Black women elated as men find self-respect

Monday's Million Man March in Washington was about black American men rediscovering self-respect. Men who lack self-respect talk tough and act tough; they walk with adolescent struts; they join gangs in the hope of finding refuges for their fragile egos. Sometimes they turn to drugs or drink, beat their women, shun the responsibilities of fatherhood. Fifty four per cent of black children in America are growing up under single mothers.

All of which helps explain why black women appear overwhelmingly to have supported the march and to have been undisturbed by their exclusion.

The response of black women - as conveyed in scores of interviews - was to welcome the attempt by black men to gather, as the organisers defined the exercise, in a giant act of atonement.

Some women spoke from the podium. Rosa Parks, the mother of the civil rights movement who caused a national stir when she refused to give up a "whites-only" bus seat in Alabama in 1955, said: "I am honoured that young men respect me". Other women spoke, notably the poet Maya Angelou and Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malcolm X. Cora Masters Barry, wife of the mayor of Washington, declared: "This is the prettiest sight I've ever seen in my whole entire life."

Many women chose to see the march as a gesture of recognition by black men of the pivotal role women have played in supporting black households. One man observed that black women had been black men's "backbone" for too long and it was now men's turn to help shoulder the burden of family and community life.

A group of women in Toledo, Ohio, took the day off work to watch the march on television. Shannae, one of its members, said: "This is like a thank-you the black men are giving to black women. It gives women a chance to see that black men do appreciate them."

Several hundred women observed the march in small groups from the periphery of the Washington Mall. Others took up positions at underground stops and greeted marchers with cries of "We love you" and banners that read "We're with you, brothers." Gwendolyn from Virginia said: "I am very proud, elated."

The women looked fondly on the marchers, like proud mothers at a school graduation day. And what they saw gave them hope that perhaps they might outgrow adolescence, start standing up on their own two feet and start sharing the burdens of adult responsibility. For the black men, hundreds of thousands of them, were not strutting, were not cringing. They stood tall.

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