Why Black Women Also Fear Black Men

Though the fear of black men by white people is based on racist stereotypes, black women’s fear is rooted in a lifetime of experience.

Black masculinity is a site of contradiction: a stigmatized and subordinate racial identity paired with a dominant gender identity. As a member of both privileged and disadvantaged groups, learning to navigate can be difficult.

Recently, I was in a class taught by my advisor, and it was my week to facilitate class discussion. My advisor sat next to me and told me that he wanted me to practice being a professor, that I should project my voice more. He said that even though I have a deep voice, when he sits at the opposite end of the table he can barely hear me. I told him that I choose to speak a little softer because when I project, my deep voice coupled with my 6’3” 220 pound body frightens white people. They think I’m angry, and angry black men are scary. Though he turned my comment into a joke, he didn’t say anything else about voice projection.

This experience is one that is unique to black men. Our perceived hyper masculinity, supposedly outstanding physical prowess and abnormal aggression, makes us scary and intimidating to white people. This isn’t new, and it’s something that we’ve learned to deal with. The purse gripping, refusals to join us in an elevator, white women scurrying around corners when we walk behind them, have all become a part of life that we simply accept with little power to change. In the course of growing my dreadlocks, I was even told by a supervisor, a really nice and supposedly liberal older white woman, that my hair made me look “more dangerous,” implying not only that I looked dangerous before I began to grow my hair but that my new, “black” hairstyle increased the level of threat attached to my body.

That is the life of a black man in a white world, one fraught with stigma and fear, but certainly returning home to our own communities would allow us to walk around freely without frightening those around us. Unfortunately, that’s not the case as we go from being subordinate in white spaces to dominant and hegemonic in black spaces.

A few weeks ago, I recall having a conversation with my girlfriend where I told her I was annoyed at the tweets of a black woman that I was reading. The woman ranted for almost an hour about her fear of black men. She said that she was afraid of individual black men, black men in groups on the street, and being alone with black men. It bothered me because I felt as if she was stigmatizing us in the same way that white people do, imbuing our bodies with inherent criminality. I expected her to feel differently.

We live together, in the same communities, in the same houses. We are natural allies in the black freedom struggle. Black women are our mothers, sisters, and cousins; they couldn’t possibly fear us. Somehow, though aware of the terror inflicted upon black women by black men, I managed to ignore their valid reasons for being afraid of us. I know that black men are like other men toward the women in their communities: violent (physically and emotionally) and entitled, but I naively assumed that black women would look upon us as individuals and gauge our potential for violence before assigning us the label “frightful.” Certainly, I, an “enlightened” feminist man, who doesn’t slut shame or participate in rape culture, wouldn’t be lumped in with the rapists and street harassers.

But how can we expect to be looked upon as individuals when we fail to extend to them the same luxury. I look just as threatening standing on a street corner as any other black man who may whistle at a black woman as she walks by and call her a bitch if she refuses to respond appropriately and deferentially. I look just as threatening at a house party as any other black man who may get a little too friendly while driving a black woman home after she drank a bit too much alcohol. We can’t expect black women to be unafraid when black men give them ample reason to be afraid.

Unlike white women, and white people in general, who are very rarely victims of the crimes of black men, black women are on the front lines being abused, raped, and harassed. Though the fear by whites is based on suspicion and irrational, racist stereotypes, black women’s fear is rooted in a lifetime of experience and hurt. We have to learn to separate the two and not be hurt by the fear we’ve caused. We have little power to alter whites’ perceptions of us, but we can combat the fear that black women have developed by refusing to perpetuate as system of domination and hegemonic masculinity that excuses and encourages behavior that makes us frightening.

We have to meet it at the source: our friends, cousins, and uncles. We must be brave enough to tell them not to yell at that woman across the street and push back when they suggest getting a woman drunk so they can have sex with her. We have to rid ourselves of the idea that because we aren’t the guys hiding in the bushes women shouldn’t fear us, and learn to own our privilege and frightfulness and fight to make our communities safe for black women so that we can also feel safe. If we want black women to be our allies, we have to stop positioning ourselves as the enemy.

Read more: Schrodinger’s Rapist: Yes, We Have To Talk About This Again

Image credit: alainlm/Flickr

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About Robert Reece

Robert Reece is from Leland, MS and received his BA and MA degrees from The University of Mississippi. He is now a PhD student in sociology at Duke University where he studies race and racism and contracts as a NPO researcher. He blogs at Still Furious and Still Brave and tweets at @PhuzzieSlippers.

Comments

  1. @wellokthen:The last comment I made to Jules was meant for you.

  2. @Maroonsista:I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about. The emasculating language you have used in several posts in which you call men cowards,whiners,saying they need pacifiers is unnecssary and is exactly the kind of abusive patterned behavior I have been talking about and have mentioned before. This line of attack is all too common in the black community that eventually leads to an escalation in hostilities. Your behavior epitomizes what I’ve been discussing all along.Over and over again you resort to this shaming strategy because when you are disagreed with,and not with just me.Alchemist uses the same strategy when men disagree with her,especially black men. This is a site for men.Men who, by and large, are supportive of women. Sexism isn’t tolerated here.But men here don’t rollover just because a woman thinks he should. Deal with it.

    • You mean…a site called “Good MEN project” is a site for men to write about men? YOU DON’T SAY?! I’m so glad you told me. I really had no idea. That totally went over my head considering the MASSIVE amount of articles from men about men. And I still didn’t realize it when I co-signed on this entire article FROM A MAN about MEN all the while you spent time disagreeing with everything on the post and wanting it to be about women’s wrongdoings. *blank stare* We’re done speaking directly to each other. I can handle a difference of opinion, but I can’t respect any of YOUR views. Your ideas on how men can skip out on fatherhood and a few others makes the conversation between you and I absolutely pointless. AND I STAND BY EVERY SINGLE COMMENT I MADE ABOUT PACIFIERS, WHINING AND WHAT IS COWARDLY. Deal with it. (Last comment directly to you.)

    • Stop wasting your time with Maroonista. Some people are just not worth it.

      • @JT…

        You are wrong. I thought Maroonsista offered some very valid and truthful observations.

        Also, every human being is “worth it.”

        Just because it is not something you (or I) might not want to hear, does not mean it is not true.

        How about expanding your vision? Learn to see a different perspective. You don’t have to agree. But, at least take the time to indulge.

        Just saying.

        • Hey @Jules totally appreciate the defense and I thank you. But don’t worry about it. It truly makes me not a bit of difference if anybody on this board thinks I’m a “waste of time” to talk to. Comments like that show me where their viewpoints are and set the stage for why my comments would be a “waste of time” to them. No big deal to me. I expect certain people with certain opinions to not agree with me. I will be cool either way. *shrug* You’re going to have people who will agree and those who disagree on both ends. I, personally, just choose NOT to keep debating the same topics with the same people when I know we won’t see eye to eye. I indulged. Didn’t agree. Started focusing on points I do agree with. But whatever you do, don’t use the words “happening” and “testosterone.” Sheesh! *laughing* I kid. I kid. Anyway, have a good evening.

    • I’ve really enjoyed your comments on this post, ogwriter. Easily the most the nuanced and informed—which may be the reason they got so little response.

      And Maroonista is clearly a waste of time.

      • I thought about giving a damn about you both saying that I’m a “waste of time” to talk to. I actually did wonder if you’d read my other comments before making that completely intelligent and thought-provoking response. (Sorry about the sarcasm dripping from your computer keyboard. It happens sometimes.) But then I realized who you do agree with and realized with a laugh, “Oh, that’s why. Now I DEFINITELY don’t give a damn.” *shrug* And…moving on!

    • @ogwriter…

      “This line of attack is all too common in the black community that eventually leads to an escalation in hostilities.”

      Yes, and it becomes counter productive. I just wished as a people we could learn to “rise above” this sort of thing. We need honest discourse. We need to hear the other person out, regardless of whether we agree or disagree.

      You did a fabulous job of presenting some tough and informed points. While I did not agree with everything, I can respect (and understand) where you were coming from on the issue(s).

      The aim and goal is to find solutions and common ground to move forward. Unless we can do this, it really is all lost.

      • You did a fabulous job of presenting some tough and informed points. While I did not agree with everything, I can respect (and understand) where you were coming from on the issue(s).

        The aim and goal is to find solutions and common ground to move forward. Unless we can do this, it really is all lost.

        There’s a real challenge in there – so I wonder if people would be willing to rise to it!

        Pick a subject you are sure you won’t agree on – and then pick one where you will. Now pick one half way between and see what happens. Only one rule – you are not allowed to mention the other two subjects of drew them into the debate.

        Give that a try and lets see how easy it is to move forward!

  3. @Jules; As you can plainly see these problems are longstanding in the community, yet they really are no different than what “white” men are going through now as they struggle with attempting to regain control of their identities in a post-feminists world. From a mental health standpoint, for me, I can’t be around someone who doesn’t have the ability to compare, contrast and measure simultaneously the push pull effects of abuse on a variety of communities.

    Furthermore, trying to deal with and balance the contradictions associated with trying to be responsive to the demands of others is too much.On the one hand, men are told by women that men need to be more like them and be unafraid to be vulnerable.

    Men are told that they need to be unafraid to tell women how they feel and tell them what their innermost fears are:Right. We have seen, on this thread, how that works out.
    According to some, the very act of black men telling their stories is actually a part of the blacks mans plot ( damn,
    I must have missed the last meeting), in accordance with his overall desire to keep black women under his thumb,by preventing her story from being heard. Let me think here, do black men own and or operate any major news outlets like MSNBC, The Huffpost, Fox news…hmmm, no .Do black-men control any of the editorials boards where what is news for the country is decided…hmmm, no. This past political season the issues concerning women were front and center, while issues concerning black-men, that should also concern black women like mass incarceration,were not even on the agenda. Our feminists President doesn’t see clearly the issues of men. For every one military fatality, 25 more die by suicide. Overall the suicide rate for black, men has exploded in recent years.But, I go too far, I don’t want to get cursed out or be told that I am a coward or a whiner, by someone who has way more experience being a man than I do.

    Do I believe in personal responsibility, of course, but I also believe in justice. And I know enough t see that putting people in jail for drug possession is beyond retarded and of course the most vulnerable will suffer the most. And while men don’t have the right to abuse women the same can be and should said about the behavior of women.
    For instance, lesbians rape and commit acts of dv, and rape against other women, but not once did that ever come up in the comments about abuse in this thread which gives the impression that only men commit these acts. This is why I reacted the way I did.

  4. I welcome a brother who isn’t afraid to express himself; speak his fears, vulnerabilities, hopes, and dreams…it’s called being real – how else can we have a real relationship? Plus, I’d imagine that all that pretense would give you high blood pressure…hey, wait, that’s prevalent in our community too…

  5. Cookie I am certain you are sincere and forthright.However,I have discovered through life experience and in exploring sites like this one that often some women say they want a sensitive self aware man only to find out later they have no sexual or romantic interest in said man. This kind of crazy thing is very common and happens to men of all races.My point is, men are looking far more closely at what relationships and life has to offer them and women, I think,aren’t exactly comfortable with it. Women have been taught that men are supposed to want them,to pursue them and it makes many women lazy in certain respects. I mean men are simple right? There is in my mind,no excuse for some women to emasculate a man and in the African American community it happens too frequently.

    • Unfortunately I can’t disagree with you, because I have encountered women like that in my life – some of whom were friends and possibly family. Yet this ‘legacy’ continues to thriveand flourish in our community and its destruction takes no prisoners; it’s detrimental for us as a whole, because you can’t possibly have a successful relationship if you’re emasculating your man, and in turn reacting to that by disrespcting your woman. It’s a vicious cycle. I think a healthy mix of sensitivity and self-awareness is a positive thing, for both the black male and female, but we are too defensive and angry to even consider the possiblity of that. I am deeply saddened by this. Again, I am NOT saying that all of us are like that, but as I grow in ‘maturity’, I am becoming more and more conscious of my behavior, as well as that of others I encounter, by trying to understand the reason why some people shy away from vulnerability and commitment, which is so important for close, intimate relationships. Notably, their actions (or inaction) is rooted in some kind of trauma/pain, which is then manifested by keeping oneself ‘closed off’ to others, preventing any type of emotional commitment. Also, as they say, ‘hurt people, hurt people….

  6. @Cookie: I can relate to what Jules has experienced with far too many African American women concerning control and masculinity. Too many either disrespect men by trying to be one even though they can’t be oine, or because they are constantly beating the, ” he ain’t no man drum, ” for some perceived violation of the “Black man code”( not to be confused with his equally stupid cousin, “the white male code” ) of which too many sisters think they define for him., or because they actually believe they can be a better man than men can be.

    Something that was touched on in the schmaltzy, annoyingly irritating, song by Beyoncey,” If I Were a Boy”.in which she basically sang that women make better males than males do. Again, this is nothing new in the African American community or, I’m finding out in culture at large. I far as I am concerned I j have little time for such ignorance and lack of depth of thought. There is no excuse for this stuff and the sooner African American women get rid of theemasculating behavior, the sooner there may be the kind of discussions between men and women that I thankfully experience here, on this site, daily

    • That is unfortunate; I can’t honestly say that I don’t know of any women in my past (and maybe present) who are a bit hardened by (their) life or circumsance; I am glad to say that I am not one of them.

      As for Beyonce’s song “If I Were A Boy”, I personally don’t believe the song is about emasculating men; I think it’s about enlightening men (and women) about the games that (some) men play in relationships, the consequences, and knowing what it is like to love someone and lose them because of your actions. I think it’s about the idea of doing things that are knowingly hurtful to someone who cares about you, and acting like their behavior isn’t hurtful – and granted, it may not be.

  7. @Cookie : I can say for myself that I can differentiate between good advice and someone telling me how to be man or from someone wj hi is emasculating. The truth is emasculation for all manner of reasons is common in the African American community and thought to be a good thing. I think it contributes to some of the failings we see in the community.

    Ever since I was a kid, I have heard some of the nastiest meanest language surrounding masculinity–who’s got it and who doesn’t– and more importantly, how do we punish those who are deemed to fall short of whatever stupidity is deemed the current definition, at this point in time. Now that is critical to know==at this point in time, because whatever the soup dujour definition is today,in this country, will change over time.Which is More reason to reject whatever a woman says should be the definition of masculinity. I mean would you hire a Prius mechanic to fix your Ferrari?

  8. That is the key; to differentiate between good advice and a outright put-down, and I know that the former exists in our community all to often. It is just unfortunate that sometimes the two get mixed up…

  9. Hey folks, it’s been interesting chatting with you but after a brief conversation with the writer of this piece, I can’t even take him seriously so I can’t take this article seriously anymore.

    He says “If we want black women to be our allies, we have to stop positioning ourselves as the enemy.” but the first time you disagree with him, he leaves tweets like, “You give [insert n-word] [expletive] to read and they don’t read it because it’ll prove them wrong. I get it now.” On my worst day with the worst person, I don’t call brothas the n-word so I definitely have zip zero respect for a black man calling a black woman that. We’ll NEVER be that cool regardless of a tweet telling me you followed the discussion to see what I was tweeting and agreed with me.

    I’m also blown by a lady in his timeline who calls herself “fat” and a “gorilla” and jumped into the conversation. *shaking my head* This entire post is a joke to me now.

    He leaves tweets like, “Is there a difference? RT @cablefixer: @me Do you hate white people or dumb white people who make stupid accusations?” and “Robert Reece ‏@PhuzzieSlippers I just wanna troll white people who accuse POC of hating white people and be like “I do.”

    Oh yeah and to @ogwriter his response to you talking about women being abusive was “[insert n-word] please” so before you send a message to me complaining about me saying folks are whining, he wasn’t exactly on your side either.

    I can’t take ANYBODY seriously who immediately insults HIMSELF with the harshest word in the English dictionary as well as someone disagreeing with him. How are you telling men to call other men out for being insulting and you’re insulting, too? That’s in addition to doing an entire piece about trying to calm white people down and then tweeting about how you hate white people. My gawd, this entire piece is a joke to me now. To preach self-hate and racism after writing THIS piece is beyond comprehension to me. You folks enjoy going back and forth on this piece. I’m too through now. Now THIS was a waste of my time. *shaking my head* Someday he’ll learn. At least I hope so.

    Later all! @Jules, again, wishing you the best!

    • @ Maroonsista – what a pity – and I mean that! You have an interesting voice and take on things that engages. And then you claim that words can hurt you… on twitter!

      I’m not fan of the Twittering Masses or the Farcebook clones – and I sure as hell aint a fan of anyone who takes 140 characters of less and turns it into a reason to run away! It’s the new social networking way to engineer a Flouncetastic Exit alla Drag Queen….. and honey your heels and frock have let you down.

      Sad to see you go but – well The tweet was too much and I will not stand to be tweeted at in that way … it’s so Hollywood Drama and Black and White repeat….. it’s on every afternoon along with Bargain Matinee.

      As I said, enjoyed your intelligent and engaging ways with words, but the drama and failed flouncy exit are not endearing or engaging.

  10. @Cookie: As odd as it may sound,I have found some semblance of hope in the idea that this behavior is undoubtably rooted in culture and therefore learned.What is learned can be unlearned. I experienced what I think was a classic Southern upbringing,it just ocurred in San Francisco and as such was also influenced regionally. This regional influence which frowned on using corporal punishment on children gave me an option behaviorally.Even though I was beaten and verbally abused, I never beat my children. My mother never another way.The research I have done points to the south as epicenter of this behavior,especially South Carolina. Steven Stowe has the defense of honor closely to the men of the slaveholding class…failure to observe the code of honor—( the man code in the east and west)—resulted in duels…Southern conventions tolerated many manifestations of displaced brutality.Heavy drinking,gambling and dueling were accepted… Historian Elizabeth-Fox Genovese Remember,for the South the Civil War was about honor.

  11. @Alice: To,be fair and complete, the Afirican American community at large contributes and sustains this phenomenon. The African American community loves bold, macho men and why not, they were needed. Where would they be without men like Frederick Douglas, a first class bad ass of the highest order, or Malcom X ,or Dr. Harry Edwards? I remember laughing watching Melissa Harris Perry and a panel of women on her show trying to reconcile their political beliefs as feminists with the fact that they found thug rappers, like Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur atrractive. Of course, at the end of day,they were quite adept at rationalizing the contradictions—they got a free pass because they both rappers were typical African American boy’s who loved their mothers beyond all reason.

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