"I dream a world…"—Langston Hughes.
I like to define myself as an intersectional Afrofuturist—a fusion of intersectional feminism, diasporic ancestral wisdom and the radical imagination necessary to envision Black folks thriving in the future.
Previously, I have written about how patriarchy harms women, LGBTQ folks, and us men, and merging radical love into our relationships and movements. For the conclusion of this three-part series, I will explore how all of these concepts open a way to begin dreaming of new forms of liberation, especially around how we as cisgender straight men must get past our internal stumbling block of being marginalized people who then oppress the most marginalized within our own communities.
Today, intersectionality has become the lens by which we assess the structures of oppression and how they layer and interact. Coined by Black feminist scholar Kimberle Crenshaw, intersectionality looks at the whole picture, including race, gender, sexuality, class and more. This is a crucial component of liberation philosophy and practice, yet our Black movements still struggle with being truly inclusive and intersectional. Just look at Ice Cube’s participation in President Trump’s proposed Platinum Plan, "a campaign platform that included promises of prosperity and opportunity for Black Americans" by offering to invest $500 billion into Black communities.
After being roasted on social media for working with a white supremacist president, the rapper boasted on Twitter that before working with Trump, he and a team of Black scholars and activists—ironically all cisgender presumably straight men—had created their own Contract With Black America. To no one’s surprise, that contract makes no mention of issues crucial to Black women or LGBTQ+ folks (i.e., resolving pay gaps, maternity leave or maternal mortality rates, trans murders or LGBTQ+ discrimination.) It’s as if, Black liberation is only about addressing race and race only, which, as we know, will only leave most of us behind.
Maybe that’s the goal.
Sadly, even when Black and queer women create and nurture movements such as Black Lives Matter, the public perception of that movement and its focus often gets steered to prioritize the lives of Black men over the lives of Black women and over the lives of Black LGBTQ+ folks. This is why Crenshaw had to step in again to create the #SayHerName movement to counter that exclusion, because so many Black women were also being murdered by police, with little to no protest or attention. Even more invisibilized are all the Black trans women who have been murdered; and rarely are their killers are brought to justice.
This may be hard to hear, but this type of behavior literally blocks all of our liberation, ironically in the name of Black liberation. Sadly, this isn’t new. We’ve seen this before.
In the book "How We Get Free: Black Feminism And The Combahee River Collective," editor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor documents the 1974 genesis of the Combahee River Collective (CRC), an influential coalition of Black women thinkers including Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde and Cheryl Clarke. Not only did this book open my eyes to the foundation of modern Black feminism in the U.S., but it also chronicles the exclusionary environments that pushed them to organize in the first place.
I learned that many white feminists refused to center issues that affected women of color, such as systemic sterilization and racial oppression. Meanwhile, the male-centric Black nationalist and Black liberation caucuses actively lobbied against Black women’s needs, such as reproductive rights and misogyny within the Black community. Also, disdain for Black LGBTQ+ folks pushed more progressive Black women further to the margins.
What Black women and LGBTQ+ people realized is that if they didn’t make a liberation movement that centered them, no one else was going to. So acknowledging how race, gender, sexuality and class "interlocked," the CRC’s vision of freedom was more inclusive than many other Black Liberation movements before it (honestly: by birthing the phrase "identity politics," they helped influence a whole new generation of scholars, including Crenshaw herself.)
In that, the most famous stance of the CRC is simple: "If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression." With this in mind, I often wonder, what if this was something that we dreamed together? What if we sought to help liberate women, LGBTQ+ folks, and the most marginalized in our communities?
Dream with me a vision of a transformative, accountable, healthy and radically loving masculinism. One that can still foster "strong masculinities," but ones that don’t need to have us at the top of a gender hierarchy to feel secure about ourselves; where we share power instead of hoarding it. Also, we need to form masculinities that aren’t easily broken by all the things "men aren’t supposed to do." This way, we can examine the tiny, asphyxiating box of acceptable masculinity handed to us and love ourselves enough to expand past that. Most importantly, this allows us to be courageous enough to break toxic codes that ask us to defend men who have harmed women or LGBTQ+ folks simply because they are Black men.
This dream must include what kind of fathers we are. For me, when it was time for the dating conversation, my sister and I received a very gender-neutral talk from our parents. Besides making sure we were clear about safer sex, we were both encouraged to "wait for someone special." In other words, it was not decreed that I go "sow my wild oats" while my sister kept her legs closed until marriage. I remember being one of the last of my male peers to have sex, but I was clear. I wanted to wait. When I was 17, I met someone who had also been waiting, and we were each other’s first loves. It was absolutely magical, and I’m very thankful for my parents, especially my dad, for not instilling a "sex-conquesting" masculinity within me.
Thankfully, my father didn’t stop there: He was very supportive when my younger sister came out as a lesbian—pretty radical for a man born in the countryside of Jamaica, let me tell you! But this is why we must incorporate love, acceptance and support of our LBGTQ+ children as a Black family value. I understand that it may be challenging for parents socialized to believe that anything outside of heterosexuality is wrong. But there are resources. Look up PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays); they have group meetings for parents struggling with having queer children.
As always, the work must begin with ourselves. This summer’s racial uprising inspired people (especially white folks) to begin doing the inner work, making books like Robin DiAngelo’s "White Fragility," Ijeoma Oluo’s "So You Want To Talk About Race?" and Mikki Kendall’s "Hood Feminism" shoot to the top of the New York Times best-seller list. Obviously, it will take more than reading books, but it’s a good start. It also begs the question: What needs to happen for men to go out and make bell hooks "The Will To Change" a top trending book?
In the end, I want us to dream all of this together for a liberatory and inclusive movement that includes Black LGBTQ+ folks. We can start by talking with men and masculine folks about these issues, creating community groups and talking circles, and most importantly, listening to the feedback and concerns women and LGBTQ+ folks are willing to share with us (without this becoming all their work). We need to support legislation that bolsters their lives. Let us love all Black people and Black liberation like our lives depend on it because they do.
Keep dreaming liberatory futures my people!
Visions of the Future Syllabus:
Here are some good starter resources good to discuss in groups (don’t forget "How We Get Free", mentioned above).
rn"The Will To Change" by bell hooks
rn"Progressive Black Masculinities?" Edited by Athena D. Mutua
rn"Ain’t I A Feminist? African American Men Speak Out on Fatherhood, Friendship, Forgiveness, and Freedom" by Aaronette M. White
Video / Clips:
rn"The Feminist On Cellblock Y" Directed by Contessa Gayles
rn"The Mask You Live In" by Jennifer Siebel Newsom
rn"Things Straight Men Aren’t Allowed To Do" by Very Smart Brothas
rnBrown Boi Project Works to transform the way that communities of color talk about gender and help build leadership, economic self sufficiency, and health of LGBTQ people of color
rnMen Can Stop Rape Works to mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women.
rnA Call To Men Works to promote healthy, respectful manhood and offering trainings and educational resources for companies, government agencies, schools and community groups.
Richard M. Wright is a healthy masculinity specialist, public speaker, author, counselor, educator and multimodal artist. He also identifies as a sci-fi geek and an intersectional Afrofuturist. His personal Wakanda resides somewhere between ‘80s Kingston & ‘90s NYC in his mind. www.richardmwright.com