Patriarchy and Black National Liberation

Patriarchy and Black National Liberation

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 “Black woman. Baad woman.

Wear your bigness on your chest like a badge

cause you done earned it.

Strong Woman. Amazon.

Wear your scars like jewelry

cause they were bought with blood.”  –Assata Shakur

The question of gender as it relates to the captive Black nation in ameriKKKa is a hot topic these days, both inside and outside the nation itself. It seems like every group has something to say about this subject, the Black conservatives campaigning against ‘the destruction of the black family’, the Black feminists arguing for or against alliance with settler feminists, the Black LGBT+ community fighting for acceptance among our people, and many more sections of Black people espousing many more positions, all make up a whirlwind of political struggle centered around the question of gender in the context of the Black nation. The intensity of these struggles is proof that a correct understanding of gender in the Black nation is crucial – both for the purpose of navigating its internal conflicts and for moving forward with the struggle for Black liberation. This is why it is important for Black revolutionaries to ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. What is gender oppression (a.k.a. patriarchy)?
  2. How do gender oppression and the national oppression of Black people intersect?
  3. How can gender oppression be combated in the Black nation?

What is Gender Oppression?
Before I give my definition of these terms, I’ll present the following quote from Pathology of Patriarchy an essay by the former Crip turned Black revolutionary nationalist and communist, Sanyika Shakur, as an introductory explanation of the concept: “…patriarchy (male dominated systems of oppression) create[s] categories for people to fit into in order to exploit and oppress. Therefore, so-called genders then become classes. A class of men, the dominant- masculine, violent, god, father, king, president, boss, etc.- and a class of women, the dominated- feminine, passive, holy ghost, homemaker, whore, etc. Oppression by ‘sex’ is the oldest form of oppression on the planet. Older than institutionalized theocracies like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Theocratic regimes institutionalized male dominant systems of oppression thru laws, State bureaucracies and social relations. In fact, men deal with women and children as they did livestock.”

In the above quote from Sanyika, it is clear that gender is in fact a man made construct. Genders are social categories that are assigned to people within an oppressor and oppressed relationship. Sanyika goes on to establish that this division between oppressor and oppressed gender categories goes beyond cisgendered men and cisgendered women (or men and women whose gender identities conform with those they were assigned at birth). People who adopt gender identities that are different from the category that they were assigned to at birth or deviate from the social expectations associated with those categories, are oppressed and ostracized by the patriarchal system of gender oppression. They are the people who Sanyika Shakur refers to as “Gender Outlaws”, on account of their treatment by patriarchal society, and include transgender people, non-binary people, gender non conforming people, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, asexuals, and many other categories. Sanyika Shakur describes these gender outlaws in the following quote from the same text: “Who are the people who would reject these gender roles? Certainly they would be those who overstood patriarchy, colonialism, and who had a sense of self and kind so strong that they went deter-minded to assert themselves and be natural. Gender outlaws. Those who acted (and thought) outside of the box – the patriarchal gender box.”
In both of the above quotes, Sanyika makes it clear what patriarchy or gender oppression is. To sum it up: patriarchy or gender oppression is the system of oppression in which people are forcibly divided into a hierarchy of categories with cisgendered, heterosexual men at the top. 

One significant aspect of gender oppression that has been criticized by revolutionaries is the patriarchal or “nuclear” family.  The German Marxist, Wilhelm Reich, in the following quotes from his book The Sexual Revolution, shows that the nuclear family is really the “nucleus” of capitalist society. He wrote that the nuclear family is a: “…factory for authoritarian ideologies and conservative structures. It forms the educational apparatus through which practically every individual of our society, from the moment of drawing his first breath, has to pass. It influences the child in the sense of a reactionary ideology not only as an authoritarian institution, but also on the strength of its own structure; it is the conveyor belt between the economic structure of conservative society and its ideological superstructure; its reactionary atmosphere must needs become inextricably implanted in every one of its members.”

Reich went on to describe the way that the patriarchal family structure helps to reinforce authoritarian capitalist ideology in the next quote: “The basis of the middle class family is the relationship of the patriarchal father to wife and children. He is, as it were, the exponent and representative of the authority of the state in the family. Because of the contradiction between his position in the production process (subordinate) and his family function (boss) he is a top-sergeant type; he kotows to those above, absorbs the prevailing attitudes (hence his tendency to imitation) and dominates those below; he transmits the governmental and social concepts and enforces them.”

Thus, the patriarchal family structure is a reflection of class society as a whole, and educates children in living in a world of dominated and dominating people by forcing them into an authoritarian relationship at birth. With this knowledge, we can arrive at the conclusion that not only does patriarchy oppress women, not only does it oppress other non-men, not only does it oppress people who don’t fit into the “correct” gender category, but it also oppresses the youth, and it helps maintain the existence of class society. All genuine revolutionaries should vehemently oppose patriarchy / gender oppression, and for the revolutionaries participating in the Black national liberation struggle, the fight against patriarchy is part of the larger struggle for Black national liberation.

How do National Oppression and Gender Oppression Intersect?
While thinkers like Wilhelm Reich analyzed patriarchy outside of the context of national oppression, the specific case of patriarchy as it relates to the Black nation and other nationally oppressed peoples has led to the development of certain peculiarities of the system of oppression in such cases. From the very beginning of the national oppression of New Afrika, there were essentially two levels of the patriarchy affecting the Black nation. In his aforementioned essay, Sanyika Shakur described the first one as being the grand patriarchy of the White man, which dominates the whole of the Black nation, including the men. According to Shakur, when White colonizers subjugated various peoples such as the masses of Black people they enslaved: “Every male not a European became ‘boy’, ‘buck’, ‘son’, or worse. They were explicitly forbidden to look a European male in the eyes. Grand patriarchy recognized one man – the European male. This was eventually utilized in the colonization of every encountered culture of the planet.”

Therefore, the position of the colonized man, in our case, the Black man, was subordinated to that of the White man within the Grand patriarchal system made possible by the colonizer’s national oppression of the colonized. This is the source of one of the main complaints of the patriarchal Black nationalists, who feel that the Black man was “emasculated” by the White man. That said, it is important to note that Black men were also oppressors in the lower level of patriarchy as Sanyika Shakur goes on to explain: “But not even this form of pervasive oppression eradicated patriarchy among those dominated. Oppressed men, those forbidden to be ‘men’ under grand patriarchy, still would oppress oppressed women. Thus, women felt a double blow of oppression under grand (on a national level) patriarchy and minor patriarchy – individually, in personal social relations. What’s more is, this individual patriarchy – now sexism – was compounded with the introduction of the colonizers’ religion into the mix as a chain of control. Western religion in the colonies became ‘force-multipliers’ for patriarchy. Another weapon used in the war. Once indigenous men had been taught that this new god had given men dominion over women and children, these fell further down the Great Chain of Being (as created by Plato and reconfigured by Euro-Christians). Women, too, however, reciprocated this travesty by believing this foolishness to be true, making it that much easier for their oppression to continue.”

Much of the patriarchal ideology of the White colonizers has made it into the minds of Black men, even though they themselves are gender oppressed by those colonizers. Because of this, Black men often perpetuate the patriarchal system in our own communities, and carry out the gender oppression of Black women, youth, non-men, LGBT+ people, and many other sections of the New Afrikan nation. Those sections of the Black nation thus find themselves facing gender oppression twice as intense as that faced by Black men, as a result of the compounded effects of the sexism of the white oppressors, and the sexism of New Afrika’s men. The following quote from a famous statement released by the radical collective of Black lesbian feminists known as the Combahee River Collective provides a great illustration of this doubly intense gender oppression as it has been experienced by New Afrikan women throughout history. It reads: “Merely naming the pejorative stereotypes attributed to Black women (e.g. mammy, matriarch, Sapphire, whore, bulldagger), let alone cataloguing the cruel, often murderous, treatment we receive, Indicates how little value has been placed upon our lives during four centuries of bondage in the Western hemisphere.”

As the above quote makes clear, New Afrikan women have long been at the bottom of this country’s social hierarchy, so much so that the CRC accurately described Black women as still being in bondage over a century and a half after their ancestors legally became “free” from the White men who enslaved them. Later in their statement, the CRC goes on to provide some examples of the uniquely intense oppression faced by Black women: “As children we realized that we were different from boys and that we were treated differently. For example, we were told in the same breath to be quiet both for the sake of being ‘ladylike’ and to make us less objectionable in the eyes of white people. As we grew older we became aware of the threat of physical and sexual abuse by men.”

Black Women have to deal with both the patriarchal views of Black people, especially Black men, on how a woman should act, while also worrying about the immensely prejudiced perception of them by racist and sexist White men and White people as a whole. On top of that, they must face the threat of violence, including sexual violence, from White men and Black men alike. 

From all that I have established above, this much is clear about the patriarchy as it has manifested in the New Afrikan colonial context:

  1. White men are at the top of the patriarchal hierarchy. They carry out the gender oppression of Black men, Black Women, Black LGBT+ people, Black youth, etc.
  2. Black men are lower than white men in the patriarchal hierarchy. They are gender oppressed, but they are also gender oppressors of the sections of Black people below them on the hierarchy. 
  3. Black Women, Black LGBT+ people, Black youth, and all those Black people that face gender oppression at the hands of both Black and White men are at the bottom of the hierarchy. 

The last thing that we must address in this explanation of the intersection of gender and national oppression is the strata consisting of White women, White youth, White LGBT+ people, etc. There is clearly a contradiction between these strata and White cis men, or else things like the White feminist movement, for example, would not exist. That said, what we really must determine is the nature of the relationship between these groups of White people that are oppressed by White males, and the Black people that are either oppressed by White men only, or oppressed by Black and White men.

It seems reasonable to begin this endeavor by comparing White people gender oppressed by White males to Black men, as they are also gender oppressed by White males. Doing so immediately brings an important question to mind. Are gender oppressed White people above or below Black men in the power hierarchy of patriarchy in the colonial context? To answer this question, we will analyze the following quote from an essay titled Sites of Resistance or Sites of Racism?, which can be found in the book That’s Revolting!: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation and was authored by a trans radical named Priyank Jindal. In this quote, Jindal states that White women, “…have historically been constructed as inherently pure. And the perceived threats to that purity were created to maintain and construct racist perceptions of black men and to justify their subsequent lynching or, more currently, imprisonment. “

Jindal’s observation regarding the relationship between the socially constructed peculiarities of White womanhood and the persecution, incarceration, and summary execution of Black men because of those peculiarities suggests that in the New Afrikan context, White women are actually above Black men in the hierarchy of gender oppression. This claim is backed up by countless historical and modern examples of the phenomena described in Jindal’s quote. The show trial of the Scottsboro boys, who were falsely accused of raping two white women and only narrowly avoided execution thanks to the help of the Communist Party, the brutal torture and murder of Emmit Till for whistling at a White woman, and more recently, the nearly two decades of imprisonment of Darryl Hunt who was falsely convicted of raping a White woman, were all examples of violence and persecution carried out against Black men in the defense of sanctity of White womanhood. All of these examples, as horrible as they are, are still dwarfed in comparison to the catastrophe that was the Tulsa massacre, in which hundreds of Black people were exterminated by White rioters simply because of completely unsubstantiated rumors that a Black boy had “assaulted” a White woman. The historical experience of the Tulsa massacre is indisputable proof that in the White man’s patriarchy, the “purity” of a single White woman is worth more than the lives of hundreds of Black men, women, and children combined. From all this evidence we can conclude that in the White supremacist grand patriarchy, White women are below only White men in terms of power. 

While not nearly as many tragedies for New Afrikans have resulted from the position of White gender oppressed people other than women, they are still higher on the gender hierarchy than the New Afrikan nation as a whole. Their belonging to the White oppressor nation modifies their position within the patriarchy in relation to oppressed New Afrikans. This is why, much to the author’s distaste, one White LGBT+ venue described in Priyank Jindal’s essay represented itself with: “Gay pride flags, leather pride flags, and, of course, Amerikan flags.”

It is also why many drag king performers at several particularly offensive shows attended by Jindal, do not quite seem to grasp as Jindal did that: “Just because it’s queer blackface doesn’t make it any less racist.”

Now that we have addressed the question of gender oppressed White people, we are now able to paint a full picture that summarizes all that has been established in this section thus far, and answers the question posed in this section’s title. So just how do gender oppression and national oppression intersect? 

  1. When the White settlers subjugated the Black masses by kidnapping and enslaving us, the settlers introduced Black people to the European variety of patriarchy. 
  2. In the system of gender oppression they created, Black men were not recognized as men, and thus began to endure gender oppression at the hands of White men and white women.
  3. Therefore, Black people now live under a system of gender oppression that has White men on top, followed by White women and gender oppressed people, followed by Black men, with Black women and other doubly gender oppressed Black people at the bottom. 

How Can Gender Oppression be Combatted in the Black nation?

In order for the liberation of the Black nation from ameriKKKan colonial oppression to be achieved, it is necessary for Black people to combat gender oppression in our own communities, and struggle to eradicate the colonial structure of patriarchy from our nation. This is not something that can be done overnight however, and ultimately this is something that will still have to be struggled against even after any kind of Black liberation revolution is achieved. That said, there are definitely measures that Black revolutionaries can take in order to battle against the patriarchal structure in our communities right now.
First and foremost, it is necessary for Black women, Black LGBT+ people, and Black youth to get organized into their own organizational structures. This is not divide these groups of Black people from Black men, but is instead necessary for these groups of Black people to better confront and struggle against the specific issues that affect them, as these issues often do not affect Black men as well. If these groups of Black people have their own organizational structure, it will provide these groups with a vehicle for articulating the specific nature of their oppression and struggling against patriarchy even when it is manifested within Black men. That said, it is important for these groups of Black people to recognize the nature of patriarchy in the colonial context. They must recognize Black men, rather than White women or White gender oppressed people as being their closest allies, because, as it has been previously established, Black men are also oppressed in the colonial patriarchy, and White women and gender oppressed people are above both their Black counterparts and Black men.

There must be political education that is aimed at combating patriarchal ideology in the Black nation as well. Revolutionary organizations should endeavor to educate the Black masses on the subject of the colonial patriarchy, and enter into dialogue with the Black masses in order to connect the theoretical questions of patriarchy to concrete reality. Revolutionary organizations must do everything within their power to stamp out misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, and all forms of patriarchal chauvinism within the Black masses. All of these forms of chauvinism are based in an idealist and reactionary understanding of gender inherited from the White man, and the only way to build maximum unity in the Black nation so that we can better wage the struggle for national liberation, is to stamp all of these ideas out.

Black people in general must criticize eurocentric conceptions of feminism, and go all out in combating racism, misogynoir, and transmisogynoir when it is expressed in the ideas or practices of White women, White gender oppressed people, or White men. There should be no holding back of criticism of this type. In ideological struggle with White women or regarding White women, special emphasis should be placed on the fact that White women have gotten countless Black men, women and children killed because of their status, and the fact that White women have historically excluded Black women and gender oppressed people from their White feminist organizations. Black people must uphold and propagate a revolutionary feminism that acknowledges those facts and centers the gender oppression of Black people in its analysis, and reject all forms of White woman centered feminism.

The violence against Black women and Black LGBT+ people must be brought to an end. Black women and Black LGBT+ people should be armed and organized for self-defense whenever possible. The perpetrators of violence against Black women, youth and Black LGBT+ people both outside and within the Black nation should be criticized, and if necessary, punished. Everything that can be done in order to protect the lives of Black women, youth and LGBT+ people should be done.

In regard to the family, Black people should take a lesson from the well known ‘Afrikanism’, “It takes a village to raise a child”. The nation should work toward taking the burden off of individual Black parents and working together to take care of, educate, and provide for Black youth. There are many methods of doing this, both on the individual level, such as being willing to take care of someone else’s kids while they are at work or otherwise busy, or on the collective level, such as launching breakfast for children programs, or collectively hosting community activities that can entertain the children. Children must be brought up in a way that allows them to think for themselves, rather than simply following commands from their parents. Children must be taught critical thinking, and Black adults should engage in dialogue with Black youth, taking into account the opinions and ideas of Black youth, and ensuring that the voices of the youth are heard.

The above are just some measures that can be taken to combat gender oppression in the Black nation and build up unity among our people against patriarchy, colonialism, and imperialism. Black organizations must also continue to study and struggle in order to develop even more ways to achieve this goal. Ultimately, the liberation of Black people oppressed by patriarchy in ameriKKKa can only come through revolution with the goal of liberating the captive Black nation from colonialism and liberating Black people from all forms of oppression and exploitation. Black revolutionaries must keep in mind the phrase, “its either all of us, or none of us”. The struggle against patriarchy is an integral part of the struggle for the liberation of the captive Black nation in ameriKKKa, and likewise the struggle for the liberation of Black people from patriarchy can only succeed through the struggle for the liberation of our nation and socialism. One day, our mighty struggle will sweep away the old patriarchal, colonial, and capitalist society and bring forth a new one!

Free the Land!

Marte White

About Community Movement Builders (159 Articles)
Community Movement Builders (CMB) is a member-based collective of black people dedicated to being a force for creating sustainable self-determining communities through cooperative economic advancement and collective community organizing. Our mission is rooted in Black love and equity. Grassroots Thinking is our newsletter/community blog about our work and movement activity

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