It’s past time for Black men to become traitors to the male privilege that protects us
Black men have grown too comfortable with the image of white men as the face of #MeToo violence.
by Donnie Moreland
This essay contains descriptions of sexual violence, including r/pe
When I looked at her, I felt nauseous. Here she was, a college friend of mine, recounting a time when she had asked a group of Black male acquaintances the question, “How many of you have ever fucked a girl while she was passed out?”
The question alone made my spine quiver, but when she said that almost the entire room had raised their hands in affirmation, I felt my stomach ascend to my chest. But that was that. No inquiry or discernment. I just stood there.
For all intents and purposes, I had been standing “there” all of my life. This, another story of how a Black man had sexually assaulted, abused, molested, violated, or raped a Black woman, I met with the same reaction I always presented. I’d lower my shoulders. I’d sigh aloud, just enough to project a sort of appeal of genuinity. I’d lower my eyes and release the proverbial phrase of Black American disbelief, “Damn.”
That’s it. The extent of my physical investment in response to the subjection of Black women to terror and injury by the hands of men who I’d sometimes see on campus, question silently, doubt their involvement in such criminal behavior and embrace in a traditional show of Black male solidarity. And that’s just my complicity as a subjective observer of my world.
That’s not to mention the times in the past when I manipulated Black women into sexual acts by placating on some type of romantically relational disappointment because I was sexually frustrated. Or the times I continued in the act past the point that my partner had grown uncomfortable, expressed such a sentiment and I’d dismiss with a very familiar, “I’m almost done.” Or the times I’d grope and grab my partners, despite their objections, because it was my right as “a boyfriend/man” to touch them as I saw fit. And I’m supposed to be “one of the good ones.”
Black men like myself, who have reconciled with our past infringements against consent and have been communaly qualified as “womanist sympathizers” of sorts through contributions to opinion editorials, social groups, and artistic expression, are always heralded as a kind of New Black Man. It is our privilege that allows for us to settle into a new matrix of Black male identity, even if there is no change in our actions. It is our complicity that creates space for, as the Maryland Coalition of Sexual Assault reports, the 40%-60% of Black women reporting having been subjected to sexually coercive contact by the age of 18.
It is the privilege of complicity that continues to allow any given Black woman to be the cat in a social re-creation of Schrodinger’s thought experiment. The box being the Black male fragility of a man who may or may not kill a woman because she has rejected his appeals to sex. All of this, with barely a peep from the various schools of Black male thought whose students have grown accustomed to being celebrated for “doing The Work” without result.
“The Work” should, but rarely ever does, begin with Black men investing in an ever-evolving methodology of emotional reflection, no longer using a measure of masculinity strewn about by a continuum of white male privilege which rewards white men for their denigration of the “other.” This, along with, and maybe most pressing, eliminating a philosophy of gaslighting which emboldens the complicity of boys to the suffering of bodies not their own at critical stages of social development.
I say most pressing because much of the relaxed positions many Black men have concerning an ethic of relational violence, especially in a romantic context, has to do with a philosophy of relational hierarchical privilege born from chivalric virtues in places far from where my ancestors called home and where, for such a time, women were to be seen, as evidence of their husbands virility, but never heard.
As of late, there seems to be an acknowledgement of a shifting paradigm. A conversation of bodily autonomy has forced what happens between men and our prey for such a time, to finally be put to question. We’ve seen it questioned in the Executive Boardrooms of Hollywood Studios, Heralded Penthouse Suites, and of course the Oval Office, which brought us to the somehow divisive phrase “Me Too.”
As #MeToo has become a global buzzword and hashtag for sexual assault initiatives, we have found more white men than any other demographic accused of assault after assault, rape after rape. And in truth, white men of “esteem” being drug against the dirt of their horrid pasts is a form of racial catharsis I treasure dearly. However, we, as Black men, have grown too comfortable with the image of white men as the face of such violence.
It was the tears, and bruises, of disenfranchised, often poor, Black girls who inspired Tarana Burke more than a decade ago to make the claim “Me Too.” But Black men too often hide behind the veil of white privilege, proclaiming, “But they do it worse” when Black women ask where we are in support of their defense, again, against hands belonging to our own.
That our hands, in a system molded by men who would see Black people whipped, raped, and mutilated for some 400 years, move violently against the bodies of Black women is shameful. They move, not in some declaration of relational sovereignty, but in acts inspired by a need to prove one’s obedience to a socially binding agreement between men and women established by the predominant face of power, and a propensity to torture in a way required to be considered worthy of the moniker “Western Man.”
So when I return to that room, I can’t help but wonder if those men raised their hands, in comradery, because “If white boys can treat their women like that, why can’t we?” And then I think to myself, is my response to such a story a reflection of the neglect presented as the baseline of affection for white women who’ve been brutalized by white men? And then I think to myself that “The Work” to free ourselves from the condition of white male-dom requires a brutal honesty about how much we’ve failed women in our pursuit of a position beside or ahead of white male-ness, who even the “best” of us claim we find a deeply rooted regard.
But when in the face of the actions of our brothers, we shrug. We lower our eyes. And give a hushed, “Damn.” But we must do more. When the men whom we’ve attempted to model our masculinity after have persecuted and molested us for just that impression, then we recreate that violence when we continue to parody their form, sex, and violence. What we must do instead is to finally let go of their gaze and show as much solidarity for the lived experience of women of our hue as we do for the lived experience of other Black men.
Donnie Moreland is a Minnesota based mental health advocate, writer and filmmaker.