So this week we devoted a lot of time to the discussion of David Baldwin and his abusive behavior–specifically, we debated whether or not he deserved our empathy. As Professor K pointed out, David Baldwin suffered a tremendous amount of stress by simply existing as a Black man in a white world. Blatant racism, systemic oppression, and the emasculating inability to provide for his family are each compelling arguments for casting David as a sort of tragic hero, nothing more than a product of circumstance. Pain, after all, is cyclical; deprived of any emotional outlet and forced to perpetually engage with the very same society that wished him dead, it seems only natural that David would pass on his own traumas to his children.
As comforting as this interpretation might be, however, it begs an important question: if a Black man’s anger at a broken system is enough to push him to beat his children, what about a Black woman? Both face the same injustice day in and day out. So why are only men ever driven to physical violence?
The fact is that women are not allowed to be angry. And when they are angry, they are not allowed to express that anger. Where a man who fights back is brave, and strong, and natural, a woman who fights back, even a little, is a bitch. Instead, women are taught to internalize their anger. Where a man is taught to hate his oppressor, a woman is taught to hate herself.
This is the fundamental truth which Baldwin fails to address in his work. For every barrier a Black man faces during his life, a Black woman faces two. It’s time we recognize this intersection between race and gender; now, more than ever, we must validate Black women’s anger rather than silence it. As Audre Lorde says, “The angers of women can transform difference through insight into power.” It’s time we harness that anger rather than silence it.
I leave you with this (rather ironic, considering our class discussions) Margaret Atwood quote on internalized misogyny, to do with what you will:
“Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it’s all a male fantasy: that you’re strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you’re unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”