2017 was a hell of a year for reckoning the actions of men. When it comes to the culture of toxic masculinity and sexual abuse, 2018 will demand that those who know better, do better.
I know I am one of the good ones because it was a feminist, Black woman editor who asked me to write 1000 words exploring toxic masculinity* and what a healthier, less-apt-to-sexually-abuse male identity might look and feel like. I know I’m one of the good ones, because I dutifully, and Black male feminist-ly told said editor (who also happens to be the celebrated writer, Jamilah Lemieux), “No problem. I’ll have it to you in a few days.”
I know I’m one of the good ones because I know what “heteropatriarchy*” means, even though I’ve spent much of my life more afraid of seeing Black women harmed than I’ve been afraid of actually harming Black women. I know I’m one of the good ones because I know how to properly pronounce “misogynoir.*”
I know I’m one of the good ones because I have found the courage to write evocatively about being sexually abused as a child by grown Black women (even though I have never really been honest with any grown Black woman on Earth about the extent or context of that abuse).
I know I’m one of the good ones because I’ve never aggressively initiated a sexual encounter with a woman, and I don’t simply obtain consent, I crave it. (Granted, I’ve told categorical lies in the hopes of women initiating and consenting to sexual relationships with me.)
I know I’m one of the good ones because I took a train to Washington DC to explain to the architects of President Obama’s initiative, My Brothers Keeper, that Black girls cannot wait until Black boys are free, and that Black girls, like Black boys are in immediate need of structural remedies to structural problems.
I know I’m one of the good ones because I never say the b-word in conversations with other men or when rapping along to my favorite songs.
I know I am one of the good ones because I predicted that as the face of American sexual violence morphed from a J-ello Pudding Pop-eating, droopy-faced respectable Black man, to lipless powerful dudes the color of raw chicken, the country would predictably begin to consider what transformative justice for perpetrators of sexual violence actually looks like.
I know I am one of the good ones because I have (selectively) radical politics (even though I sometimes misgender* my trans and gender-nonconforming* students). I know I’m one of the good ones because I often say the words “queer” “cis” and “trans-antagonism” in casual conversation.
I know I am one of the good ones because I keep it so real (but only about stuff I am really comfortable keeping it so real about, and I have no idea what to do with the thin terrifying line between publicly reckoning with the ways I’ve emotionally abused Black women, and the possible re-traumatizing of harmed Black women that often come with these “GoodBlackMen” public reckonings).
I know I am one of the good ones because when Jamilah Lemieux asked me to write 1000 words exploring toxic masculinity, I said yes, even though I should have said, “I do not think I am one of the good ones. I am one of the old ones who should know and do better. I am one of the scared ones, the harmful ones, the cowardly ones often taught by other scared ones, the harmful ones, and the cowardly ones to say and believe things like: “I don’t regret anything because if I hadn’t made those mistakes back in the day, I wouldn’t be the Black man I am today” completely neglecting the fact that much of the “Black man I am today” harmed Black women who would do everything possible not to harm me.
As men, however we define or express ourselves, I know we can confront our investment in the systemic harm of women every minute of every hour of every day. Then we can wake up and do it again. When we fail we can be honest about that failing. There ain’t no deliverance when it comes to responsibly loving vulnerable folk who insist on responsibly loving us. There is only work.
I should have told Jamilah Lemieux that I am not one of the good ones, and that I am working. I should have told her I am getting better at loving, reckoning and imagining a model of Black masculinity I have never seen, but perhaps I am not getting better fast enough.
toxic masculinity: the socially constructed norm that suggests men are expected to be domineering, violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, etc
cisgender (or cis): when a person identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth (ie. Mary was born with female genitalia and identifies as female.)
heteropatriarchy: a system where cis gendered males and heterosexuality have perceived or real authority over cisgendered females and over other sexual orientations
misogynoir: the specific ways in which misogyny and racism combine to oppress Black women
mis-gender: the act of referring to someone by a name, pronoun, or other form of address that does not align with the gender they identify as (ie. Karen is a trans woman, but her boss refers to her as “him.”)
gender non-conforming: when a person does not identify with either gender on the binary, or either two genders.
queer: an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual and/or not cisgender.