Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. (Gen.4:8-10)
One of the ways that people of color communities have yet to do right by women of color, is having men of color stand with women of color in the gender equality conversation. Too often, men of color have focused on racism, the discrimination against them as people of color, but have failed to see that their sisters are subjected to a far worse discrimination, that of being ‘less of a woman’ than white women.
Almost all cultures are guilty of discriminating against women and this can be seen in the ease with which women are dismissed and excluded from spheres of authority. However, when it comes to women of color, there is an additional assault against their honor and worthiness as compared to white women. This is where our brothers miss it – they think they have won the war on racism but are unaware that their sisters are still fighting the war on racism because the color of their skin prevents them from being accorded even the minimal respect given to white women by both white men and men of color.
This can be traced back to the ease with which white men plunder the virtue of women of color around the globe. In the way that women of color are raped, prostituted and dismissed as lower beings because of the color of their skin. In the way that women of color are left to bear the brunt of single-handedly caring for homes that have been torn apart by white ideologies, and yet the perpetuators of those ideologies turn around and berate them for their circumstances.
The lack of understanding of the burden of women of color is seen in the way that men of color will often stand with misogynistic white men and bodies to keep their sisters out of spheres of influence. Yet, women of color often do the opposite when it comes to men of color – we will not go without our men; we will not take equality for ourselves and keep our men out; we declare that we: our men, boys, girls and women are one and that together, we are equal and deserve the same dignity as white folks.
Rather than believe the lies spewed to us about the inadequacies of men of color, women of color apply themselves to study to understand the problem and then lift up our voices to advocate for the equality of men of color alongside equality for women(of color). But who’s doing the same for us among men of color?
Instead, many men of color are satisfied to sit with white men (who still have reservations about their equality!) and white women, even, but exclude women (of color). This ought not to be so, because a house divided against itself does not stand.
The practice of racism always set white women on a higher pedestal than women of color. So, despite discrimination against women in general, white women enjoyed and still enjoy the privilege of automatic dignity even while being denied power. Women of color have no automatic dignity – we have to fight for it, and we would be glad to see and hear our men fighting alongside us, insisting upon our honor in every time and space. Not being part of agendas that discriminate more against us and rob us of our inherent God-given dignity.
Rather than fear the gender equality movement, we would like our men of color, as people who have experienced discrimination, to draw near to us and seek to hear and listen to our voices so they can better understand our plight, because giving men of color a space at the table while still denying women of color a space at any table is still racism and men of color, we need you to understand that. That until women of color (members of your households and churches) have equal worth, value and space in society, you too, do not have equal worth, value and space in society with the white man. So, be your sisters’ keeper.
Look critically at those platforms on which you serve and notice which women of color are absent. Have they worked less than any men (white or colored) at the table? If not, ask why they are not at the table and refuse to participate until that is rectified.
Share positions of authority and influence with your sisters. Many men of color perpetuate the paradigm of inequality for women of color by holding too tightly to positions of influence and authority even when women of color are available and able to share that space.
Maintain the biblical position of honoring each other (men and women) and not just men (Rom.12:10) and take up the responsibility and consciousness of being your sisters of color keepers.
-Rev. Oghene’tega V. Swann
Rev. Oghene’tega Swann is an ordained Teaching Elder (Pastor) in the Beaver-Butler Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church(USA). She is the founding pastor of Refreshing Springs Mission Church, Aliquippa & Ambridge. She has the honor and privilege to be mother to one wonderful child.