Lately, I’ve noticed that many of my e-friends and e-acquaintances have been engaging in a lot of heated discussions about masculinity. I’ve also noticed that many of these conversations have specifically centered around Black masculinity.
Whether it’s a dispute over Charlize Theron dressing her adopted Black son Jackson up “like a girl,” or a general debate on the validity of Black women’s fear of Black men being equal to Black men’s fear of police, at the heart of these arguments lies a serious concern about our modern-day ideology of Black masculinity.
For many Black women, that concern is predicated on addressing the antiquated and reprehensible influence that patriarchy has on many aspects of masculinity. On the other hand, more than a few Black men believe that their masculinity is under attack from all angles, including the media, the justice system, feminism, and, yes, even Black women.
When these discussions pop up online between Black folks, the conversations are quickly filled with so many broad-sweeping generalizations, hurtful insults, and unproductive remarks from BOTH sides, to the point that the men end up hunkering down in a fortitude of defensiveness that prevents any semblance of rational thought from getting through to them. If more of us men actually listened to what our sistas are saying, we’d begin to understand that they aren’t attacking our masculinity — they’re attacking our misogyny and misogynoir.
In many ways, Black masculinity is a topic that deserves endless research theories, academic investigations, and countless studies, because it is such a broad and all-encompassing subject that necessitates a thorough understanding of historical context and modern-day gender realities. Because of that fact, there are many different ways that masculinity can be defined, but in terms of relationships in our community, I’ve always felt comfortable identifying the tenets of masculinity as the ability to provide and protect with honesty and integrity.
While some may see that definition as a simplistic statement about making money and defensive violence, the truth is that “provide and protect” are multi-functional. To provide is to nourish yourself and your loved ones with mental, emotional and spiritual sustenance, in addition to financial security. In the Black community, it’s about taking a proactive position in providing different forms of support to a people often marginalized and misrepresented.
To protect is to guard yourself and your loved ones from emotional, mental, physical and spiritual incursion. In the Black community, it’s about leading the valuing of your culture, your body, your environment and your mental health, and passing that wellness along to your children, your significant other, your friends, your family and your neighborhood at large.
As someone who has extensive experience speaking with Black women all around the globe about relationships, that type of masculine man is not only OK to them, but it’s the type of man that many of our women are actively looking for. But the problem is that many Black women are discovering that too many dudes cannot untangle positive masculine qualities from overtly problematic and sexist behavior and ideologies.
Whenever I’ve sat back and listened to some men define what masculinity means to them, it becomes really misogynistic rather quickly. Dudes will start off saying stuff like, “being the bread winner,” “being strong,” “being able to fix things, etc.” and then gradually escalate to qualities such as “not being a sissy” and “having your woman submit to you.”
But it’s when I decide to press these brothers about their views that these conversations truly go left.
They bemoan that “men can’t be men” in our society because Black masculinity is devalued and attacked, while a culture of effeminate male behavior is actively propagated as the right way to be. While I believe that there are people who think that masculinity is a pejorative and I know that there are systemic forces at work that criminalize Black masculinity, it’s ridiculously short-sighted to ignore how much of the worst parts of hyper-masculinity have infiltrated our everyday view of Black masculinity.
Hyper-masculine tendencies lead us to praise accumulating various “hoes” in different area codes and judging our manliness on a scale of how many bedpost notches we tick off at the expense of Black women’s humanity. Our performance of this overtly ingrained patriarchy leads us to brutalize the LGBTQ members of our community in words, thoughts and actions. Our collective embodiment of western male identity allows us to believe that we should have a natural dominion over women that allows us to touch them whenever we want to, define sexual consent by our own terms, and punish women in whatever way we see fit. This is the hyper-masculinity that drives us men to shout down Black women when they complain about street harassment, and ignites us to be combative with our sistas whenever we blindly throw our support behind rapists who share our skin color. This is the same hyper-masculinity that had Black men throwing a legion of support behind Ray Rice even AFTER the video got released, while simultaneously denigrating Black women for “provoking” men to knock them unconscious.
Once again, I realize how complex and layered this topic truly it is. To even scratch the surface, we need to effectively grapple with the trauma that patriarchy has inflicted on many Black boys before they grew up to eventually adopt it as religion. But, with that being said, a lot of us men are strong enough to not only hear about our faults, but to start changing ourselves.
The idea that masculinity cannot be untangled from overt misogynoir is unacceptable because everyday, some of us are getting there. I know damn well that I have problematic ideologies I need to work through, but that doesn’t happen if I approach the paring down of sexist thought in a wholly defensive manner. This isn’t about destroying all that entails Black male strength to rebuild our intrinsic selves in a weak and impotent mold; it’s about separating the hatred of Black women from our most basic actualization of Black male masculinity. We don’t need to stand on the shoulders of our downtrodden sisters in order to feel tall.
Lincoln Anthony Blades blogs daily on his site, ThisIsYourConscious.com. He’s author of the book, “You’re Not A Victim, You’re A Volunteer.” He can be reached on Twitter @lincolnablades and on Facebook at Lincoln Anthony Blades.