Some of you read this title, saw my name and picture above, and thought, “Another Black man (a Nationalist at that) is bashing Kimberly Foster for her controversial article “Why I Will Not March for Eric Garner.” Foster’s July 22nd article on the forHarriet.com website has sparked the righteous indignation of many in the progressive Black community, and in my opinion, rightly so.
But this is not a feminist-bashing article nor is this a personal attack of Kimberly Foster, who I believe is a conscious and committed Black woman dedicated to exposing and challenging patriarchy while empowering other Black women.
This article simply represents my disagreement with the position she’s taken, explains how she has confused the real issue, and describes what I believe to be her misguided and divisive approach. Essentially she attempts to galvanize the Black feminist community by suggesting they be apathetic toward acts of racist violence against Black men simply because some Black men are ignorant sexists.
I am not a feminist per se, (the growing trend of Black men openly proclaiming themselves as such annoys me and reeks of self-serving political correctness) but I am a student of the Black experience. And it is in this role that I write.
In her article, which I again encourage you to read for yourself, Foster explains how she finds Eric Garner’s murder via police choke-hold personally disturbing. However, Foster notes that she is equally disturbed by some Black men’s lack of empathy when “Black women attempt to discuss the everyday terrors we experience both in the world and at their hands.”
Her frustration with ignorant Black men that defend patriarchy and insulate themselves from the suffering of our sisters is valid. Such lack of compassion for the oppression of Black women by white or Black men is unacceptable, period. To the same degree that white supremacy conditions most whites to harbor racist attitudes, sexism conditions most men to harbor patriarchal attitudes and/or behavior. Both are reprehensible. So if Foster believes that both men and women should be free from oppression and violence, reasonable minds should agree!
She then goes on to write a few statements that are particularly disturbing:
…if the NYPD or the City of New York fail to act, I will not march for Eric Garner. I will not rally for him because I am reserving my mental and emotional energy for the women, the Black women, no one will speak for.
In concluding she notes:
Many women continue to believe that offering unconditional support to the men who dismiss their calls for help will result one day in a return of care–as though they are watering a seed. But I have yet to see the fruit from that tree of hope, and I’m tired of waiting.
So I will mourn Eric Garner and I will cry bitter, broken tears for him, but that is all that I can do.
The problem with her position is obvious. Only narrow and dogmatic ideology cloud the issue here. First of all she is the founder and editor of a website that wants to “raise the level of discourse surrounding Black women,” and that pays tribute to a number of strong and activist Black women including Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Septima Clark, Assata Shakur, NIkki Giovanni, Shirley Chisolm, Toni Morrison, Ida B. Wells, and other notables.
From what I know and understand about all of these sisters mentioned, they all understood that Black people were collectively oppressed from within and externally. They all struggled with racism, sexism and class exploitation. And in varying degrees, they all saw Black men as their compatriots and comrades in the struggle, and often fought FOR and WITH them.
It would be easy for me to quote various Black feminists to support my argument. But our history itself is far more instructive. For example, Ida B. Wells fought valiantly against the lynching of Black men; Angela Davis challenges sexism while also challenging the disproportionate incarceration of Black and Brown men and women; Assata Shakur fought alongside brothers in the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army; Ella Baker mentored young brothers and sisters in SNCC (while challenging Dr. King’s own patriarchy), and the site’s namesake Harriet Tubman, worked to help both Black men and women escape the horrors of bondage.
Way before the term “feminism” and the second wave of the Feminist Movement existed, countless Black women fought to empower themselves AND their brethren even while confronting the patriarchal views and practices of those same brethren. Fighting patriarchy within the race and fighting white supremacy outside of our race are not mutually exclusive projects! We have indeed reached a tragic moment in our sociopolitical history when we fail to recognize this. Foster’s public decision to do nothing about this incident is both unprecedented and decidedly defeatist.
Secondly, Foster conflates the issues of unbridled police brutality and Black male patriarchy. Try as she might to argue otherwise, these are separate and distinct issues and must be treated as such. She is correct to call brothers out for being backwards and insensitive to the triple oppression (race, gender, class) that most sisters suffer and the roles Black men play in that suffering. She should continue to fight for our sisters’ FULL empowerment both in the workforce and at home. Her work in these regards is commendable and there will be times when her voice and perspective causes brothers to feel uncomfortable. If brothers embody and manifest anti-woman values and practices, they should feel uncomfortable! However she fails to separate one issue from the other and she does this in a way that subtly empowers racist police to continue killing us with impunity! When political-minded and articulate Black folk take a hands-off position concerning our mistreatment, we empower the enemy and make ourselves more vulnerable by default. This is simply irresponsible and contradictory for one who considers herself a radical voice or advocate for the Black oppressed and marginalized.
Rather than employing an indifferent and apolitical tit-for-tat approach, Foster might have lent her voice and considerable following to a powerful attack/critique of the growing trend of over militarized police using tasers, billy clubs, guns, and choke-holds in their interactions with Black PEOPLE.
Sometimes we become so entrenched in our ideals and isolated in our political bubbles that we forget a simple point: Our political ideologies should identify, critique and resolve conflicts, not compound or ignore them. Our arsenal of liberation theories should help us to become active agents of our liberation, not confused and conflicted partners of our own victimization!
Neither Foster’s feminist politics, our long rich tradition of Black feminist activism, or even the deeply entrenched patriarchy of some brothers justifies her apathetic and divisive position in this matter. What Foster essentially says is: “Since I’m frustrated with some brothers’ participation in or failure to address the domination/violence of Black women, I will protest by refusing to raise my voice to address the state domination/violence used against Eric Garner.” In the abstract ideological world of ideas, some will find peace with this reactionary logic. But in the tangible world of political practice and power, this amounts to putting one’s personal frustrations and ideals over the ruthless murder of yet another Black man in America. In fact, her position almost subtly suggests that other Black women should take the same position.
The cops will rally to support the actions of their colleagues for sure. Their police unions, Mayor di Blasio, and scores of white (supremacist) neoliberals along with overt white supremacist New Yorkers will raise money to assist the police officers with legal and living expenses. The corporate media will play their part by attempting to humanize these state-sanctioned murderers and remind us of “The incredibly dangerous job they do” for city residents.
Unfortunately WE will be divided and conflicted in our support for Eric Garner because of confused, misplaced and conflicted (white) feminist ideals. Sad and shameful indeed….Through all of this, serious questions remain: How does this policy and practice serve Black women, who are all connected to Black men in some way? For example, how does this impact all the mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, and daughters who’ve lost Black men to police violence? Aren’t Black women too, victimized by state violence? Won’t silence toward the victimization of Black men, make Black women more vulnerable themselves? Has Ms. Foster ignored all the Black men who’ve protested against, spoken up for, and written about state violence directed at Black women? And let us not forget that Eric Garner has daughters (like all Black men killed by cops) and other female relatives and friends. What message, inspiration or remedy does Foster’s approach offer them? What values or qualities does this promote to Black people who find themselves victimized by police and vigilante violence throughout this nation? What message does such apathy send to our enemies? And finally, how does Foster’s position on this matter help to resolve our issues and empower us?
In conclusion, I believe all of us, Black feminists included, should unite to intelligently inform our sister Kimberly Foster that with respect to this matter, she is misguided, and emotionally driven. The community should challenge her position and help her understand that in this instance, she is conducting herself as a reactionary and counter-revolutionary. Indeed, she has taken a position that sets us back rather than pushing us forward. And she does this in the name of sheroic Black women who would oppose her stance, were they alive.
Those cops that killed brother Eric Garner must be brought to justice, and Black people must organize to prevent such tragedies in the future. And this should be done WHILE addressing the intersecting issues of gender and class. If you are Black and progressive, and your political ideas don’t bring you to these conclusions, you most likely need new political ideas.
Sister Kimberly, you must Africanize your practice of feminism in ways that make it protective of and relevant to Black women and Black people. Perhaps the pale-faced ones see themselves as detached competitive and disconnected cliques, but we Africans value community, family, and collective empowerment. You/we have an obligation to be critical of any ideology and to correct any ideology to suit our particular interests as Black people. Please don’t become an unwitting tool for racist white feminists, and please don’t allow your bitterness and frustration with some of our ignorant and insensitive brothers to make you ignorant and insensitive as well….
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.