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A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story

19 Jan

A woman in the Black Power movement was considered, at best, irrelevant. A woman asserting herself was a pariah. A woman attempting the role of leadership was, to my proud black Brothers, making an alliance with the “counter-revolutionary, man-hating, lesbian, feminist white bitches.” It was a violation of some Black Power principle that was left undefined. If a black woman assumed a role of leadership, she was said to be eroding black manhood, to be hindering the progress of the black race. She was an enemy of black people. Her strategy for functioning as a woman was to rely on the membership’s loyalty to Newton, and it worked, to an extent: …I had introduced a number of women in the party’s administration.

There were too many women in command of the affairs of the Black Panther Party, numerous men were grumbling…. It was a given that the entire Black Power movement was handicapped by the limited roles the Brothers allowed the Sisters and by the outright oppressive behavior of men toward women. This had meant little to me personally, however…. And because of Huey — and now Larry — I had been able to deflect most of the chauvinism of Black Panther men. My leadership was secure. Thus, in installing Sisters in key positions, I had not considered this business. I had only considered the issue of merit, which had no gender…. Oddly, I had never thought of myself as a feminist. I had even been denounced by certain radical feminist collectives as a “lackey” for men. That charge was based on my having written and sung two albums of songs that my female accusers claimed elevated and praised men. Resenting that label, I had joined the majority of black women in America in denouncing feminism. It was an idea reserved for white women, I said, assailing the women’s movement, wholesale, as either racist or inconsequential to black people. Sexism was a secondary problem. Capitalism and racism were primary. I had maintained that position even in the face of my exasperation with the chauvinism of Black Power men in general and Black Panther men in particular. Now hearing the ugly intent of my opponent’s words [one of her opponents in the 1974 election of the Oakland City Council, a black man, had denounced her as a lesbian!, I trembled with a fury long buried. I recognized the true meaning of his words. He was not talking about making love with women — he was attacking me for valuing women.

The feminists were right. The value of my life had been obliterated as much by being female as by being black and poor. Racism and sexism in America were equal partners in my oppression. Even men who were themselves oppressed wanted power over women. Whatever social stigma had been intended by the label “lesbian” — always invoked when men felt threatened, I observed with the benefit of hindsight — did not concern me. It was simply the rattle of a man terrorized by a social order dominated by other men. It was a social order I was bent on destroying. But his accusations did wake me. There would be no further impositions on me by men, including black men, including Black Panther men. I would support every assertion of human rights by women — from the right to abortion to the right of equality with men as laborers and leaders. I would declare that the agenda of the Black Panther Party and our revolution to free black people from oppression specifically included black women. I would denounce loudly the philosophies of the Karengas, who raised the name of Africa to justify the suppression of black women. I would lambaste the civil-rights men who had dismissed the importance of women like Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker and Daisy Bates and even Kathleen Cleaver. I would not tolerate any raised fists in my face or any Black Power handshakes, or even the phrase “Black Power,” for all of it now symbolized to me the denial of black women in favor of the freedom of “the black man.” I would claim my womanhood and my place.

If that gave rise to my being labeled a “man-hating lesbian, feminist bitch,” I would be the most radical of them.

Elaine Brown

(pp. 357, 362–363, 367–368)

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1 Comment

Posted by on January 19, 2013 in Historical radical pieces

 

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One response to “A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story

  1. Gregório

    January 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Super interesting, especially since Angela Davis is one of my heros 🙂

    also

    “Racism and sexism in America were equal partners in my oppression.” speaks to the directly to the image posted here on malintZINE about being brown AND a woman.

     

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