Relationships between Black men and women seem fraught with anger, mistrust and abuse. Rev David Shosanya explores the possible reasons for this, and calls for greater understanding and respect between the sexes
It is only a matter of time before conversations about race and racial politics stumble upon and begin to explore the complex dynamics of gender relationships within Black communities. There are many reasons for this complexity, as each of them are based upon and informed by a combination of speculation, imagination, ideology and real life experience(s). Identifying what actually constitutes the truth is an upward struggle, as each person’s subjective opinion becomes a ‘factual’ representation of what is ‘true’.
Tim Burrell, in his book entitled Brainwashed: Challenging the myth of Black inferiority, highlights what he considers to be the five dysfunctions of the Black family: distrust and contempt, physical and psychological abuse, infidelity, emotional distance and mutually disabling partnerships. The list is not encouraging. However, we should not be too quick to judge ourselves as unique in facing the challenges he identifies as presently affecting our communities, families and gender dynamics. Obviously, we should not be complacent, either!
Gender relationships within Black communities have been the subject of film (Waiting To Exhale), music (Independent Woman by Beyoncé) and literature (bell hooks). The fact is that, as Black communities, we are not immune from the wider ‘battle of the sexes’ although, by virtue of our history and contemporary experiences of racism, we may be more acutely affected by it.
This is true even when we are considering conversations about gender within the context of the Christian community. In fact, it might be argued that male/female dynamics are even more complex in the Church. A reason for this might be the way in which women are represented in the Bible. Eve, for example, is created from Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:21-25), and subsequently caused his downfall and exclusion from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24). Not a good introduction!
I think that the problem may be further complicated by (mis)readings of New Testament passages, which set out prescriptions with respect to gender roles (household codes), ie. exhortations to husbands, wives and children about the respective social positions they are to assume, especially within the domestic context in the writing of the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 5:21-33; Colossians 3:18-25).
My point here is not to challenge the legitimacy or authority of Scripture with respect to prescriptions about gender roles. Rather, it is to highlight and challenge the misappropriations of Scripture that promote power rather than service and mutuality as the seat or source of much of the tensions we observe between men and women within Black communities.
To fully understand and appreciate the ‘battle of the sexes’ within Black communities, one must take seriously the lasting effects of the transatlantic slave trade: the Maafa (the Black Holocaust). It means recognising and acknowledging the almost instinctive emotions of humiliation and betrayal that infected relationships, as one gender caricatured the other in desperate attempts to remain human and alive. In other words, we must take seriously the legacy of a traumatised past that continues to manifest itself in the present, and that significantly influence – though not determine – interactions between Black men and women. Tim Burrell offers a helpful insight on this point, when he asserts that:
“To my knowledge, the long-term trauma and mental damage to the Black family forced to tolerate repeated family abuse under slavery has never been fully studied or documented. One thing, however, is clear: stripping Black men and women of their natural roles as parents and protectors, and conditioning them to accept physical and psychological abuse were initial steps in the brainwashing campaign.”
Clearly, it would be an obvious and inexcusable abdication of duty or responsibility to reduce all interactions between Black men and women to the effects of the Maafa. However, it would equally be remiss to ignore, marginalise or minimise the contemporary impact of the Maafa on Black male/female relationships.
So, where do we go from here? Firstly, as Black men and women, we need to be committed to recognising the humanity we share. Secondly, we must be committed to allowing that humanity to lead us into shared conversations that empower us to redeem and redefine our perceptions and expectations of each other. Thirdly, we must hold in the forefront of our minds that the humanity we share calls us to ‘be there’ for one another, and to affirm the contribution we each make to the other, and to the wider community. Lastly, we must pray for one another and, through prayer, bring much needed healing that moves us away from statements and expressions of power, and towards acts of love.