Ta-Nehisi Coates’ latest book, Between This World and Me, confronts the issue of what it means to be Black in America and navigating through life in a country that has never fully accepted the true humanity of its Black citizens. In the book, a missive to his teenage son, Coates talks about what it meant to be a young Black man in Baltimore seeing other young men whose only way to claim any sense of power in a country where merely having Black skin and kinky hair is seen as “other” or less than, was through the bravado gained in the streets. While his son is growing up in a much different world, it is a world that is confronted by the same reality: he is Black in America and this country, even with a Black President, has struggled to respect our rights, the most basic rights endowed to men – rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The Atlantic hosted a Race and Justice Summit in Washington, D.C. this past week. During a one-on-one interview between Coates and NPR’s Michelle Norris regarding “The Talk” that Black parents often have to give their children to protect them from the realities of our world, he asked if she had to have different talks with her son and daughter. It’s a question that we don’t ask often enough. What is it to be Black and a woman in this country that values neither?
James Brown said it, “This is a man’s world.” What he said after gives us comfort, but let’s reflect on the part we like to gloss over: This Is A Man’s World. Congress is dominated by men, typically old, White ones. Corporate America is dominated by men, typically old, White ones. The media industry is dominated by men, typically old, White ones. Clearly there is a pattern here and the list drags on and on.
Women and girls are marginalized or sexualized. But Black women are also racialized. They are often confronted with issues of power and control in addition to structural and blatant racism. Black women and girls face obstacles at higher rates than other girls. From the classroom where Black girls are six times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their White counterparts, to the workforce where Black women still only make 64 cents to every dollar made by their White, male counterparts and face an almost 10 percent unemployment rate, to the ballot box where they are the most likely to be overlooked in policy decisions, despite their high turnout.
Then, there’s the general protection of Black women’s bodies. Black women are murdered by men at a rate more than two and a half times higher than White women and experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35 percent higher than that of White women. Even more staggering is that 40 percent of Black women report coercive sexual contact by age 18 and the number is believed to be higher. According to a U.S. Department of Justice report, 80 percent of college students who are raped never report the crime and Black victims report at lower rates than White victims. While many people are familiar with the name Sandra Bland, they are less familiar with the four other women who died in police custody in the same month. Black females are more likely to be imprisoned than women of all races, with 1 in 18 Black women likely to serve time.
For Black women, it’s not just about learning to live in a country that doesn’t accept your humanity, but it is also understanding that at any moment, you may become a punching bag or a blow-up doll for someone’s maniacal frustrations or sexual fantasies. You have to protect your body from the people who want to use it to inflict pain and those who want to use it for personal pleasure.
This is a man’s world and as Black women, we must resist the thrusting between his world and us.
Janaye Ingram is the National Executive Director of National Action Network (NAN) and oversees NAN’s action agenda and legislative advocacy work under Founder and President, Rev. Al Sharpton. In this role, Ingram focuses on issues such as education, criminal justice, housing, technology, economic development and healthcare, among others.
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