99 Ways to Respect Black Women

This year marked 100 years since the death of Harriet Tubman, the former American slave who proved great heart and courage in rescuing other slaves. This fact was commemorated not with a holiday or a monument but by our very own brother Russell Simmons thinking it would be wonderful to make a “Harriet Tubman sex tape.” If we black women don’t speak up and demand respect, no one is going to speak up for us. So, to any brother—to anyone, black or white, male or female—who is ever again confused, here is a handy list of 99 Ways to Respect Black Women (to be sung to the tune of Jay-Z’s 2004 hit “I Got 99 Problems But the Bitch Ain’t One” (see #91 below).

  1. Do not rape us.
  2. Do not make jokes about raping us.
  3. Do not abuse us.
  4. Do not jail us if we do defend ourselves from those who try to rape and abuse us.
  5. Do not deny these things have happened, these things are happening. Do not deny that this is the painful legacy of 300 years of American slavery from 1619 to 1865, followed by 100 years of apartheid until 1965, followed by the 48 years of institutionalized racism that lives on today.
  6. Do not deny that slavery happened.
  7. Do not deny the specific experiences of black women during slavery—different from that of black men—including the legalized rape and abuse of black women by white men, our children and families stolen and sold away from us, and the forced rape by our black brothers under orders from our white masters to breed more slaves after the African slave trade was outlawed. Indeed,  “one southern planter vulgarly declared that white rape of slave women explained the ‘absence of Southern prostitution and the purity of white women.’”
  8. Do not stalk and kill our sons.
  9. Do not kill our daughters.
  10. Do not call us liars, crazy, stupid troublemakers or terrorists when we give voice to the ignored and unreported history of black women.
  11. Do not say racism is over because we have a black president.
  12. Do not make me choose between fighting racism and fighting sexism.
  13. Do not assume our experiences are the same just because you are fighting one of these.
  14. Do not ask me if you can touch my hair, or touch it anyway and say it feels like a Brillo pad or that is what you thought it would feel like.
  15. Do not ask me if I can wash my hair, how I wash my hair, or if I can tan and get sunburned and cancer.
  16. Do not ask me if Beyoncé just took out her weave.
  17. Do not use the n word.
  18. Do not ask me to represent all black women, to speak for all black women.
  19. Do not tell me you are not racist because some of your best friends are black.
  20. Do not ask me if I know your one black friend.
  21. Do not expect us to be immune from the psychological effects of racism and sexism, or of the special disrespect saved for women who inhabit both these identities. Don’t call me crazy when my depression and anxiety come from dealing with your hate, racism and sexism.
  22. Do not expect me to enjoy being the only black girl, the token at work or school or anywhere else.
  23. Do not assume we can sing and dance. That these are our only accepted art forms.
  24. Do not wrongfully imprison our sons. Do not wrongfully imprison us and our daughters either.
  25. Do not wrongfully and disproportionally execute our sons and daughters.
  26. Do not slander our daughters. Do not pick on us just because you can.
  27. Do not lock us out of education and work … and act against us if we try to come in, move on up.
  28. Do not take away our right to vote. Again.
  29. Do not also call us terrorists for attacking injustice and defending our civil rights.
  30. Do not call us ugly and other names for just being beautiful in our black womanhood.
  31. Do not co-opt our culture without respect.
  32. Do not steal our stories because you can pass and we cannot, because we have to deal with racism and you only have to deal with sexism.
  33. Do not shut us out of the feminist movement and say feminism is only for white women.
  34. Do not shut us out of the Civil Rights Movement and say “black power” is only for black men.
  35. Do not tell us our black men do not want us because we are not white and pretty.
  36. Don’t say, “I am okay because I am from Africa or France or England and you love my accent and  I am not one of those blacks, you know? Them.” No, I don’t know.
  37. Do not shut down and shut out our stories when told by ourselves.
  38. Do not require a narrative white eye to co-opt our stories and make money off our cultures and voices. Do not put a white male face on our experience of genocide in this country, sell it back to us, and expect us to sympathize with white Confederate slave owners, with this disrespectful othering in our own narrative, this disrespectful rewrite of history. Again.
  39. Do not assume that you can date us when you want to mess around or abuse a girl but not marry her because our blackness does not make us the marrying kind.
  40. Do not pretend there isn’t a double standard between how our sexuality is judged and how white women’s sexuality is judged.
  41. Do not deny that there are racial stereotypes; do not deny the harmful effects of these stereotypes.
  42. Do not say I do not have the right to be defended, to defend myself.
  43. Do not deny how racism and racist people permeate and affect every social interaction, even in healthcare
  44. Do not say I am not worthy of rights, of being a person.
  45. Do not deny the anxiety living under these conditions creates, as well as the effects of this on our psyches.
  46. Do not think we are all the same.
  47. Do not think that when we speak our minds we are angry black women.
  48. Don’t expect us to love 50 Shades of Grey the way white women do. They weren’t raped for 500 years by white men in this exact way and others.
  49. Do not ask us if we’re sure Beyoncé just took out her weave. Or, how can a weave look so natural?
  50. Do not feed us that post-racial bullshit. Yes people still see race, yes people are still judged by their race. Yes, you are judging me right now if you are not black and saying, Oh no, another one of them (angry black ladies).
  51. Admit when you are judging people because of their race or gender. Become aware and try to change this way of thinking.
  52. Understand that mothers have the right to take care of their children and not be penalized for it.
  53. Understand that family rights are human rights.
  54. Understand what life is like from someone else’s point of view.
  55. Understand the pain of holding your history and life every day, and being told by the people who did it that racism does not matter, that they do not want to hear your stories because you do not matter.
  56. Understand that white privilege exists. Understand that heterosexual privilege exists.
  57. Do not cloak yourself in your white privilege and call me sister if you allow the power of your white male brothers to both shield you from and blind you to the disrespect we women of color face in the struggle.
  58. Do not say it’s not racist it’s just words, or it’s just a TV show, or it’s just a movie. These are the things that matter. These are how we create meaning.
  59. Do not expect us to be friends with your racist friends.
  60. Do not use our bodies for science experiments without consent.
  61. Do not sterilize our bodies without consent.
  62. Do not speak to us about accidental rape and good racist white people. These are oxymorons. And not knowing this makes you a moron. Yes, I called you a moron. Deal with it.
  63. Do not say my 8-month-old baby is racist if he sometimes cries when white people hold him.
  64. Do not assume that person means white, that person means male.
  65. Do not forget the power of the words “white only” and their loaded history when you put them up in places in this country today.
  66. Do not deny the power of seeing the Confederate flag flown by your white skin when the power of seeing the word “Jesus” is such that a professor can be put on leave.
  67. Do not pretend we live in a vacuum and that history doesn’t matter.
  68. Do not pretend we are equal, that some life is more valued and protected than others.
  69. Don’t tell me hip hop ain’t sick and you know what caused it.
  70. Do not try to justify the prison-industrial-profit complex, unequal convictions, racial profiling and stop-and-frisking.
  71. Do not deny that this country was founded on genocide sanctioned by white supremacy, that laws were put in place as early as 1619 to support this and that some of them are still on the books today.
  72. Do not deny white people have benefited from 600 years of affirmative action.
  73. Do not make me educate you on how to treat me like a person.
  74. Do not make me responsible for your ignorance.
  75. Do not say the personal is not political when your vote takes away my rights.
  76. Do not say racist things and then pretend you did not.
  77. Understand that, as a black person, the racism I experience is different than yours even if you are another person of color, because of your ability to pass, to be the accepted as a model minority because of your lighter skin and lighter histories, and because of your desire to be successful in this country—which means adopting and living by the doctrine of white supremacy. Understand that because the racism I experience is different, I need special and different protection than you do from white men, from white society.
  78. Understand that white supremacy is not only practiced by whites. Or white men.
  79. Do understand I have a right to choose how I live my life, to control my body, or control what happens to my body. Do understand that I have a right to “define myself for myself.” Do not try to put me in a box and define who you want me to be.
  80. Do not say I am acting white when I am being myself.
  81. Do not tell me to act more black. Do not try to teach me how to act more black.
  82. Do not make me the face of welfare or crime—or my black brothers either—when it is not true.
  83. Do not judge me. And if you judge me, do not use a double standard that makes things right if done by white men or women and wrong if done by black women or men.
  84. Do not try to invalidate my feelings, perception or thoughts to make you feel less guilty. Do not try to rewrite history to make yourself feel less guilty.
  85. Do understand that if you are my man you will have to protect me from racism with your mind and words, not your fists.
  86. Understand that the reasons black families divorce are the same reasons white families divorce: People fall out of love, people become incompatible. It is not because all black men have gigantic penises and must sleep with as many women as possible. Understand that there are other possible reasons that black families divorce–like the pain of 300 years of slavery which broke the black family apart, as fathers were bought and sold and unable to prevent their wives and children from being bought and sold and raped by the men who “owned” them. Or the pain of children growing up to became fathers and mothers without ever having experienced a family or love in order to learn how to be a family and love.
  87. Do understand that because racism never ends, neither does our reactions to it. Do understand that the greatest trick the devil ever played is to keep us fighting the same fight, keep us wound up and angry and stuck. Do understand the level of exhaustion this creates. Do understand that anger kills and that we cannot stay there or we will die. To protect ourselves we must seek and spread love.
  88. Understand we deserve love. Understand we have the right to love ourselves. That, as June Jordan said, “self-love is the most revolutionary act.” That we are no one’s slaves, no one’s victims.
  89. Do understand that there are Judas Uncle Toms and they will always take money to say what you want about their own people to have the love of white people or money, and that they do not speak for us. Do realize deep down you know this too … and so does Judas Uncle Tom.
  90. Do not only show us on television if we look like stupid shrill idiots fighting over getting pregnant accidentally by players, ballers and hip hoppers.
  91. Do not call us “bitches” and “hos” in your music or videos or anywhere else. Do not pimp us out to make yourself money, whether it be a buck or a billion.
  92. Don’t mention reverse racism and expect us to take you seriously. Just don’t. You have already betrayed your ignorance.
  93. Do not tell us we would be pretty if only we were white. Do not internalize the self-hating color hierarchy of white supremacy and say if we are not white we have to be as light as possible … and to get in anywhere we must be lighter than a paper bag.
  94. Do not ask if we can put a weave in your hair like Beyoncé’s. Sister said its natural. Respect.
  95. Don’t waste my time and energy. I have no time for that foolishness. Too many glass ceilings to crack wide open and a family to raise up each generation past slavery to deal with your ignorance and hate.
  96. Don’t disrespect us and expect to be our friends.
  97. Do not try to limit our lives by your fear of our success.
  98. Do understand that sometimes we get so sick and tired of the constant hate—racism, sexism, struggle, violence and disrespect—that we sometimes lose our way and  believe how you see us is true and give up.
  99. Do understand we will get over this temporary weakness and keep fighting.



Hope Wabuke is a mom and writer who lives in the United States but works globally. She runs a communications company called The WriteSmiths and is also a founding Board Member and Director of Media & Communications for the Kimbilio Center for African American Fiction. She has received fellowships from the Voices of Our Nation Foundation,The New York Times Foundation, Cave Canem, and her writing has been featured in Newsweek's The Daily Beast, Salon, Gawker, For Harriet, The Feminist Wire, Dirty Laundry Lit, Kimbilio online, Kalyani Magazine, and various other theatres and magazines. A former writing professor at New York University and City University of New York, she is currently at work on a poetry collection about her family’s escape from Idi Amin’s Ugandan genocide and several other projects. She blogs at hopeafteryoga.com, and you can follow her on Twitter@HopeWabuke.