I cannot pinpoint the exact moment I began to question the masculinity of African-American men as toxic. Especially because at one point I constantly found myself attempting to live up to the standards presumed from my black male counterparts. Acceptance from my black male friends was something that I sought out more than accepting my own self.
At the young age of 15-years-old, I was asked if I was a virgin. I had just left the private school scene and was entering the public school environment that I had once inhabited. The sights, the rhetoric, the style of the students was drastically different from how I last remembered it. Girls that I knew had now become full-blown women, men that I once recalled to have toothpicks for arms now sustained muscles that were covered in art, and everybody had adopted a new way of talking which is known as DMV lingo (DC, Maryland Virginia).
It took quite some time for me to adjust and adapt, which showed just how out-of-touch private school had made me with my former grounds. One of the major subject matters that I saw catch a considerable amount of attention during my assimilation back into public school life was how everyone was uncovering their sexuality.
Virtually everybody was sexually active, one way or another. This concept was so foreign to me, considering how committed I was to saving my first sexual experience until marriage. And while the sexuality between both the young men and women in my school was being uncovered, I observed how two different perceptions were predicated upon each gender to accompany their sexual journeys. Men were praised for accumulating the most bodies (bodies meaning the number of people somebody has slept with). The more bodies the man had, the more acclaim he got from his peers. In some instances, women would be more willing to mess with the man who had the most bodies because it showed he had experience. Meanwhile, women were criticized for having sex with multiple men. The more bodies a woman had, the more slander was thrown her way. Rhetoric such as “slut”, “thot”, “hoe” were passed around as if these women were deserving of these labels. They did not question the logic behind why men can have multiple partners and woman cannot. That is just how it was.
“They did not question the logic behind why men can have multiple partners and woman cannot. That is just how it was.”
To answer my friend’s question, I told them I was a virgin. Then the question became how was I still a virgin, with the tone escorting that question being affiliated with a level of shock which gradually transitioned into straight disgust. Instead of truthfully stating that I was saving myself for marriage, I made up a lame excuse about an imaginary woman refusing to “put out.” My story got a resounding “MAN WHAT? THESE GIRLS BE TRIPPING!” from my audience and progressively transformed into a suggestive “you just gotta start finding the easy joints bro. The dumb joints who would let anybody hit.” My mind had no intentions of finding these “easy joints” but just to solidify that I was “down” with the idea of fornicating with women, I made sure to tell my fellas to “put me on.”
At the moment, I did not think much of this incident. Sure I had just compromised my integrity to fit in with my associates, but I mean, has not every teenager done that at one point in their lives? What made my case any more different or immoral than–say a 16-year-old white girl lying to her friends that she smokes weed? And ultimately that is where the problem lied. The problem was that I saw no problem with what I said about my fallout with that imaginary woman. I viewed my comments as a normality between men in the African-American community. These are discussions held frequently and I was just now taking my part in it. This is what I was supposed to say. I have heard my barbers, my peers, and random men in the streets use such explicit tongue to describe women or their encounter with them. It was just my turn now.
“I have heard my barbers, my peers, and random men in the streets use such explicit tongue to describe women or their encounter with them. It was just my turn now.”
Nearly four years since this incident and the problem with my choice of words and my perception of women has become quite clear to me. But some of my brothers today would see no problem with the rhetoric I utilized. They would find no problem with the subliminal way we use black women as mere accessories to decorate our ego’s. And sadly, they see no problem with the way black women are treated today. That is because quite simply, black men cannot see the problem because they are the problem.
Before I go into my analysis, I just want to note that I genuinely feel as though a lot of black men feel as though they have a deep admiration and respect for the black woman. I mean, after all, they have been raised by them. They have seen the efforts of their mothers, grandmothers, and aunties and it has put the struggles of the black woman in perspective. They have heard snippets of Malcolm X’s Who Taught You To Hate Yourself speech and recognize that black woman are the most negated, disrespected demographic in the United States. They have heard that as black men, it is our job to protect black woman at all costs. But somewhere along our quest to define our masculinity, we have lost sight in being in-touch with our black woman and have shifted focus to utilizing black woman for our own selfish gains.
“That is because quite simply, black men cannot see the problem because they are the problem.”
I see a lot of my black men getting fed up with black women voicing their disdain with us. Phrases such as “black men hate black women”, “all men are trash” and “black men must do better” are infuriating the black male population. We scream that we are their “allies”. We scream that we are also oppressed just as much as the black woman. We scream that we are their fathers, their husbands, their sons, their brothers. We scream that feminism has steered our women away from us and into the hands of fellow white feminists. Feminists who don’t truly understand the plight of the black woman better than we do. From one black man, reaching out to many of my black brothers out there: we are wrong.
I understand what we are taught at such a young age because I was taught it as well. Black men are told that we are meant to be intelligent. We are told to defend ourselves at all cost. We are told to be strong in our rationale, that compromise is synonymous to surrendering, and empathy equates to being weak. This kind of toxic thinking has limited the black man to a level of closed-mindedness and insecurity which he ignorantly possesses. Black men cannot realize that they are the problem because in doing so, it will open up a door of vulnerability, something that the black man is told not to feel. Acknowledging that you are wrong means admitting another side is right and the insecurity of the black man will not allow his fragile ego to cope with him being in the wrong.
“Black men cannot realize that they are the problem because in doing so, it will open up a door of vulnerability, something that the black man is told not to feel.”
Yes. Black men have extremely fragile egos. They are conditioned to be “strong black men” and anything short of that is just as good as being a girl. When I was in elementary school, my father expressed to me that I was a man, and so I am supposed to be “quick”, “fast” when getting ready in the mornings, and I should never ever leave the house the same time a woman would. I carried this mindset well into my senior year of high school. I was conditioned to believe that moving slowly was an attribute of a woman, and whenever I found myself to be sluggish in the morning, I would remember the words of my father haunting me, reminding me that I was “as good as a woman” due to my lackluster effort to get ready quickly.
These sexist takes from men who are identified as role models in our lives have inherently crept deep down into our subconscious and have made us incredibly insecure to be anything short of what we were taught by our predecessors to become. In men’s hopes of becoming this hard-bodied type figure, they begin to develop fragile ego’s. A perfect case is that of Steve Stephens. A black man who committed an act of violence on the grounds that he felt he was emasculated by a woman who rejected him. Stephens goes on to kill innocent Robert Godwin Sr. and in the mind of Stevens, he saw this act as the only way he could redeem himself from the embarrassment he had suffered. He had to assert his macho dominance over the innocent in an act of violence since men are often told that physical dominance is the best way to project your manhood.
There was outrage by the African-American male community but it was not predicated towards Stephens. There was outrage over Joy Lane, the woman who had rejected Stephens. Black men found every reason to allocate blame on Lane and believed had Lane not rejected Stephens, then this act would not have happened. Instead of using this tragedy as the fuel to ignite a discussion about toxic masculinity and patriarchy, we decided to simply categorize this act as another case of somebody with a mental illness. Black men again are not willing to take accountability for our brothers’ transgressions. And my black men reading this may ask “well, why should we analyze the actions of a lunatic and view it as a potential reflection of the African-American male community?” It is because this man, Steve Stephens, was affected by the same toxic masculinity that we live and breathe. He is a prime example of what toxic masculinity can lead too and if we don’t take accountability for his actions, it will only set up the inevitable course for such a travesty to occur yet again at the expense of black women and the innocent.
How many black women do we have to see belittled, raped, and even killed until we stop deflecting the actions of black men as “not all of them are like this”?
Black men, it’s time that we recognize that we are a part of the problem. We are doing more harm than good towards our black queens. These are the women who we identify as our mothers, our sisters, wives and more. We must acknowledge that although we are indeed oppressed, we benefit from a patriarch system, designed to evoke sexism and homophobia. Our black queens not only are discriminated off of the basis of race but class and gender as well. It is time that we begin listening to the ways we can deconstruct these sexist values that we have subconsciously inherited. Black women are literally losing their lives from the toxic behavior that black masculinity endows and our biggest concern is them “bashing” us?
It is time to do better fellas. It is time to truly unify with our sisters. Because one day our future daughters will step foot into this world. Our black daughters. And they don’t deserve to inhale the poisonous stench that is the shattered masculinity of the African-American man.