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EXCERPT~The Unmaking of The Black Man


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And what about the beloved black woman? No doubt, she still represented a sizable threat, and there was no great willingness on the part of white America to insanely believe the ‘black male’ problem could be effectively neutralized or fixed by their pet projects (sterilization, mental health centers, prisons) so they had, by necessity, to adopt a more proactive approach when it came to dealing with the black woman’s complicity.


Here is the essential point. And in all fairness, it must be understood that the black woman, like the black man, is a finished product of white racism, so at best, many of her reactions/responses are instinctual/automatic. Having said that, the black woman is ‘possessed’ with the most idealized concept of the white man as a savior-in-waiting. To the older sista, it’s Jesus. To the sista in the ‘hood, it’s Uncle Sam with his welfare checks. And to the young sista, it’s Santa Claus. Sadly, this super-sized Mighty Whitey image is still alive and well in certain circles.


What’s worse is that sistas are extremely disillusioned with brothas-----or at least our capacity to address, or even better yet, to satisfy their expectations of us. Since day one, there has been little doubt about what black women wanted. Sistas have always demanded security, and had every reason to initially believe that we would be able to sponsor the notion.  And why not? The black woman was no idle spectator in what black men had done for the white man. She, indeed, was a personal witness to the manner in which we had labored to grow this country from nothing. She, with her own eyes, had seen the magic emanate from our hands as we had conjured up crops from a barren earth. At no point was the sista absent as we went about the business of making cities out of wilderness, of making cotton king, or of making the white man wealthy. So after this visual testimony, how could the black woman expect less from us.








The Blank Slate/Full Plate Syndrome

One of the primary difficulties facing the post-slavery black female was the ability to make herself a woman. Slavery, no doubt, where sistas had toiled in the fields as long and as hard as the brothas, rewarded her nothing due to gender. Sure, sistas gave birth and, for a period, raised children, but more times than not, the major characteristic of sex was to breed which was simply another chore to be performed.

The end of slavery should have brought about, for sistas, a return to femininity, but just what was it? After a lengthy 250 years of being treated as chattel property with no true opportunity to grow psychologically as a woman, black women had no clear knowledge of the African rituals and customs that defined womanhood, and since black womanhood was heretofore unknown on these shores, sistas were left with a blank slate on which to define themselves. But how was this to be accomplished? Since she had worked as an equal in the back-breaking work of the field, had shared equally the horror of servitude, had eaten the same coarse food, and had worn equally coarse, unflattering clothes, did sistas demand full equality with brothas? Or did they borrow heavily from Miss Ann, the slave mistress which provided the only comprehensive view of womanhood that black women had ever seen? Either way, ultimately, black women would be compelled to become feminine, and essentially this shift in perspective would be as traumatic for sistas as learning to be breadwinners would be for the brothas. For certain, both these factors had an obvious impact on the complexities of black life today.

Notwithstanding anything else, black women had to acknowledge that the essence of womanhood did not evolve from the authority of their vaginas because on the other side of their fertility, there were such subtle cues as hair, makeup, nails, attire, etc, whose proper use tended to legitimize the arts of feminine seduction.

Since sistas had no experience in this, the arts of femininity would have to arise out of the black woman’s imitation of Miss Ann since they possessed nothing from their personal experiences as slaves that could provide them the wealth of information required to become more than ritualistic caricatures of true womanhood. Titties and ass only set men off in pursuit of them sexually, and though physical assets may not have offered the true secrets of femininity, they became the initial building blocks of black femininity. With not much else, titties and as became the physical electives that awarded sistas the ‘everlasting life’ of womanhood.

The invention of a black femininity, never accomplished in the new world would not be easy following a lifestyle of being a sexual object. Additionally, when compared to Miss Ann, sistas could not identify anything about themselves that would brand them as sexy. Their entire image was organized around the ‘plantation mammy’, an apron-wearing, dirty-faced, rag-headed matron. Surely, no pin-up model, and hardly the ideal on which to base their collective worth. And what of the ethical behavior that would, most definitely, have to accompany the new, black femininity? Sistas simply could not establish an image without the underlying ethics to maintain it since the freedom to be true to themselves would be more a condition of good decision-making rather than physical attributes.

What would be crucial when black women made their new covenant with themselves would be---for the most part---how much slavery had affected their opinion of themselves on three very vital levels. They undoubtedly would have to determine how bondage had affected them as (1) humans,(2) as women, and (3) as black. And since all three were closely related to their most innate sense of being, if anything that had happened during slavery which could not be rationalized or repressed on any level, then they would lack the power to confirm themselves as complete or healed.

There can be no argument that bondage was a unique experience for the black woman, one where her capacity as a human was ignored, her womanhood denounced, and her blackness pronounced a curse. Admittedly, not much to kindle optimism, but the sista had to be reborn out of these ashes. But what kind of self-worth could possibly evolve from a prior life where she had been a possession of the white man, and an obsession to the black man?

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