When Michelle Wallace wrote her ground-breaking book entitled “Black Macho, and the Myth of the Super Woman”, she was widely hailed by many admirers. But, on the other hand, she was even more widely assailed by many others: white people, black men, and even some black women. Her desire was to start out writing a book about all the many things done to the black woman, all the many things done that happened to the black woman that the black woman in turned mainly reacted to. Along the way while writing her book, Michelle came to the realization that black women had become spectators in their own lives, and as a result of that had abdicated responsibiltiy of their lives, and in the process, agency, self-actualization, self-realization, and self-autonomy over their lives. In her book, Michelle realized that black women must do more than merely react to any and all stimuli surrounding them.
Michelle envisioned black women who would take their lives into their hands and fully and truly live lives of meaning and substance. She wanted black women to realize the importance their lives had. She wanted black women to realize that they were more than a group of women who have had bad things happen to them.
She wanted black women to recover, reclaim, and become reacquainted with their history of glories, accomplishments and triumphs. She wanted black women to step up to the plate, and take on the responsibilties that come with being women, and all that comes with it.
I do want very much for black women to learn of and recognize the many unknown contributions that black women have made time and time again in this country. And I do want for black women to realize how desparately they need, as Michelle Wallace pointed out at the end of her book, “Black Macho and the Myth of the Super Woman”, that black women need to write THEIR OWN HISTORY, and not to continue to let anyone write our own history for us. That is the self-preservation that black women must learn and commit themselves to.
And I agree wholeheartedly with Michelle on this quote from her book:
“In the past the black woman had always provided the black man with an atmosphere in which he was treated as the equal of any man. That included resisting him when he was wrong.”
Black women need to return to this and stop being dormats for black men, or for any man for that matter. Black women need to go back to challenging black men to be men. If many black women can prevail against the racism AND sexism that we face in this white-run country, then, surely, black men can prevail as well. And that means not letting a black man into her life who will drag her down to a level of degredation. If she must stand and be a woman, then he (the black man) must stand and be a man.
Black women should not see themselves as victims, and definately not as Super Women. They are neither of those images. And, yes, the future is something black women alone can control as to what they will become, as opposed to what they have reacted to that has been done to them.
The black woman of today must become proactive, not remain reactive. For, only then can she start to build her own reality that can truly represent what she is and can, become.
For, as long as we allow white men, white women, black men, or anyone to tell their idea of what a black women is, or has been, in America, we will continue to be pawns at the mercy of all the negative stereotypes, lies and myths that the non-black woman world has been espousing about us for so long.
Black women have been feminists in this country before there ever was a term to describe the very act of feminism. Black women during slavery and segregation were feminist when they spoke against slavery, and when they spoke against Jim Crow segregation. Of course, being black women, many people did not heed the value of what black women said. No one listened to black women when they fought against the lynchings of black men, women and children, (except for the many black men who worked with black women to put an end to lynchings), and those who did not do the listening were mainly the people whose race was doing all of the lynchings, and could have stopped this inhumane barbarity. No one listened when black women spoke and fought against rapes of black women by white men, (except the many black men who spoke out against the rapes of black women and black girls), especially many white women who would not listen when black women implored of them to work towards the end of rape and degradation of black women, by asking white women to take their white men to task for these acts of barbarism.
But, that did not stop black women from championing their causes through the years. And it still has not stopped some black women from continuing to speak the truth, no matter who hates to hear the truth.
I am advocating that black women take the proverbial bull by the horns and create their own image of who they are. Their own analysis of who they are. Their own understanding of what their priorities are.
Learning and understanding their history, would be a momentous step in that direction for black women.
When you do not know your history, you will be bound to commit the same past mistakes over, and over, again.
Not knowing your history puts you at a huge disadvantage.
Not knowing both the good and the bad, the proud and the profane, puts you at anyone’s mercy to say and perpetuate anything, and everything they can against you.
Black women in America are terribly in need of asserting their OWN identity. Not someone else’s.
Only black women can speak for themselves. Only black women with their unique history in this country can create from themselves what kind of woman they will present not just to the world, but, most importantly, what kind of woman they will create and present to themselves. Not a stand-by-your-man woman. Not a have-a-baby-out-of-wedlock woman. Neither type of those examples serves to create an identity of a black woman who has come to terms with her history in this country, neither do those two examples serve to create an indentity that speaks truly of ALL black women. Until black women come to terms with the need to create an identity that is positive, capable, creative, resourceful (all of which many, many black women have been throughout the long history of this country), until then, black women will be at the mercy of someone else’s idea of what they think a black woman is, of what they think a black woman can only aspire to be, of what they think only a black woman can be. Black women can only find it in themselves to be what they can be. The resourcefulness, the creativity, the major impact that many black women have had on this country has sadly been lost from the minds of many young black women. Many of them can not even begin to know of the huge accomplishments that so many black women have done in this country, because so many of those young girls do not know their proud history.
White women know of their history in this country. Well, some of them do. White women know of their image in this country.
But, how many young black girls, or young black women, know of their proud history in this country? The major impact that black women have had on the movement to abolish slavery, the movement to abolish Jim Crow segregation, the many unsung and unknown black women of the Civil Rights Movement, and especially the many black women of the three waves of the feminist movement?
Sadly, many young black girls do not.
I know the young black lady I am mentoring knows very, very little of her history in this country.
Does that bring tears to my eyes? Yes. Am I doing something about it? Yes. In addition to her I am working on a “Book Reading Club” with young black people at the volunteer organization S.H.A.P.E. here where I live, to inform them of their proud history in this country. I know that is my duty to them, the young of the future, and if I do not fulfill that duty to help them create an understanding of their history, and an understanding of themselves, then I will fail to pass on something that can give them a sense of self-direction, a sense of self-actualization that they will need to create, and hold onto positive and fruitful images that can speak truthfully of themselves.
Black women will not find the “Black Woman” though anyone else.
Only through themselves.
Black women must self generate their own images.
And the stand-by-your-man-even-when-he-is-not-standing-by-you woman image, the have-a-baby-out-of-wedlock-and-let-the-man-off-the-hook-at-the-detriment-of-the-child images do not speak of black women. And this should not speak of the many black women who do not ascribe to this mentality.
They certainly do not speak for me.
I know that my image of me does not in any way jibe with those two referenced images. Never has and never will.
And so too, do those images not jibe in any way with the millions of black women who live in this country.
As much as black women work hard to make ends meet, as much as black women with all of the racism and sexism that we face, and we still do not give in and give up, that some black men have the audacity to castigate and denigrate us shows how less of a man some of them are, especially those who create children and don’t have the balls to take care of them.
And on the subject of IRs, any black man who attempts to tell a black woman whom she can or cannot marry, should check himself first. If more black women would practice self-preservation, instead of so much blind loyalty to black men and the black community, there would be many black women who would be happier. Since some black men take so many black women for granted, one day those same black men (those who know who they are) are going to wake up and find that that well has run dry, and by then many black women will have moved on (hopefully) and found happiness, joy and peace in their lives with men who love, cherish and honor them for all the beautiful qualities they have.
Any black man who cops an attitude as to whom a black woman marries, but, he does next to nothing to take care of his own responsibilites, can expect to have nothing to say when black women finally wise up and live their lives for themselves instead of wasting their lives away on so-called men who are selfish. Only then, when black women let go of their blind loyalty that does none of them any good, and when they finally start to open their lives up to men (no matter what the man’s race), men who truly love them, then will those black men who took black women for granted so long finally realize what they are losing.
And by then, black men who have considered black women to have been their ace in the hole for so long, an ace in the hole to be taken for granted, will have no one to blame but themselves. Some black men have relegated black women to being “Stand By” equipment, there laying to the side, put into the corner, to be used at the discretion of some men who have nothing but contempt for the woman. Nothing but callous disregard for the woman’s feelings, nor respect for her needs or desires.
If he is not taking care of his children, if he is not contributing to the support and help of the black community, if he is being nothing but a parasitic entity, then he of all people can say nothing about the personal decision of whom a black woman will spend her life with.
Not black women.
Not black women.
Black women are none of the above.
But, it does not take much to figure out who is.
A well-known black man said these words in 1964 about the black man’s taking the black woman for granted. About the black men (those who know who they are), continually crying for respect from everyone around them, but, on the other hand, showing the least amount of respect for those who have had his back for centuries, for generations.
And that person who has had his back in many ways than he can remember, is the black woman.
The black men (those who mistreat and disrespect the black woman), need to heed and live by this great man’s words:
“The black man is going around saying he wants respect; well, the black man will never get anybody’s respect until he first learns to respect his own women! The black man needs to start today to shelter and protect and respect his black women!”
Malcolm X, from “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, as told to Alex Haley, Ballantine Books, New York, 1965, pg. 241.
Questions for those of you reading my words:
Since the overall premise of negating and denying black women their agency, their autonomy, speaks to the control of black women’s sexuality, a black woman’s humanity, what are the perceptions on what a black woman is?
When you think of the words, “black woman”, what images come to mind?
Since there are some people who do not wish to see black women with white men in IRs, but, instead would prefer to continue to see black women and white men remain aversed towards each other, would you consider the reasons behind this way of thinking as trying to keep black women and white men away from each other because, if truth be told, the real “movers and shakers” of both communities are the black woman and the white man, respectively?
Is the desire from some people to keep black women and white men apart from each other, not just by way of social/residential segregation, a way to keep the real “worker bees” of each community away from each other, because if these two groups (the black woman and the white man), ever married in large numbers, that there would be a major shift in the racial paradigm of this country?
Would you consider that the reason marriages/relationships of prominent black men (Tiger Woods and his nanny; Seal and Heidi Klum, etc.), are celebrated and given much media play, as opposed to the marriages/relationships of prominent white men (George Lucas and Melody Hobson, for example), is because this society wants to continue the celebration of white female beauty, and the continued devaluation of black female beauty?
Yes, black women’s beauty is under continued attack, daily, weekly, yearly. But, the appropriation and imitation of white women’s beauty serves no purpose but to subconsciously negate all things beautiful of black women’s features. Black women’s features are unique and beautiful, and are in no way less than any other woman’s beauty. Less shame of what we have that is inherently unique to us would be a starting point to eschew all things white, especially white beauty, and develop a love of all things black, especially black beauty.
Black women must differentiate between their problems and the problems of white women. What may work in many ways for the white woman, cannot, and do not, always work for many black women. Black women must stop living the Lie of the Myth of the Super Woman. This myth/lie is killing many black women. For generations black women have been lying to themselves, falling for the destructive killing machine of the Super Woman myth; a myth which has caused many black women to submerge, to curtail, to strangle, to stifle their most basic humanness: That they are not women, but, instead, are to be held up, and seen as nothing more than beasts of burden. Beasts of burden to be worked to death, physically, mentally and spiritually by all around them.
Black women need to stop being the self-sacrficing Mammies to black men. We need to stop being the self-sacrificing Mammies to white men, white women, and all others. Why continue to raise men/people who should have already been raised? Why continue to put aside, invalidate and jettison overboard your self-respect, your total humanity, your very life for some men who could careless for your health, your well-being? Men who are so selfish that they do not care for the destruction they are causing to you?
It is your body, your life, your sanity, that you, and you alone, should safeguard at the utmost. You owe yourself a life well-lived. And as black women who have given time, and time again, to white men, white women, and black men, and others, after having given more than your all, only to find that you have so very little to show for it, isn’t it about time that you, BLACK WOMAN, will finally decide to do some soul-searching as to what is really best for you? Isn’t it about time for you to cut the rope, to let any and all millstones that hang around your neck, be severed and allowed to sink away from you, so that you may fully RISE and be the very best that is within your potential?
Shoulsdn’t you want, and demand the very best of yourself, the very grandest, the most spectacular of yourself?
For by demanding the highest pinnacle of yourself, then can you demand, yes, demand, the very same of others.
Black women, develop a PHILOSOPHY.
Black women, demand of yourselves a WAY OF LIFE.
A way of life that you are willing to stand for, a way of life that you will not abandon.
A way of life that you are willing to put to your life on the line for.
But, it must be a way of life that serves YOU well. A way of life that is no longer the old sacrifice, give all, think of everyone but yourself life.
That life is more than old, it is more than dead. It has destroyed your health, your mind, and your very soul for more than you care to remember.
Black women, enough of the soul-murdering that we have suffered from in this country.
Enough of the invisible silence, that invisible curtain that has been drawn down on us by so many in this country. So many have been ready to not give us the benefit of a doubt. So many have deemed us irrelevant. So many have rendered us invisible. So many have written us off time, and time, again. Enough of settling for less than for ourselves.
Break free from the jail that we have been put into. The jail where in many cases WE have given our jailers the key, and have allowed them, many times with our own help, to lock us up in both our body and our mind.
That so many black women are having troubles in their lives, that so many black women walk around with health issues that are killing them (hypertension, strokes, heart disease, diabetes, morbid obesity) is an indication that many have not taken the position of being the leaders of their own lives, their own fates. This debilitation of the health of many black women is the result of the savage toll that a racist and sexist society has exacted upon the well-being of so many black women. Black women must not only advance as individuals, but, also advance in the interests of the black community. The plight of the black community is horribly obvious. And it is not enough for black women to better themselves in this life. They must better themselves, and also in the process, better the black community.
Having a baby OOW is not the answer.
Allowing a man into their lives, no matter his race, who will drag them down into oblivion, is not the answer.
Black women must cease the misuse of their bodies with every and any man who comes into their lives. For too long, many black women have allowed into their lives men of various races (Nigerian, Arabic, Latino), who entered those women’s lives only to use them as sexual toilets, men who have bought into the lie that black women are to be used, and not given the respect and honor that all women are due. Then after having used the black woman, those same men would go off back to their own race to marry women of their own race, after using and spurning the love that so many black women gave them.
Black women must cease this self-destructive behaviour which not only destroys their bodies, but, destroys many black women’s self-esteem and respect for their bodies. Black women must cease treating themselves as vessels of some men’s selfish sexual misuse. Black women owe themselves more respectful treatment of their bodies. No man is worth the loss of your virginity, or celibacy, just because you feel you must let him into your life because you feel that you have no other options if only to have a man in your life to avoid loneliness. Yes, black women are human; but, you also owe yourselves the best you can obtain in your relationships with men. Black women, stop selling yourselves short. You deserve the very best of life in this world while you live. Do not settle for secondbest, do not settle for that which harms and destroys you physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.
Good, decent, mature, loving men are out there. You have to be receptive, aware, and patient in recognizing them. Do not just let a man’s WORDS alone dictate the how he really feels about you. Listen to what he says, and watch him in his actions. You will know how he will treat you, when you see if his words match his ACTIONS.
Giving up and living lives of quiet desperation, is certainly not the answer.
But, black women have to come to the terms that unlike the black women of the past, black women have freedoms that their grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, could only dream of.
And with freedom, comes responsibility.
The responsibility to take your life into your own hands and be the director, the leader, the navigator of your own fate.
Not anyone else.
Black women have to ask themselves this very important question:
“Who will I allow to have the last decision on how I will live my life? The rest of the world, OR me?”
Black women must not let all those who’ve sought to label, name and weave webs of lies and myths about them have the final word. Advancing aims, philosophies, values, and principles that give agency to black women, realities that give potency to advancing a way of life that helps, rather than hinders, will give creative range to lives of full living, instead of half-living, or in some cases, no living at all.
I will end my post with the words written at the end of Michelle Wallace’s book. For her words ring true today, as true and as relevant today, as they did when she wrote on the Myth of the Super Woman in 1979:
“Yes, it is very important that we never forget the tragedy of our history or how racist white people have been or how the black man has let us down. But all of that must be set in its proper perspective. It belongs to the past and we must belong to the future. The future is something we can control. When I began this book, I thought it would be about what the black woman is, but this book has turned out to be about what has happened to her. She has yet to become what she is…
“This history of the period has been written and will continue to be written without us. The imperative is clear: Either we will make history or remain the victims of it.”
posted by Ann
“Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman”, by Michelle Wallace, Verso, 1991.
2 responses to “TOWARDS A NEW TREATISE FOR BLACK WOMEN: DISPATCHES FROM NEAR THE VANGUARD”
Well put! Need I say more? The new treatise says it all!
Damn this was excellent! Ann, not only were your thoughts on point, but the author is amazing! I am definitely going to buy her book if I can. I have never heard of her until I read your post. Thank you so much for this uplifting piece. This has been nothing but true wisdom for this young woman. I have nothing more to add. I just wanted to say thank you for this post.