Black Power Is For Black Men, an Uppity Negro Editorial Response

Women, Free Huey Rally, Oakland (1968) PHOTO BYPirkle Jones_jpg

There is no secret that I’m black, and that I am a man.

Okay, now that my bias is revealed perhaps I can discuss some of the challenges I had with the nature of the hashtag on Twitter that erupted earlier this week.

While I was participating in my weekly diet of ratchet television in the form of watching “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta” and “Catfish” I saw this tweet and retweet of this hashtag #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen that was attempting to bring to light the veracity of black male privilege.  Before I go any further, I do want to acknowledge that I do believe black male privilege exists, but it exists only because of our maleness and not because of our blackness.  With that thought in mind, I grew hesitant as to whether or not I wanted to wade in those social networking waters because by in large, the tweets that were coming across my timeline I didn’t think fairly illuminated the dynamic between the black female and male power struggle.

Still for me, this subject has never proven to be one that elicits real dialogue.  The past times when I’ve blogged about the nature of black men and black women and how we relate to one another, the gender lines are clearly drawn and men label the women as bitter and the women label the men as obtuse and wholly unable to comprehend what is really at issue.  So much so to the point I really wonder is there any common ground to be had on this topic at all.

Because this is my blog, I have the liberty of saying how I feel; allowing to speak unfettered on this subject in and of itself is liberating.  From where I sit, through social media, based on the tweets and comments that came across my timeline, some of the women were not interested in dismantling the power structure in which they see men at the top of, but rather replacing men with themselves.  For me, that is problematic.

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When I see tweets such as those above, I get nervous as to what are we really trying to discuss.  Historically, the first one holds not validity because whenever an oppressed people or class decided that they had enough of the oppression, they went to the power structure and demanded better and gave a political or social ultimatum as it would be.  They never appealed to the better angels.  Lest we forget, this country ended slavery because of a civil war, not because of Frederick Douglass’ eloquent speeches.  Women received the right to vote in this country after decades of a small movement that required an amendment to the Constitution.  The LGBT community’s slow fight for equal rights has come because strategically they challenged the powers, and didn’t wait around for the country to suddenly gain a conscience.   The second tweet is just historically inaccurate and full of opinions.  It was documented that Corretta knew about Martin’s philandering early enough in their marriage before “the movement,” and to suggest her remaining quiet on the matter was because of the movement.  Probably not.  If she was quiet, it probably had more to do with a woman submitting to a husband, and race having less to do with it.

What undoubtedly happens when having a discussion like this in such a public space is that we have this clash of class that’s virtually invisible.  These discussions from black women usually are generated from a privileged class of black women in the first place.  By privileged class I mean, these are women who probably have college degrees, have a higher incidence of being raised in two parent homes, having parents with college degrees, have obtained professional or even doctoral degrees, are working professionally in the field they like and the list can continue.  Because Twitter, specifically Black Twitter can be the great equalizer and common denominator, everyone has an opinion on the topic and reduce this topic to the lowest common denominator.  That lowest common denominator, unfairly so, is one that plays on basic gender stereotypes and perceptions.

I saw a range of responses from black men, but again, many of those played out among class lines.  I received a tag on Facebook from a close friend that was a link to Mark Anthony Neal’s blog of a response that the Brothers Writing to Live collective over at The Feminist Wire pulled a few selective tweets and offered individual responses to those tweets from black women and men who participated in the #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen.  And by God, their responses prove the notion that there is more at play here than what can be captured in 140 characters or less.

In totality, I was bothered by how both sides handled what is rather serious issue at play.  I was bothered by the fact that black men played into the “bitter black woman” motif which engaged a somewhat cyclical argument thus proving that indeed, black power belongs to black men.  But also, it troubled me that some black women actually decided to engage those black men who tweeted back with obviously no intention of having a meaningful conversation.  What I also saw were immature black men and immature black women participating in this.  By immature I mean actual young people, college age and younger, who haven’t quite formed all of their opinions and feelings and emotions about the opposite sex just yet, and from a generation where they saw the rules change in their lifetime about what defines gender roles.  In a society where we’re actually seriously discussing moving away from the binary understanding of gender, this all plays into how we may frame this conversation.

Women, Free Huey Rally, Oakland (1968) PHOTO BYPirkle Jones_jpgNot as an excuse, but as an explanation, I submit that large swaths of the black male population across class boundaries are just confused as to how to view black women as a whole.  Granted we may understand black women as non monolithic, the plurality of views displayed from the entertainment industry, to what is seen from academia and then personal experiences one on one with women all can provide an image that gets distorted when forced to having a discussion such as #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen when generalities and broad assumptions are employed.

For example: the black women who are concerned, let alone aware, of the power dynamic between themselves and black men is a gnosis reserved for a privileged class.  There are certainly black women out there where this conversation isn’t on their minds, nor will it ever be.  These black women cross cultural boundaries and generational boundaries.  From burgeoning young women into adult hood, the mothers and grandmothers who found their niche as a woman in their social setting and made it work to their benefit and are quite happy with their husbands, sons and nephews.  It’s only us in this new generation who recognize our grandmothers and aunts playing into a patriarchal system when they ask that fabled questions “So when are you getting married?”

On the flip side these thoughts are in the minds of some black women every day.  I was politely corrected in a discussion on FB around this social media topic that for some that subscribe to black feminism, it isn’t just what they do, it’s who they be. She said

Again, I believe in THIS space [a nuanced dialogue on Facebook], so much gets lost in translation and the lived experiences of who we are gets trampled. In that vein, I do NOT look at Black Feminism as a “worldview” or “philosophy,” it is MY LIFE. …You HAVE to understand and appreciate the difference. Bourdieu talking about cultural capital is a theory, Black Feminism is what I live and breath. [sic]

It’s after these dynamics, plus some that I’m sure I forgot or are ignorant of myself, get stirred together in a pot that boils over that we get the devolution of this discussion on the back end which I’m sure I waded into in the evening.  What I saw was the epitome of sniping from both sides of the gender aisle and stereotypes being lobbed back and forth like Molotov cocktails with the intent of inciting disdain.  It seemed as if both sides projected those stereotypes with the intent of protecting their own opinions, never budging from their deep seated beliefs; not at all requiring themselves to see it from a different perspective.

It is from this vantage point in which I may lose my female readers: if I do, then so be it.

I remember when I wrote my blog “For Black Male Intellectuals Who Have Considered Suicide When Black Women Were Too Much” that it still stands as one of the most commented on blogs I’ve ever written and certainly got a bevy of comments when it was posted on the now defunct FreshXpress blogging network site, but that it was heavily assailed by black women, some of the same ilk who have taken this #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen concept to heart.  However, what I hope black women are aware of is that if black men aren’t so readily and easily able to jump on the black feminist bandwagon it’s because for them, these twitter mantras of #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen are not ex nihilo statements made in response to a #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag, but they’re birthed out of our own unrecognised hurt from the dominant class and even perceived hurt from black women.

Regardless if the power structure privileges black men over black women, perceived hurt is still hurt and needs to be recognized as such before we move forward together as a community.

When black men hear black women say in public forums “There are no good black men out there,” it hurts.  Now granted not one single black man would necessarily acknowledge it or register it personally as being hurt, but this is where our privilege as males rears it ugly head: no one is requiring us to be hurt by such a statement as that.  In much the same way that referring to women as “bitch” removes and strips womanhood and reduces a woman down to her genitalia, the “no good black men out there” has the same effect minus the stinging infliction of a socially accepted derogatory word.  I could sit back and trade “hurts” all day, and while some black women reading this are fully persuaded that their hurt is the worst kind of hurt, I still stand by the fact that being wounded still hurts and if we are ever to get about the business of reconciliation, we need to acknowledge the hurt and pain on both sides.

Let me pause to say that this is not at all intended to be rail against the validity of bringing to the fore that black male privilege is real and we would do good to acknowledge it in the black community.  Nor is this my underhanded attempt to put down black women and rant against all the ills that they have in the world and to try and assert that they are the true downfall of black men in America.  But, this is for me my attempt to let a black man speak for himself.  I’m tired of being named, defined and spoken for by anyone else–even black women.

While yes we have a responsibility to call out black male privilege for what it is, why is it that any and every time a black man speaks and defines themselves, one group of black women say that we’re reinforcing patriarchy and speaking from black privilege, while another group of black women would label us weak and “not a real man” if we don’t stand up and take charge.  It is from this milieu that we find ourselves presently.

If not for the sister I engaged on Facebook who introduced black feminism and womanism as a lifestyle to me, and understood it as

…you redirecting me to address the role of man this space is indicative of the problem itself.  I address it in the spirit of conversation.  But my “role” (as Audre Lorde has told us in “educating” our white sistren) is not to hold your hand through understanding my anger and to validate your hurt, but to TAKE your hand and dig in this dirt beside me. If you honor that work, then bless you, but if I have to continue to defend my work and how tired I am, then there’s not much more conversation for us to have.  And last point, just because I feel like being transparent regarding my positionality, my husband is actually the one who bought my first book on Womanism.

…I would have been highly defensive in my continued encounters with black feminism and womanism.  The reason why is because, perhaps in my postmodern and postcolonial haze, I am initially leery of philosophical concepts that have a history of exclusion as proper points to view and reimage the struggle of being black in the United States.  Perhaps I fall victim myself by justifying this line of reasoning by aligning myself with postmodern and postcolonial thought.  However, for me, I see those two philosophical threads as attempting to include many more voices than the initial exclusion of feminism.

Couple sitting up in bed, both looking away   Original Filename: couple.jpgFor me, black feminism is not the savior of black women, but more importantly I do not see as the singular and supreme view through which we should understand gender relationships between black women and black men.  Black feminism illuminated black male privilege, and I get that.  Without it, we probably wouldn’t have progressed to even discuss it at this point.  Black feminism shines a light on black male privilege by letting us know that in conversations black men never have to choose whether to speak from the vantage point of being black or being a woman.  But, at the same it seems to let in side pieces to the conversation such as the “Black Male Privilege Checklist” that included some clear privileges (whether exercised or not), that spoke more to happenstance than the result of privilege.  For example “Black men have the privilege of marrying outside of the race at a much higher rate than black women marry,” seems to be more of an occurrence rather than a privilege possessed by black men.

Here’s my dilemma: why is it on subjects like this no opposing view is allowed to enter the conversation?  When I make the decision to engage in topics such as this, I know where I stand on the issue, but expect to meet people who are willing and able to deconstruct what it is I believe and do so in the way that allows me to reconstruct a personal paradigm that makes sense.  I think that is where some of the disconnect between the genders exist as well.  Men don’t want to be told how to think any more than women want to be told how to think regardless of how wrong, hurtful or damaging it is.  That is another way of saying that people in general aren’t dissuaded easily against embedded beliefs.  In the case of circumstances not doing the job of correction, when another person engages with another person hoping to hold up a mirror for reflection and correction, it still requires the individual to make the change.

Perhaps I didn’t see the instances on Twitter of black women tweeting #BlackPowerIsForBlackMen who engaged fellow black women and men to perhaps show them a different way, nor did I really see black men trying to engage other black men to see their point of view.  The reason I try and engage these conversations, no matter how difficult they may be or how raised blood pressures and stress levels may get, I rather dislike groupthink.  I don’t want to surround myself around people who all think like me, that’s rather boring in my opinion.  However, something deep and sinister down inside of me takes a bit of delight being the lone dissenter in a group.  Some times I’m playing devil’s advocate, but lately, it’s because I truly feel differently than the rest or I make the decision to speak up for how the discussion acted out beyond simple rhetoric may affect a minority population.

I don’t write this on behalf of black men, because we too aren’t monolithic, but I don’t mind if what I have written is cosigned by a few.  As I said earlier, being raised in a household where the principal of kugichagulia was very much at the forefront, I don’t take well to being told how to think or how to see or view a certain thought or topic.  It seems as though there is a certain brand of black feminism that isn’t so much interested in destroying the structures of power that have been the source of black female oppression, but rather ousting those who currently occupy it for the sake of their own power grab.

I aint ’bout that life.

Humanity isn’t called to exchange oppression occupation for the sake of righteousness.  Black men are not called to oppress black women no more than black women are expected or called to be oppressors to black men.  What I think is interesting in this struggle post modern civil rights era is that black women have found good ground in which to articulate their place in a world that places them at the bottom of the social strata.  While you will see fields of study that engage feminism and specifically black feminism and womanist thought, not a lot of pointed work has been done on black masculinity, black male sexuality and black manhood without having pulled from thoughts and ideals birthed out of black feminism.  Black feminism blazed the trail on attempting to understand the more ephemeral concepts of black ontology here in this country.

Perhaps I have a quadruple challenge:

  1. Require black men to acknowledge and accept that we do possess a privilege over that of black women.
  2. Black men should begin to do the heavy emotional work that begins to uncover why do we act out on said privilege to the point of acerbically dismissing it when it is brought to the fore.
  3. As black men, we should be doing our own trailblazing in discovering our own place in this society and not through the lens of black feminism nor through the lens of patriarchy.
  4. Turning to black women: let black men be black men inasmuch as we reject the structure of power that consistently place you on the bottom.

This is clearly one of the longest posts on record.  Give yourself a hand clap if you read all the way to the end.  I’m done, please leave some comments in the bottom, I’m very interested in hearing what you have to say.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL


11 thoughts on “Black Power Is For Black Men, an Uppity Negro Editorial Response

  1. Thank you, JLL. I appreciate your words, and I join my sentiments with yours. We have a ways to go, and I choose to keep charging for, and with, the entire team. May we, as a people, be strengthened by our UNITY.

  2. I didn’t even see that as a hashtag. However, you do bring up some points of reference that we need to pay attention to. The dynamics of gender roles have changed. Our situation isn’t the same as it was in the past. In order for Black women and Black men to work among each other, we have to realize where we are and what position we play in each others’ lives.

  3. Thank you Joshua for always articulating plainly your truth!!!! I stand with you and my brothers in solidarity!

  4. Good and timely reflection, Uppity. Keep writing. We must keep learning, keep doing better as we know better. IMO, we must keep doing better even when the whims of the world dictate that we do nothing because ‘it’s too hard.’

    We are because God is.

  5. This is my first time reading this blog, but I couldn’t help but leave my honest opinion.

    This is an insightful perspective. You attempt to empathize with the “other side” more so than others I’ve seen writing about this topic, but there continues to be an underlying issue that disturbs me. In fact, I think this is an issue a lot of Black Americans have… rich or poor…male or female… There is absolutely no practical framework in which Black Americans see themselves and each other.

    Black men cannot exist without Black women and Black women cannot exist without Black men. I don’t mean that figuratively. I actually mean that in the most literal biological sense possible. I’m sorry to break it to you, but there is absolutely no such thing as “Black male culture” just as there is no “Black female culture”. More than likely you will have children… and you don’t get to pick what gender they will be. If you have a daughter your culture is automatically her culture and every single belief you hold will affect her either through your presence or lack there of. Just as part of who you are is partly a result of who your mother was. Black men and women can’t be two distinct entities.

    At the very end of the blog, again you claim there is further need to explore black masculinity in its own right just as there has been a need for black feminism. I think that further exploring Black feminism and masculinity is the last thing that Black Americans need. I feel like feminism has been a place holding tool for Black women in this country because Black American men have historically been unable (not of their own fault) to provide a foundation that included and looked out for their rights because they have been too busy (understandably) looking out for themselves. Black men have had it very hard in this country. But so have Black women and so have Black children.

    Black people need to stop thinking through these short sighted trendy perspectives and address the big elephant in the room. The Black American family unit is a mess. There is no sense of camaraderie amongst people who will ALWAYS be in each others lives no matter how much they attempt to be two separate groups. Its actually pretty scary. I originally thought the point of the hashtag was to push people, not in the direction of feminist thought, but to answer the question “How can Black power advance all Black people including men, women, and children?” I think its an innocent question. Because it seems that the idea of Black power for quite a few Black American men has more to do with competing with White men and finally “being” the White man than actually advancing Black people… In so much as they want to take the place of the White man, they don’t mind denigrating and defaming the Black woman.. because it gives them a sense of power. Its almost pathological. Any fragmented Black power movement advances no one at all. It almost seems like a competition between the genders of who can “make it” in America first. There has never been an ethnic group on this planet that succeeded while their women and children were floundering. Ever.

    Theres an African proverb that says something like “When siblings fight to the death for their father’s inheritance, a stranger will inherit their father’s estate.”

    1. @anotherperspective

      Thanks for your honest opinion; it was definitely well received.

      I agree with parts of what you said. While I fully agree that the end game should be about reconciliation for the black familial unit if nothing else but biological reasons as you said, a man + woman = a child, I still place credence on black feminism and black masculinism, the latter being more made up and not considered a real academic pursuit, but you get my point. The reason why I still support those as legitimate fields of study and philosophical housing for one’s life is because I think there is a legitimate difference between the two and also because dominant society dictates that there is. If there was no women’s suffrage movement, there would be no women’s lib and feminist movement and in that vein, it highlights just how different women, regardless of race and class, operate and are expected to operate in society.

      That same dynamic exists in most cultures internationally, however only in western society have we moved forward in the true spirit of postmodernity to adopt a hermeneutic of suspicion when talking about gender roles. So for me, if women, and in this case, black women have a legitimately different socialization expectation, then inherently that means one exists differently along this binary.

      Where I take umbrage with black feminism and womanism, is that many don’t seem to have the long game in their discussion. The long game, I think you may agree, is what about our children and what about our family structure: in other words, what does reconciliation look like? To that end, both sides still have work to do.

  6. @bmw, your point about Black masculinity being defined through the lens of Black feminism by way of it’s Black Male Privilege critique instead of being defined through a primary theory of Black masculinity (masculinism?) has double parallel with the definition of my social position. I am a White male. My WM-ness is defined (and I am comfortable with this) primarily, in social theory, through the the critiques put forward by Feminism and the Racial Justice movement.

    But of course it is. Because, due to male privilege and White privilege, I get to just be, unless I can be brought to consciousness. I have no apparent “need” for consciousness. Just being a WM, I do just fine — no pressure, no serious discomfort in this society associated with my Whiteness or maleness. Power never gives quarter without a complaint, to paraphrase F. Douglas.

    On our own, there is no chance in heck it would ever occur to White men collectively to criticize, or even define, a theory of Whiteness or a theory of maleness. Except maybe to state how impressive we are, or how we [think] we hold up the world. The only possibility of seeing a more nuanced picture — consciousness — is through being subjected to UNWANTED, in fact unimagined, criticism from those who are not considered White and/or those who are not considered male. Even then, it usually does work.

    I am privileged in every possible way (class, sexuality, age, etc.), except I am not Christian, so I have a lot of practice with absorbing critique. For a Black man or a White woman (with whom Black women encounter similar obtuseness), who both experience mixed privilege/oppression, it can be a little difficult to acknowledge privilege while oppression is staring you in the face. You have already said as much. But from this, it merely follows naturally, that a theory of Black maleness as it relates to Black femaleness is very difficult (impossible?) to develop accurately straight out of the perspective of Black males.

    Power relationships are apprehended realistically almost exclusively by the oppressed, not the oppressor. I feel you on your discomfort with your [Black] male social position being defined mostly through [Black] female theory rather than by yourselves. But hey, how could it be otherwise?

  7. Reblogged this on girlwiththafro and commented:
    This, I think, is a balanced and respectful addition to a conversation that seems to elicit strong feelings on either side.

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