full video, I felt anguish and anger at the conflict and where the conversation ended.
The tension seemed to first emerge after Dr. Cooper introduced the idea that “there is a gender dynamic to this conversation too.” After laying out supporting points to her argument Rhymefest interjected with “Why you so mad?” I was immediately triggered. His remarks echo the “Angry Black Woman” trope often carted out to silence and pathologize Black women. Che “Rhymefest” Smith, seemingly supported by Dr. Lee, laid out arguments that are both problematic and parallel to the messages, practices, policies and strategies which continue to fail to end violence in our communities.
I’m admittedly used to being around and having conversations with dope men who get it. I work with an number of young Black men everyday who understand the value and importance of centering an analysis of gender in all discussions about violence. However, the comfort I feel with them doesn’t serve the broader need to address misogyny in Black politics and social justice work. Rhymefest’s remarks do not live in a vacuum. However, they do provide a vivid reminder of a tradition in Black politics and social justice work that assigns gender a lower priority, if any at all, on the agenda to create safer, healthier and more powerful communities.
Rhymefest further laid out his argument against including gender-base violence in HuffPostLive segment on twitter:
@ProfessorCrunk you clearly aren’t familiar, It’s cool, I just don’t get the guy vs girl mentality. In Chicago it’s us against the system
— RHYMEFEST (@RHYMEFEST) January 14, 2014
I live on the South Side of Chicago and the “us” includes a clearly articulated reality where violence is gendered. The “us” for me includes Black girls, women (cisgender and transgender), Although I can’t definitively say what system Rhymefest is referring to here, I know that all systems of power in this city have the ability to support and inflict specific types of harm on girls and women. There’s a fear that in talking explicitly about violence against women and girls, men and boys will be left out.
I spoke with Rhymefest to further explore his perspective. I live and work in Chicago activist spaces, and relationships matter to me. From his perspective, the conversation was not supposed to become political – he was “caught off guard”. As a community organizer with over 10 years of experience in this work, I know that activism and efforts to end violence are political. Black people’s lives and experiences in America have always been and are currently political.
We will never significantly reduce violence in Chicago or elsewhere in the United States if our activism and movement building takes a “gender neutral” approach to violence. Many of the messages and dominant stories about tragic violence are already gendered, largely highlighting violence against males and/or by males.
A way forward was further articulated in this exchange:
— RHYMEFEST (@RHYMEFEST) January 14, 2014
Any agenda to end violence among and against Black people must not only discuss but center the issue of gender-based violence. Our people’s agenda can’t leave gender-based violence out.
Moving forward, how do we create and implement efforts to dismantle structural violence if the experiences and strategic-thinking of more than half of our population are not intentionally included and centered in the conversation? How do we have conversations where respect from all sides is a given?
Another panelist in the conversation, Mandon Love, is right, “We need to get to the root.” Getting to the root requires that we look at all causes and manifestations of violence in Black America. Skipping over the fact that girls, women (trans* and cisgendered) are targeted by and experience gendered violence perpetuates the oppressions we claim to be invested in eradicating.
The HuffPostLive segment and post-conversation on twitter exposes the uncomfortable truth that after years of work to advance a social justice agenda where gender doesn’t sit at the margins, we still have much work to do. Twitter debates and 30 minute show segments can easily turn incendiary where members of the discussion can take up too much space, become disrespectful, vitriolic or dismissive. In an effort to move gender-based violence from the margins, I’ve offered to continue the conversation offline with Rhymefest in Chicago. I’m not sure what will come of it, but I do know that continued efforts to deepen our movements analysis are necessary.
Charlene Carruthers is a Chicago based writer and political organizer. She currently serves as the national coordinator of the BYP100. Follow her on twitter at @CharleneCac.