29 Jan 2015

Why I Became A Black Men’s Rights Activist

We declare our right on this earth…to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”
-Malcolm X

By Paul Elam’s recent column, addressing Black male feminist Byron Hurt’s article in The Root, raises a number of very interesting questions, a few of which I’d like to expand upon in this essay. But, before I do, I’d like to more personally address Mr. Hurt myself, because, let’s face it: in a world and at a time when Identity Politics is a way of life, where “Who, Whom?” is the order of the day, a White Guy(TM) like Mr. Elam really can’t “go in” in the way that I, a blue collar, union card-carrying Brotha, can.
So, let’s get to it.
Since what has informed, and inspired, Mr. Hurt’s evolution as a Black male feminist is his personal life experience living with his own parents, I’d like to return the favor and offer a bit of my own personal life, which informed and inspired my own evolution as a Black Men’s Rights Activist.
It began with my parents and grandparents; you see, what they, and indeed much of my extended family, all had in common, is that they were rich with “strong, independent” Black women – you know, the kind that is lauded by Black America-proper.
My grandmother, despite her only getting a gradeschool education, had a burning desire to own a business, and was determined to partner with someone who could help her achieve her goals. Enter my grandfather – a few years younger than her, but highscool-educated and fresh out of Marine Corps as a drill instructor during WW2, they met and courted in their native Virginia, married and moved up north to Philadelphia to seek their fortune. After carefully planning the birth of my mom and uncle, they set out to build the kingdom my grandmother wanted. By the late 60s/early 70s, they not only owned a sprawling home in North Philly, complete with a brand new Imperial in the driveway bought off the showroom floor in cash, they also owned a string of “mom and pop” stores, an apartment block and about a dozen rental houses around the city – all this, while my grandfather also worked at the biggest Post Office branch in the city, 30th Street Station. Which was a very big deal for a Negro back in those days.
I watched my grandfather manage the books for my grandmother; watched him accompany her to purchase or otherwise have equipment and supplies for her various businesses; and perhaps most importantly, advised her on which stocks and other financial investments to get involved in. On top of all of this, it was my grandfather first and foremost, who worked the grueling hours small businesses invariably entail. He stood with my grandmother through thick and thin, even when she was afflicted with stroke after stroke, and retired to care for her himself in her final years, until her death back in the summer of 1997. While Mr. Hurt waxes eloquent about the need for and merits of Black men needing to be more “progressive” in supporting Black women, my grandfather – and many of the men in my family – were doing it long before such notions became fashionable in respectable Black publications like The Root.
Yet, despite all of this, my grandmother – who I and my other family members loved dearly – had a very real dark side. Her “Type A” personality had some serious “side effects”, which were often visited onto my grandfather in the form of withering verbal, and I’d say psychological, abuse. She was known, not just in the family, but in the neighborhood and beyond, as a no-nonsense woman who wouldn’t hesitate to curse you out or yell at you, and my grandfather endured the brunt of such abuse for decades. In fact, even when my grandfather tried to retreat into the basement – what some refer to as the “man cave” today – my grandmother wasn’t having it. She would stand at the top of the stairs leading down into the basement, and continuing arguing, yelling, harassing and cursing my grandfather out – sometimes, for hours at a time. I heard her call him “stupid”, “monkey” and “son of a bitch” too many times to count, and only once did my grandfather totally lose it – which frightened the beejeebus out of my grandmother. That episode aside, which was him cracking a glass table in the breakfast room with his fist and raising his voice, he was the stereotypical “strong and silent” type of Black man that seem to be standard issue at a certain place and time in Black American life.
My mom, my grandmother’s daughter, was as driven as she – and just as abusive. Trained as a nurse coming right out of highschool, she continued in that line of work for the rest of her life, going into private service and amassing a formidable client list due to her professionalism and personality. Nevertheless, she too was known to cuss you out in a heartbeat, and would often cut my own dad down to shreds. My dad, born and raised in Savannah, GA during the Great Depression and in the grip of Jim Crow, met her after his tour of duty in the USMC in Korea, coming home and going to vo-tech school on the G.I. Bill. Like my grandfather, he too was soft-spoken and to be frank, nowhere near as verbally facile as my mom – which really, brutally showed whenever they got into a disagreement. The sheer “rate of fire” of my mom’s verbal barbs and jabs, to say nothing of the ferocity of the actual insults themselves, was like witnessing a lamb being led to slaughter. It was one of the reasons why my dad stayed out so often, among other things.
Nearly all of the rest of the women in my immediate family circle – sisters, aunties, older female cousins, you name it – were cut from the same cloth. They were loud, boisterous, garrulous and often abusive with the tongue, cutting down men like a machete. Nor are they in any way unique or unsual in Black American life – indeed, five will get you ten that every Black person reading these words right now knows at least one, and truth be told quite a few, such “strong, independent” Black women as those I’ve described in my own family. It was this, among a great many other things I witnessed as a kid growing up into a young man, that put me on the path to where I am today as a Black Men’s Rights Advocate.
Now, don’t get me wrong – in no way am I attempting to argue that there aren’t abusive Black men out there – I know firsthand, this not to be so. And I hope that my recounting of my personal life surrounded by powerful, driven and accomplished women should be proof enough, that I am far from some kind of woman-hating reactionary.
But the truth of the matter is, as the events of the past year have made crystal clear, that Black women can be and often are, just as abusive and in some ways, even moreso, than many Black men. In fact, when it comes to Black female abuse of Black men and boys, we don’t see it that way, because very often it comes in the form of verbal and psychological abuse, which we think Black men and boys should and even must, be able to shrug off. Even increasing levels and instances of physical abuse visited on Black men by Black women, is explained away in a fashion that, were the shoe on the other foot, would have Ebony White Knights like Mr. Hurt up in arms, and Black Feminists having a conniption over. No one should have to endure such treatment, no matter who does it, and Black men (and boys) shouldn’t have to put up with such abuse in the name of some cockamamie notion of what Black manhood is supposed to be.
You see, that’s another reason as to how and why I became a Black Men’s Rights Activist: because of something that I refer to as Klingon Culture in Black American life, fostered and cosigned more often than not, by Black Women themselves. You know, like the fictional warrior race of spacefaring aliens from the scifi fixture Star Trek, who seek “death before dishonor”, many Black women hold fast to antiquated notions of Black manhood, even as they fully embrace “New Woman” ideology and real opportunities in our time. Black women have no compunctions in the least pigeon holing Black men into “Manning Up” and those who don’t comply, or dare to question it, are met with the kinds of withering criticism and assault mentioned above. Indeed, many Black woman want to live in the 21st century, while keeping Black men frozen in the amber of the 20th.
This is a huge part of the reason as to how and why “Thug Culture” so doggedly persists – no, “all” Black women don’t shack up with thugs, so before you trot out that trope of an argument, let me stop you right there – but the fact that the stereotype has such staying power, really does say something about the state of relations between Black men and women in our time today. Perhaps more than anywhere else in American life, being a prototypical “thug” carries with it great social cache in the hoods of Black America, where being a thoughtful, even sensitive, Black man is seen as being “soft” – mind you, this is the view often expressed by Black women themselves(!) – which acts as a chokepoint for Black men. They have to conform to this very rigid notion of manhood in order to gain any currency with Black women at large – like the idea of being “strong and silent”.
Sure, a lot of lip service is paid to notions of challenging “patriarchy” from Black feminists like Mr. Hurt & Co.; but on the streets, where the beating heart of Black America at large lives and breathes, the reality, is much, much different. Even professional, educated Black women – not that different from the driving, ambitious Black women in my family – will not hesitate to uphold, without fear of contradiction, what their notions of what a “real” Black man is and ought to be. One that basically, has no feelings to harm, no sensibilities to take note of, no inner life to consider, and will “do their duty”, like Robocop or something. And that’s for starters – let’s not even get started on the regular occurrence of Black mothers verbally abusing their sons, for being “bitchasses” and the like, for crying and so on. It happens all the time in Black American life, with predictable results.
Mr. Elam’s citation of Stephen A. Smith’s observations of the Ray Rice controversy (to which Mr. Hurt vociferously responded himself), are an excellent case in point, to say nothing of other events involving the flipside of abuse obtaining in one way or another in Black American life. Black feminists may pitch a fit, but anyone and everyone in Black America on the ground, knows the truth, and that what Mr. Smith said was a lot closer to it.
And Mr. Elam is correct again, to point out yet another inconvenient truth – that the Afrosphere – my moniker for that corner of the Internet that caters to the lives and interests of Black folk – isn’t inclined to give a platform to Brothas like me, who wish to present a flipside to the narrative that is so very often force-fed to us, by the Feminist Lobby, and their allies in academia, the media and entertainment. What Mr. Elam says in speculation, I can say from actual experience, that Black organs like The Root, Ebony, Jet and the like, would never give Black men like me the time of day, let alone be their “leads” in terms of analysis and commentary. After all, Feminism in general, and Black Feminism in particular, is big business – and, to paraphrase Mencken, no American ever went broke telling Sistas what they want to hear.
Lastly, perhaps the biggest reason as to why I became a Black Men’s Rights Activist, was because I was tired of being scapegoated and lectured to – never asked for my input or my thoughts – as to what was going on with regard to gender relations, NOW. After all, all of the aims that Feminism sought to address, have in truth been achieved, and is clearly in evidence among Black women themselves: they attend higher education more than anyone else in American life; their health and wellness indices have improved, no small part due to massive governmental intervention and support; and contrary to the handwringing on the part of people like Mr. Hurt & Co., the truth of the matter is that violent crime of all kinds – and that includes that which would have impacted Black women themselves most directly, like spousal abuse, rape and the like – have gone down dramatically, most especially in America’s big cities, from the early 90s. Yet, our interlocutors on the other side of the aisle, act as if it’s still 1965, or better yet, 1935. The conceit is both wrongheaded and insulting.
The questions that remain in our supposed quest to even the playing fields of American life, are not to be found on Mr. Hurt’s side of the fence, but on the side where I’m standing. It is why I am here, doing what I do, and answering those questions, from my own unique perspective.
Mr. Hurt would do well to listen.


About Mumia Ali

Mumia Ali, aka "Obsidian" is a Men's Issues blogger from Philadelphia who focuses on Sexual Politics, Class, and Race, from the male perspective. He is a cofounder of the Men's Issues blog collective known as Just Four Guys, and is Editor of Urban American Affairs for A Voice for Men.

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