“But all this presupposes that the Black male will have purged himself of
the myth that his mother, his woman, must be subdued before he can
wage war on the enemy. Liberation is a dialectical movement—the
Black man cannot free himself as a Black man unless the Black
woman can liberate herself from all this muck.”
Whenever Black men get together you can guarantee there were will be much theorizing, philosophizing, and prophesying on a number of different topics. Barbershops, basketball courts, bars, and the like are regularly filled with Black men who want to share their views on a multitude of issues that affect the lives of Black people. My unscientific analysis leads me to believe that the most discussed topic in these settings is the personal and romantic relationships between Black men and women. Anyone who has not witnessed these discussions is missing some of the most entertaining and absorbing conversations around.
Typically, at the heart of these conversations is the ways in which these relationships go bad and who deserves the blame. It is not always the fairest discussion, as men normally portray themselves as the noble victim and very rarely are there women present to defend themselves. Nevertheless, the audience can always obtain some insightful takeaways about the psyche of the Black man and the state of Black masculinity.
But sometimes we as Black men can get a bit irrational with our claims. There is no greater example of this than some of the illogical attacks that I often hear directed toward feminism, particularly Black feminism. For years (maybe even decades) there has been a constant stream of dialogue in Black male settings about the ills of Black feminism and how it is destroying the Black family. Men have suggested that Black feminism is emasculating, laughable, shortsighted, and a conspiracy rooted in White supremacy. My brothers, in my humble opinion, I state that nothing could be further from the truth.
Much of the confusion surrounding Black feminism is due to the inaccurate definitions and characterizations the concept has acquired over time. In many Black male social settings, feminism itself is often viewed as the desire of women who want to be men. Many men often see feminism “as women trying to take over” or a woman refusing to “let a man be a man.” Some Black men argue that feminism was supposedly created by lesbians who want to recruit heterosexual women into some sort of man-hating sorority. In a feminist society, it is argued, men will become effeminate and all alpha males will cease to exist, creating a soft, docile world that leaves no space for a “real man”.
Take these erroneous portrayals and place the word “Black” in front of feminism and you can literally see the composure leave the bodies of many Black men. “Black feminism is the Black woman’s adoption of the gender role confusion of the White, European world and any Black person promoting Black feminism is either confused at best or an agent of White supremacy at worst,” it is argued. “It was created to weaken the Black family”, some say, “by stripping the Black man from his rightful place as the head of the household.” Some even see a man who identifies as a feminist as being gay. All of these views of Black feminism are products of the miseducation of Black men—and men period—on the subject of Black feminism.
A more accurate, but not exhaustive, definition of Black feminism is the unique ways in which sexism and racism intersect to oppress and marginalize women of color as well as people of color in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. Within the resistance movements of the mid-20th century, Black women found that their issues and concerns were regularly relegated to the margins. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements tended to focus primarily on restoring full rights for Black men, although much of the grunt work and fundamental operations of both movements were handled by women. Likewise, the feminist movement mainly acknowledged the concerns of White, middle-class, heterosexual women in their push for rights and treatment comparable to White men. Nowhere in the upheaval of these crusades were Black women given their proper respect.
Consequently, Black women took the necessary step of centering their issues by shaping their own movement and framework. This work birthed Black feminism and some of the greatest literature, art, politics, and activism that we as a people have ever encountered. Black women began to promote healthier images of themselves as more than just occupational, domestic, and sexual servants of men. They began to send messages to society that some of the best human capital that this country has to offer has been ignored to the country’s detriment. Women and girls of color began to imagine greater possibilities for their life’s work and dreams.
But as the conversations in these all-Black male environments prove, patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity are deep-rooted and difficult to eradicate. Many of us men fear the acceptance of Black feminism because, truthfully, we enjoy our male privilege. We tend to feel, like most groups of people who benefit from their inherent privileges (White people, the wealthy, heterosexuals, able-bodied, etc.), that the increase in humanity, rights, and power of others is somehow a decrease in those things for us. We have somehow made Black feminism about us.
Black feminism is not here to destroy us, strip us of our manhood, or break up our families. It is not the product of a White power structure fearing the Black man and wanting someone “less aggressive” in the corporate space. Are Black men feared by a White imperialist power structure? Absolutely, but Black feminism is not the White power structure’s antidote to Black male-phobia. As Black men we must see Black feminism for what is: the product of our sisters working to express their full humanity and agency in a society that disrespects and dismisses them daily. This is something we as Black men should all support.
In addition, the suppression and subjugation of Black feminism and Black female bodies is endemic of a larger culture of oppression and marginalization of minority communities. We are all connected within the same oppressive frameworks. If sexism is present in society, racism will never disappear. As long as sexism and racism exist, classism, heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, ableism, and ageism will always lurk nearby. You cannot say that you are against racism but believe women are inferior to men. We cannot say we support Black people and turn our backs on Black transgender folk.
One cannot fight oppression selectively. In an oppressive society, either we fight all forms of injustice or we become oppressors ourselves.
Black man, Black feminism is not your enemy. Once properly educated we will see that Black feminism is just an extension of Black liberation. For those seeking greater understanding of Black feminism, below is a beginner’s list of books that can serve as a foundation for learning about both Black feminism and mainstream feminism. Study these works and go to your next male bonding session with a different, more nuanced perspective on the topic. Challenge your brothers and yourself to think, speak, and act differently. Doing so will help us move forward as men and as a community.
- Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment by Patricia Hill Collins
- Angela Davis: An Autobiography by Angela Davis
- Blues Legacy and Black Feminism by Angela Davis
- Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis
- Women, Race, & Class by Angela Davis
- Feminist Theory: The Intellectual Traditions by Josephine Donovan
- When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings
- Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks
- Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery by bell hooks
- Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman by Michelle Wallace