Dereliction of Duty: Silence Is Not Golden

This is the inaugural posting of my occasional, hopefully weekly series, Dereliction of Duty, which profiles individuals, organizations and entities who have either fallen into disrepair or have become irrelevant in the integrated world black Americans must navigate today. Most of these institutions are not irredeemable. They can be fixed, rebuilt, restructured and rejuvenated with the right amount of vision mixed with some old fashioned housecleaning. Others need to be driven out to the middle of the woods and left there, but that’s only for the minority.

Problem: I had a hard time decided who I wanted to write about first, but recent events made me want to talk about an issue nearly all black activist institutions have dropped the ball on — crimes perpetrated against black women and children.

I know many black women who are sensitive to the issues black men face, but when things go the other way around, there are a lot of shrugs and head scratching. Unless a black woman or child is being abused by a white person. Then everyone gets to show out the way white people used to show out when they felt a black person was tainting the virtue of a white woman.

But since most black women and children are victimized by their own silence is often the only sound I ever hear.

Case in point — the Dunbar Villiage criminal case out of West Palm Beach, Fla.

Other blogs have written more extensively about it. But the controversy centered around the view that the teenagers who perpetrated the crime where being unfairly persecuted by the justice system because of their race. This view was based on the fact that some white teens were allowed to be out on bail for a similar crime. The fatal flaw of this logic was the fact that the crime the black teens committed were not just immoral and heinous, but that they deserved prison time. If anything, the only argument should have been send the white teens to jail as well, not let the black teens out.

But since most people didn’t think about the black victims in this case the local NAACP chapter and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network came to the teens aid.

Both the local chapter and Al Sharpton backed off on the issue, albeit only recently. But the case seemed to perfectly represent how perverse this game of “the black male defendant can do no wrong” has come.

It was like the mother and child and what happened to them were a mere inconvenience, a reality not to be acknowledged. It was almost as if the victims should have said nothing at all, as guilty teenagers being punished by a racist justice system trumped rape, attempted murder, mutilation and torture. Obviously, supporting these junior sadists was the real priority.

And this situation is frighteningly crazy when you consider that twenty or thirty years ago no local NAACP chapter would touch this case. Not because of any judicial inequities, but because they did not take on cases where the morality of the defendant could harm the cause.

Back then the NAACP did not want to pick any individual who could bring unnecessary controversy or harm to those with legitimate issues. This is why Rosa Parks and her squeaky clean background was chosen to kick off the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Other blacks had refused to give up their seats, but they had criminal records or possessed “moral flaws” the NAACP feared would be used to denigrate the fight against segregation.

The NAACP of old would not have used this case in Dunbar Village to point out the flaws in our justice system. Every injustice was not equal in the organizations halcyon days. These “children” did not warrant protection, as no one protected the victims when they were brutalized.

While racism is still a problem in the United States so is gun violence, so is sexism, so are gangs, so are drugs and education and violence against women and children. Did they not understand that all social justice fights are compromised when the only injustice anyone understands involves a black male and the criminal justice system?

Solutions. This is rather hard to tackle. While so many black women, activists and bloggers did the right thing by putting pressure on the Florida NAACP and Sharpton to back down, the fact that anyone would think this was a good cause to take is much more disturbing. And that’s what we’re up against, the inherit sexism that exists within the black community.

This is a problem that knows no bounds. Where the women of Spellman College are criticized because they didn’t want sexually-charged rapper Nelly on their campus. Where R. Kelly trumps the 13-year-old he had sex with. Where Mike Tyson raped a young woman and everyone sided with Iron Mike. Where people got mad at Oprah Winfrey because she didn’t want rappers on her show due to their sexism and celebration of drug/gang culture. People who called for Don Imus to be fired but exalted the “poetry” of 50 Cent when someone pointed out that “nappy headed ho” gate did not begin or end at Don Imus.

This convoluted logic is so deep it blinds the common sense of blacks–young and old, male and female. So how do you fight that?

I have a few ideas. Perhaps its time black folk had their own “sexual revolution.” Too many black women incorrectly think feminism is “white woman thing” that is only about being a Lesbian or hating men. Also, it seems the only voices on black female sexuality that are being heard are through popular culture (where we’re naked whores) or through the church (where we are told to shut both our mouths and our legs).

And both pathologies are created to the man’s sexual benefit, not necessarily to the needs of the black woman or black Americans as a whole.

Black people need to be educated that it is not acceptable to treat black women as objects or to harm a black woman or child. That a black woman is equal to a black man meaning it is not an acceptable loss to lose either. Too often it seems black women are told “if we can get the brothers free first, then we can free you.” But considering white Americans have been free since they came to this country and they have serious sexism problems (White men also seem to only get upset if it involves a black man), I don’t know why our ascension to an ever more egalitarian society means black women will eventually reap the benefit. Especially when were are demanded to not complain too loudly under the belief that even legitimate criticism endorses a recurrent, malignant stereotype.

So who should take up the re-education effort? Nationally recognized black sororities? The National Council of Negro Women? Spellman College? Oprah?

What do you think? And do you have any ideas on how get social justice groups to understand that not every black male defendant deserves their defe

12 thoughts on “Dereliction of Duty: Silence Is Not Golden

  1. This is a great post. The NAACP’s and others’ initial reaction to the Dunbar Village incident only further proves that in the black community we need to focus as much on the insidious nature of sexism as we do on racism. If only because we’re silencing the voices of many black women who would otherwise be making amazing contributions.

  2. Oh Black Snob, Stop Snitchin’!!You know we don’t talk about this stuff. We got to protect our own.Question, why do we have to have Sharpton and the NAACP involved in the first place?I know they are two of the most visible protesters when something like this happens but I think their primacy as the agents of black opposition is the big problem.Them getting involved doesn’t have anything to do with seeking justice. It’s about getting their name in the paper and getting paid.And if they have to trample over the basic human rights of black folks to get it then so be it.When I want to fight for our rights I give money to the white folks who run the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Innocence Project.Morris Dees is a great hero to me and the fact so many folks seem to be ignorant of the things he and his group has done for us pisses me off frankly.Julian Bond gets more credit.The NAACP gets more credit.Sharpton and Jackson get more credit.Why?We black folks need to be more objective when considering who’s really working for our interests.

  3. Gender, Sex and Sexuality are tough issues to address in a culture that is deeply religious and wholly Christian.Feminism in its current form is the struggle of (middle class) White women against white men. Women of Color and of different classes have always been on the perimeter of “mainstream” feminism. Black women (and women of color in general) have to find a voice and a “feminism” that works for them.AND that’s going to take different forms based on whether you’re Christian, conservative, liberal, gay, heterosexual and what have you.I think its even harder for Black women to bridge those ideological gaps than their white counterparts given how deeply religious Black people are.

  4. Hi Snob,I think we (Black people) need organizations that are more specific. I don’t think general purpose organizations like the NAACP can be effective any longer.It would be better if we had organizations that targeted a particular group of Black people, middle class, poor, LGBT, etc.I think that issues effecting poor Black people are very different from issues effecting middle class/ affluent Black people.So for instance an organization that would be responsive to the problems/ issues of the middle class might lobby congress to do something about the ever increasing cost of college. Such an organization would also handle things like job discrimination, redlining by banks, etc.I think if this was done we would, as a whole, be more effective handling issues. The reason the NAACP is worthless at this point is they have no real focus. They are really just chasing headlines so they can keep the corporate donations coming in.Monie

  5. baltogeek: I know. Black people cannot criticize each other in public. While researching this post I ran across one black man’s blog where he jumped down the throat of abuse victims because they spoke out on a national stage. It was like the “betrayal” of black women who were brutalized was worse than the men who actually brutalized them. How could you accuse a woman who was sprayed with gasoline and set on fire by her ex of being a sell-out because she wanted other women to know that they shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed?It was mind boggling, but he was of the mind that the black man should not be seen in a negative light ever. Even if it’s not about every black man, just the black man who sprayed you with gasoline and set you on fire.I too don’t understand why the Innocence Project and Morris Dees’ Southern Poverty Law Center doesn’t get more respect, but that’s probably because they aren’t built around the individual. It’s the organization that does the work.As for Jesse n’ Al, they typically make money in other things. There’s not a lot of cash in activism. But they tend to show up because people contact them. They know that if Al or Jesse shows up the press will too. And there in lies the problem. The press is too lazy to talk to anyone but Jesse n’ Al because they already have their number on speed dial. But when it comes to more complicated, less press hungry groups like The Innocence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, they don’t know what to do.So Jesse and Al’s power is media driven. They courted the media initially (usually around a legitimate, media heated cause), have become titans via their own works and the media’s coverage of them and now the media is too lazy to meet any new black people unless they self-promote their way to prominence. This is sort of how the press didn’t “discover” Johnny Cochran until the OJ trial. Suddenly he was a national media figure, but it wasn’t for all his work to keep poor black people out of prison. It was for OJ, his most tawdry client.jj and monie: That would be good to have more varied groups so needs could be met. The NAACP is holding such a large stick because they can’t take care of every issue. They can’t even take care of issues within because they’re largely dedicated to fighting racism from whites. That’s were almost all black movements stall. Everyone’s prepared to smack down the white man if he gets out of line, but when we have our own problems no one knows what to do. We’ve murdered dissent within our own culture so no one can be critical without being accused of betraying the race.starrie: Yes. That crime is horrific. It makes me sick when I think of the particulars of the case and the fact that the Florida NAACP and Sharpton thought this of all things warranted their defense.But that’s how out-of-whack we’ve come, where you’re demanding silence out of critics when the “victims” were teenage monsters who committed unspeakable acts on a woman and her child. Who needed protection from black people more? These sick bastards or the mother and child? But of course some picked the monsters because they fit the mold — black males made victims of a racist system.I don’t deny that the system is racist, but how can you ignore the nature of crime? They should fucking buried under the jail. This is more ridiculous than the Duke Rape case. But, once again, black people seem to only care about the black woman if “the white man did it.” Even if it sounds sketchy. Even if it doesn’t hold up in court. We’ll show up and get just as riled up as white people do when it’s a black defendant, but crickets all around when you do it to your own.

  6. I only recently started questioning the direction and leadership of these organizations, publications like Essence and other major Black outlet.I was outraged with the R. Kelly affair but I was even more outraged by the support he received from everyday black folk. Black people were ready to burn down Duke until they realized that black girl lied, but Genarlow and company had sex with a unconscious girl on tape and they were acquitted of rape and now he has a free ride at Morehouse. Dunbar is just another example of the devaluing of black females. In most of cases, the victimization of the black females is ignored. The NAACP isn’t speaking out against this either is Essence.It’s just wrong.

  7. anonymous 10:44 pm: There’s an unwritten rule in black culture that you do not do anything that could harm the image of the black man. Even if it means allowing yourself to be harmed. You’re not supposed to be critical. There is a constant education about the plight of black men, but when it comes to black women there is no room for discussion. When black women or children are harmed by black men you are told to just look the other way because these acts reinforce the stereotype that black men are immoral. What people tend to forget that in an effort to protect the image of the black male you are basically telling women and children who are victimized to stay a silent victim, to not receive justice and to allow men who are immoral to stay on the street and continue their horrific deeds.And most black people/institutions truly do not know how to react outside of the scheme of white racism. That’s why Essence can write a billion articles about interracial dating but struggle at addressing other issues like rape, incest and spousal abuse. They sometimes tackle these issues, but usually not within the context of current events. Like writing about Dunbar Village or the R. Kelly case.Also, black women are routinely told to not “bring a brother down” by publicly airing any grievances. Both black men and women work to keep victims silent. The braver victims will go outside of the community to get support, but they often get accused the loudest of being sell outs. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that a black woman will do anything to cut down a black man. And this would make sense if it weren’t for the fact that black women, more often than not, refuse to date outside their race, refuse to abandon their communities, fight the hardest on the behalf of black men, keep the black church alive and work as hard as possible to keep other black women “in check.” I could be wrong, but I just don’t see that happening on the mens’ side, because it doesn’t have to. Despite the notion that black women are “strong” and “don’t need black men,” more often the reality is that black women have no where else to go. That’s why countless women have children with men who won’t marry them. That’s why black women learn to accept the lesser half. And that’s why black women appear to “complain” so loudly about their abandonment and mistreatment.That’s why it’s so harmful when men aren’t willing to see things from a woman’s perspective. It also doesn’t help black men to be this way about black women because it also says it’s OK for black men to hurt other black men, which must be true considering the horrible murder rate amongst black males in urban areas. And it is often the mothers of those slain men who protest the loudest.

  8. Start within our families. Next family reunion, birthday party, family dinner — the next time someone starts popping their sexism and rationalizing…talk to it out.the NAACP, Al Sharpton and others like them don’t inculcate their beliefs in a vacuum…someone is reinforcing the theory that black on black crime is less important when the victim is a black woman or child.

  9. I don’t agree that black people can’t criticize each other. I think that we criticize each other all the time, it’s just rarely done intelligently. Usually when a black person is critical of other black people, they are usually “attack dogs” for an organization, or just plain old attention-getting and money. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot that needs to be criticized, and should be criticized among the black community, it’s just that so little of it comes from a genuine place of actually trying to better things for black people.

  10. I somewhat agree with Anonymous (Monie) who says that more groups are needed to address the specific problems of various Black sub-groups. I just worry that if we become too segmented, we won’t be heard at all.But yes, I certainly agree that organizations like the NAACP (burying the N-word and all) are becoming more and more outdated in a society where the roles of people of color are ever changing.(Though I don’t know if greek orgs and the National Council of Negro Women are the ones to lead the charge, since there is the issue of class divisions and the perception of elitism.)I think Black people need to increase our visibility and presence in existing organizations that address issues of poverty, sexism, class, etc. I belong to a variety of social justice organizations where the staff and the leadership don’t reflect the people they aim to serve and advocate for. It may not be intentional, but it certainly doesn’t stop me from calling them out on it constantly.I can’t agree enough with your commentary on Black women and sexism within the Black community. I get so angry at this idea that Black women owe Black men our unconditional loyalty when we suffer at their hands all the time.These same conflicts between Black women and men can be had in other communities of color and because of this, it is so frustrating to see that feminism (with a big ‘F’) is still being represented by white, educated, upper class women. This doesn’t stop me from calling myself a feminist, but when you are marginalized by both Black men and white women, it gets tiresome and people like Jesse and Al don’t help. Great, insightful post.

  11. I do not agree with MarilynJean. first of all, this idea that black women owe black men “unconditional loyalty” does not exist. There is an entire industry that thrives on the fact that this idea doesn’t exist. “Strong,independent black woman” is a meaningless catchphrase that has been marketed to black women for years. For years now, through tv, books, magazines, and movies, we have been taught that black women owe black men nothing. That black men are lazy and criminal, and that black women are the “future” of the race, lonely and without partners. The idea you speak of just does not exist today.Another thing I would like to touch on is this notion that black women “suffer” at the hands of black men all the time. If you are a child, and your parents/elders are abusive, you are a victim and have very few ways to get help. If you are an adult who has bad taste in men, you don’t get to play victim. In the case that Black Snob mentioned, that was clearly a crime, and the people who committed it deserved no protection in any way. But trying to twist this and place the blame on all black men is ridiculous.

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