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Why Shanita Hubbard wants ‘ride or die’ women to be free

In her new book, Hubbard explores how putting others first has left Black women exhausted, overworked, and overlooked

In this excerpt from her new book, Ride or Die: A Feminist Manifesto for the Well-Being of Black Women, Shanita Hubbard invites readers to re-examine the public discourse about Jay-Z’s song “4:44,” and how Black women who are harmed are impacted when people expect them to get over their pain quickly.

You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served.

—Nina Simone

When it comes to Black women, there is always an expectation that we should be happy that a person stopped treating us badly. Regardless of the crime, the abuse, the toxicity of what they did, we are supposed to offer immediate forgiveness no matter the offense or harm caused. Whether it’s in our relationships, friendships, or family ties, there is always a presumption that Black women will be waiting with open arms to forgive you no matter how much harm you cause. You could burn our house down and apologize for it and the world would expect us to simply move on. But what about addressing how that fire harmed us? What about the house we lost? The truth is, a restorative framework is needed because Black women deserve more than apologies for the ways we are harmed. We deserve to have the depth of our harm fully considered and actionable steps taken to restore what we lost.

Restorative justice is a process and framework typically applied in communities that seek to handle crime, harm, and offenses without relying on punitive interventions like prison and arrest. It requires a person to repair the harm they caused before they can be reintegrated back into the community.

Restorative justice requires a harm-repairing stage, in addition to an apology or a person taking verbal responsibility for wrongdoing. The framework is rooted in Indigenous cultures and how they deal with offense, and it has resurfaced in conversations around prison abolition. The process allows a person to grow from their mistakes and openly acknowledge exactly how much pain they caused without escaping the most important step: making whole what they broke. It operates from a premise that restoration is necessary and desired by both the offender and person harmed.

The song “4:44” and most of the subsequent public discussions surrounding it failed to mention anything about restoring the harm that Jay-Z caused in his early years and later against his wife. All the women these men developed relationships with before they could “see the world through their eyes,” because they were unable to emotionally connect are owed restoration. It’s similar to what the expectations would consist of if you broke an expensive vase at a friend’s dinner party after having too much to drink. You would be responsible for replacing what you broke. Apologizing profusely and offering a Ph.D-level analysis on why you consumed too much alcohol may help your friend empathize with you and accept your apology, but if you don’t take your contrition a step further and replace the expensive vase, you will not receive another invitation to their next cocktail party. Reintegration — as it’s called within a restorative justice framework — requires restoration for what was “broken.” When a person impacted allows reintegration without restoring what was broken, it doesn’t require full responsibility from the person who caused the harm.

A lot of Black women are more susceptible to allowing reintegration before there has been restoration if the person who caused the harm was a Black man we loved. This is even more true for our sisters who are ride-or-die chicks. Part of the ride-or-die chick’s mode of operation is to act as a savior of broken men. The Black men who are incapable of emotionally connecting to us because they can’t see the world through our eyes are not somebody a ride-or-die would avoid, it’s somebody she would try to rescue. She doesn’t disregard the brother, she attempts to educate him repeatedly. She performs countless acts of intellectual labor trying to get him to understand basic things about Black womanhood. The less he sees the ride-or-die, the more she does for him. She embarks on this rescue mission knowing that it may take more than one attempt. When and if the man does graduate from “Song Cry” to “4:44,” she accepts that as her reward and a return on her “investment” — even if it’s not until he is almost half a century old.

Sisters who have rejected ride-or-die status aren’t exempt. A lot of Black women (like myself) have deep empathy for our brothers because we have always been able to see the world through the eyes of Black men. Most Black women could write a dissertation on the plight of the Black man in the United States. For many of us, when we were radicalized and started fighting against oppression it was our brothers we had in mind. I selected criminal justice as a college major because I wanted to help “fix” a system that was unjustly incarcerating our men. I wanted to jump into the fight and protect the “endangered Black man.” I was not using my profession, voice, or talent to bring attention to things like the disproportionate childbirth mortality rates or even the fact that Black women were being incarcerated at alarmingly high rates, too. I used to believe my version of pro-Blackness had no room for feminism because all I saw was the world through our brothers’ eyes, and I desperately tried to protect them from danger. What’s more, almost none of our music nor the news covered issues specific to Black women. The Black man’s plight was the plight of all Black people and even when it became too heavy of a burden to bear, I tried to carry it anyway.

Irrespective of the ways Black women are more vulnerable, this pattern hurts our community as a whole. A community that doesn’t push for a deeper level of accountability will only recycle pain. Hurt people hurt other people. It’s hard to fully heal without a deep inventory of your wounds and having actionable steps implemented by the person who hurt you can help the healing journey. Healed people can help heal people. Not everyone that caused harm in our community needs to be canceled or banished forever. For some there can be a path to restoration, but only the person who was harmed gets to decide what, if anything, that path could look like.

As for the men who have a late-in-life awakening about the emotional damage they caused Black women, we fail those who were harmed when we don’t hold our applause and push the men to work on a restoration plan for those who paid the ugly price for their awakening. I feel a complicated set of emotions when the Black men I love embark on a path of emotional maturity and self-reflection that was paved on the backs of Black women. On one hand, I rejoice when brothers reach a level of maturity where they reflect on the harm they caused Black women and decide to do better moving forward. In fact, a lot of Black women love this for them and we know that it can translate into healthier relationships with us, platonic or otherwise. Yet, if you talk to a Black woman who was in a relationship of any kind with these men before they began self-reflecting, healing, and unlearning, they will show you the emotional scars he inflicted. While some women may choose to give them grace and room to repair the harm because they lacked the skills to understand the damage they caused, it doesn’t excuse bad behavior — especially considering some of the men were manipulative, cold-hearted, emotionally unavailable womanizers, or worse. Watching a brother transition from an emotional terrorist of Black women into a celebrated example of maturity and growth is complex. To be completely happy that he arrived at this place of emotional maturity and ignore the casualties along the way is to knowingly accept an unspoken social contract that stipulates Black women’s pain is acceptable collateral damage as long as the person who harmed her grew. It’s time to correct this mindset.

Despite the missed opportunity to explore a deeper narrative, “4:44” did in fact highlight critical aspects of healing and reminded us that sometimes we just have to start fresh. In “4:44” Jay told us he suck[s] at love and needs a do-over. The conversation around “4:44” needs a do-over. It should be resumed and center on why our community struggles with affording Black women repair before restoration. When we don’t reflect on the cost of such an expensive healing journey, we make a decision about who is disposable in our community and who deserves unmitigated grace. Reflecting on the “cost” of this healing is only a preliminary step. 

Political activist and scholar Angela Davis said, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.” If we want to radically transform our communities and dismantle the social contracts that are detrimental to Black women, then we have to radically transform how we think about harm, accountability, and restoration. We have to truly believe that it’s even possible for our community to reframe our thinking on this. Both individually and as a collective Black community, we can no longer adhere to the unspoken narrative that Black women’s suffering is acceptable collateral damage for broken men. Nor can the world continue to operate as if our grace is so endless that nothing more than a public confession of one’s sin is required for an eternal relationship. Black women got ninety-nine gifts but being Jesus ain’t one.

Liner Notes

Excerpted from RIDE OR DIE: A FEMINIST MANIFESTO FOR THE WELL-BEING OF BLACK WOMEN by Shanita Hubbard © 2022 by Shanita Hubbard. Published by arrangement with Legacy Lit, an imprint and division of Hachette Book Group.

Shanita Hubbard is a writer, adjunct sociologist, sorors fellow and author of the upcoming book Miseducation: A Woman's Guide To Hip-Hop.