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From T.I. to Farrakhan: Why it’s time to decolonize Black manhood

T.I./YouTube screenshot

T.I. – YouTube screenshot

Rapper-actor T.I. stoked the fires of controversy once again this week after the star shared his thoughts on the upcoming U.S. presidential election and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chances of claiming the presidency. Tip stated that he wouldn’t vote for a woman to be president and while declaring that he wasn’t a sexist, he proceeded to explain his position with explicitly sexist rhetoric.

“Not to be sexist but, I can’t vote for the leader of the free world to be a woman,” he told DJ Whoo Kid during a Shade 45 interview. “Just because, every other position that exists, I think a woman could do well. But the president? It’s kinda like, I just know that women make rash decisions emotionally — they make very permanent, cemented decisions — and then later, it’s kind of like it didn’t happen, or they didn’t mean for it to happen. And I sure would hate to just set off a nuke. [Other leaders] will not be able to negotiate the right kinds of foreign policy; the world ain’t ready yet. I think you might be able to the Loch Ness Monster elected before you could [get a woman].”

Apparently, Tip has never heard of Margaret Thatcher or Kim Campbell, women who were elected Prime Ministers in the U.K. and Canada, respectively. His words sounded like a bad comedy routine from a late night stand-up special, but it reflected a very real misogyny in so many Black men that goes beyond calling women “b—-es” and “h–s.” Too often, brothers have defined “manhood” by the ability to control or lead. But being a man doesn’t mean that you were born inherently capable of leadership, so how can being a woman guarantee that you are incapable of it? And control is the aim in everything, from how we regulate women’s clothes to how we determine whether or not they should be “allowed” to occupy spaces of political power.

The misogyny inherent in Western culture isn’t limited to Black men, of course. But when addressing the ills of our specific community, we have to begin with how we view women. The focus on “plight of the Black man” has often meant just that — that we focus on Black men — and in centering manhood, we’ve reduced the fight of women and even LGBTQ members of the Black community to a peripheral or entirely ignored issue. In addressing our oppression, we have glossed over those who remain oppressed within the context of our own culture. And in regard to our women, we ignore so much of our own history.

So much of our history is filtered through a Eurocentric lens, and that colors the way we’ve viewed “matriarchal societies” historically. Our ideas about ancient and pre-colonial African societies are shaped by the way European historians saw them or judged against European societal standards. As such, there is much debate as to whether or not matriarchal societies ever existed in Africa. Some have dismissed historical African matriarchies as the construct of the feminist imagination, but those critics have often looked for African matriarchies that fit Western definitions.

The Akan of Ghana are a traditionally matrilineal culture, that is to say that a family’s history is traced through the mother’s lineage, not the father’s — and their history includes women in positions of political power. According to Tarikhu Farrar’s piece “The Queen Mother, Matriarchy and the Question of Female Political Authority In Pre-colonial African West African Monarchy,” the “Akan queen mother, more properly, the ohemmaa (literally, ‘female ruler’), wielded true political power and could, under certain conditions, assume full control of central authority; she could become the ‘king,’ the omanhene.”

In Egypt and Kush, the children took their surname from the mother and that the mother controlled both the household and the fields. In Kush, particularly, the Queen Mother had the right to choose the next Pharaoh. In his book Pre-colonial Black Africa, Cheikh Anta Diop explains that in the African custom of matrilineal succession, very strict rules were observed which stated that the heir of the throne was not the king’s son but the son of the King’s first-born sister (the king’s nephew)  because they believed that patriarchal parentage could be disproved or fabricated — but it’s a lot more difficult to disprove who a child’s mother is. Diop also discovered that many cultures in precolonial Africa held their women to a generally higher status than their European or Asian counterparts did in their respective societies, as reflective in female political power in parts of Africa at the time.

In order for the Black community to truly begin to throw off the shackles of psychological imperialism, we must discard ideas that promote the oppression, subjugation or marginalization of women. And in doing so, we should be critical of “progressives” who willfully promote misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic ideas as “progress.”

Min. Louis Farrakhan’s “Justice Or Else” rally was undoubtedly a moving and monumental moment for those in attendance and those who watched on C-SPAN and online. The minister’s words of empowerment to the Black community on the 20th anniversary of his historic Million Man March were timely and necessary, as Black people continue to push against oppressive forces that would keep African Americans subjugated and exploited. But as he neared the end of his two-hour speech, Min. Farrakhan decided to turn his attention to the Black woman and offered some advice on how women should conduct themselves.

Referring to a woman who can’t cook as “a killer in the kitchen,” Farrakhan explained why he thinks more women should follow the Nation of Islam’s example.  “I wish I could show you the women in the Nation. These are warriors. These are scholars. But they know how to cook. They know how to sew. They know how to rear their children,” he said. He then praised the women of the Nation for how they dress. “Now brothers and sisters, if a sister came up and stood beside them with a miniskirt and a low cut dress that’s beckoning nursing babies, which one of these sisters would somebody say ‘Hey, baby …’ See, they don’t talk like that to our women. And if they do, it’s a terrible mistake. Now when women are clothed, they earn respect. The beauty of your form is for your husband and if you don’t have a husband — keep it covered. Because the one that you get as a husband will be the dog that saw what he wanted and it wasn’t you, it was the beauty of your form — those beautiful hips, those succulent lips.”

Farrakhan’s position on women has remained fairly unchanged over the years; his latest words shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. But we should ask ourselves whether or not his organizing of a moving and monumental event absolves him of critique for promoting beliefs that would reduce women to the kitchen and knitting circles as though men don’t-won’t-can’t-shouldn’t cook or sew; and for operating under the colonized idea that Black women who don’t “cover up” are somehow less than virtuous — as opposed to challenging men to not be led by their carnal desires just because they’ve encountered a woman who they find attractive. Black power is for all Black people. And Black women’s power goes far beyond anyone’s kitchen and isn’t defined by their wardrobe. We’ve seen too much evidence of the power of Black women to try and diminish or negate that dominion.



12 Comments

  1. 5aiah on October 14, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    Excellent article and ideas.

  2. Deuce on October 14, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    The article was good up until the Farrakhan part. I agree women have the right to control their body and agency and do as they please, but PLEASE stop telling men that we should accept a lady who DECIDES on her own free will to dress like a skank. People should be allowed to formulate their opinions and if society believes that all people should be covered up and dress respectably, why criticize Farakahn for seeking to reinforce that belief. My goodness I know there are plenty of professional women who would not want a man who sags his pants, so why cant men say they don’t want women who dress skimpy. Hell in some cities men are fined for sagging their pants but you don’t see an uproar by “menninst” about it.

    • Anon on October 15, 2015 at 9:47 am

      No because they’re waiting on black women to fight that battle for them. Sagging pants laws are race based, and black men don’t fight their own battles when racially discriminated against.

      • Gerard Guzman on October 15, 2015 at 11:28 am

        Shouldn’t you be making sandwiches or sumn?

    • Ebony S. Muhammad on October 15, 2015 at 10:37 am

      Peace!

      I agree that this was a good write up until mentioning the Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan. It didn’t fit at all. As it relates to T.I. making these obviously sexist comments when, as the writer pointed out, there are numerous women who are presidents especially on the continent of Africa, that was the issue! Now if comparing the sexist comments of T.I. to the love and respect for women shown by Minister Farrakhan – then I understand. The Minister is the example of what honoring a woman looks and sounds like!

      However, it appears the writer is still learning about the Minister because if he knew the 60 + year track record of the Minister speaking to the men regarding their mistreatment and abuse of women, not just Black women, he would not have made that error in his writing above. The Minister talked about that in D.C.! Maybe he missed that part.

      In the recent Save Our Girls events hosted by the women in the Nation of Islam, that was open to all women, it highlighted our role in the home AND showed the careers and work the women do OUTSIDE of the home! The home is our based but not necessarily our place, says Minister Farrakhan. We are NOT oppressed! I am a business owner, myself! I own a day spa and it’s only because of the guidance, love and wisdom from the Minister that I stepped out and opened my spa! There are MANY women in the Nation who are doctors, lawyers, and business owners. So no our role as women is NOT confined to the home, BUT our home is where civilization begins! It is our foundation! It is how we maintain quality life. Just look at what’s taking place outside of our doors. As a matter of fact, we host weekly Twitter chats at #CoveredGirl to engage all who would like to dialogue about who we are and how we LOVE being covered…we are treated like the Queens we are!

      Deuce, you are right regarding the double standard….many women don’t want a man who sags his pants or dresses in a juvenile fashion. Let’s be real! ****What many may not know is that the men in the Nation of Islam have a modest dress code as well! They aren’t allowed to wear shorts. Also they have a strict dress code when it comes to casual shirts as well as the fit of the suits they wear. It’s not just the women who have a strict dress code, but we are upfront and our covering is more obvious because of how UNcovered this world has the woman.

      Although this was a great write up in showing what sexism does look like via the immature and uninformed comments T.I. made…Minister Farrakhan was, is and will always be correct in his representation of the reformation, respect, honor and love for the woman!

      Peace,
      Sister Ebony S. Muhammad

      #CoveredGirl and LOVING IT!

    • Harry Underwood on October 15, 2015 at 11:04 am

      Who the F said that “men[..] should accept a lady who DECIDES on her own free will to dress like a skank”? You’re putting words in the mouth of the writer.

  3. WeezyDuzIt on October 14, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    Hip-Hop is to blame for all the black issues in America. Everything negative in our community is reinforced by it.

    • Malibu Jones on October 14, 2015 at 6:34 pm

      Get off the web!

  4. Malibu Jones on October 14, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    Mr. Stereo Williams, when discussing female presidents, please don’t overlook Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the sitting president of Liberia.

    • TruthBTold on October 15, 2015 at 9:32 am

      ?. Thank You. Not one mention of African women presidents dealing with remarkable issues.

      • Harry Underwood on October 15, 2015 at 11:09 am

        Also Joyce Banda of Malawi, Ruth Perry of Liberia, and Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic.

  5. Joe Joiner on October 15, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    The minister said women in the nation are warriors, scholars, and can also do important domestic things like cook, sew, and rear the children. He didn’t limit women to any one identity, and described a well rounded woman.