Until now, I don’t think that I’ve been clear about my unequivocal support for Black women and their struggles to eliminate the unique barriers to their liberation. Despite the relentless assault on Black women’s prerogative to exist as they please in this society, there seems to be a dearth of Black men willing to stand in solidarity with Black women publicly. As of late, I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with not being among them. The simple fact is this: struggles to eradicate sexism are severely inhibited without the committed support of men. And so, among the many ways to show my support, I’ve chosen to adopt the label “feminist,” publicly, as a clear, direct way to say that I am an ally.
Not until a few years ago did the community of people with whom I regularly interact include Black women who identify as feminist and describe their views and opinions as such. My interactions with these women prompted me to spend additional time assessing how I might align my thoughts and actions with a political perspective that was consistent with how I saw the world. (bell hooks’s Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center was especially helpful in that regard.) Still, I’ve been reluctant to using the label “feminist” to identify myself in public. Mostly, I’ve been hesitant to invite the scrutiny that I suspect the label would attract.
I have to accept, however, that the relative scrutiny that might come with identifying as a feminist is a mere inconvenience when compared to what Black women are subject to on a regular basis. If I am more honest with myself, my true reluctance lies with accepting accountability. But accountability is exactly what is needed, and it is as urgent as ever. When Janay Rice is assaulted by her fiancée and subsequently mocked by the public; when one of our community’s most wholesome cultural figures can maintain a virtually spotless reputation amid an astounding number of sexual assault allegations; and when Black women are ignored or dismissed when they speak of their experiences and ridiculed when they defend their right to live free of harassment, it seems that Black male accountability is long overdue.
No matter how progressive my politics may be in private, Black women—and our community in general—cannot afford for allies to avoid accountability, particularly when too many Black men pledge allegiance to patriarchy, preferring to be predators rather than partners.
It’s easy to get the sense that Black women are doing all the work—the speaking, the writing, the advocating, and the defending. As with many areas of public and private Black life, Black women are doing more than their fair share of the work that it takes to build and sustain a community in which they are affirmed. But Black women ought to know who their allies are. Given their unwavering commitment to Black men, they deserve to expect to be supported by those same men. As a corollary, Black men must be put on notice that some Black men will not give asylum to their unrepentant sexist behavior.
Of course a man does not need to identify as a feminist to be an ally. And men whose politics I respect choose to define their commitment in other ways. Still, for me, feminism encapsulates a theory and practice that spurs my consciousness, informs my choices, and guides my actions. Further, it provides a standard to which I can both aspire and be held accountable.
Let me be clear: I do not choose to identify as “feminist” as if appending some badge of honor to my lapel. It is not a prize awarded for even the most loyal advocacy and allyship. It is not a destination; it is a path. As such, I adopt the label humbly, recognizing that action must follow my words and that, as a male with privilege, blind spots and missteps are inevitable.
I am a Black man who knows that Black women are not my enemy. I realize that my public words and actions have not always provided Black women with a reciprocal assurance. And so with “feminist” I hope to say, simply, “You can count on me as your partner in struggle.”
George C. Gardner III is a Detroit-native living in Brooklyn, and he is a feminist. Follow him on Twitter @ggiii.