Book Review: We Refuse to Be Silent: Women’s Voices on Justice for Black Men

Book Cover Images image of We Refuse to Be Silent: Women’s Voices on Justice for Black Men

Edited by Angela P. Dodson

    Publication Date: Apr 30, 2024
    List Price: $29.99
    Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
    Classification: Nonfiction
    ISBN13: 9781506491110
    Imprint: Broadleaf Books
    Publisher: 1517 Media
    Parent Company: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

    Read a Description of We Refuse to Be Silent: Women’s Voices on Justice for Black Men

    Book Reviewed by Robert Fleming

    Back in 2014, after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, journalist and writer Angela P. Dodson got the idea then for her recently published book, We Refuse to Be Silent: Women’s Voices on Justice for Black Men. “In long threads of conversations on Facebook and other platforms, the women, most of us Black, most of us mothers, began to talk about the complex feelings and thoughts that these deaths and others like them engendered, the knots in our stomachs, the fears that followed our men out the door,” she writes in the book’s acknowledgements. Now, ten years later, the complex themes of the book could have easily been ripped from current headlines. For example, on May 3 (days after the publication of this book), twenty-three-year-old U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Roger Fortson was shot and killed by a deputy sheriff who was answering a call of a domestic disturbance. The White sheriff, placed on administrative leave, saw a gun held by the airman and opened fire, shooting the Black man six times. It turned out that the gun [pointed downward] was properly registered and the sheriff had showed up at the wrong apartment. The continuous and pervasive violence Black men experience daily in this country seems to never cease.

    This collection of engaging essays pulled together and edited by Dodson confronts police oppression, systematic racism, and the high-pressure emotional instability caused by daily bigotry in real life. The book could have included the tragic, untimely death of the young airman in Florida. Opinions, fact-laden dialogues, and analysis about these controversial political and cultural topics fill this book, the voices of thirty-five celebrated women from the worlds of academia, law, literature, and the media. These women move through the rage and conscience, through the rising death toll of fathers and sons, through the rigged media pushing the demonizing of Black males. When these negative myths and stereotypes are aired, the public ceases to view people of color as feeling and thinking human beings.

    Returning to the contributor lineup, many readers of Black literature and media will recognize a few of the accomplished writers such as Elizabeth Alexander, Nicole Bailey-Williams, Betty Winston Bayé, Donna Brazile, Gloria Browne-Marshall, Tananarive Due, Audrey Edwards, Patrice Gaines, Dr. Brenda M. Greene, Yanick Rice Lamb, Dr. Brenda Wade, and Isabel Wilkerson. These are among the many voices that pay attention to details, observe keenly, and get it right.

    In her introduction, Dodson writes about the police officer or security guard or the myth-believing neighbor who ends the life of a Black male. She opens with: “Another Black man, some mother’s son, some woman’s husband, somebody’s brother, some child’s father, will die.” This is a horrifying thought. She later states, “Most victims are young, ages 20 to 40, a Washington Post database found.” This is a frightening statistic.

    We Refuse to Be Silent is divided into two main sections: “Emotions” and “Activism,” and within each section, essays fall under “Parts” with titles such as “Troubled Minds—Fearing and Being Feared,” “Close Encounters: Stops, Arrests, and Death,” “The Talk: Training Our Sons,” and “Healing and Moving Forward.”

    Throughout the anthology, many writers ask: How many injustices must a Black youth bear until he runs amok? The police car with suspicious officers keeping an eye on the hoodie-wearing, gold chain around the neck, destined to be patrolled, stopped, frisked, detained, beaten and worse by the boys in blue. While most of the souls targeted between the ages 20 to 40, many of them are above the range.

    Other than the Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Breonna Taylor cases, these authors, who are mothers and parents, emphasized that George Floyd cried out for his mother as he neared death. Dodson, the mother of four young men, recalls the Reverend Dr. Mary White’s prayer at Floyd’s funeral: “We thank you for the life of George Floyd, oh God. That a moment he called out for his mama, we believe that the ears of mamas across this nation reared up. That the ears of mamas across this world heard him cry even though for one mama, all mamas began to wail. We began to wail for our children. We began to wail for our grandchildren. We wail for men across this world because one mama’s call.”

    Regarding the murder of George Floyd that galvanized worldwide protests in 2020, Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mother of four young, Black males, stated at a news conference: “Above everything else, I am a mother…. And when I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother would hurt. And yesterday when I heard there were rumors about violent protests in Atlanta, I did what a mother would do. I called my son and I said, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘I cannot protect you, and Black boys shouldn’t be out today.”

    Writer Darnella Frazier puts its quite simply: “I don’t think people understand how serious death is—that person is never coming back. These officers shouldn’t get to decide if someone gets to live or not. It’s time these officers start getting held accountable.”

    Award-winning journalist and researcher Betty Winston Bayé, explains White rage, White fear, and Black traumas and its collateral damage to Black women. Still, she only hints about the exploitation and violence committed to the females of our race and community. However, rightfully so and fitting, she pays homage to the Black woman: “She keeps the faith. She preaches. She teaches. She goes into her closet and prays. She’s like a million Harriet Tubmans. She carries the Black world in her womb and on her back.”

    One sparkling commentary, Yanick Rice Lamb’s “Breathing While Black,” examines the youth’s curiosity about a sense of dread of attending more funerals than her parents and grandparents. Her essay includes statistical information. The violence and death at the hands of police, Lamb describes, “This is a multilayered problem that requires real talk and real action from multiple layers of society. It has roots in structural racism dating back to enslavers and Slave patrols. So, centuries later, when will it stop?”

    The established political figure Donna Brazile spotlights the enormous fear and despair in our community and that the federal government refuses to acknowledges it. “I don’t advocate for violence or lawlessness, but I understand in my bones, and through my fears for my children, how violence can manifest when people do not feel that their pain is being heard.”

    On a final note, Dr. Brenda Wade, a psychologist, maintains that Whites may not change or have the intention to do so, so she insists many in our community “reprogram our own minds and hearts to embrace the truth that every human being deserves to be treated fairly…,” she recommends that we, as Black people, “reprogram our bodies, emotions, minds, and even our spirit” to withstand and resist the oppression patterns from the dominant society. We Refuse to Be Silent contains many original essays tailored for the anthology and the reader can imagine the heartfelt emotion each author shares. The collection also includes several thought-provoking essays that were previously published and fit with the tone of the book. All, without fail, deliver messages that give the reader much to consider. Dodson’s first book, Remember the Ladies: Celebrating Those Who Fought for Freedom at the Ballet Box, covers the history of the role women played in American politics, fighting for education and voting rights. With We Refuse to Be Silent, Dodson has edited a treasured gem acknowledging the rage, frustration, suspicions, and resentment of Black women over the extermination of our young boys and men. Their voices form an effective, practical chorus that tries to edge us forward through anger and disappointment to emotional achievement and inner strength. Read the essays slowly and completely, then absorb.

    Read Broadleaf Books’s description of We Refuse to Be Silent: Women’s Voices on Justice for Black Men.

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