Do We REALLY Want A New Kind of Black Man?


Tonight, I listened to an extraordinary podcast on Black Male Privilege featuring a round table with brother-scholars R. L’Heureux Lewis, Marc Lamont Hill, Byron Hurt, and Mark Anthony Neal.  The full title of the round table was “Esther Armah presents AFROLICIOUS Part 1: TROUBLE MAN: BLACK MALE PRIVILEGE. A Contradiction? An Illusion? A Reality?” Sister Armah has started a recurring forum on emotional justice, and this was the first fabulous forum in that series.

I am not playing when I say “extraordinary.” Frankly, I’ve been waiting for the last 25 years for a group of Black men to challenge other Black men on their privilege in the community—and really meant it. What was so wonderful about this forum is that none of the men expected a pat on the head for having a public conversation that Black women have been having for several decades, in public and private.

These brothers also shared their  difficulties about confronting Black Male Privilege in their own lives and in their families. For example, documentary filmmaker Byron Hurt talks about when he and his wife had their first baby, a little girl, they quickly moved into traditional male and female gender roles, much to his concern.

Hurt said that he became aware of how much more mobility he had than his wife, because she was breastfeeding their daughter. He could come and go if he wanted, while his wife could not. He said he had to really make sure that he was spending just as much time with their baby, and to keep track of whether his personal behavior was in sync with his public proclamations of gender equity.

Mark Anthony Neal talked about how the bar for Black male behavior is set so low and so any small thing that Black men do is greeted with congratulatory remarks.  Neal said that expectations for Black male patriarchal behavior—you know, the man as the head of the family—create impossible standards. First, in this economy, it’s not possible for most Black men to make all the money to keep a household going. And, further, he said that patriarchy just doesn’t work for the Black community. It’s like we’ve been trying to fit ourselves in a model that is destructive, but most folks in our community won’t believe it and keep trying to make this bad model work.

But Neal made sure to say, you know what? Just because things are bad for Black men on the outside of the Black community doesn’t mean that we don’t give them all sorts of passes for their behavior on the inside of the community.

He gave the example of Steve Harvey bursting into tears on a Christian talk show; Neal said old boy was starting to realize that all this Positive Black Male Patriarchal posturing was getting to him.

Sidebar: I can believe Steve cracking under the pressure, for real, because for one, this is Steve’s third marriage. And when a brother hasn’t confronted his own tendency to constantly chase after “strange”, sooner or later, those addictive negative behaviors are going to catch up with him. I don’t care how fine his latest wife is—the second wife was pretty cute, too and…you know the rest.

Still, we sisters take his advice for how to capture that ever-illusive legally committed monogamous relationship with a Black man. I admit it: I bought Steve’s book. I’m ashamed, but he got my $14.00 on Amazon.

But what really struck me—I mean hit me to my core—was when Byron Hurt talked about the fact that it takes so much courage to admit as a Black man that you want to confront your own privilege in your community. When you do so, he said, your sexuality is questioned.

Not that Hurt was criticizing gay men, because he wasn’t. But those of you out there who are reading this and who are Black know what he means. This is the way that progressive Black men—and women—often are silenced by conservatives who believe in patriarchy. It’s the old “bait and switch.” It is a slick trick, I must say.

When Hurt talked, there was real pain in his voice. And it got me to thinking about how sometimes, we sisters would rather talk about how we want better, more feminist/womanist, more emotionally honest and progressive Black men than actually to have those men.

Because in order to have these men, we women would have to change our own expectations of what gender roles are and change our actions as they relate to those gender roles. And sometimes—just sometimes—we don’t want to change those expectations, much less our actions.

Sometimes, I think in the back of our minds, we Black women are really hoping that the perfect macho Black male patriarch is going to show up, a man who will work all day and bring home a large paycheck, who will kill the bugs (or mice), who will get the oil changed in both cars, and who will grab us—playfully and not violently, of course—when we want him to be in charge “romantically.”

However, we also want this macho Black man to be tender and cuddly, respectful, loving, open with his feelings, good at housework—and cheerful while doing that housework—and really, really enjoy having sex with the woman on top.

Many of us sisters say that we want a Black man who’s a feminist or womanist, who is progressive when it comes to gender roles, but really, we only want to pick and choose which parts of feminism or womanism we like.

For example, a few weeks ago, I told y’all there was a tornado in my town. Well, I’m from the semi-country Deep South, and so I know that whenever there is bad weather, creepy crawly things get disturbed, but I only know that in theory, not in reality. Until, that is, the day after the tornado, when I walked into my bathroom and there–right in front of the toilet–was a multi-colored foot-long snake with a head about two inches in diameter. Ooh, Lord have mercy.

Sidebar:  My mama, who is from the actual country—no semi about it—calmly told me on the phone, “Oh, that was just a king snake. He wasn’t going to bite you. You probably scared him.” Now, how the heck was I supposed to know that? Then Mama commenced to tell me about this rattlesnake that she killed in her garden by chopping his head off with her hoe.

Have you ever noticed that country people have always seen something worse whenever you tell them about your current traumatic experience involving nature?

Anyway, back to the snake. I was terrified. I screamed. And then—I swear—I looked around for a man. This is not an exaggeration in order to make my story better. I’m serious. I actually thought I could conjure a man up from thin air. A few seconds passed, while this snake lay there, licking his tongue in and out. And I realized, ain’t no man coming and I’m looking stupid here.

So, I ran into my closet, got a chunky high heel (out of fashion from a few seasons ago but I can’t bear to part with those shoes, not just yet), and I ran back into the bathroom and commenced to hitting the snake on the head until I killed it. (There was snake blood everywhere.) Then I flushed it down the toilet.

Then, a few days later–it took a while for me to stop being frightened–I thought, this is what a feminist is supposed to do. And why not? I’m pretty sure that snake would have creeped a man out, too. The difference is, if I had been standing there beside him, a man would have been embarrassed to scream in a high-pitched voice like I had. He would have thought that screaming would make him less than a man in my eyes.

I’m just saying that if we Black women want men who are different, at some point, we’ve got to be willing to 1) either kill the snakes ourselves, or 2) take turns with the brothers hitting those snakes on the head. And we can’t complain about how if they were real men, we wouldn’t have to go near any snakes in the first place.

Sidebar: I realize that my snake story could be taken as a metaphor for a particular part of a man in his nether regions. I really don’t mean it to be. I’m not that deep.

But we also have to hold a Black man to higher (than current) standards for his behavior and stick to those standards if we want different, more tender men who acknowledge and understand their privilege in the Black community–and I’m not talking about those Steve Harvey standards about withholding sex to get a ring.

What I’m talking about is allowing a man to be scared or to cry or to have emotional wounds like we women do, and not making him feel like “less of a man” when he communicates his feelings in a way that is not rage-filled or connected to sex.  Because I don’t want somebody listening to me cry and then, taking advantage of my vulnerability or “weakness.” And I’m pretty sure, no other sister does either.

I think that those of us who call ourselves feminists or womanists need to start challenging ourselves in our own personal relationships to do what we claim to do in public. And if we keep expecting the men to kill the snakes at home while we lie to the world that we did it ourselves, nothing is ever going to change.

25 thoughts on “Do We REALLY Want A New Kind of Black Man?

  1. “say dat, say dat”, “amen”, “make it plain”, and everything else the folks call out in a Baptist church.

    seriously, this is great and timely.

  2. WOW! this is a real conversation! I am so sure many woman are ready t break with the fantasy of “superman” for the sake our truth telling. This is a great effort in that direction.

    It is without a doubt a most compelling read for Brotehrs too. Truth be told we don’t give them room to be other than patriarchal.

    Write some more on this. You are onto something good.

  3. Maybe we should stop killing snakes. That is, I find it difficult to relate to your discussion about the nature of male female relationships and roles, when you are clearly out of harmony with the natural world. Perhaps, you would have reacted differently toward the snake if there were not a tape rolling in your head (things that you have heard about snakes) informed by a Judeo-Christian patriarchal notion about the snake being the penultimate manifestation of evil. Maybe, the same embedded messages about being male and female operate in the same way as your reaction to the snake. Maybe what you would discover is that many African people in America relate to gender roles and notions of male /female relationships based on erroneous information given to them by Europeans. I am talking about cultural impositions concerning the nature of belief, spirituality, and relationships. Maybe the difficulty you single women have in finding “good” Black men is because you overreact and kill something assuming it will hurt you. The wise ones say that there are only two emotions: fear and love.

    • Mama Koko:

      I didn’t mean to get out of harmony with the ancestors. I was just scared of getting bit.:-) I did pray for the snake, and wish him/her safe and speedy passage to the world of the ancestors. I am not making a joke. I am being serious.

      Thanks for reading the blog!

      Love,
      Honorée

      • Sister Honoree. I enjoy reading your blogs. Besides the thought-provoking content, I like reading them because you have really mastered , or should I say, “remastered” the art of punctuation. Although I went to Catholic school for 12 years and was taught exclusively by Black nuns from New Orleans, I never really got punctuation.

        On another note, I guess I am so sensitive about snakes because I am a devotee of the Yoruba Orisha, Oshumare. I am also a descendant of women from New Orleans who worshipped the Vodun deities, Damballah Wedo and Ayidah Wedo. I guess I kind of strayed off the topic when the snake was killed. I will reply to the blog when I get over my grief about the snake. Somehow the high heel murder of the snake reminded me of the film, “Single, White, Female.” 🙂

  4. it’s ak:

    honoree, i’m loving the personal/political weaving here. that snake story is so real. i’m very single. so i still call my father–in philly–or text my male friends when there’s a crunchy waterbug or mouse circulating. as if their maleness will jump out of the phone and kill the vermin. makes no sense.

    one place i’d like to keep out of this discourse tho: the bedroom. call me confused, apolitical, unrealistic, conflicted, but can there please, please, please be some place where conscious men and women can be free to express, enjoy and get individual and selfish and primal and not-thinky about our likes and dislikes–from whatever evolved (or unevolved) place those quirks come from?

  5. Wow. This post spoke to everything I could ever say about this topic. You’ve captured all of my sentiments and articulated them brilliantly. I really appreciate this.

    I’m going to pass this along to people. They need to read this!

  6. Thanks for this post. I just wrote a post on how letting go of societal gender roles was a blessing to my sanity and marriage. It is often the case that we are so obsessed and worried about what mama, cousin and the neighbor are going to say that we suffer to fit into random roles and expectations that are unrealistic. Will you post the link for the podcast? Thanks!

  7. thanks for the discussion and the posting of the event audio! Yes, we are long overdue for freeing ourselves from the constricting aspects of trying to “Play” patriarchy and traditional gender roles, especially since it only compounds the oppression we face collectively. I hope these conversations and this movement continues.

  8. Such a good response to that forum. I was there as well and thought similarly that both women and men, straight, gay and otherwise need to critique and eradicate gender models that clearly DO NOT WORK.

  9. It’s too bad that many real men are laughed at, critiqued and ridiculed by those same women that were chasing the Ballers on the court and putting down those with dreams of inventing and producing something other than a 3 point shot.
    Now these young men walk around looking like soon to be alchoholics digging for scrap metal, cans and bottles out the garbage, because they were raised to follow any idiotic fashion trend thrown their direction.
    The sad thing is many of these youing men are raised in single parent(mother) families by women who themselves follow and fashion trend that comes their way, and will whine and complain when questioned by their men about of credit cards expences. Many sisters have no understanding about what it is lie to grow up in the USA as a moving target and a long standing joke. and they seem to not care.
    That old saying”I can do bad by myself” comes to mind, and since many young med grow up hearing those words when the women gather to chatter., they either grow up not caring about the feelings of women and use them like soap, or they develope an understanding about women but are not respected because the women are following media impressions of what AfricAmerican men are supposed to be, then they both end up disgrunntled and angry.
    Religious folks tend to be the most rigid in gender roles, so many
    families suffer from lack of understanding of what roles are written in their Holy Books.
    They both worked the fields, they both raised tghe kids, the man taught his skills to their children of both sexes and the women did the same. and they both com[pared which techniques would be better for the future.
    How to care for the farm, cook. clean. hunt, make weapons, defend themselves, their land and cattle and their future of the family heritage and inheritance.

  10. Taking into account that we are living in the present, and that we are reflections of what we have been taught to think, expect, model after,react to, ad infinitum..(which can mean that we look for guidance from all the authorities we have been taught to refer to) may I suggest that we study some of our own history and wisdom (referring to Egypt (Kemet), ancient Africa, to ascertain that we already have something solid and proven that we can use to navigate life. I am thinking about approaches taken by Dr. Maulana Karenga, Dr. Molefe Kete Asante, Dr. Naim Akbar, Dr. Wade Nobles, for fruitful thinking. And to buttress our knowledge of self, and real history of us, the world, etc. – may I refer to Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Ben Jochannan, Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop, Dr. Asa Hilliard, Dr. Jacob Carruthers…and others. As for why some of us are confused – this is no accident (see The Destruction of Black Civilization by Chancellor Williams…or read The Miseducation of Black Children by Carter G. Woodson..What that may mean is that we have a lot of work to do, and a lot of miseducation to correct. By the time we mount an offensive to secure the truth for our people, the problems will begin to resolve in the best way, I think. The virtues we look for in our men and women were exemplified by our best from the past. I also think that our president and first lady are setting a great example.

  11. To continue from my previous comment, I believe that our children (all of us, actually) should, as Dr. Leonard Jeffries indicates, fortify ourselves with true knowledge of our illustrious past (including that which is not so illustrious) by reading, for example, “When we ruled” by Robin Moore; “Fighting for Honor” by Dr. T. J. Desch; “AfricanAmerican History” by Dr. Molefi Kete Asante; See the tv series “History of Africa” by Basil Davidson; “African Origins of the Major Western Religions:” by Dr. Ben Jochannan; Fortified by this information, both our men and women will see that we already have great legacies to live up to. We will have evidence that the rest of the world learned from our ancestors, that they – not we – are writing ‘feel good’ history, and omitting our contributions. Which are major.

    • Robert:

      I say this with the greatest of respect, but I notice that you don’t list ANY BLACK WOMEN on that list of wise Black scholars we Black men AND women should be reading on order to “live up to our great legacies.” –If you listen to the Brecht Forum podcast on Black Male Privilege, these sort of intellectual oversights on your part are what they call, well, Black Male Privilege .:-)

      But maybe you weren’t even responding to the issue I was writing about?:-)

      Peace,
      Honorée

  12. Thank you for writing about the podcast and posting the link. It’s about time this was talked about. I especially appreciate:

    “But those of you out there who are reading this and who are Black know what he means. This is the way that progressive Black men—and women—often are silenced by conservatives who believe in patriarchy. It’s the old “bait and switch.” It is a slick trick, I must say.”

    I’m so glad I met my like-minded husband because I was getting tired of being mocked by my more conservative African-American friends for how “different” I was. I love to tell the story of my first date with my husband, when he was driving us to the coast and pointed at the “Tsunami Warning” signs posted on the side of the road. “Those signs always scare me,” he said, half-joking. I looked at him in awe, shocked that this African-American man would share a vulnerability so soon. I loved that about him! My man is very much a man, but he’s not afraid to show all sides of who he is, which makes it easier for me to reveal myself as well. We have a very close relationship, and are able to talk openly about the idea of gender roles and their place in our relationship. Flexibility is important. Sometimes he gets rid of the big bugs, and sometimes I do. (Though it is, thankfully, more often him!)

    I’m glad I discovered your blog and look forward to reading more of what you have to say.

  13. Wow! I loved this post! I’ve been preaching the sentiments of this post to my mother, sister, best friends and anyone who would listen for so long. This post made my day.

  14. I really enjoyed your post and wholeheartedly agree. Speaking as someone who has dated outside of my race at times to find “a sensitive” man, I do find that if we expect more from Black men, we will get more. Thanks for being so honest! And, I wouldn’t have killed the snake either!

  15. Let me interject some humor by quoting the late great “God Father of Soul” Mr. James Brown…eh, hem…”…THIS IS A MANS WORLD!!!”

    Ok, soooo many points but in the interest of time and fairness to readers I will address only one…for now…

    The point which really upset and which is not the author’s but I think it would do all of Black America a great service if it were never repeated either verbally or in print, because its total BULLSH!T (I am educated enough to come up with plenty of words to describe this comment but sometimes its just best to call a spade a spade) back to my point…”Neal said that ‘expectations for Black male patriarchal behavior—you know, the man as the head of the family—create impossible standards. First, in this economy, it’s not possible for most Black men to make all the money to keep a household going…”

    It is this pattern of thinking that is has destroyed the fabric of the black family and burning the few remaining stitches of that same fabric that exists today. It is not a patriarchal system of male dominance in the home that is ailing black love, destroying our communities, and dividing our families. The cowardice of too many black men and the obstinance of many black women is the real problem. If brothers would step up to the plate and become the patriarchs/leaders/fathers they are supposed to be and if women can accept their role in the FAMILY as being beside and many times BEHIND (not under the foot) of a WORTHY, God fearing, and Spirit-led MAN, then we might be on our way to restoring our families, rebuilding our communities, and reclaiming our long lost love for each other.

    …Chuuch!!!

    • Aberry0533:

      Here’s the thing: If you can’t say it in church, perhaps it’s not the most appropriate tie-in to God. In other words, last I heard, “Bullshit” was not part of anybody’s godly vocabulary. At least not mine when I am praying and/or testifying.

      Just a thought.:-)

      In peace,
      Honorée (aka an Obstinate Black Woman.:-))

  16. touche Mademoiselle…point well taken but allow me to retort as to not allow the classic misdirection to win out(side bar: you are really brilliant and I am enjoying this so much thank you)

    Just because words are eloquent and tempered that does not make them righteous and liberating. We have all heard well scripted sermons and speeches that are nothing more than evil lies (what curse really means). So if we can agree on that we must be open to the possibility of the inverse being true. Just because words are hostile and harsh (profane even) it does not necessarily mean they are wicked and debilitating. I am sure the latter has inspired many righteous, holy, and revolutionary victories throughout time.

  17. Hi, nice post! I really like your post about Black male privilege.

    My favorite part is “I think that those of us who call ourselves feminists or womanists need to start challenging ourselves in our own personal relationships to do what we claim to do in public. ” I agree with you.

    Keep the good work!

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