Step 4: Say No To Second Chances
Every man with whom I’ve had relations that has, at some point throughout the course of our togetherness, violated me in some way, has done so with my permission, somewhere. There is this idea that the best thing a Black woman can be is pliable, flexible, and I don’t just mean physically. Even more important than our super strength is our comfort with making concessions where exemptions should never be made. We’re taught this at a very young age, let the boys win because they’re unequipped to handle the loss. Often times this looks like awarding the men in our lives an indefinite adolescence through which they’re unrequired to gain any real acquaintance with accountability, or even adulthood.
In the context of relationships, this translates to a never-ending practice period. And because we’re taught boys mature slower (they don’t), that boys can’t catch cues (they can), and that boys struggle with combining emotion, thought and talk, we allow adult men to behave as boys way past the expiration date. And because we subconsciously see men as childlike creatures in need of coddling, we treat their wrongdoing with a maternal mercy. You don’t shun your son for his mistakes, you teach him the right way.
Only we’re talking about men, not minors, and in case you didn’t know, it’s not a woman’s job to mature an adult man. Not to mention, character is cultivated well before we form an interest in intimate partnerships. A complex combination of temperament, environment and socialization shape what we call character. These qualities then carve our behaviors from situation to situation, creating a behavioral pattern that shapes our public and personal perception. Mind you, this molding takes place across the chapters of our childhoods. By adulthood, these traits and behaviors should not only be aligned, but anticipated.
No matter how long we incubate adult men, we cannot speed up a milestone that has been missed. Integrity is taught in the home, and I don’t mean the marital one. Childhood is where we learn to honor our word and to be people of position. If an adult is struggling with the basic fundamentals of human decency to the point that hurting their partner is seen as just another part of partnership, it’s silly to suspect that vagina and a little vigilance are enough to change that. Black men need more than mockup mothering to get them on the path to restoration. Yes, Black girl’s are goddesses and all that jazz, but we’re beyond an act of the gods on this one. Sad truth, but truth nonetheless.
Black women need to choose the preservation and protection of Black women, and yes, it is a conscious choice that we must be make. Otherwise we run the risk of falling back into the comforts of our century-old circumstances, which have brought us nowhere far in this fight towards gendered freedom. Break that cycle. Teach your daughters to leave after the first lie, even if you yourself don’t have the strength to. Teach them to have standards and to stick to them, no matter who doesn’t meet them. Teach them that a man’s greatest strength is his empathy. Teach them that no relationship is worth ending up in ruins. The only relationship you need to survive is the one you form with yourself.
Teach young girls that the first time a man threatens them with any form of violence should be the last time, whether the threat be physical, emotional or financial in nature. Teach your daughters like we teach our sons to enjoy their lives, no matter who chooses to come or go. Teach them that romantic relationships are not the place for character restoration, neither for them nor for their partners. We have to shield young girls from those dated dynamics that so badly dented our development, that means teaching them that their happiness is of utmost importance, anyone found in violation of that is in no way deserving of the opportunity again.
Step 5: Self Preservation is Key
Black women, if we want to fight for ourselves, we’ve got to give everyone back their burdens. Every day my timeline is taken over by the war of the gendered worlds, some man wanting clarity on just what makes men so unsafe. Women easily bite the bait, one by one detailing their devastating experiences with men in their communities. Only to have their pain met with shallow pardons.
“Yeah, I’m sorry that happened to you, but it sounds like a one-off situation to me”.
“Nobody in my circle never done no shit like that”.
“That’s why I be with my girl everywhere she go. Shit crazy out here”.
Much like racism, sexism is fueled by the victims’ constant need for validation. It’s what fuels our self-numbing need to share, re-share and keep sharing every instance of racial injustice we see. The system says maybe, just maybe if you can prove your point, thereby convincing me of my own guilt, I’ll then be willing to consider your claim. But the system also makes the burden of proof impossible to reach. And so the cycle binds us to the source, seeing every seemingly harmless invitation to inclusive discussion as an opportunity to rip the blindfold off. “Can you see it now?”, we cry, “Is it bad enough yet?”, we yell. It never is. It never will be.
What’s important to know about the beneficiaries of any system bolstered by an oppressive structure, is that the blindfold is a choice, their choice. There are no secret statistics, no password-encrypted evidences, it’s all right there in plain sight. To not see it is a choice, their choice. And so we must make it our practice to preserve our most valuable asset, our emotional and intellectual energy, for situations wherein we can be impacted and impactful, and only for good. We cannot convince men that patriarchy persists, we cannot convince the self-proclaimed good guys to gear up in our defense, we cannot remove blindfolds from the eyes of Black men who refuse to see us. We are dying in front of them. How dare they demand proof.
Preserving our energy means minding our mental and physical health, not putting ourselves on the frontlines of protests knowing lone white supremacists are more likely to receive rescue than we. It not only hurts us to experience this corrosion of our community, it hurts to see it. Preserving our energy means choosing not to look, choosing not to engage in comment sections and public platforms where we know the wave is anti-Black women.
Preserving our energy means investing in ourselves the way we’ve invested in everyone else. It means understanding that women are also propped up as protectors of patriarchy, in the same way that white supremacy boasts its’ many Black gatekeepers, and that not all women will see womanhood as worth the effort. Preserving our energy means knowing when to disengage from discourse and knowing what type of engagement warrants a response. It means, maybe for once, putting the protection of ourselves above everything and everyone else and for once, feeling no ways about it.
I hate that I had to write this. As I think back on my last moments on the 71D Hamilton bus, the bus that would bring me to the front door of my abuser, I think about how alone I felt, how scared I was, how I wished there were someone, anyone else that I could call. And because I know that feeling and have felt it far too often, I want to be a resource to the next 15 year-old-girl, who may be faced, one day, with those same sorry options. Call me, do you hear me? Write me, email me, send me a direct message on Twitter, find me on Facebook, just find me, can you understand? I am making the commitment to be committed to you, even if no one else will. Know that they’re wrong about you, Black girl, you are so very worthy.
This is our reality, as sad as it sounds. But we have demonstrated a dutifulness towards our community, and it’s time we began using our strengths towards our own advantage. It won’t be easy, it will be frustrating, we are in a fight for our survival that we cannot afford to forfeit.
Share this with a Black woman you worry about, it may save her life.
This is the Black Girl’s Guide to Staying Alive.