Nana Kwabena Writes An Open Letter To Black Men About The Cost Of Protecting Black Women

Nana Kwabena. Photo Credit: Emmanuel Sasu Mensah

The article below was written by music producer Nana Kwabena:

Having been raised in an abusive environment, the mistreatment, silence and erasure of Black women within our own communities hits too close to home. One third of all women will experience either physical or sexual assault at some point in their lives. But that number always felt much higher when looking at the women I was closest to given the cultural, political and economic violence targeted towards Black women globally.

Many of the women I’ve known have shared countless stories of abuse in both their personal and professional lives. In some cases, we‘ve been able to work together towards taking meaningful action. But in many cases, we’ve chosen to keep their experiences in confidence.

In our community, “the secrets stay in the family” belief has always been a source of inner conflict for me. As a confidante, too often has it been difficult to distinguish between whom the silence was really protecting: the stories of the women that confided in me, or the reputation of the men that abused them. I know how troubling this silence was for me so I can‘t even begin to comprehend the depths and the nuances that women have had to navigate when sharing their truths.

Having said that, one thing remains clear. The default reflex to question women who come forward before questioning the actions of their abusers? Poison. The knee-jerk reaction to put women on trial before we interrogate their abusers? Poison. The search for flaws in their stories, pondering the motives in their actions or policing the tones in their voices? All of it is poison.

How many of these ideas have we inherited from the doctrine of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchal thinking? How deeply has this permeated the cultures of our companies, the conversations within our social circles and the furthest corners of our own psyche? Even more, what makes questioning and trivializing Black women and their experiences at the hands of abusive men any different than the media we’ve long criticized for demonizing and criminalizing the character of unarmed Black men who have fallen victim at the hands of abusive police? Do both not serve as a gross rationalization of their traumas to justify and legitimize a shirking of responsibility?

Black women are amongst the highest educated population in the world — and yet they are often passed over, taken for granted, discredited, and even sexualized as they try to build meaningful careers and lives for themselves.

Voicing our support for Black women is necessary, but not sufficient. Amplifying the voices of Black women is necessary, but not sufficient. Chanting the mantra of “protect Black women at all costs” is necessary, but not sufficient when we’re not prepared for all of the costs.

All of it falls short until we, as men, are no longer passively engaged in feminist resistance — a resistance where we begin by identifying the misogynoir within, not only when it’s overt, but more importantly when it is covert and subtle. A resistance where we are faced with ourselves and the circles we engage in. A resistance where men STFU when women have the floor and LOUD the fuck up when we see some fuck shit within our own backyards.

Point out to me a time when Black women haven’t been showing up, doing the work and holding the line against male violence, abuse and sexism. And these ideas, whether inherent or inherited along the way, don’t exist as simple binaries, but rather function along a gradient. As Black men, we can no longer render ourselves exempt from taking into account where we fall on the spectrum.

I am not free from this in the least and I am grateful for the women in my life who’ve been an instrumental part of my development and held a mirror to the shadow sides of myself that I’ve been unable, or at times unwilling, to see. In being in communication with these women, I’ve been able to witness moments when I’ve interrupted women in conversations, been possessive in relationships, and times when I didn’t take action when a woman felt unsafe in a shared environment.

It’s one thing to identify our own toxic behavior when it is flagrant and overt, but a significant part of the work also lies in addressing when it’s codified in the subtleties of language or the intricacies of our relationship dynamics. It is in these difficult conversations that I’ve also had to confront generational cycles of behavior within the men in my own family. As a part of my own development, in wanting to rebel against the traits of anger that I witnessed within my father and grandfather, I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to master self-control, discipline and composure.

As genuine and honorable as this felt to me and my journey, there were women in my life that challenged me to establish a healthy relationship to my shadow emotions instead of creating a Pandora’s box out of them while convincing myself that I’m above them.

It was through the wisdom of these women that I learned that there is no control over our shadow selves if we do not engage with them and find healthy ways to express what lies beneath their surface. This was not only a freedom that was emotionally liberating for me, but I quickly learned how it also impacted my relationships with women. Previous to this part of my journey, I had yet to realize how many times women have hesitated to confide in me because they knew how the anger I have in defense of people I love can also impair my own judgment. It was in these moments that women have had to decide between protecting themselves by risking my involvement or protecting me by remaining silent, simply because I hadn’t been doing my share of the work.

It was also these women who inspired my thinking and cautioned me on the self-indulgent follies of progressive masculinity and its preoccupation with being an exception to the rule rather than its focus on communal introspection and engaging other men to do the same. I’m reminded of the vulnerability of these moments and the times when my own defensiveness followed suit.

Do we as men truly believe that the toxicity of misogyny and internalized patriarchy that has permeated our subconscious wouldn’t also come equipped with a built-in defense mechanism? One that, when triggered, eschews responsibility in acknowledging its own existence? There’s a lesson that can only be learned when we question the source and the nature of our own defenses, reflexes and reactions.

2020 is unequivocally the Year of Reckoning. No stone left unturned. No word left unsaid. Lines must be drawn in the sand. There is neither room for complacency nor neutrality. And in the same way that we’ve all agreed that we can no longer shelter hegemonic structures of racism, we need to come to terms with no longer granting safe harbor to harassment, coercion, manipulation and all forms of subtle to salient physical, psychological and sexual abuse and violence.

Source: Nana Kwabena

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