Meditations on Marginalization within the Black Experience: Conversations with Activist Christina Brown

Activist Christina Brown unpacks the most pressing prejudices facing the most marginalized members of the Black community.

“I would describe myself as funny, serious, but in a way that…I care a lot about social issues and activism, and it’s been niche toward worrying about the Black woman experience or the Black femme experience, but I like to do it in a way that is easily understandable for people. So I say I’m very passionate about it. I don’t mind debates. I love arguing with people and the back and forth, but I do it because I just love community. I’m passionate, spunky, and emotional. I would also describe myself as creative and artistic because I’m serious and passionate about social issues, but I like to do it in a creative, artistic way. I’m not just all serious. People assume that I think, ‘Let me just talk about these issues all the time in a serious way.’ I like to do it with maybe a comedic turn. I’m an artist, I draw. So I [also] like to express myself in that way. I think that’s how social media has helped me. Especially with TikTok and all my social media in general, I’ve been able to express myself in so many different ways and get my creative juices flowing, aligning my creativity with me wanting to talk about these issues. And now that I’m trying to figure out what do I kind of wanna do as a career? That’s helped me realize that I have this creative side where I feel I can write these skits or people tell me I am very easily digestible. I can speak about things in a very clear way that people might not have understood before. Then I also have this academic background and I want to find a way to mesh the two. So I can be creative, use academia, and spread knowledge to people who don’t maybe have the privilege of the academic career that I’ve had.”

“When I navigate the world, I don’t ever think that I’m outside of being a Black woman. There’s never a point in time where I’m not affected by the marginalizations of being a Black woman. In terms of being queer, I have the privilege of being a cis Black woman and I’m very presenting as such. So just from someone looking at me, I’m not experiencing queerphobia unless I discuss liking women or gender nonconforming people, then that’s when it will come out. But as a Black woman, I don’t find myself ever in a situation where I’m not experiencing some type of marginalization, whether it’s a macroaggression or microaggression.”

“I have always been really passionate about social issues and social commentary, even since I was in high school. I’m 26 years old now and ever since I was in high school, I’ve been talking about this on Facebook or Twitter. I’ve just been very socially conscious and aware. It started off as just racism and how Black people navigate the world with white people. Then a shift started happening, I would say maybe a couple years ago where I noticed there was a specific experience being a Black person, a Black man, Black woman. There are just different identities within the Black experience that we’re not talking about. And in my mind, I thought, there’s a lot of people who are talking about the racism. There’s a lot of people who are talking to white people. We are getting books written, ‘Why I don’t talk to white people about race.’ For me, I had learned the term intersectionality by Kimberlé Crenshaw. I realized she coined that in the eighties, but it’s still not  really fully catching on. So I knew that this is where I need to shift my energy into talking about the specifics and explaining to people, the Black woman experience and how much we’re marginalized and how much it disappears within the Black experience because all people focus on with the Black experience is just racism. We don’t talk about misogynoir, homophobia, queerphobia, ableism, et cetera.”

“Misogyny, we understand that’s specific oppression that happens to women or femme presenting people. If you think about a Venn diagram, imagine misogynoir as the intersection. You have antiblack racism in one circle, you have sexism and misogyny in the other, and in the center, you have Black women where those both intersect. We deal with both individually, but there’s also experiences within both of them that are just unique to Black women. For example, when we deal with the stereotype of Black women being called loud and aggressive or ghetto if they’re expressing their emotions, whereas when Black men express their emotions or they express anger specifically, while they can be seen as aggressive, it’s not in the same sense of diminishing their feelings. To a certain extent, they’re performing masculinity. When white women express their emotions or cry, it’s taken care of, right? We care about white women’s tears, but when it’s Black women, we’re loud, aggressive, no one listens to us. Another example is statistically Black women in the United States are two and a half times more likely to be killed by a man than their white counterparts. There’s the strong Black woman stereotype that goes into not expressing emotion. Some Black women are strong though. They’re able to handle it. But other forms of femininity, like within the conflict of femininity, expressing emotions…we’re not as taken care of. Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy related issues. It’s a very specific marginalization that happens specifically to Black women that white women can’t really relate to and Black men can’t relate to, even though Black women deal with the same marginalization as those two groups.”

“I have come to the conclusion or realization that when we think of the Black experience, the cishet Black male experience is centered in that. It’s something very unique to living in the Black community, you see it as such, but also outwardly we’re [only] talking about antiblack racism. That’s what we all think that Black people deal with. When we talk about misogynoir, that means we have to talk about the call coming from inside the house. And that’s uncomfortable because we’re talking about oppressors within when we’re already a really oppressed marginalized group. [People think] you wanna talk to someone who is dealing with ridiculous systemic oppression by the state? You wanna talk about how you’re oppressing them? I don’t think we’re comfortable doing and realizing that, but it’s really important. My friend recently sent me this book that talked about the Black male experience and the marginalization of the Black man and how Black women have been expected to prioritize that throughout history. For example, Black men dealing with lynchings moreso than Black women. There was this thought that Black men were dealing with lynchings, so you can’t talk about what was happening with Black women, because that was such a barbaric systematic form of violence that was really affecting Black men. And you see it now with Black Lives Matter when it comes to police shootings. There wasn’t a lot of talk about or concern for how Black women were susceptible to police violence. When we talk about sexual assault and rape of Black women by Black men and and ask, why didn’t you just go to the police? We understand that we don’t trust the police when it comes to police violence and shootings. We understand when Black men will say, ‘Oh no, we don’t trust the police. Don’t call the police on us.’ But when a Black woman has a problem it becomes, why didn’t you go to the police? When Black men commit domestic violence, in the Black woman’s mind, we’re thinking, ‘If I call the police on him, I’m not protecting him.’ There’s so many Black women who experience domestic violence and won’t call the police on their Black partner because they want to protect him.  If I could put it in one or two sentences, the Black experience has been very centered on cishet Black men and what they experience. And if it’s outside of that, then we can debate it. Then it’s this difference of opinion. We haven’t gotten to the point where we can acknowledge intersectionality fully.”

“If I were to describe the connection or the alliance that white women and Black men have in upholding misogynoir, it would be that both white women and Black men are marginalized in their two respective ways. In terms of how they operate and exist in this world, they’re both interested in getting to the privilege of the white man. And there’s one thing stopping them on each side. With white women, the thing stopping them is that they’re women, so they deal with sexism and misogyny. For Black men, what’s stopping them is their blackness. Those two together in trying to access the privilege of white men, they can step on and disenfranchise Black women and push them down more. And they both have benefits from doing that. On the Black men’s side, something that happens that’s specifically misogynoir is colorism and texturism. So darker skinned Black women being more disenfranchised or being seen as ugly. The ideal Black woman being a light skinned Black woman with a looser curl texture. The closer you get to whiteness, the more pretty you are, the more privileged you are. So Black men getting with white women means you’re getting more access to privilege. Actually, Eldridge Cleaver wrote in his book Soul on Ice that he believed in order to have true liberation, he had to covet the white man’s woman. He had to covet white women. That is what he wrote, his words, that that was the true liberation. A lot of Black men, I believe, believe that. Then for white women, as far as what I’ve seen, and experienced and heard in conversation, there’s a fetishization that happens with Black men and an understanding that even though white men oppress Black men, white men are jealous of Black men. There’s a fetishization of their bodies and their form of masculinity that they can present. Getting with Black men is sticking it to the white man and sticking it to Black women. It’s sending the message, ‘We take your men and we’re the beauty standard.’  I would say there’s a hundred percent an unholy alliance. Any group that is marginalized can look at the people who are more marginalized than them and use them as stepping stones to privilege. I think that’s exactly what Black men and white women do to Black women.” 

“[In order to help put a stop to misogynoir as a nonblack woman] I think the first step, which is why I talk about it so much is listen, just stop talking for a second and, listen, and then give Black women the platform. If you have access to the platform, you have access to people, listening to you, you have access to people believing you, let black women be their own voice and help them help amplify their voice. Another way is if you see it happening in conversations in front of you and maybe a Black woman isn’t around, because I know conversations about Black women happen away from Black women, call it out, talk about it. The same way that we tell white people to talk to white people about racism, talk to them about misogynoir. I would say even to the extent – now this is kind of controversial – but there’s a lot of black men who will perpetuate misogynoir  to nonblack women, like we’re talking about the stepping stones of privilege. You step on Black women to get the privilege. Call them out. And I know that you have to be very delicate with being a nonblack person, calling a black person out on their misogynoir and antiblackness. It could be as simple as…you might hear a Black person say, ‘Oh, dark skinned Black women are ugly.’ Call that out and say, ‘That’s antiblack; they’re beautiful, all women are beautiful.’ Those are some ways that you could help uplift Black women and call out misogynoir as a nonblack woman. Just having the conversation without fear is really important and first acknowledging that it’s a problem in the first place. Some people don’t even believe that misogynoir is real. They don’t see the ways that it happens in every single interaction, you know?”

“[When it comes to queerphobia], a lot of people will say, people aren’t afraid. They use the word phobia to claim that no one’s afraid of gay people. They use that to gaslight the fact that queerphobia exists, No one’s afraid of queer people and that’s not what it is. It’s the idea and belief that queer people are bad people. They’re living an ungodly lifestyle. It’s a choice. They’re dirty. It’s these negative stigmas attached to being queer. And if it’s a belief based in something divine, that’s just absolute truth. It’s not like reading a statistic or like a math problem where you can see that it’s wrong. You just have to convince people their belief is wrong. So navigating it takes a lot of conversations. I feel in the world, I identify as bisexual. When it comes to men, the biphobia specifically that I experience is a sexualization. And that’s uncomfortable being fetishized. Men specifically thinking your sexuality, my sexuality as a woman or femme presenting person is for them. And that’s queerphobic, that’s queerphobia. That’s biphobia because it has nothing to do with you acknowledging this person as a person, you’re making it about you. I had one man tell me, ‘Oh, you’re bisexual. Oh, you’re fun.’ And I asked, ‘What do you mean by that? What about you finding out that I’m bisexual means that I’m fun to you? Unpack it. I know what you’re saying, but do you see how problematic that is?‘“

“Queerphobia has a strong hold on the Black community. I mean, a strong hold.  It comes in different tiers. There’s homophobia against Black men and toxic masculinity against Black men. Black youth are getting beaten. If you come out as gay, you’re told you’re gonna go to hell. You hear the conversations, like If you have those feelings and you’re growing up, you hear, ‘Oh, that’s just not a Godly lifestyle. You’re going to go to hell. Oh, that’s choosing that lifestyle. It’s just not natural.’ The Black community has so much religious trauma & that’s part of it. Meanwhile you have people who are in the Black community who just have to be down low or hide. In the Black community I’ve experienced it a lot that it’s seen as a black and white thing, especially when it comes to men. You have straight men and you have gay men. Black men aren’t given the freedom to have a spectrum of sexuality. So if you exhibit any type of characteristics that might be too feminine or too gay, you’re automatically gay. If you’re bisexual Black man, you’re just gay. And then if you are a Black woman, we’re allowed a spectrum of sexuality, but only because it’s a benefit to cishet men. So I would say the biggest type of queerphobia in the Black community experience is surrounded by religion and the fact that being gay is a sin.”

“[To combat queerphobia in the Black community,] put the Bible down. And that doesn’t mean don’t be spiritual, don’t be religious, but just put it down and listen to the queer Black people in your life. First of all, regard them as human, acknowledge them as human and unindoctrinate – you have to realize there’s been so much indoctrination within the Black community. The Black community needs to understand that a lot of how we operate with each other, we operate in the same way that white supremacy does. It’s not racism because we’re the same race, but that’s what queerphobia is. We’re operating under the same type of rules and behaviors, it’s just now there’s no white people involved. So when you look at the stepping stones of privilege, we’re literally stepping on queer Black people, queer Black youth, queer Black adults for no reason other than telling them that they’re gonna go to hell. There’s no benefit to you. It’s not like you’re going to get a better spot in heaven or you’re a better person because you’re telling this person they’re gonna go to hell. And I personally believe a lot of people have some suppressed feelings anyways, and that it comes out as such. I’ve had conversations with people where they’ll share, ‘Yeah, I might have had these feelings, but you know, it’s just not natural.’ So you suppressed it? Or they’ll say, ‘We knew he was gay since he was this age.’ So you still think it’s a choice, but you had a feeling he was when he was 5, 6, 7. So put the Bible down, start listening to queer Black people that you love and face yourself and your biases. Think about it in the lens of how we look at racism and when we encounter white people. Think about it in that lens and see the parallels and the same behavior and the same arguments.”

“People say to me, ‘You talk about so many negative things. You just bring up problems. What’s the solution?’ My response to that is if we can’t even be on the same page about what a problem is, how are we gonna be on the same page about finding a solution? My goal for my platform is deconstructing. I think it starts with deconstructing because all of these systems are constructs anyways, they’re made up. And if we’re operating within the same construct that is causing oppression and marginalization, we’re gonna be in a merry-go-round. We have to deconstruct it. That’s why I bring up problems. That’s why I talk about it, that’s why I bring up scenarios. To people that feel like it’s too negative, yeah, it is. I’m talking about it because I want to show just how prevalent it is. It’s an everyday type of experience for these marginalized groups. So if you’re tired of hearing it, imagine living it.”

“My hope [for the future of the Black community] is that we become more aware of intersectionality and we’re able to call each other in and not see talking about issues within the Black community as being a betrayal to the Black community. Because I get called an agent sent to infiltrate the Black community. I get told I have an agenda. I get told that I’m not Black when I talk about these things as if I’m shaming my own Blackness talking about this stuff. My hope is that we stop aligning Blackness with these other forms of oppression outside of racism, because that’s what it feels like. As if being Black automatically means dealing with queerphobia and misogynoir. I hope the Black community becomes more comfortable with being able to dismantle our own systems of oppression within, our systems of marginalization and problematic prejudices and beliefs without feeling scrutinized and judged, especially since our community already has a lot of scrutiny and judgment. I think that’s kind of where it stems from. If someone from within scrutinizes or judges us, we immediately say, ‘Nope, we don’t wanna listen.’ But my hope is that we realize that it’s important and that there’s more than just one Black experience and we need to talk about it and we need to acknowledge them all.”

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Meditations on Marginalization within the Black Experience: Conversations with Activist Christina Brown. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Christina Brown.