It would be so, so nice to live in a bubble where I can assume this shit doesn’t happen, but really, even the social justice community has a lot of cleaning to do in its own house. Brittney Cooper tells us a story:
Two nights ago I showed up to the Brecht Forum in Brooklyn ready to have a conversation about what we mean when we say “ally, privilege, and comrade.”
I showed up to have that discussion after months of battle testing around these issues in my own crew. Over these months I’ve learned that it is far easier to be just to the people we don’t know than the people we do know.
So there I sat on a panel with a white woman and a Black man. As a Black feminist, I never quite know how political discussions will go down with either of these groups. Still I’m a fierce lover of Black people and a fierce defender of women.
Ms. Cooper’s black male co-panelist began the discussion. So far, so okay, but still in need of more honesty:
The brother shared his thoughts about the need to “liberate all Black people.” It sounded good. But since we were there to talk about allyship, I needed to know more about his gender analysis, even as I kept it real about how I’ve been feeling lately about how much brothers don’t show up for Black women, without us asking, and prodding, and vigilantly managing the entire process.
In a word, I was tired.
I shared that. Because surely, a conversation about how to be better allies to each other, is a safe space.
Emphasis mine. Surely, a panel discussion about how allies can be better, with people chosen for their supposed commitment to social justice, is a safe place for a black woman feminist to talk about how people of higher privilege profiles can be more effective in showing up to the fight for people who have to deal with more shit. Surely, Ms. Cooper should be able to say these things in this setting.
This brother was not having it. He did not plan to be challenged, did not plan to have to go deep, to interrogate his own shit. Freedom-talk should’ve been enough for me.
But I’m grown. And I know better. So I asked for more.
I got cut off, yelled at, screamed on. The moderator tried gently to intervene, to ask the brother to let me speak, to wait his turn. To model allyship. To listen. But to no avail. The brother kept on screaming about his commitment to women, about all he had “done for us,” about how I wasn’t going to erase his contributions.
Then he raised his over 6 foot tall, large brown body out of the chair, and deliberately slung a cup of water across my lap, leaving it to splash in my face, on the table, on my clothes, and on the gadgets I brought with me.
I will make no bones about this: that man’s behavior on that panel was an act of violence. Even if he didn’t lay a finger on her, his behavior was geared to intimidate, traumatize, and humiliate. Ms. Cooper was not safe on that panel, and her male co-panelist was the reason why, and he made sure she knew it.
I waited for anyone to stand up, to sense that I felt afraid, to stop him, to let him know his actions were unacceptable. Our co-panelist moved her chair closer to me. It was oddly comforting.
I learned a lesson: everybody wants to have an ally, but no one wants to stand up for anybody.
Eventually three men held him back, restrained him, but not with ease. He left. I breathed. I let those tears that had been threatening fall.
Then an older Black gentleman did stand up. “I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS MALIGNING OF THE BLACK MAN…” his rant began. While waiting for him to finish, I zoned out and
Wondered what had happened here. Did this really happen here? In movement space?
There’s more. I highly recommend you follow the link and read Ms. Cooper’s post. If you read the comments, you’ll see the guy’s name.
I’m very sorry to hear that it took so long for anyone to stand up for her, but I’m also not surprised. If I’d been in that audience, I think I’d have been glued to my seat, too. It’s a “WTF, is this really happening? Seriously?” reaction. No one expects a panelist at a social justice event to behave that way.
Now let’s look at the fact that this fellow thinks he’s an ally to women. He thinks he’s an ally to black women. And he shows his allyship by screaming and throwing a cup of water at a black woman who asks him a legitimate question at a forum about allyship and privilege. (I’m not mentioning her race just for the heck of it; I find it extremely unlikely he would have reacted this way to a white woman, even if she asked him the same question.) He wasn’t even just some yahoo in the audience, he was on the panel. Someone in the Brecht Forum approved him to speak on this panel with two women. And he reacts violently when a black woman asks him to examine his commitment to social justice.
With “allies” like these, oppressors are out of a job.