Resolving the complex layers of marginalization and oppression in our society requires that we continually be willing to challenge many of the presuppositions that we hold near and dear to our hearts. Often times, systems such as racism and sexism are inextricably linked to one another, and we cannot hope to solve these issues one-by-one, rather we must work to chisel away at the junctures where these constructions are given form and substance. That being said, I want to call attention to a particular aspect of Black culture, namely, the problematic appraisal of the “Black man” as leaders of the Black community.
I am Black, which opens up deep and unequivocal modes of marginalization in my life. However, as a male, I still have access to privileges that are denied to many of my female (and genderqueer for that matter) counterparts. Growing up, I often heard people such as my aunt emphatically release utterances such as “…when you education a Black man, you educate the community!” As a high-achieving student, I was also shown particular praise not solely for my grades, but because I was a Black male who was still managing to achieve academic success in a society that makes that very difficult for Black males. It became very clear that my role as a Black man was not only to lift up my family, but also to be a shepherd for my community.
As an aspiring teacher, I am starting to see my male privilege manifest in newer and robust ways. Generally, choosing to go into the field of education—especially when you’re a high achieving student of color—usually carries a stigma alongside it. However, I find that being a male has mitigated some of that stigma. When I tell people my career choice, I am typically offered a kind “oh good, we need more Black males in the classroom!” Similar to the narrative around Black fathers, there is a pervading perception that Black male teachers are the ones who can really be effective in solving many of the problems in communities.
Now I do not believe that individuals are being purposely malicious. There are real material issues that have systematically worked to disadvantage Black males. Therefore the praise I receive is not fueled by a depreciation of Black women, but rather many are perhaps relieved and excited to see Black men who work against the sociological narratives sifting through the American consciousness.
But I do believe that we must be sure to not implicitly dismiss the roles that Black women continually play in our communities. As parents, role models, activists, etc. Black women have played pivotal roles in contributing to a more just society. While it’s nice to be commended for being an “exception,” I fear that many within the Black community count on their men to be messiahs, and simultaneously undercut the social salience and significance of Black women.
If we are to truly resolve the myriad problems of marginalization and oppression within our society, we must continually remember to challenge all forms of privilege in our society. We must remember, that even if we fall on the wrong side of the color line, there are other ways in which privilege works to negotiate our social circumstance. Black males are humans not messiahs, and Black women have been holding down the fort, usually without their due recognition.