A Loving Letter to Black Men Who Mean Well

Image by Cyberex via Flickr

We try and fail. And we’ve been conditioned to look for black women to help us get up. After all, they always have. But if what we have tried and failed at doing is addressing our own sexism, we must resist this conditioned response. Part of rooting out the patriarchy within ourselves is withholding expectation for black women’s work in the absence of explicit agreement. Hell, we don’t even know when we’re asking too much cuz we’ve been so conditioned to feel entitled to their labor.

We have to acknowledge that we still perpetuate and benefit from patriarchy despite our good intentions. And we act out our internalized male supremacy in ways we do not recognize, thanks to the blind spots that our privilege creates for us.

When black women seem to be impatient with us, it’s not them taking out other people’s wrongdoing on us. It’s reaching a limit or setting a boundary as a reaction to a trigger.

Everything we do is within our role as men in patriarchy. And though our patriarchal power rarely extends outside the black community, it dominates within. The sexism of well-meaning men is on the same spectrum of male violence as anything we might see an avowed misogynist do to women. And black women share joint and severe liability for all the world’s ills in the dominant narrative. We have to recognize that women encounter our well-meaning mistakes in a cloud of other male supremacist violence: interpersonal, systemic, and structural. Carefully discerning the severity or intent of each instance is labor that we should not expect black women to prioritize.

We try and fail. And we’ve been conditioned to look for black women to help us get up. After all, they always have.

It sucks that black women have to protect themselves from men’s behavior. Some ways they protect themselves might hurt our feelings as men who feel like we’re trying. But the fault is not with them; it’s with patriarchy. It’s too much for us to expect them to count and measure our tries. They tryna survive.

I don’t believe that black women owe black men any more than they’ve already been giving us for generations, but we owe them more than we think we owe and often more than we are comfortable with or prepared to give.

The reality is, we need to check our own shit and only expect what black women agree to provide. We need to work with each other and access the volumes of thought and analysis that black women have already put on the page. Patriarchy conditions us away from vulnerability and intimacy with one another. We are told we’re weak if we question ourselves and prioritize black women. But the fact remains that men’s violence is killing us too. The difference is, we are uniquely positioned to do something about it.

By Adrien Ysaye McElroy

Adrien Ysaye McElroy is a non-traditional educator and student of U.S. social movements focused on the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality. He is a graduate of Cornell University and has worked as a trainer and facilitator for the Unitarian Universalist Association, Tulane University, and in New Orleans Public Schools. His most recent work is as a parent advocate and stay-at-home dad. He blogs at [THE] inbetween [SPACE].