A Call for Black Male Feminists

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I've learned to protect my joy. I hold it close like it is my most prized possession because I've fought for it.  I desire to be a joyful  woman, a brilliant woman, a kind and thoughtful woman. But more often than not I find that I am an angry woman.

Anger prevails with regularity because I take personally the assaults launched at Black women daily. Black women can expect misogynoir even in the spaces we enter to seek solace.  I'm saddened by the inevitable silence when we are assaulted, killed, humiliated, or abducted, and knowing that we likely cannot count on those who continually seek our support cuts deeply.

Black women have called on Black men to aid in the dismantling of the systems that oppress us for decades. We have pleaded. We have cajoled,. We have berated.  Yet the intended recipients either ignore or dismiss our voices without thought. And at this time, it is clear that although Black women can light the way and clear the path, this centuries long battle will not be won without the aid of the Black men with whom we live in community.  This is not a concession to patriarchy but a recognition of the depths of its grasp.

If we desire to see a change in anti-sexist consciousness, we need fervent Black male allies.  Moreover, we need Black men who not only acknowledge the importance of feminist thought but who engage it deeply and  contribute.

I have no delusions that recruiting scores of Black men to feminism will not come without difficulties.

Feminism has been a scapegoat for the problems that exist between Black women and men. Many men believe that a Black woman's rebuke of misogyny and male privilege within the community further emasculates Black men, but Black women have long handled with extraordinary care the fragile self-concept of Black men. These displaced resentments should be attributed to the legacy of racism not feminism.

I advocate a divestment from the restoration of Black masculinity, but Black women should never cease to care for Black men. History and destiny links us.

Overlooked are the ways that coming together to disentangle ourselves from the bonds of patriarchy can create stronger communities. A recent letter from a coalition of 200 Black men to the president requesting a My Brothers Keeper program to address the needs of Black girls  and women exemplifies this potential.

Here's the crux of the argument:
If the denunciation of male privilege, sexism and rape culture is not at the center of our quest for racial justice, then we have endorsed a position of benign neglect towards the challenges that girls and women face that undermine their well-being and the well-being of the community as a whole. As Black men we believe if the nation chooses to “save” only Black males from a house on fire, we will have walked away from a set of problems that we will be compelled to return to when we finally realize the raging fire has consumed the Black women and girls we left behind. 

Luke Harris, chief organizer of the letter and associate professor at Vassar College, wrote an op-ed in which he further explains the value of a fundamentally shift in perspective that sees the life outcomes of Black women as more than an afterthought.
Yet this incarnation of the Black male endangerment narrative does more than ignore women and girls.  In a patriarchal society in which male problems typically receive far more attention than those of women, the narrative actually reinforces patterns of beliefs that endanger Black women and girls within their homes, schools, churches and within society at large.  As a result, we know, but do we care that Black girls are much more likely to be suspended than all other girls and most boys as well? We know, but do we care, that Black women have lower average incomes and possess significantly less wealth than both Black men and White women? We know, but do we care, that Black women are disproportionately burdened with child care in situations of acute poverty? 

Harris articulates a Black feminist viewpoint.  Centering Black women's work and experiences enables us to imagine new liberatory discourses. Feminism should not be seen as a threat to manhood but a lifeline--a necessary and important response to the "matrix of domination" that Black men and women must navigate.

At the very least a commitment to feminism demonstrates a desire to listen and learn about the myriad ways a system that promotes violence and dominance disturbs the lives of men and women. That is a very good place to start if we are to avoid conversations that devolve into "good guy" derailments.

Black women should not have to compel Black men to think of their loved ones before they can acknowledge our humanity. I implore Black men to think of the emotional labor Black women expend on their behalf and for our communities. Caring for the Sisters requires a dedication to eliminating oppression that extends beyond simply being a "gentleman."  We're fighting for our lives, and we need your help.

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Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or

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