Trust Black women!
Do not expect Black women to save you!
Which is it?
This will make no sense to you if you are not in the social media communities on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr where these conversations mostly unfold. Generally, Black women have created entire discursive communities online and offline during the era of media fracturing. We have blogs, personalities, brands and an entire language where we are hashing out political philosophies. Because these things are so embedded in digital cultures and affordances they frequently produce slogans: Women Know Stuff; Pay Black Women; Trust Black Women; Not Your Mule, and so on.
After last night’s election in Alabama, many readers took the chance to point out that Black women increased their turn-out and overwhelmingly voted for Doug Jones.
The race is considered important for a lot of reasons. It is a litmus test of get out the vote organizing in races in republican strongholds and “purple” districts. It is also a test of the Trump coalition’s strength. And, the race matters tremendously for things like the Senate’s political math with several life-altering laws working their way through Congress.
Black women showed up and showed out.
So, what’s wrong with thanking them for doing so?
Plenty, according to lots of good threads and posts circulating right now. I’ll bow to those. No need to re-hash.
This narrative about Black voters "saving" Alabama would imply that majority of white voters–the majority of people in the state–wanted to be "saved" from Moore. They didn't. Black voters protected themselves
— Bree Newsome Bass (@BreeNewsome) December 13, 2017
I would rather focus on the idea that “trust black women” is somehow internally inconsistent because it promotes individuals who are not down for the cause (whatever may be the cause) and gets well-meaning folks in trouble when they try to perform the right kind of solidarity. It can seem like a “you can’t win for losing” quagmire.
It isn’t but it feels like it.
I attribute that to our collective inability to think structurally. We all suck at it. We don’t teach it in K-12. We don’t even all agree that structure is a thing in academic discourse. And, we certainly do not value it in media and public discourse.
That’s a shame because some structural thinking could only improve the quality of our discourse and our politics.
I interpret “trust black women” to mean adjust your assumptions about who does and does not belong in the body politic.
This is not a trivial issue. Take for instance the language that mainstream media often adopts to describe politics. There is always a “we”, a “they”, an “us”, and a “them” in these discussions. There is great variability in how those terms are applied but one of the most consistent applications is to exclude certain groups from the default “we”. It is in how we say “woman and people of color”, as if the two group s or distinct (think about it; I won’t spoil it for you).
When we do this discursively we also do it materially. We create and reproduce all manner of cultures that require no means testing for white men or white women or “Americans” while requiring it for Black people and Black women. Our language structures an acceptable code of conduct that requires Black women, in particular, to demonstrate we deserve to belong.
That happens structurally.
You can have a Black woman best friend and talk about “fit” at your job in a way that structurally excludes your friend.
You can “yasssss Queen” the Black women you read for the visceral thrill of taboo online and never defer to Black women as experts on any issue that you value.
You can big up Black women writers and never include them on the list of those who inspired your own thinking.
When I read “trust Black women” I hear a demand that Black women not have to individually disprove your assumptions about our belongingness before you will listen to what we say.
Categories and structures are about the defaults you use to govern your actions and interactions. If you truly trust Black women you will consider that they know something you do not know before you assume that a Black woman is wrong when she disagrees with you.
At that most fundamental level, trusting Black women is a political philosophy about the structures of our emotions and daily lives.
Trusting Black women is not about every individual Black woman always being right. It is about you assuming that she could be right even if doing so means you may be wrong.
There are many, many Black women that I do not like. I do not trust them. I would not trust them. But, I always always Trust Black Women categorically. It is just like I do not trust white men categorically but have many white men who I trust around my purse. It is about rules versus exceptions. Structure versus individuals. Politics, capital “P” and politics lowercase “p”.
It isn’t so hard, which just makes the offense taken at the very idea all the more telling.