Sexist and Misguided

Against the Current, No. 31, March/April 1991

Sabiyha Robin Graham

The Blackman’s Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman
By Sharazad All
Civilized Publications, 1989, 181 pages, $10.

THE BLACKMAN’S GUDDE is 181 pages of unsubstantiated attacks against African-American women, written by an African-American woman. It accuses Black women of being responsible for everything from the disproportionate number of Black men in prison to the high dropout rate of African-American children.

Ali’s thesis is explicitly revealed in the opening portion of her book: African-American women and men “do not get along” because “the Blackwoman is out of control in her attempt to “overpower and subdue the Blackman. The Black woman’s failure to submit to “guidance by her God-given mate” is motivated by “self-inflicted, nearly psychotic insecurity and “disrespect for the Blackman.”

Promoted as “how to” look for African-American men, Blackman’s Guide provides its target audience with advice for dealing with their argumentative and uncivilized mates. All advocates, among her solutions to “the problem,” that Black women “be soundly slapped in the mouth” when they get too “out of hand.”

In the final pages she exhorts, “Rise Blackman, and take your rightful place as ruler of the universe and everything in it. Including the Blackwoman.”

As such excerpts indicate, the book is replete with absurd assertions that hinder serious consideration of its contents. This was the opinion of many Black journalists and scholars upon the book’s publication. Some who deemed the Guide ludicrous and too irresponsible to merit attention were forced, however, to rethink their position due to the number of Blacks reading the book.

Media sensation

Barbara Rodgers, a reporter and anchor at KPlX in San Francisco, reluctantly agreed to interview Ali on “Bay Sundays,” her thirty-minute televised program. In a New York Times article, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Claude Lewis expressed his regret at reviewing the book, stating, “I think what she is selling is what many whites want to hear and have go out over the air.”

In addition to stories in Emerge, Essence, Time, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Newsday, Ali has appeared on “Geraldo,” “Donahue” and the “Sally Jesse Rafael Show.”

Cable station Black Entertainment Television and Howard University’s Channel 32 have carried interviews with Ali, and two of New York City’s Black-owned weeklies, The City Sun and Amsterdam News, have also covered The Blackman’s Guide.

Many Black bookstores have refused to carry the book, and Una Mulzac, manager and owner of Harlem’s Liberation Bookstore, counts herself among them. Mulzac has withstood loss of potential revenues and the displeasure of All’s adherents for her decision. She does, however, carry the intelligent and critical response Confusion By Any Other Now Essays Exploring the Negative Impact of “The Blackman’s Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman” ($3.95), edited by Haki Madhubuti of Chicago’s Third World Press.

All claims to average sales of 15,000 to 20,000 copies per week. Notwithstanding, the book contains no bibliography and presents clear evidence of its author’s lack of knowledge concerning both African and African-American history and contemporary life.

Misogynist and Racist

In Chapter 12, entitled “Her Religion,” All rails against the practice, primarily by African-American women, of “feeling the spirit” during worship in Baptist churches. Also referred to as “getting happy,” many Black women become joyfully ecstatic during and/or after listening to gospel music and their preacher’s sermon.

Similar events play an important role in West African religious life and have also been observed in various forms throughout the African diaspora. All, however, characterizes it as a “fit to let off her frustration in a place where this kind of tantrum is permitted based on religion.”

The Black man, she states, is “embarrassed about the whole ordeal and does not believe that God requires the Black-woman to have an epileptic type seizure to profess her belief.”

In this misogynist and racist book, Ali refers repeatedly to a generic Black man and woman. Blackman are God-like and perfect while Black women, although typologized into the four categories of high-class, average, lower-grade and cultural, are presented as generally oversexed, stupid, slovenly and untrustworthy.

For each group Ali delineates characteristics. The cultural Blackwoman, a reference to African-American women who wear dreadlocks and use African-derived styles of adornment, feels that “by neglecting her personal hygiene she is making a statement of originality. Be aware that the only statement she is making is that she is nasty and too lazy to take care of herself.”

The author goes onto contradict herself by stating, elsewhere in the book, that “the Blackwoman secretly wants to be a clone of the white woman and patterns her standards of form and beauty after her.”

All’s epistemology resembles that of 19th century European and Euro-American biological determinists. These pseudo-scientists; measured skulls and utilized Judeo-Christian mythology to substantiate their Claims of white supremacy.

Craniometry, although eventually debunked as a method for determining intelligence, was advocated by Dr. Samuel Morton in his monograph Crania America (1839) to suggest whites had larger brains and were hence more intelligent than other races of the world. In keeping with this tradition of ranking humans, Ail claims the larger brain size of Black men indicates they are more intelligent than Black women.

As further indication of similarities between the author’s position and that of early racist propagandists, Ali equates African-American women with animals and children. When discussing the resistance of Black women to the solutions outlined in The Blackman’s Guide, she states “Soon she will become trained She’ll cry and scream and scratch—like a wild animal—and she must be dealt with as such.”

Ali’s proposition is that African-American male supremacy will redeem Black women in particular and Black people as a whole. As is often the case, no evidence is presented as to how an intensified sexual hierarchy will obliterate the impoverished conditions in which so many African-Americans live.

Her logic is closely in line with that of the right wing as they promote strategies for dealing with pregnant and drug-addicted women or the parents of gang members and drug sellers. Their solution, and hers, is to punish and blame the victim. When the victim’s identity is revealed, often the person is poor, female and non-white.

The Tragedy

A strident call for a Black patriarchy has been a common component of numerous strains in Black nationalist thought. Although I am not implying that all Black nationalist thought is sexist, a linkage between patriarchy and nationalism has been documented by scholars in numerous parts of the world.

Black nationalist sentiments and strategies, although never completely dormant, have been historically embraced by African-Americans when their quality of life has declined and/or they have “experienced intense disillusionment following a period of heightened but unfulfilled expectation.” (Bracey, Meier and Rudwick, Black Nationalism in America, 1970)

Today, Black working and nonworking classes are living in sub-minimal conditions where they disproportionately face premature death, imprisonment, victimization by criminals and brutalization at the hands of the state. The post-Reagan years are a period of severe decline in which the accomplishments of the civil rights movement are systematically diminished.

Rates of homelessness, morbidity and infant mortality are up, while life expectancy and employment rates are down. As lessons of previous history would suggest, these developments help foster an environment where nationalist philosophies are more appealing to the Black masses.

Analytically hampered by mystified notions of maleness, many adherents of Black nationalism suggest that African-American women should put greater emphasis on domestic activities and the cultivation of submissive behaviors.

Current debates on making Black men marriageable and establishing schools for Black boys are in part fueled by male-centered nationalist ideals. Although the increasing predominance of households headed by African-American women has been linked to Black male unemployment, African-American militants and Euro-American policy makers have often agreed that Black -matriarchs’ must be subdued and a Black patriarchal social order established.

The treatment of Black intellectuals further places in context the popularity of Sharazad Ali’s book. With the recent and rare exception of media coverage given Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Johnetta Cole and a handful of Black literary figures, African-American scholars and intellectuals have been significantly marginalized in America.

Those in step with the current administration in Washington, D.C. Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell and to a lesser extent William Julius Wilson—receive far more attention than an Angela Davis or Cornel West. The former three maintain consistent media access but skew discussion of Black life with their conservative conclusions.

Astute media attention-getters like Reverend Al Sharpton and Minister Louis Farrakhan are also given the type of press that facilitates their transformation into national “spokesperson” for African-Americans. On the other hand, Black academicians, although certainly not the only African-Americans with valuable insights, are invisible persons whose views are often overlooked for those of Euro-American “experts” and neoconservative Blacks.

Enter upon this contested terrain Sharazad Ali. On the basis of the content of her book, her presence in a discussion of African-American intellectuals is unwarranted. The national exposure and book sales she has garnered, however, belie this fact.

The real tragedy of The Blackman’s Guide is its implications for young African-Americans rather than, as Claude Lewis fears, the possibility that Euro-Americans may take its determinations to heart. The solutions offered by All have been construed by some as legitimate responses to differences of opinion between some African-American women and men.

In New York City the book is sold by a number of “Afrocentric” street vendors whom Black teens substantially patronize. Ali’s summations mirror the rationale that allows young Black men, through the venue of hip hop music, to dis[respect] Black women for wearing hair weaves (although they are worn to appeal to the Eurocentric standards of beauty many African-Americans maintain) and to blame Black girls for causing the crimes committed by young Black males. (To paraphrase rapper Ice Cube, they steal for those bitches who won’t talk to a brother unless he has stupid gold or a dope car.)

Like the culture-of-poverty theory and the Moynihan report before it, The Blackman’s Guide series as a consummate pathology model and detracts from a discussion of how poverty, sexism and racism negatively affect the lives of all African-Americans.

March-April 1991, ATC 31