In the dawn of Jesse Williams speech, some brothers have been displeased with its grand reception citing light skin privilege as a major factor.
And while we all take the critique to analysis, many sisters can’t help but be a little tickled.
Here, a black man, albeit light-skinned, showed public love and respect to black women, the backbone of the black struggle, but the focus has shifted to his black male credibility.
Why the shift to black masculinity whenever we talk about blackness? Especially when its clear that black women have been running things since the jump – from Harriet Tubman to Angela Davis to Alicia Garza.
Why, in a speech that attempts to put the spotlight on black women, is black masculinity the victim?
I was reminded of the wonderful words of bell hooks, who dedicated an entire essay to the concept of black (hyper) masculinity in Black Looks. Here are a few excerpts from “Reconstructing Black Masculinity”:
“On one hand they did not want to be ‘dominated’, but on the other hand they wanted black men to be protectors and providers” 92
Now free, the black women who were once enslaved by white men are wary of any domineering and subjective behavior by black men.
In other words, if I don’t have to take sh*t from white men, what makes you think I gotta take it from black men?
Black women are not in black men’s debt. Black peoples are not in the debt of black peoples.
I am not obligated to return black male advances. Not on the street, not at the party, not in the classroom, not in the church, not at your mama’s house. I’m not obligated because as a person, all flesh and blood and dignity, I have a duty to myself. And if myself isn’t feeling it, I don’t have to take it.
This isn’t an excuse to be rude or hurtful, nor is it a sign of “disloyalty”.
Antiblackness is not dismissing a black man who can’t take no for an answer.
Antiblackness is not dismissing a black man who isn’t satisfied with just being friends.
Antiblackness is not dismissing a black man who doesn’t know how *to approach a woman in public.
But misogyny is.
I can have all the political love in the world for you, and still not wanna f*ck you. I might not even be that interested in just grabbing a coffee with you.
I can have all the political love in the world for you, and still disagree with your opinion. I might understand where you’re coming from, but still disagree on the conclusions.
I can have all the political love in the world for you, and still not think you charming. You can still be the coolest, funniest guy even if I don’t smile. Because I don’t have to smile if I don’t wanna smile.
And if doing any of these things piss you off, that’s fair. If it makes me a bitch, that’s fair too. I just pray that one day you can love yourself enough to start loving others.
*For the love of God, don’t approach a woman alone on the street, do NOT approach a woman alone on the street at night, DO NOT approach a woman from behind. Ever. Ever. Don’t. Goodness. Have you not even seen a horror movie before?
“Racial integration has had a profound impact on black gender roles. It has helped to promote a climate wherein most black women and men accept sexist notions of gender roles…to what extent did the civil rights movement, with its definition of freedom as having equal opportunity with whites, sanction looking at white gender roles as a norm black people should imitate? Why has there been so little positive interest shown in the alternative lifestyles of black men?” 93
Free of social, political, and cultural restraints, what do angry black men really want? What do angry black men really need? If black men had the freedom to explore and pursue the type of lifestyles they genuinely want, would they stop taking their anger out on black women.
I assume that’s why, even after critical reflection, some black men just can’t help but blame black women.
“Within white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, rebel black masculinity has been idolized and punished, romanticized yet vilified. Though the traveling man repudiates being a patriarchal provider, he does not necessarily repudiate male domination” 96
It means that even the “good guy” can reaffirm female subjectivity and reassert himself as the entitled one.
It’s kinda like that bullsh*t friendzone stuff, right? F*ckboy claims an understanding of what young women go through, and so he commits himself to being a “good guy”. He can rattle off some stuff about feminism and how sad it is that women feel unsafe in public spaces. He preaches body positivity and never shames you for what you wear. But if after sometime y’all still ain’t f*cked – then guess who starts having a hard time? After all the nice things he did for you without being asked! F*ckboy is a great guy that did nothing but respect you, unlike all those other douche bags you love to flirt with all the time! How come you won’t f*ck F*ckboy??
Male entitlement and misogyny evolves with time. The rolling stone of our parent’s generation looks completely different from the f*ckboy of ours. For a lot of sistas on my campus, the rolling stone was the fine brother with twists who always carried a book, talked politics, and preached black love. For many of us, high school was the manifestation of every f*ckboy tweet from self-hating ashy niggas. But college – college was the dawn of the ankh nigga, also known as the hotep nigga.
If you didn’t know any better, you would’ve thought he was a part of Tribe. Malcolm X glasses and African medallion. Really into ancient Egyptian royalty. Meme on the TL says “EVERY LION NEEDS HIS LIONESS”. Fond of basketball and poetry, and prefers kinky-curls over Becky’s “good hair” any day.
Of course, no one is perfect. Enlightened brother holds the same self-hating, hypocritical, ashy politics of the f*ckboys from high school. He shows exclusive desire for light-skinned girls, despises weaves but seeks out the big-haired naturals, can f*ck anyone he pleases but wants black women to f*ck black men exclusively, wants all your politics “black” which means agree with everything he says, demands unwavering social and political love from black women but won’t treat black women with respect until they have shown to treat themselves with respect (by prescribing to the above qualities).
“In every segregated black community in the united states there are adult black men married, unmarried, gay, straight, living in households where they do not assert patriarchal domination and yet live fulfilled lives, where they are not sitting around worried about castration. Again it must be emphasized that the black men who are most worried about castration and emasculation are those who have completely absorbed white supremacist patriarchal definitions of masculinity.” 93
Your masculinity is a construct created by European colonialism and validated by white supremacist logic, much like my perceived lack of femininity is a construct of the same.
I will not neglect or mistreat myself in order to pamper black hyper-masculinity. I will not subject myself to hypocritical standards in order to stay in the good graces of black hyper-masculinity.
I will not let black hyper-masculinity gender blackness.
If black women loving themselves and each other is a distraction to the black struggle, then you were never about the struggle to begin with. Go head and worry about your fragile sense of blackness and manhood. Black women will continue fighting, surviving, living and loving with or without your support.
“With the emergence of fierce phallocentrism, a man was no longer a man because he provided care for his family, he was a man simply because he had a penis. Furthermore, his ability to use that penis in the arena of sexual conquest could bring him as much status as being a wage earner and provider. A sexually defined masculine ideal rooted in physical domination and sexual possession of women could be accessible to all men.” 94
How old were you when you heard your first d*ck joke? I’m not really sure, but thanks to public school I’m confident it was at least by fifth grade. I do remember that I was six years old the first time a man assessed just how desirable I would be when I matured. You know, that joke dads tell other dads like – “You better get yourself a gun, ’cause you’ll be shooting the boys off her.”
I, and I’m sure many other women, understood the full capabilities, connotations, and euphemisms of the penis before the vagina. I really used to resent this. I think it’s why I used to be so adamant about boycotting women getting on their knees. (And I apologize to all those friends in middle and high school who I shamed with my ranting. I’m sorry for taking away your agency. It wasn’t my intention, but that doesn’t make it right.)
I resented the “power” of the penis. I resented that I had to stay slim and shaved in order to not dare threaten the penis.
And I absolutely hated the irony of it all: the whole phallic package – real and imagined – was so damn sensitive.
“White men seeking alternatives to patriarchal masculinity turned to black men.” 95
I know the cliche is to blame white women for the fetishization of black men, but really I don’t think anyone fetishizes the black man more than white men. The entire entertainment industry can give you plenty of examples of the love affair. Black hypermasculinity – the aesthetic, the vernacular, the lifestyle, the swagger – is ingrained in almost every cool white male character you’ve seen on the screen. Quentin Tarantino has largely founded all his work on a love for black cool. (Yes I own a lot – most all – of his films. Admitting one’s complicity in the system is the first step to overcoming it…)
Sometime ago I asked my friend to tell me about our new coworker that I had yet to meet. He said “Well, he’s nice…He’s painfully white.”
What is painfully white? No, it’s not a heavy sense of guilt from carrying the burden of unearned privilege and freedoms. Painfully white was my friend’s way of saying that he was void of any hint of cool – any inkling of sensational difference – any controversy – any danger – any intrigue – any otherness – any shade of brown. Painfully white is purely social in reference. Painfully white is dancing offbeat, salt as seasoning, office jokes, nonexistent athletic ability, sex with pajama pants on, Dan from Accounting.
If Dan from Accounting wants to improve his game – social or otherwise – he needs to loosen up from the strict borders of whiteness. Black hypermasculinity – if only mimicking it – provides freedom from those invisible chains that even bind white males to the destructiveness of white supremacy.
“Those representations of black gender relationships that perpetually pit black women and men against one another deny the complexity of our experiences and intensify mutually destructive internecine gender conflict.” 100
Are black men or black women suffering more by the hands of America and by the hands of the other? The argument seems to arise anytime we talk about our community. The argument almost came up on my own blog post about f*ckboys.
The argument is displaced. What’s really working under the surface is a need to silence the other. We have nearly 500 years of historical records, data, news coverage, testimonials, and physiological effects to prove the depth of the black man’s plight. The same can be said for the black woman. Antiblackness is global, and while many black people try all methods from financial to cosmetic to distance themselves from blackness, some compete for the grand prize: the realest of the real, the blackest, the most authentic – whatever that means.
I’m not sure why someone would want to be labeled as the most “you got it the worst” group in the world, but nevertheless people of all colors can and have participated in what some call the “oppression olympics” (a very dumb, very reductive term that does nothing but ultimately ignore the root cause that is white capitalist patriarchal supremacy).
In the end, both black women and black men lose the fight of who has it worse. The European colonial regime wasn’t just about cheap labor and profit, it was about order. In the constructed world that we are forced to live in, the hierarchy establishes who is more or less deserving of love and death. The more subjectivities you are forced to carry, the harder it is to break out of the margins and survive in this constructed world.
I refuse to believe that I am inherently inferior, but it is an absolute fact that the constructed world feeds on my soul, my body, my beauty, my intelligence, my strength more than any other. If you’re not hip to it yet, you should be. You owe your continued survival in this terrible world to black women.
“…they sincerely believed that sexism was not a problem in black life and that black female support of black patriarchy and phallocentrism might heal the wounds inflicted by racist domination. As long as black people foolishly cling to the rather politically naive and dangerous assumption that it is in the interests of black liberation to support sexism and male domination, all our efforts to decolonize our minds and transform society will fail.” 101
Do you still wanna fight me on who has it worse?
“Black people must question why it is that, as white culture has responded to changing gender roles and feminist movement, they have turned to black culture and particularly black men for articulations of misogyny, sexism, and phallocentrim.” 101
We need to revisit the “How has hip hop hurt the black community?” conversation to a more broad, “How does white supremacy use hip hop, and all that is ‘black culture’, to reinforce hateful narratives they started but now have a harder time selling to the public?”.
“Most black nationalism, men and women, refuse to acknowledge the obvious ways patriarchal phallocentric masculinity is a destructive force in black life, the ways it undermines solidarity between black women and men, or how it is life-threatening to black men…perhaps it provides sexist black men with a sense of power and agency (however illusory) to see black women, and particularly feminist black women, as the enemy that prevents them from fully participating in this society. For such fiction gives them an enemy that can be confronted, attacked, annihilated, an enemy that can be conquered, dominated.” 107
I admit that I gave up on my university’s Black Student Union. I had a busy schedule for sure, but I could’ve made a better commitment for my last two years; a regret I’ll have to reckon with. What made me leave was the constant transition to female bashing in almost every discussion about black life. After a special facilitation on sex education became a discussion on black female hypersexuality and victim blaming, I never attended another meeting.
The hypocrisy and ignorance was just too much. The end to every debate was that somehow black men were the innocent victims, while black women owed some mysterious debt that made us deserving and/or complicit in our mistreatment by white society and black men.
“Confronting white supremacist capitalist patriarchy would not provide sexist black men with an immediate sense of agency or victory. Blaming black women, however, makes it possible for black men to negotiate with white people in all areas of their lives without vigilantly interrogating those interactions” 107
It has always been easy to blame the difficult woman for difficult problems. What takes more energy, more thought, more rationality, more empathy, more love is to confront our own position of power and agency in a rigged game. I believe my black male peers blamed their frustrations on us because that was easier than confronting their own privilege and admitting their own insecurities.
My hope is that black men, especially young black men, will become evermore comfortable with expressing themselves. My hope is that they can turn to anyone in the black community for love and support. My hope is that they don’t depend wholly on ancient Egyptian aesthetics or respectability politics to gain a sense of pride and understanding of their world.
Anything that blames black peoples for the conditions created by white supremacy is toxic. We are independent agents, yes, and our actions can and do effect those conditions (*enter black on black crime debate*) but we are not solely responsible.
Your anger is always valid. Your hateful actions are not because a violence to your sister is a violence to yourself.
bell hooks asks much earlier in the book why her students had an easier time discussing how much they hated whiteness than how much they loved blackness. I ask: why is it so much easier for my peers to forgive black men than to love black women?
Love black women. Love blackness. Love yourself. Change the world.