The most important thing Black men have to do to begin engaging with feminism, as theory and praxis, is to disavow ourselves of the notion that we are “good.” By that, I don’t mean that we should perform some type of masochistic self-flagellation about how “men ain’t shit.” But the desire to be seen and known as a “good Black man” is not only wrapped up in a lot of patriarchal notions about what constitutes manhood and defying the stereotypes of Blackness (having a job, not being in prison), it doesn’t allow for growth.
When your self-conception is centered on the idea of your own goodness, it prevents you from hearing any critique of your ideology/behavior. Thinking of yourself as “good” allows you to justify harmful words and actions, since anything you do, in your mind, is “good.” And when the metrics for measuring “good” do not include an examination of power and privilege, and an active divestment from those thoughts and behaviors which uphold unearned (and destructive) power and privilege, “good” is meaningless.
We must gain understanding about ourselves as not “good,” nor “bad,” but products of a culture of misogyny, sexism, and patriarchy. With that as a starting point, we can begin to re-evaluate the lessons we’ve received about gender, gender identity, gender roles, and the power dynamics therein. We will be receptive to critique when we no longer believe that critique is an attack on our “goodness,” but a desire for us to achieve a humanity that respects and supports women. We will know that these conversations are going to make us uncomfortable, because they will throw into question our entire upbringings and it’s possible that everything that we have known as a universal truth will be discarded. We will have to create new selves.
That critical process is not possible until we have fully abandoned the idea of “good” and traded it in for honesty.
About Mychal Denzel Smith
Mychal Denzel Smith is the author of Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching (Nation Books, June 2016), a Knobler Fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing for The Nation magazine.
About the Ms. Foundation for Women