The Oppression Olympics

A few days after news broke about BET anchor TJ Holmes getting pulled over by the cops, I wrote an article for Ebony describing my own recent “Driving While Black” experience.

In it, I described how those situations have become so engrained in our (“our” in this sense means “Black males”) collective consciousness that for many of us, you’re almost shocked when you see a cop and you don’t get pulled over.

Surprisingly, being racially profiled didn’t annoy me too much. Getting stopped and questioned by the cops is basically the Black males’ Bar Mitzvah. The stories are so ubiquitous that you’re almost surprised when it doesn’t happen to you.

After it published, I received feedback from several different sources; some friends, some comments on our Facebook wall, and even a few emails. After a couple dozen or so of these replies, I noticed that the type of feedback I received was mostly split along gender lines.

(The typical response from the men)

“Damn, dog. I remember when that shit happened to me. Glad you at least lived to share the story.”

(The typical response from the women)

“Did you get his badge number? File a report? I would have cussed that motherf*cker out”

Now, I know that the men who read the story also felt anger, just as I’m certain that the women were also glad that I made it home in one piece. But, whenever you hear stories like this, stories about Black men getting harassed by the police, you usually see the same pattern, and the stark difference in the base reaction wasn’t anything new. And, while there are many possible reasons why this occurs, one stands out a bit more than the rest:

Black women just aren’t perceived as immediate threats in the same way that Black men are.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. “Duh, motherf*cker. Of course not.” But, besides the obvious, the fact that Black women just aren’t perceived as threats in the same way allows them certain leeways. One of these leeways is that their antagonism in this type of situation probably won’t cause most cops to react the same way they would if we were just as antagonistic. Basically, they’re much less likely to get arrested/beat up/shot/killed after cussing a cop out than we would be. And, while we’re thinking “I should probably chill right now and address this later because one false move could make me the new Sean Bell,” this lack of negative reinforcement allows them to think “This wrong is going to be righted right now.”

Obviously, this theory is based solely on anecdote. And, I’m (obviously) speaking from a collective sense. Every Black woman and every Black man won’t react in a gender-assigned way. Also, I’m (obviously) biased. But I think I’m a bit more right than wrong with this, and I also suspect that most of you would agree with me.

Usually, when these types of discussions/conversations — where someone compares the plight of one plighted entity to another — take place, they’re prefaced with some variant of “I’m not trying to start the Oppression Olympics or anything, but…” — a statement which lets the people involved with the conversation know that the conversation starter knows that playing the “Who has it worse?” game is pointless, impossible, and even insulting.

You will see no such sentence from me today.

Regardless of the topic, much of the conversation we have here ends up basically coming down to the men stating that the women just don’t understand how it is to be a (Black) man, and the women arguing that what (Black) men collectively experience pales in comparison to the obstacles (Black) women have to overcome to survive and succeed.

So, instead of imploring each other to take the gloves off and try and find some common ground, today I’m interested in seeing exactly how people feel and why. Considering all factors — sociological, biological, cultural, psychological, whatever — whose navigation through life is generally more hazardous: Black men’s or Black women’s?

And, most importantly, why?

Let the Oppression Olympics begin!

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)