As the older Black Woman (who we will lovingly refer to as “Auntie”) nervously took the microphone to address the panel, she let out what had obviously just popped into her mind.
‘My son just texted me and asked “Mama, why you at that Gay Women’s Conference, Are you Gay?”
Everyone in the room immediately broke out into roaring, if not a bit uneasy, laughter. It was a seemingly innocent comment that revealed the general perception of the event that was just wrapping up. The Dangers Of Being Black And Femme: A Panel Discussion was hosted at the Broadway United Methodist Church, on Sunday March 12th. The discussion featured a variety of prominent Black Women representing various movements in the Urban Community of central Indiana. From Black Lives Matter, to Local Artists and Spoken word Poets, to Educators, Followers of Christ, and also members of the LGBTQ community (there was something about me possibly needing to add an “A” to the end of that, but I’m not completely sure so give me one hood pass) there was a healthy mix of of diversity within the panel.
Going into the event, I will admit that I was a bit uneasy about what the tone of the conversations would end up being. I still consider myself a fairly new entrant into the “Conscious Community” of Indianapolis. As someone who has grown up with traditional Conservative Christian Values, with a lifelong church home at a midsized Southern-Baptist establishment, I have learned that being open about my beliefs leads to a certain stigma when interacting with a certain segment of other “woke” folk. I also feel that a uncomfortably large number of the leaders of some of these particular movements make it a habit to needlessly bash Black-Men, while giving passes to other enablers of White Supremacy, which I will touch on a little later.
I arrived a few minutes late, which I found out after the event was over that it opened up with a reading of a list of names of members of the Black-Transgender Community that had been slain in recent weeks. I missed this but it was by all accounts a classy gesture that set the tone for the event. The immediate discussion that was taking place was on the definition of what “Allies” are and what their involvement would and should be in the movement. With the recent rise of groups of “White Allies” coming together formally specifically to assist Black Groups in Indy like SURJ (and the questions that arise on both sides because of the negative history that some associate with the phrase) I think it was a interesting and needed discussion, particularly in our local community. Now unfortunately I don’t feel like any consensus was reached, but not that I expected it to be either. This conversation is one that will become bigger in upcoming months as we take time to look into more information on the direction of these fairly new white ally groups in Indianapolis.
Now, as expected, it wasn’t long before I perceived some unnecessary Black-Men bashing from members of the panel. I took a few pages of notes during the event, which also included a running tally of times I noted this BMB (which i will use to abbreviate ‘Black Men Blashing” for the duration of this piece because it’s really long to type for the amount of times I may use it from here on out). Within a few minutes my tally hit 5. What was interesting to me was the catalyst behind this at the time seemed to be some of the panelist’s unhappiness with the amount of Black Men who were present in the audience. Now I had taken a seat in the very last row available, and in my opinion it seemed like a good turnout based on some of the other recent Activism events and panels I have been to recently. To verify their claims I took an extremely unofficial head count from my vantage point, and here are my totally unofficial/unscientific percentages of the crowd makeup
35% Black Women
25% White Women
20% White Men
15% Black Men
5% – Margin of error and the one dog that wandered in at the end.
So looking at it simply like that, it is easy to have the train of thought that Black Men don’t support these events hosted by Black Women. That is the easiest conclusion to come to, so I understand why many people will use it as a crutch. But if you take it even a little bit deeper, it is notable that Black Men take a disproportionate percentage of the criticism and attacks at events hosted particular demographic. To the point where it becomes mentally exhausting to even listen to some of the arguments…. even when the validity of the statements, even if only in part, are there. There were about the same amount of White Men and Black Men in attendance, yet more than a handful of minutes where dedicated to criticism Black Men for their perceived lack of support without going into the reasons why a lot of us are absent, rather than giving any time to the biggest benefactors and proponents of White Supremacy and Black-Female Oppression on the Planet right there in attendance, White Men. And this happens much too often when dealing with “Feminist / Alternative Lifestyle” Panels and Events, Bash Black Men, Bash Black Men some More, let White People off the hook and speak nicely to your white allies in attendance who benefit from their Privilege with every breath, then Bash Black Men just a little bit more just incase anyone missed it the first 12 times.
However, As I listened to more of the panel speak, what struck me was what seems to be, for a lack of a better term, a cry out for approval and support from our Black Men by the Sisters on the stage. And despite everything I just typed in the previous paragraph I have to agree with them, we need and have to do more. For better or worse Black Women of been the most prominent leaders of this new generation of Black Civil-Rights. And as we near almost 4 years into The #BlackLivesMatter movement, with very little if any tangible amount of progress in our legal system for the protection of Black People against Law Enforcement, something has to change if this movement doesn’t want to continue Marching in Circles going nowhere. I believe that starts with narrowing this massive divide between the leaders of these Causes and the everyday Black Man who may be turned off by the rhetoric. On the flip side that also involves more Men who are skeptical like myself attending these events to get a better and more developed understanding.
Another subject that was touched on in this panel that I really hope is discussed in more detail at future events is the definition of “Oppression”. I think it is also a little too easy to make claims of “Oppression” to the Feminist and LGBTQ Black Community, when that term is often misused, if not completely misunderstood by some of the people claiming it is being used against them. In the same way some people may say that Black People cannot be racist, because we have little no no power to deny resources and wealth to other ethnic groups of people, I ask where is this oppression against these groups in our community? Black Women are the most highly educated group in America, Gay Black Men make more than their straight counter-parts, Self Proclaimed “Queer” Black Women are currently, and have been for years the spokespeople and leaders of the biggest modern civil rights struggle of our age, your whole church choir could be flamboyant, and while they may feel uncomfortable during certain sermons they still are allowed in the church for the vast majority . In short, this oppression they speak of really is not there as it is labeled, there is a lot of name-calling, even more misunderstanding, and a lot of people not willingly to accept ‘that because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I hate you’….but it’s time to have a serious discussion of who is really being “Oppressed” by the true definition of the word.
On a positive note, I enjoyed the non-formal tone of the panel. The moderator (and unofficial panelist, in her own words) was hilarious and several highlights of the event involved her interacting with the crowd and the panel. Also very little was held back as far as choice of words and political-correctness, the ladies were very blunt and got to the point with their statements, which was greatly appreciated by all in the crowd I am sure. My BMB tally didn’t even get to 10 when it was all said and done, which was a pleasant surprise. I also now know what a “Non-Binary Femme” is and also that this person doesn’t date men and is a lesbian as well. The spoken word and hip-hop artist added a great mix of abstract thinking to the panel and made me genuinely interested in hearing some of their work in the future.
At the end of the day I did not regret my decision to attend this event despite my initial hesitation, and my moments of disagreement with the panelists and conversations being had. I think it is very urgent that the Black Community in Indianapolis comes together and drops a lot of these barriers we are allowing to keep us from uniting. This is the 2nd LGBT-centric event I have been to in recent weeks and I have gained more understanding from each one. I think if we can continue to reach out to all Black People and shift some of this rhetoric from bashing a certain group, to how can we mend the fences with them instead, that there is a very real possibility of some powerful things happening in our city in the near future.