Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"So What made you a Black Male Feminist?"

Like my atheism, this question gets asked about once a week. Just like my atheism, the story is long and not very interesting. Folks expect my story to be a short list of epiphanies after several tragic tales. Although my life is full of adventure, when it comes to my politics and lack of belief in a higher power, it's not exciting at all.

The first thing I would like to say is that I am like most men raised in the United States: I was raised as a sexist. Couple that with being bought up as a strict Roman Catholic in a Dominican home and I was the probably the worst. While I wouldn't lay a fist on a woman, I would hurl all kinds of insults. If you told me there was such a thing as rape culture, I would have laughed at you. I believed that women of color actually had more advantages then men of color did in the workplace. I also felt that if you were rocking pun pun shorts, you were ripe for fondling. I know I make light of where I was back then which wasn't so long ago. My point is that we encounter folks who think feminism is the cause of every ill in our community. I was one of those guys. And if I can see the "light," I am sure others can as well.

I was living in Virginia Beach, Virginia after getting out of the Navy. It was 1997 and I had two roommates. My first roommate had a nice bookshelf. On her bookshelf, she had several books written by Dr. bell hooks. I never paid it any mind. She and I always discussed our love of books and she always recommended Dr. hooks material. I flatly refused. Being a long standing member of the so-called conscious community, we found women like Dr. hooks to be colluding with the enemy (re: white people). I had a young woman in my Zulu Nation Chapter who was also a feminist. While we got along great, she and I consistently had intense debates about feminism. Of course, I ignored her arguments all the time.

One day, my roommate had finished reading "When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost" by Joan Morgan. I was familiar with Morgan's writing on hip hop culture. I never actually saw a picture of her (this was before the internets folks, so bear with me). She looked gorgeous on the cover so I picked it up. I expected tales of bra burning and male bashing after a date gone wrong. I was wrong. While I learned so much from reading Morgan's book, I found that she was the exception to the rule when it came to my view of feminists. Morgan was "my kind of feminist."

I finally settled down and began to have more children. While my daughter was born, my only sister began to attend college. This is where I really began to rethink my position. I noticed that people were already imposing sexist ideas on my daughter. I did it, too. She would play with dolls, right? I have to get her "girlie" stuff and she should wear pink. Understand, that my daughter was my road dog. She was gonna dig what I dug. It was her early years that really began to make me see through the clouds. My daughter was going through the rough and tumble at her college. We talked often on the phone. She dated a gang of schmucks who were usually very religious and conservative. Although I was not yet even agnostic, I still found the church to be subtly oppressive to women in general. So my sister's dating life in college, which was actually the first time I was able to get a chance at a woman's view of dating at all in my entire life, helped shaped my feminist views.

This was around 2001. While I had all of these ideas in my head, I didn't have the terms to coin them. Around 2003, I read Kevin Powell's "Who's Gonna Take the Weight." To this day, I think any brother should read this book. It was short and to the point. Throughout this book, he mentioned Dr. hooks several times. To be honest, I never heard another man admit that he read Dr. hooks. I love the work that Powell was doing and decided to give Dr. hooks a try. So I picked up "Sisters of the Yam" and I was hooked. In 2003, I began attending Old Dominion University and actually met some bonafide feminists. The crazy part? They made me feel so comfortable. They were actually cool. What I learned is that patriarchy actually teaches us that feminists are these "feminazi's." That feminists hate men and want to eradicate us. This is far from true. These sister homies always looked out for me and treated me as a long lost brother. I miss our conversations.

It wasn't until we moved from Virginia to Ohio in 2007, where I heard the term "Black Male Feminist." I heard Mark Anthony Neal first use that term. Before this point, I couldn't reconcile being a pan Africanist with feminism. This term really helped me overcome that hurdle. I was consistently bombarded with the idea that feminism was detrimental to the black family. That was probably the last myth I had to destroy.

It's 2013 and by no means am I perfect. I still hold some sexist views and at times find myself "back sliding." It's not easy but it is easier for a man to embrace feminism then it is for a woman on any given day. Unfortunately due to male privilege, men are more apt to listen to my views and are less likely to push back in a threatening manner. And yes, I was that dude who would push back in a threatening manner when a feminist was in the room.

Yes, it is true. Feminism has made me a better husband, father, and community organizer. It has made me a better instructor. It has made me a better brother all around. I am thankful to be considered an ally and work everyday to recognize my privilege. While there are few black male feminists I encounter, there are more and more of us popping up.

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