The other day, as I sat and watched ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ with my 20-year-old son, I was dismayed by the few black men who took part in the docu-series. Later, as I read the tweets #SurvivingRKelly, I was shocked and disappointed in some of the comments made by black men who blamed and shamed survivors.
Watching the docu-series with my son provided me an opportunity for a deeper conversation about consent, sexual assault, and predatory behavior. Yet, I realize for all the conversations I’ve had with both my sons about consent and healthy boundaries, I had somehow failed to talk about advocating for survivors of sexual assault, rape, and abuse. While I was busy ‘raising great men’, I manage to overlook a simple step to that greatness.
As a black woman, I have spent my life struggling to find my own voice in this world. I assumed the role of a “strong black woman” because it was important that my sons grew up to be resilient. As a black mother, I wanted my sons to become confident, compassionate, and strong men. With each news report of an unarmed black man being shot and killed by the police, I focused more on teaching my sons about self-care than about advocacy.
Yes, I did my part in teaching them to respect and value our black and brown sisters but all the action was passive. Where was the compassionate action in ensuring that the lives and basic human rights of black women were not overlooked, ignored, or debased? How was I teaching them through my facade of strength that black women are also vulnerable and scared?
Which leads me back to ‘Surviving R. Kelly’. Where were the voices of black men when girls and women were being sexually assaulted, exploited, physically, mentally, and emotionally abused? Who was standing with black girls and women who are survivors of rape and sexual trauma?
Malcolm X is quoted as saying,
The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman, the most unprotected person in America is the Black woman, the most neglected person in America is the Black woman.
How is it possible that this quote echoes the truth more than 50 years later?
Throughout history, other people have depended on the black woman to stand up and speak out for injustice but who stands up for us? If I’m not empowering and equipping my sons to stand with black girls and women, what am I empowering them to do? As black women, we are praised and criticized for our strength.As black women, we grow up observing our mothers, grandmothers, and aunts be the force of strength who are the keeper of secrets, who comfort and heal those who are broken or rejected, but what we didn’t see was their moments of vulnerability. This is the same strength that our sons depend on in order to become men of substance. Yet, our strength doesn’t give our sons the full picture of our needs to be supported, encouraged, and believed.
It is our responsibility as black mothers to raise black men who not only value the input and contributions of black women but who will not remain silent in the presence of injustice. Our job is not an easy one but if we do not set the example for them, who will?
It’s not enough to just talk to our sons about the importance of being a man of honor, we need to arm them with advocacy strategies that empower them to speak up for us.
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