Last week, a collective of more than 200 Black men including actor Danny Glover and Civil Rights movement icon Rev. James M. Lawson, published an open letter to President Obama asking that women and girls be included in the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, a program directed at young men of color. The letter was published just after Obama announced that Magic Johnson would head up recruiting partners for potential private-public alliances to support the initiative. EBONY spoke with Darnell L. Moore, a nationally recognized interdisciplinary scholar, journalist, and activist who was involved in organizing the campaign on what he hopes to see happen and on working to build a more inclusive world.
EBONY: Talk to us about your personal involvement in the campaign and about how it came to be in the first place.
Moore: The campaign effort is a collective effort. The letter is one aspect of a much more robust response to a collective understanding about the limitations of racial justice intervention that can also account for everyone in communities of color. Namely, boys and men and girls and women who might identify as LGBT, straight, and are cis or transgender. A core group of us has been working over several weeks on the letter and other responses as well.
This is not merely about trying to offer a critique of Obama, inasmuch as it was meant to say something about the context in which an initiative like [My Brother’s Keeper] comes into play or comes into being. And that’s the context of a culture that refuses to acknowledge the particular issues that impact Black women and girls. A cultural context where the lives and experiences of Black women and girls tend to be invisibilized, not talked about, and not cared for. A context where value is afforded to male-bodied individuals that makes it possible for a type of interagency, public-private partnership under the guise of an initiative like [My Brother’s Keeper] to come into being.
EBONY: What is it about the specific cultural context in which we operate, do you think, that makes it possible for these questions around the issues that women, girls, and trans folks face to not be as legible when it comes to discussions around race?
Moore: Racial justice, in shorthand, is often understood to be — at least within in the US context — organized around the male body. And by racial justice, I mean the plight of pushing against anti-blackness. And so somehow, to achieve a type of racial justice is to liberate the men who can then do the work of liberating women, which is actually patriarchy. And I think that's the formula, right? If we can follow through with what the rubric has been pre-Moynihan report. Think about the Black nationalist movement and so many other types of movements [which claim] that if we can liberate the Black men, that we would somehow achieve the work of liberation within our community. And that is a racial justice vision that leaves out so many bodies including Black women and girls, but it's also one that doesn't imagine the Black men conceptualized in a rubric like that that as anything but straight. So it's a heteropatriarchal vision, too. And that's limiting.
EBONY: Like you said, it's a very broad, diverse swath of folks that have gathered around this issue. Is this collective of more than 200 Black men acting in solidarity? Do you see this is as an act or gesture of solidarity?
Moore: I think this is an act of solidarity. While it is a statement that is drawn up by Black men, it's one that is deeply feminist. And this word, we want to make it dirty, particularly in this moment. Feminism is for all of us. And it's not only a liberatory theory, but a practice. And what I understand the letter to be is a letter written in that tradition, of a type of Black feminism that sees liberation as not something that is only enacted in the lives of some, but in the lives of all. And that if we can acknowledge that we are complicit in the very structures that we are critiquing, and do the work of transforming ourselves and trying to transform the system, then we move in what we might call solidarity. It doesn't mean anything if we sign our name to this and do not hold ourselves accountable for our complicity in this work too.
Working against patriarchy and the invisibilizing of women and sexism and misogyny is a loving act, particularly [on the part of] Black men. Doing that work of eradication is an act of love, not of hate because it will free all of us. And by all of us, I mean all of us, all bodies within our community. If the goal is to save us from the burning house called systemic structural racism, then we don't leave folk in that house while some are being saved — we save all of them. We ensure that everyone has access out of the house already on fire.
EBONY: What can we expect to see next from this campaign?
Moore: We don't just want to put the letter out there and walk away. This is work that has to happen every day, so this group will be doing its share. It's really about a type of public education I think, a community engagement that is attempting to bring a bunch of things the the surface in a very public way. Sexism, misogyny, patriarchy, transphobia — we try to bring those things to the surface and have conversations in our various community through something like a public letter. I think this is meant to encourage us to think differently so we can go about the work of advocacy or policy development in different ways and hopefully this is what this can lead to.