Race-work, Race-love

Rebuilding Racial-Trust and Racial-Love Between Men and Women of Color

In race, love, Uncategorized on October 21, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Racial trust. Often when you are a race-worker you identify strongly with others who share the same racial angst, love, or work. There is an immediate attraction when you find an ally, a friend, a lover, a partner who can share these moments of racial recognition. Sometimes it is a look, a knowing smile, a grimace of “Can you believe she just said that?!” – those moments of intimacy that racially conscious people have are precious. They make you feel part of a community and less lonely in a colorblind world.

This racial trust, racial recognition has, as of late, been fueled with thoughts of issues of gender. Over time, I have learned that racial trust can be broken when we speak on issues affecting women of color. What does it mean to be a race-woman in a violent world toward all women? What does it mean to love a race-man under these circumstances? When I think about gender and race, I am reminded that our long history of systemic violence and relationship abuse against men and women of color affects our race-work, our race-love.

I recall a conversation I had with a former partner. At the beginning stages of our friendship, we had many of these race-talks. We shared a love for the commitment to racial justice as taught by our spiritual ancestors like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. At the time, I discovered that my beloved hero of racial justice, Dr. King, had several extra-marital affairs. I explained to my friend at the time how deeply hurt I was by this knowledge. How could a man so committed to racial justice be uncommitted to his race-woman, to such gender injustice? I could not grapple with the irony of Dr. King’s commitment to racial and social upheaval and the way he treated women. I felt this cut very deeply.

And this is where these questions of women’s rights to feel safe in their relationships breaks the back of racial trust. At least with this particular person.

The man I was speaking with became livid. He yelled, “How could you be so insensitive about one of our heroes – one on MY heroes? Does cheating several times on his wife obliterate all the work he did toward racial justice? Next time, you need to be more careful about how you talk about people’s heroes!” He kept wailing, yelling, shouting, telling me that I can be perceived negatively if I continue to say such things by people who can’t understand race-work. In the end, he apologized and thought maybe we just shared the same passion for race. Perhaps this is the reason why we were both yelling, he thought.

Still, I cried. As a worker toward racial justice, I felt like I betrayed this racial trust. Yet, at the same time I felt like I was betraying women of color. Women who have felt the brunt of that kind of anger from their men because of slavery, lack of immigration status, racism. Where did I side in all of this? I cried because I felt like a traitor. I felt like I broke racial trust.

Of course, at the time I did not know that this person also had extra-marital affairs. At the time, I allowed him to blame me for his anger. I did not realize that this became a personal matter for him, not just as a race-man, but as a man in general.

Extra-marital affairs. Verbal abuse. Emotional abuse. Physical abuse. Sometimes at the hands of the ones we most trust – our race-men – as I claimed in an earlier post – anger acting out. So as a woman, as a race-woman, I took another path. This moment in my life led me down a different road than the one he told me I should take—the one where I should ignore abuse toward women to protect race-work. Instead, I went down a path of exploring what being a race–WOMYN meant, not just a race-worker. I reviewed the works of Angela Davis who reminds us that misogynist violence is legitimate to study and address. I reviewed the works in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. I remembered Oprah Winfrey disclosing her own abuse. To be sure, violence against women cuts across all racial boundaries. To be sure, violence against women encompasses the subtle and the overt forms. To be sure, often the cheating accompanies verbal manipulation, emotional distortion, and the demise of MUJER. WOMYN. Where do we go from here? Why did this happen to me? How could this happen to some of the strongest womyn I know?

And then I think of Celie in The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Do you remember? Celie’s husband is angry that she decides to leave him. He yells, he barks, he reminds her that he always thought she was ugly. Finally when none of that worked, he attempts to hit her. Celie swings around, turns and triumphantly says “Everything you done to me, already done to you.” She knew a secret that many of us have yet to uncover.

That brings me to the present moment. Could all that abuse we endured be occurring because men of color have been cheated on, manipulated, violated too? Kevin Powell, author and activist, admits to his own violent past and the ways social structures reinforce these violent acts. Powell discloses this to the world so that other young men can understand how the subtle can build up to the overt and become anger acting out. On the Oprah Winfrey show, Tyler Perry discussed his own anger acting out as he publicly disclosed abuse by four people in his life, all before he turned ten. Perry discusses how this abuse, then, was acted out toward the women in his life. But he also reminds us that many young men, young men of color, are ignored, abused, battered, violated by members of their household and community – but in a way he reminds us that these children are ignored, abused, battered and violated by a racist society. No they do not mention race – but one cannot ignore that he is a Black man. That his influences came from the Black Church. That he was helped along by a Black woman named Oprah Winfrey. No need to ignore that. This is race-work. This is race-love.

At this time, I must reinforce that this revelation does not excuse the abuse women of color have received over time by their men, sometimes race-men. This revelation only wants me to do more race-work. I implore our men committed to racial justice to face the truth in their own lives. To remember that the race-women in their lives have hearts and body parts that break too. Women have been writing, researching, discussing, acting upon, crying about, marching against the ways we have been treated. But we need our brothers and hermanos in the struggle to help us with telling your own stories of abusive pasts and triumphant recoveries to help other hermanos out too. Some may say “Why? Cheating isn’t violent”. Tell that to the woman who has been called crazy, been yelled fuck you, or been hit as a result of an accusation. Nothing works in isolation.

Still, I believe that all pain can be healed with love and a lot of work to recover that love. Part of that work includes forgiveness. Both Powell and Perry talk of forgiveness. And it is in this where we recover the racial trust we have slowly broken between men and women of color. And without racial trust – we can’t achieve our Racial Divine.

Our Racial Divine has been hurt not just by the society in which we live but also at each other’s hands. To recover our Racial Divine – we must work on rebuilding our race-love – to continue this race-work. To the outside world, the abuse in our communities is our own self-destruction. But to us Race-Workers, we know it is much more complex than that. It is time to build racial trust between men and women of color. We must do it if we are truly committed to being race-men and race-women.

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