This past week I read New Black Man, by Mark Anthony Neal. (Which is generally an awesome book). However, I do have my criticisms (as I usually do for almost everything). Mark Anthony Neal in New Black Man examines the contemporary paradigms of what it means to be black and masculine/male. He also positions these things in the greater context of black feminist thought, parenting as a father, and anti-homophobia (he does a great job doing this). He goes through moments in pop culture where we will find situations antithetical to what the New Black Man metaphor is moving towards. Neal goes further to explain that he has not achieved—at least not in totality—what New Black Man is arguing for.
“I am not the New Black Man, but rather the New Black Man is a metaphor for an imagined life—strong commitment to diversity in our communities, strong support for women and feminism, and strong faith in love and value of listening.” The themes in Neal’s book are difficult to argue against, mostly because of their positive nature and progressive peripheral. However, in the midst of a very solid overall argument, there are a couple themes that weakened Neal’s New Black Man Theory—for me at least. The most distracting to me being his continuous “disclaimer” of his own heterosexuality.
In his chapter “Queers in a Barrel”(catchy name) Neal mentions how he is many times perceived as being gay because he “engages in forms or writing and teaching that raise questions about the rigidity of heterosexual black male identity.” Neal does well to mention that he should not “protest too much about being heterosexual” because he realizes he would only be doing this in the “fear that his students would think he was gay.” While it is important that Professor Neal acknowledges this fact, it is also simultaneously contradicting his goal. While he is trying to explain that he shouldn’t tell people he is heterosexual, at that same moment he tells people, he is heterosexual.
He makes it even worse when he says “telling anecdotes” about how his daughters will “compensate” for the possibility that some of his students would see him as gay. There are two problems with this statement, the first being, that it makes it seem like being “seen as gay” would be a bad thing and the second is that this statement continues to fall under the trap of hetero-normative thinking, and excludes the fact that gay people could have kids also. I believe Neal’s intentions to be good, but he just fell into the common stereotype of a “disclaiming heterosexual” who supports gay rights as long as you know he is not gay. I repeat, I am a M.A.N. fan, so to speak, but I see a pattern among straight people who fight for gay rights.
Some say its important to recognize their “privilege” but I think it is a bit much to recognize it by reminding the world that they are straight in order to preface every statement that attempts to defend the “gay” cause. I believe it to be just as homophobic as my brother (see some of my blogs on the gay struggle) to say that you defend LGBTQ rights but at the same time are afraid of people thinking your gay. Furthermore, if you are afraid of people thinking your gay, I personally don’t want you apart of my struggle and my politics. I will fight for equal rights as long as people don’t associate me with those who are oppressed…sounds like contradiction to me.