Defending “Nipsey Hussle’s widow” and other hollow gestures for Black women
It’s easy to say it's messed up for men to overlook a woman unless one of them has a connection to her. It’s harder to see how I do the same
Editor’s Note: April is Black Women’s History Month. Throughout this month, Black Youth Project is celebrating Black women. This month is also National Minority Health Month, Autism Awareness Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month. We are interested in publishing works that address these topics and the things surrounding them.
As a New Yorker (it’s been ten years, so I think I get to claim that now?), I understand that busking is a job, and so I try to pay street performers who cross my path when I can. For years I limited my giving to Black people in general, but I recently told myself I would only give money Black women for the foreseeable future.
I don’t fully know why, to tell you the truth. A part of it is just that I noticed how often I was giving to people I read as men in comparison, and it seemed very patriarchal and complicit and gross (though it’s quite possible that there are just more men busking in NYC). But this could just as easily have been an excuse to be more stingy, as it would certainly justify giving less than I had been giving. Or maybe it was my way of apologizing to my mother for not being able to compensate her for all the work she’s done that has gone ignored my whole life.
It’s not rare for a person to turn a Black woman into an avatar for the women and girls in their lives deemed important before coming to the decision to treat them better. Jay-Z admits he didn’t understand how much he hurt Beyoncé or other women until they had their first daughter. Kodak Black has been accused of rape, and has consistently been sexually harassing fellow rapper Young M.A. online, but it took him disrespecting Nipsey Hussle’s widow (because that is how she was regarded, not as Lauren London—not as herself) for other men in the industry to check that nigga for his misogyny.
And as a queer, non-binary person, it’s easy for me to see how fucked up it is for cisgender straight men to disregard a Black woman unless one of them has an important connection to her. It’s harder for me to see how this disregard permeates my thoughts and actions as a person who has also been raised in a patriarchal society and raised into manhood, even though that matters more in terms of providing actionable steps to rectify it. Even though it is harder.
Like I said, I don’t really know if my moratorium on giving money to men stems from seeing my mother in street performers who are Black women. I hadn’t even considered it until I started writing this piece, but I think maybe that’s the problem. I do know that I’ve flattened Black women into caricatures of what is familiar to me in the past. I do know that many of the chants and beliefs I’ve adopted and told myself were benevolent—like “believe Black women”—were often just thinly veiled patronization, or yet another refusal to see Black women as full—and, yes, sometimes flawed—beings. And so it’s always worth asking myself where my actions toward Black women stem from, and what monsters I have still to deal with in that context. What monsters I still have to battle.
I don’t even know if I can help seeing my mother in other Black women. There’s something about the way a sky blackened by hundreds of years of white supremacist patriarchy darkens the skin. There is a shared community there, amongst Black women, and I know that I am not part of it. And I truly am responsible for many of the mistakes I’ve made toward this community as a whole.
But what does taking responsibility look like? Does it mean giving money to Black women only? Believing Black women always? Seeing your mother and sister in every Black woman everywhere? Or is it something deeper than that? Bigger than that? More dangerous than that?
The other day I was freaking out to a friend about what to do with my 401k. I hadn’t touched it since I left my old job 2 years ago because I couldn’t come up with a way to reinvest it that felt ethical to me. My friend just laughed, reminded me there is no ethical form of capitalism, which I should have known already. But sometimes we need reminding.
There’s nothing wrong with giving money only to Black women buskers. But there is something wrong with framing it as a legitimate way to fix patriarchy or the capitalist systems that makes it impossible for Black women street performers to make a living wage otherwise. Only giving to them might make me feel better, might even make their day better, but it isn’t going to fix my involvement in patriarchy or capitalism. It isn’t an actual apology to the women directly impacted, what to speak of to my mother. And it’s necessary to remember that.
This is a reminder to myself and whoever else needs it that there are no easy fixes to a white supremacist patriarchal society. No new box to check off that doesn’t take more work than a flick of the wrist. No calling cisgender heterosexual people out without looking at oneself. No solution today that will always be the solution tomorrow.
There is only digging deeper. Asking questions about your motivations, and answering honestly. Listening to the people impacted by your decisions, especially if you claim you are acting to help them. Having no delusions that anything other than moving toward a complete eradication of this system is progress, even if you do things along the way to help yourself and others feel better in the meantime (and, barring the discovery of yet unknown harmful effects for doing it, I plan to continue with my street performer policy). Having no delusions that we will always know what the answer is, and finding comfort in that.
I wanted to use this piece to join the outrage against the rappers who waited to call out Kodak until he disrespected the widow of someone they held in high regard. I wanted to point to my feminist bonafides, my policy regarding Black women buskers, my refusal of manhood, to prove that I am different. Maybe it would have worked, but it wouldn’t have changed fucked up ways the world turns. And that’s the only proof worth a damn.