Blogging for The Nation yesterday, I wrote about an incident involving friend of the site and co-founder of Crunk Feminist Collective, Brittney Cooper, where, as part of a public conversation about allies at the Brecht Forum in Brooklyn, she was assaulted. Here she is in her own words:
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.
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.
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’ve covered why the concept of “allies” is troubling, and here is a prime example. This man shouted about his commitment to women while verbally and physically abusing one that sat before him. Calling him an ally is meaningless.
A commitment to progressive politics means a rejection of all systems of oppression. In this instance, a commitment to racial justice didn’t preclude the practice of some incredibly vile sexism. It shouldn’t be allowed to persist anywhere, let alone in movement spaces.
And to undo this, men have to be willing to step up to the plate and hold one another accountable. As Steph Herold tweeted to me yesterday, it’s well past time that women are held responsible for educating men about sexism. The tools exist; at this point it’s a matter of whether or not there are men willing to use them.
The resolution to this specific aggression will be worked out in private, but the public discussion around it should lead to more men interrogating their own thoughts and actions for the sexism. Be present. Stand up.
Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute.