Black Women vs. Black Women: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Recent appearances by actress Vivica A. Fox and columnist Crystal Wright on BET’s Don’t Sleep, hosted by BET personality T.J. Holmes, spawned a swarm of Twitter responses both in favor of and against the women’s behavior. Fox, an Obama supporter and apparent liberal, and Wright, a “conservative Black chick,” dueled over women’s issues and candidates. From the beginning of the panel discussion, they seemed on edge, prepared for battle. Subsequently, Wright took to her blog to declare that there was a “War on Conservative Black Chick.” But, the real question is, why did the debate have to get so heated?

The two women sat on either side of popular comedian Tony Roberts, who seemed out of place, but also came off as liberal. Holmes began by asking about Romney’s “binders full of women” comments during the second presidential debate this election season. Fox, speaking loudly, explained her point of view. Immediately, Wright jumped in and caricatured Fox’s demeanor and gestures to antagonize the actress. Queue the battle. The rest of the “discussion” featured Fox and Wright in proverbial toe to toe over women’s issues in the election, of all things.

Interestingly, the exchange between the two women was of the “anything you can do, I do better” nature. Wright would say something and the audience would coo. Fox would say something and they’d cheer in retort. The two women would volley passive aggressive commentary and body language at one another while the audience looked on in wonderment. Intermittently, Roberts would chime in with something witty just to stoke the flames between the women. And, Holmes did little to moderate the conversation.

What was most disturbing about the interview was that a seemingly professional debate about politics turned into a one on one battle between two Black women on national television. And, neither Holmes nor Roberts made an effort to allay the jousting match. In a way, the Black men on stage seemed to feed off of the negative energy the two women emoted. And what was all the clashing about? Women’s rights and how women are perceived in the workplace…

Why can’t we all just get along? Neither Fox nor Wright put their best foot forward. And, I don’t think either presidential candidate would endorse the exchange. Yet, each woman came away, chest poked out, head held high, and armor shined, like they’d just been awarded the Olympic gold medal in Fencing. In truth, negative perceptions of Black women are only reinforced by these types of exchanges. And, whatever victory either woman may have felt she won was undermined by the manner in which each woman displayed herself on the set.

Politics is often seen as a man’s sport. And, this is not the first time it has become heated. But, I think it is imperative to understand that Fox and Wright’s choices were in poor taste. Should women, especially Black women, educate themselves on the issues? Yes. Should we be concerned about policies and candidates whose election might hurt or harm us? Yes. But, should we find intelligible and cogent avenues through which to express them? Most certainly. Let’s use this example as a “what not to do.” And look to fine examples like Joy Reid of the Grio…

Karen Finney, former DNC Communications Chair and MSNBC contributor, even while being talked over…

Goldie Taylor, MSNBC and CNN contributor, versus two Republican men…

This is not to say that commentators aren’t allowed to make mistakes or misspeak. On the contrary, they often become more emotional when certain subjects arise. And, this is because they have passion for the topic. Take the ever distinguished Melissa Harris-Perry of the Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC…

But, what is different in these two cases, the case of Harris-Perry and Fox and Wright, is that the former was never an ad hominem attack on those with her on stage. Harris-Perry became animated because of her deep care for the plight of poor American citizens living in New Orleans. But, her passion was not directed at or instigated by a personal qualm with her guests. In the case of the latter, Fox and Wright, the two clearly couldn’t stay on topic long enough to hash out any real political discussion. They were so distracted by one another that neither of them looked like a relevant political resource for Black women.

Most importantly, because of the stigma associated with Black womanhood and personality judgments, we are often tagged as angry, confrontational, or rude. And, being so underrepresented in political discourse does not help to generate a complex view of Black women’s political issues. Examples like this do not help assuage those misnomers. If anything, they are used to refute the notion that Black women are willing or capable to engage in legitimate civil discourse. Let’s hope that, next time, Fox and Wright remember their responsibility as prominent voices in the Black community. And, let’s pray that the number of good examples of poised, eloquent Black women in political commentating outweigh the examples these two women portrayed.

The Man Myth