I was reading the story of 54 year old James Bain who has recently been released from prison after serving 35 in years for a crime he didn’t commit. I felt anger and sorrow for all of the terrible years that he has lost. Once again, I could not help but notice that it was a man of colour who had lost his life to system that is determined to see Black bodies as surplus.
As a result of his false imprisonment, he is about to receive $50,000 for every year he spent behind bars, for a total of $1.75 million. This is restitution that is going to be paid to him by the state for his false imprisonment. It is clearly does not make up for what he lost behind bars. Bain does not have hatred in his heart for the system that imprisoned him; however, he does have a distinct distrust of women.
He said it’s the money that’s keeping him on his guard — and is one reason why he doesn’t yet have a girlfriend.
“I just don’t want no woman to want me for my money, to be honest with you,” he said. “… You don’t know what they have planned.”
His suggestion plays into the meme that women are gold diggers who are constantly out to take money from men. This construction of course never considers the millions of hours of free labour that the average woman will supply patriarchy throughout her lifetime. In the interactions between men and women, it is men who will overwhelmingly profit.
It is tempting to give Bain a pass because he has not witnessed first hand the struggles of women’s groups to attack sexism; however, this does not acknowledge that in the time before he was imprisoned, he was more than willing to adopt the male privilege that patriarchy handed to him on a silver platter.
Sexism is connected to race because Black women continue to have to deal with it on a daily basis. Many Black men are convinced that we should openly embrace their issues while ignoring the ways in which the Black male patriarchy has brought significant harm to Black girls and women.
Bain is fine with women as long as he can maintain control of the relationship. He currently resides with his mother and has expressed a desire to take care of her, thus fulfilling the male provider role. It is quite normal to want to take care of an aging parent, but when it falls into typical understandings of how we perceive gender, it is indeed problematic.
We are expected to read/hear Bain’s story and be overwhelmed with sympathy and rage because Black men have become the face of injustice, despite the fact that they are just as guilty as the White male patriarchy of doing harm to Black women. Even after everything he has been through at the hands of the White supremacist state, women are who he sees as threatening, and this is specifically why race and blood is not always enough to bind us to Black men.
News agencies have lauded him for his ability to forgive. White supremacy loves nothing more than a Black man that is willing to turn the other cheek. As long as Black men do not focus their anger and aggression on White supremacy, the damage that they do WOC is seen as more than acceptable. As long as we continue to be divided from each other the forces that seek to create us as “other” win.
At the end of Bain’s story I found myself saddened. My heart is full of pity for a man that lost his life to the penal industrial complex and anger for the fact that he could find it in his heart to forgive those that persecuted him while redirecting his distrust at women. His story sadly is not unique, and that is specifically because though marginalized by racism, far too many Black men buy into the lie that oppressing someone will make them powerful.