Understanding Black Male Feminism

Why do black men care about black feminism, and how is it important to the black liberation movement? Here are Dr. David Ikard’s thoughts.

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Given the current state of American politics, marginalized groups have experienced a lack of support from the government they are living under.

Enter Dr. David Ikard, a professor of African American literature at the University of Miami and the author of “Breaking the Silence: Toward a Black Male Feminist Criticism.” On Tuesday, Feb. 7, he focused on the intersectionality of race and gender in his lecture entitled, “Black Male Feminism, Race, and Love” held in the Coykendall Science Building Auditorium.

According to Care2, a social networking site connecting activists from across the globe, “intersectionality” can be defined as a sociological theory about how individuals may face threats of discrimination when they identify with specific minority groups, such as race, gender, nationality, class or ability.

Ikard highlighted the idea of “toxic masculinity” and how it enforces intersectional feminism between the lines of race and gender in a negative way.

He explained that when black men are emasculated by white men, or the white community in general, they may take out their oppression on black women. This further oppresses the black woman as well, and the cycle continues. A large part of the issue, according to Ikard, is that black men don’t want to sacrifice their masculinity.

“Even as black men want to fight racism, they still want to uphold their patriarchal identity,” he explained.

This underscores the importance of understanding intersectional feminism, as well as how it relates to the wildfire that became the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Little do many know that this movement was started by three queer black women.

Founded after the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and his subsequent posthumous trial, organization co-founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi were not motivated by potential personal fame. Rather, they were invested in the movement itself.

These women, according to Ikard, had “an intersectional political agenda designed to make the movement more inclusive and valuing of all black peoples,” including ex-convicts, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, former addicts, atheists and so on. One way or another, Ikard says traditional male-centric groups made this movement about liberating and empowering black men exclusively. He explained that issues like these are at the core of intersectionality.

“Black women started [this] movement and oftentimes don’t get credit for launching something that looks like it’s going to have real social implications,” he said. “It’s important to acknowledge their contribution, to bring them out of the shadows and give them credit where credit is due in terms of the kinds of socially transformative agents they are.”

Nicole Carr, assistant professor of Black Studies, coordinator of Ikard’s event and a former doctoral student of his, echoed this idea of giving marginalized groups a voice. In this, she referenced the issue of racist rhetoric sprawled on a bathroom stall in Bouton Hall last semester.

“I think many students felt like their voices weren’t being heard,” she said. “Bringing [Ikard] to campus really allowed [the students] to have that discourse and be reaffirmed in who they are and that there is nothing wrong with being black and brilliant. It’s important to hear that.”

She felt a discourse on this pertinent issue was crucial for students to learn about, as it can lead to the understanding of different oppressions. She said it’s important for the broader community to understand how they can become allies, and what exactly it means to be one.

Lailaa Cunningham, a fourth-year sociology major who attended Ikard’s event, agreed.

“We don’t talk much on campus about how men in the black community can help uplift women,” she said. “It’s important to give people the knowledge on how to stand up for certain groups of people who don’t have a voice. They need to understand that if they want to be an ally, they have to risk something in their safety to show that they actually care, not just to have absolution for their own personal beliefs.”

This article first appeared in The New Paltz Oracle on Feb. 9, 2017.

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