The Black Male Privilege Checklist: An Opportunity for Reflection?
27. I come from a tradition of humor that is based largely on insulting and disrespecting women; especially mothers.
38. I have the privilege of popularizing or consuming the idea of a thug, which is based on the violence and victimization of others with virtually no opposition from other men.
45. I have the privilege of believing that feminism is anti-black.
46. I have the privilege of believing that the failure of the black family is due to the black matriarchy.
58. I can rest assured that most of the coaches — even in predominately — female sports within my race are male.
–Jewel Woods, in “The Black Male Privileges Checklist”
Have you heard about “The Black Male Privileges Checklist,” on JewelWoods.com? Jewel Woods is an author and gender analyst. He holds a B.A. from Oberlin College, a Master’s in sociology from the University of Toledo, and a Master’s in social work from the University of Michigan; and from all indications it seems that questions of Blackness and gender have been at the center of his work all along. He is currently working on his Ph.D. in social work, and his commentaries on gender, race, and masculinity have been featured on a variety of television and radio programs and published in a number of prominent magazines.
One of the hardest things to do is to talk about people who are marginalized in one area about the privileges they have in other areas. Consider, for example, the challenges inherent in speaking with working-class and poor white people about white skin privilege, or in talking to rich white gay men about white privilege, male privilege, and class privilege. I can imagine that this is the same case when it comes to discussing male privilege with men who are Black, especially given African American males’ disproportionate poverty, incarceration, and drop-out rate. Add to this the focus in both the mainstream media and the Black press on portraying African American men as a population in crisis, and on stories like the gender achievement gap between Black men and women.
I have blogged on the gender achievement gap between Black men and women; and yet I do believe that Black men do have (and sometimes exercise) male privilege. I also believe that to acknowledge and understand male privilege could enhance Black men’s overall prospects for academic success, mostly because this checklist can function as a mirror, calling attention to the ways that Black maleness is constructed and performed in our society.
The gender achievement gap between Black men and women (and Black boys and girls) is be based, at least in part, in the vast differences between how Black men (and boys) and Black women (and girls) respond to prevailing stereotypes associated with their respective identity categories. Black women are stereotyped as sexual savages, lazy “welfare queens,” and/or as emasculating “sapphires”. Alternately, Black women and girls may find themselves rendered invisible by popular understanding of Blackness as male and of womanhood as white. As such, Black women and — most imporantantly, Black girls have nothing to gain from embracing these stereotypes and everything to gain from rejecting them.
The picture is a little different when it comes to Black maleness and masculinity. The prevailing stereotypes associated with Black men — as hyper-masculine, sexually superior, tougher, meaner, scarier, more violent, and cooler than their non-Black counterparts — may actually feel empowering, especially to young males who see like possibility of accessing other forms of male power (like economic power, political power, et cetera). Unfortunately, the behaviors and attitudes required to live up to these stereotypes are often deeply incompatible intellectual pursuits and academic success.
Indeed, I have encountered young Black men who felt the conflict between their schools’ and their parents’ desires to see them succeed academically, and their Black and non-Black peers’ expectations that young brothers should be athletic, virile, stoic, tough, and cool. For these and other young long-term rewards of living up to their parents expectations cannot compete with the immediate gratification of being perceived by their peers as the embodiment of youthful masculinity.
“The Black Male Privileges Checklist” has the potential to shed what Audre Lorde refers to as “a different quality of light” on the hypermasculine behavior and stereotypes that so many young African American men find so compelling. It’s emphasis on some of the ways that Black manhood and masculinity hurt Black women carries with in an important subtext, that much of what passes for “real” African American manhood also hurts Black men. In the context of workshops led by Jewel Woods and other Black male activists and mentors, an exploration of the “Checklist” could create a space for some much needed reflection on how to embrace maleness and masculinity in ways that expand rather than limit young men’s options.
To read “The Black Male Privileges Checklist” and its accompanying explanation, click HERE.
Posted by Ajuan Mance