Running through the headlines in seemingly never ending streams are stories on racial tensions here in the United States. Fights for equality followed by the faces of young black men lost in the battle continuously flash across screens at home. As these tensions rise, awareness of the American issue of racism slowly begin to rise as well.
“There is both a tendency to look harsher at them while simultaneously having a sympathy for them too,” said Ganiatu Afolabi, facilitator of the Black Male Privilege in the Era of Police Brutality workshop at this year’s DIVERI Conference. She discussed the treatment of young black men by systems of authority, where with girls the assumption is you know better. Â
Afolabi is a graduate from Columbia University with past experience in education including service with Teach for America. She has spent extensive time researching gender dynamics, specifically the struggle of being a woman within the black community.
“Every culture you see men are so predisposed to be violent towards women,” Afolabi said while discussing the treatment of women specifically in communities of color.
Recent studies conducted on Westernized culture done by Myrna Dawson, a sociologist, shows that overall, when women are subjected to abuse or are murdered by their male partner, the male partner is more likely to have a lighter sentence than a man who commits an act of violence against a stranger.
“For some reason a women, of any color, being abused and killed by a man does not give the same visceral reaction in the media as a black man being killed by the police.” Afolabi responded to the study’s findings. “One of the biggest departures from that was Sandra Bland.”
Afolabi said that the Black Lives Matter movement has done a great job raising awareness and cultivating a sense of inclusivity within their organization. However, she continued to comment that despite these progresses made, the high numbers of black women who are also victims to the same brutalities do not receive the same media coverage and outrage as the men.
Another study done by Jill Doerner, professor of sociology, shows that young black males are one of the most likely demographics to be incarcerated, however, black females over rank black males when it comes to sentence length.
“I identify that there are ways that black men are targeted by our world by virtue of being black men,” Afolabi said. “It is a big problem and something needs to be done about that, that being said…despite the fact that these things are happening with black men, they still, benefit from male privilege, and marginalizations as black individuals does not erase their privileges as men.”
Something that Afolabi said she often faces when discussing the effects of gender discrimination in communities of color often faced with strong oppositions on the topic.
“Once we talked about race,” she recalled from her workshop experience, “[The male audience members] had a hundred reasons why racism is terrible and horrible, but when we talked about sexism it is like ‘oh it’s just a joke.’”
Afolabi said that she is concerned with the lack of intersectionality within these grating issues, that one group’s concerns may not be taken as seriously as the other despite the common goal of equality.
“Particularly when you are in a marginalized community and you’re already going through stuff together, why are you now imposing that on the person who is not the privileged gender?”