Talking to Black youth about the complexities of sexual racism after Wilder v Fury
We need clear research and policy that underscores the reality of racialized sexual violence in our society and schools.
by Jacques P. Lesure
It’s no secret that boxing is a gladiator-esque game that draws in hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Those who watch the sport must remain flexible to a wide range of unpredictable outcomes such as knockouts, excessive bleeding, and swollen faces.
It was reported that the boxing rematch Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury II amassed over 800,000 Pay-Per-View purchases—the most for a heavyweight championship match since 2002. I believe those who are tasked with teaching and caring for young people—especially those concerned with “social-emotional learning”—should be particularly concerned that the viral content of interest that came out of the fight was a video of Fury licking Wilder’s bloody shoulder during the contest.
While major media outlets recapped Fury’s actions as significant, virtually none of them evaluated his actions against notions of sexual assault and violence. Their reporting on the licking, in the best case scenarios, pointed critique towards the obvious barbarism and savagery of the sport rather than Wilder as a victim of say, racialized sexual fantasy.
I wonder what the media’s inability or unwillingness to offer any critical reflection (and racial analysis) on the incident tells us about the day to day experiences of Black male youth in schools. Black male youth are, after all, positioned in the world similarly as Wilder and tasked with thinking through their own identities and wrestling with stark realities.
The threat of Black male youth not having their sexual vulnerability responded to in the schooling context is present at all levels. They will have to do this wrestling with reality in the absence of a racial analysis within sex education curriculum in high schools. They will do so as the loving and critically-informed warnings of their Black grandmothers down South to “leave them white girls alone” have not even remotely been incorporated in the lesson plans of their history classes. They will wrestle with even more of reality as they go into institutions of higher education and navigate toxic social settings where they become centerpieces of fetishization in “hookup culture” and dating.
To be clear, I’m aware that my demand for schools to acknowledge the sexual vulnerability of Black male youth in curriculum, policy, and professional development of teachers will need to be led by Black coaches, mentors, and teachers. I am, of course, skeptical of non-Black people’s ability to even begin addressing Black male youth’s sexual vulnerabilities given the degree of trust, understanding, and self-reflexivity that would need to be guaranteed before working with Black boys and men. However, it would be egregious to allow school districts across the U.S. to ignore various political and social movements of the time, such as #MeToo’s expanding mission to include a wider range of vulnerable groups. Everyone has a role in this work.
It certainly doesn’t help that there are virtually no available blueprints for naive or unprepared practitioners who are responsible for guiding learning experiences for Black male youth. For example, how will white women who teach them be able to structure healthy opportunities to think through their racialized sexual identities, their understanding of their relationships with others, or how they conceptualize sexual freedom and liberation? What are the tools for Black male youth and those responsible for their learning to think through the nonconsensual licking of Wilder’s bloody body?
There are no easy answers, but in a moment where the field of Education seems to be extremely interested in “social-emotional learning,” it could be good timing to reconsider the importance of what it means to deeply nurture the “whole child.”
The impetus for social-emotional learning also is often linked to youth’s ability to control or regulate their emotions in healthy and productive ways. Black male youth are already doing this, what needs work is the climate and realities that they endure.
There should be concern for Black male youth’s embodiment of their sexual selves, their sexual developmental needs and how they understand the world around them. These things matter, even if no correlation is ever made to test scores and grades.
Much of the exciting possibility lies in pedagogical interventions such as the problem-posing method. Born out of the intellectual tradition of critical pedagogy, it assumes that it is the “responsibility of the problem-posing teacher is to diversify subject matter and to use students’s thought and speech as the base for developing critical understanding of personal experience, unequal conditions in society, and existing knowledge.” The media’s response (or non-response) to Wilder being licked and assaulted could be intertwined with a problem-posing approach in a Current Events course.
We need fierce and equipped educators who are willing and able to do this in order to better support Black male youth. We also need clear research and policy that underscores the reality of racialized sexual violence in our society and schools. The willingness of teachers means nothing if they aren’t supported by a cultural and political consensus that validates the importance of Black male youth’s sexual freedom and liberation.
I’m pessimistic toward the idea that any loving agenda would be formed around this and reflected in schools. However, until the specific forms of violence that impact the development of Black male youth are made explicit in research, policy, and practice—those of us who care for them run the risk of never even realizing what they are denied at the bodily and psychic level.
Jacques P. Lesure is an advocate, truth-teller and Ph.D student from the east side of Atlanta. He researches and writes on topics connected to race, culture, and education. He has contributed pieces to RaceBaitr, Black Youth Project, and Blavity. Find more of his forever-evolving work at jplesure.com.