Why Discussing Black Male Feminism is Necessary

Two important essays by black men on their path toward feminism give pause to the Web.

By Thoai Lu Mar 23, 2011

In light of the recent 11-year-old Latina who was reportedly gang raped by 18 black men in Cleveland and news of Chris Brown’s continuing meltdowns, Texas, a few black male writers have stepped up to the plate to explicitly discuss their journey toward becoming feminists.

Byron Hurt of The Root wrote last last week on "Why I am a Male Feminist," which prompted G.D. of PostBourgie to also write candidly about the topic two days later.

Hurt admitted that observing the way his father would invoke fear in his mother during arguments by virtue of his greater size influenced his own relationships with women. He fell into feminism accidentally; Hurt interviewed for a position with the Mentors in Violence Prevention Project, not knowing that it was designed to use the status of athletes to make gender violence socially unacceptable.

After hearing how women protected themselves from sexual assault and rape, his conception of feminism radically changed:

Like most guys, I had bought into the stereotype that all feminists were white, lesbian, unattractive male bashers who hated all men… Not only does feminism give woman a voice, but it also clears the way for men to free themselves from the stranglehold of traditional masculinity. When we hurt the women in our lives, we hurt ourselves, and we hurt our community, too.

While Hurt’s father’s presence was inescapable, G.D. wrote, "mine was imperceptible." He had an absent father figure and was raised by "black women who were fantastically smarter and more competent than I was."

G.D. internalized how his mother always cautioned his twin sister to be responsible while in public, in a way he didn’t have to. Also, during a college summer, one of his female friends woke up in an empty dorm room in a bare bed and had to file a police report and get a rape kit, which was another situation he couldn’t fathom living through. At the least, however, he admits to his own ignorance:

I am routinely very, very dumb about this shit as a heterosexual dude — with all the tunnel vision and privilege that attends that location. The relationship those realities have to my blackness is a muddled one; sometimes they’re independent, sometimes they act in concert. But if growing up black and poor and male provided an unlikely bridge to anti-sexist thinking, so has feminism complicated the way I think about blackness and class.

Hurt and G.D’s corresponding and intensely personal blogs flourish the emerging discussions of black male sexuality and identity, both the ways that their assignments can help and hinder the feminist fight against rape and sexual assault.

Akiba Solomon’s recent column on how black men can fight rape illuminates the power of stereotypes in belittling and even excusing rape cases. A way that stereotypes work is their inconsistency with each other. Akiba noted Dr. R. L’Heureuz Lewis‘s words:

If you say, ‘All black men are criminals,’ we’ll fight you on that. But if you say, ‘All black men have big penises,’ well we’re like, ‘Heh, heh…OK.’ Of course that’s not grossly different from how white American men think, but they have financial, educational, political and social capital that we don’t.

From this perspective, it’s the very lack of capital that impels black men to seek power in their relationships over women. The raw honesty of Hurt and G.D.’s blogs, however, transgress stereotypes. Black men are not all criminals and rapists, and as these writers have asserted, they shouldn’t be afraid to talk about feminism because it helps the African-American community as a whole.

This piece has been updated since publication.