Tone Deaf: On Not Silencing Black Women

For this week’s post, I had planned to talk about the discussion between the rappers J.Cole and NoName, and share some insights I had on the whole dynamic. As I began to write, I began to think that the endeavor was incomplete and unfair. It was so because J. Cole is but one man, and this is an obstacle for the whole Black community.

So I am always woefully befuddled when Black women — in all of our intelligence, wit, and tenacity — are silenced. There are some men and women that police our tones, cross our boundaries, and dismiss our concerns.

Dismissal of Concerns

I was an avid hip-hop fan for many years. As a young woman, I was aware of the charged lyrics, and like many female fans, struggled to grapple with what those messages meant for my self-esteem, self-image. In maturity, I was lucky enough to meet some of the faces that I idolized, and on the whole, they were not what their personas projected at all. Some of them had families; many of them were thoughtful and well-spoken.

I’d had an acquaintance who was a promoter. He had worked in the industry, and one day I’d had an idea that was bubbling within for many months at that point — a hip hop benefit concert. At the time, that idea was quite popular, but in this case, there was one problem.

The concert was for rape victims, primarily women.

I watched his face morph from excitement to reluctance in about ten seconds flat. The lesson I’d learned at that moment is that women, particularly Black women, are expected to offer others support, but we are not allowed to ask for or demand reciprocity. This was before the MeToo movement, but the same inability to honor and respond to the concerns of Black women persists.

Those who we petition often demand that we do so in a docile, even sexual manner to “soften the blow.” Often it makes me want to ask these individuals if they think that our rapists, killers, and oppressors try to soften the blow. This is why tone policing comes across as ludicrous, at best. If your house is on fire, you are going to scream for everyone to evacuate. It wouldn’t matter who was comfortable with your message. It would be truth. You would not “wait your turn.”

Waiting Your Turn

Another challenge with waiting our turn as Black women are that it is rarely ever our turn to speak. As the world rightfully became incensed over George Floyd’s death, other names are mentioned less like Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, and Renisha McBride, although they are no less important. When Black women build momentum around the causes that are dearest to them, the language, mannerisms, strategy, and execution are often co-opted by others, most often without credit, for movements exclusive of Black women.

Black women need to continue to speak up on a day-to-day basis on matters like disparities in pharmaceutical treatments of cancer and other illnesses that plague the Black community. We require tutoring assistance for us or our children in school, live in food deserts, have restricted access to potable water in addition to other needs, and we can’t turn the volume down.

However, we need every voice — especially those of Black men — to join ours, just as we have lent our voices for their concerns.

Every time a Black woman dies in labor, it is our turn to speak up.

One thought on “Tone Deaf: On Not Silencing Black Women

  1. Edissa Nicolas-Huntsman

    Too many black women are dying during childbirth. This is part of the systemic racism that is woven into every facet of our society. I long for a day when our black bodies as seen with a loving, tender gaze, instead of the objects of sadistic contempt and violent hatred that extends even unto the delivery room.

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