Friday, December 28, 2007

Chauncey DeVega says: Reductio ad adsurdum--A Response to Victomology Blues

Reductio ad adsurdum

(Latin: “reduction to absurdity”), in logic, a form of refutation showing contradictory or absurd consequences following upon premises as a matter of logical necessity. A form of the reductio ad absurdum argument, known as indirect proof.

reductio ad impossibile, is one that proves a proposition by showing that its denial conjoined with other propositions previously…

These conversations about gender and race make me really nervous. I know I can't win. I know I can't help but lose. As a man, I benefit from sexism by default, in much the same way that white people, regardless of their personal politics and ethics, benefit from white privilege.

As a black man that loves black women, I often feel that I am damned if I do, and damned if I don't. This is an immutable truth that transcends race, national boundaries, language, ethnicity, and class. We men folk want to say the "right" thing, and by doing so affirm the women we love in our lives, and to offer support to those women who have mentored and guided us. I for one know that if not for the black women in my life, and those loving, interested, and caring white, brown, and yellow women that have shared wisdom, love, and guidance with me, that I wouldn't be the sexual tyrannosaurus that I am today...Ha ha! had you going for a second with that black male feminist crap didn't I?

Seriously, when men and women talk about gender, and specifically, when I talk about gender as a man who happens to be black, I feel like the character Moleman on the Simpsons: I just keep getting hit in the balls regardless of what I say, and I keep getting hit over and over and over again. I know I can't win, but hell, I will keep trying:

For the record, Zora and Gordon, I think you both capture a significant part of what is problematic about these conversations regarding WAOD, black popular culture, and the politics of gender in the black community. I also think you point to a need in the black community to have a serious conversation about what a "progressive" black political agenda would look like (something we will certainly address on this site).

Deploying the absurd, I center my first set of observations on my worry that groups such as "What about our Daughters?", groups who point to hip hop and popular culture as a primary source for societal evil, are advancing an agenda based upon a fallacy--not one simple fallacy, but rather a big, one legged, crooked one--which is the myth of the strong black woman, and that women are under "assault" by hip hop and black popular culture. Extrapolating from this logic, black women are strong women. By extension, strong women are under assault by black popular culture because they, and we all, should expect affirmation from popular culture. Moving forward, strong black women need to respond to this affront because popular culture impacts their life choices and life chances. Black women are under assault which compromises their strength and so we need to resist this attack by popular culture. But, black women's strength is both "natural" and "necessary." Doesn't this almost sound tautological?

What is a strong black woman? How do you know her when you see her? What are her attributes? More importantly, what are the implications of this "strong" black woman myth for "regular" black women?

Is a strong black woman as strong as Wolverine's claws and the adamantium from which they are made? Why isn't the strong black woman included on this list of fictional super metals? What is a strong black woman? Can she break watermelons with her thighs?

Damn that got me excited.

Does a strong black woman have superior physical strength?

Is the strong black woman as strong as this white queen?

I love black women. I love strong women. I especially love strong black women like Nichelle Nichols:

Maybe the women at Supersistas got it right? Maybe, we need to counter the assault on black women with lots of affirmation and with videos such as this one:

Be careful supersistas because this approach may backfire, as there are lots of men who would love to be punished and dominated by you.

Maybe the brothers at have some wisdom to offer on this issue?

Guess not. But, I just love saying "". It has a ring to it, doesn't it?

I don't know what a strong black woman is. I know it is a slogan on the T-shirts sold at the Korean owned hood hair care product/clothing/shoes/miscellaneous items store in my neighborhood. I know it is something that harpies like these miserable souls throw about like so much spare change when they try to dispel the myth of the "angry black woman." I also deeply suspect that the narrative of the strong black woman hurts black women (and women more generally who subscribe to it) because this myth encourages women to make poor choices in their lives, and to play the victim in a cycle of despair. The narrative of the strong black woman also prevents vulnerability and forces black women to take on unreasonable burdens.

But, I am confused because I know many black women who I would label as strong. I also know many women that I would label as weak. As a social scientist, I also know about the difficulties faced by women who have to negotiate the often vexing combination of sexism and racism. Ultimately, while I am confused by this all, I know something about the idea of the strong black woman just doesn't sit right with me, and I suspect it may not sit well with many of you as well.


T. said...

my pet peeve is when a black woman thinks she's a strong black queen JUST because she's black and a woman. you ask her what exactly makes her a queen and she'll say discrimination or she got a college degree...who doesn't face discrimination and have a college degree these days?

Or when a black woman using "strong black woman" as a euphemism for acting bitchy. As in "If you don't like me I guess you just can't handle a strong black woman!" [See Omarosa]

Anyway, good post.

Anonymous said...

How many black women does Omarosa represent?
How many black women go around referring to themselves as "queens"?
Ironically, I think that those women who most often refer to themselves as "strong, black women" tend to be among the most insecure and disempowered of our communities.

gordon gartrelle said...


I have a blind spot when it comes to formal logic and the latin terms commonly used in it, so I don't fully understand reductio ad absurdum as applied to "strong black women."

But I do understand "Thou doth protest too much." "I'm a strong black woman" is in the same lineup as "I'm not gay," "I'm more militant than you are," "I'm not racist...some of my best friends are black," "I'm a strong black man," or any other such defensive claim blared via loud voice, bumper sticker, t shirt, etc.

Whether black women are supposed to be strong or weak depends on the needs of the speakers. When the goal is to create sympathy, then black women are vulnerable, symbolically battered, and in need of protection because their self-esteem and image is under assault from black men and the mainstream media; when it comes to asserting their independence, then they are the strongest people on earth.

It reminds me of a joke (it might have been Jim Gaffigan). It was about how old people love to say how wise they are and how their life experience gives them an advantage over naive young people, but when they are inevitably swindled out of their money by a scam artist, they become "old and confused."

Anonymous said...

pronounced STRAWNG

I wish that phrase had never left the t-shirt stage.