Thursday, August 23, 2012

Towards a Black Male Feminism

There are any number of arguments why the practice of active feminism is an obligation of men. I have opined in the past that a woman, just as she has a choice whether or not to ever consider abortion or have one, also has a choice of whether or not to be a feminist. Her liberation or how she defines her liberation needs to be defined as she wills it and it may shift, change, and morph based on locale, history, religion, race, color, and belief. The debate on the necessity of an articulated feminism for women is a debate for women to hold and define.  But let me be clear that feminism is not monolithic and white feminism and the racism its practice has sometimes entailed as practiced historically has caused some powerful harm, which is why the Combahee River Collective's statement on Black Feminism and Barbara Smith's essay Towards a Black Feminist Criticism are so critical.

But the debate on feminism and what that means from a female point of view is not for a man to decide. But the power of feminism is that contrary to how it is often presented it is not the same as sexism. Sexism is the practice of power plus privilege and its use to oppress women while holding up the institutions of male power and privilege. Feminism is the mindful deconstruction of that system for both men and women. In short, feminism is the key to the liberation of men as it is, in my opinion, the basis for the liberation of women. How feminism is practiced, though, and what it means for men and women and their path to liberation is, necessarily different.  And what it means for black men in particular is very simply about survival.

To begin, 72% of all black households in the United States are led by single mothers. The reasons for this are plentiful including rates of teen pregnancy, school to prison pipeline, drug laws, poverty, and any other number of factors that are geared towards removing a particular type of black man, which happens to be the majority of us, from our homes and into the new articulations of modern slave labor or, as has happened during the recession, the removal of us and our labor from the economy completely to make room for the recovery of the white community.  The unemployment rate of black men with college degrees is almost twice that of white men with college degrees, and while the overall unemployment rate for the black community is around 13%, 8.3% of black men over 25 with a college degree are unemployed. Though critical to understanding the ways in which power pushes black men out of the "legitimate" means earning system and into survival economies that make black men vulnerable to power and easily eliminated at the ease or pleasure of the state, particularly in a time of increased private prisons and the shifting of so much small manufacturing labor to prisons where fair wage laws and other Constitutional and legal guarantees do not apply, these are all symptoms that lead to towards a black male feminism and its necessity.

Feminism at its root means that both men and women get to express their full humanity without oppression, without prescribed ways of being that are rigidly policed and socially/politically/often physically punished when deviated from the norm, and allow both men and women the full range and expression of their vitality and spirit without taking away from the other. Indeed, feminism is, at its root, the negation of gender roles and the full expression of human experience as in a liberation get to be all of you, and I get to be all of me, and together we are committed to building each other to our full potential.

For black men this becomes about survival. Black men are taught from the gate to be tough, hard, in control, "macho", independent, players, victims, and that our potential is circumscribed by history, circumstance, and ability--not to be punks, to be virile, the mandigo syndrome...and these ideals images and thoughts are reinforced through our own communities, often, media--too often--, and what we consume from mainstream dominant ideology. We resemble what we are presented by others as ourselves. We become charicatures because so many of those that would be our own role models are dead, absent, or in prison. We are socialized internally and externally, and unless somoene or something intervenes to break the cycle of history, legacy, and socialization we often become what we were never born to be. We become angry, and turn that anger inwards and towards our own community. And as a wise woman once told me, there is a place for angry black men: jail.

The truth or untruth of these socializations are related to our relativity to power, history, presentation, and ability to conform or not (willingly or not, consciously or not) to a paradigm that requires us to set our skin aside and adopt a way of being that imitates the master consciousness. This too is an ultimate expression of sexism and must be rejected through conscious practice. Further, I would argue it is sexism and a lack of feminist ideals and thoughts that are at the root of the pandemic of the single parent home, which, in and of itself, keeps the community widely struggling with poverty and in cycles of poverty.

To be clear, I grew up with a single white mother that, like most mothers, worked hard to give us a better opportunity than she had, but the fact remains that a loving two parent house hold would have afforded better opportunity, education, and emotional support. The key word being loving.

So what is the solution? The solution is for men in general, and black men in particular to adopt feminist ideals. To reject prescribed notions of masculinity and dominance, to reject heterosexism and homophobia, to see women and gender non conforming individuals are partners in liberation, to ask for help and support, to love our partners and to see each other as family instead of objects to be desired and dominated, to understand that materialism and consumerism as status are socializations again that have been offered up on a dish that we have swallowed whole by white folks that could care less about the strength of our community and only want the power our dollars give them. It means to love women and to use whatever power and privilege we have to open up the space so that they can be full and powerful partners with us, since it was a woman and most likely a single woman that raised us. It means investing in the power and strength of black women that have sacrificed to give us life and have loved us both in our own realities and broadly as a male community when we didn't deserve it.

There are structural reasons why black men often fail to survive or end up in cycles of poverty but while power owes us a Hell of a lot, the mentality that one is owed will do nothing but keep us in the same cycles of destruction, despair, and subjugation. By starting at the point of undoing our own sexism and claiming identities and practice as feminist, we heal the rift that has existed between black men and women and begin with a unity that power will not be able to undo. It is for all of our survival that black men must move towards an articulated black feminism, accountable to black women, and responsible for ourselves.

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