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David Ikard

David Ikard

The Black Man's White Man Fantasies

By David Ikard
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‘Go-back-to-Mexico’ speech sounds eerily similar to the ‘Go-back-to-Africa’ language…

A few years back I was having a conversation with one of my Black male friends about the radically changing cultural landscape of Durham, North Carolina. Like most Durhamites, I had noticed that a significant contingent of Mexicans had migrated to the area, greatly altering the already contentious racial balance in the Bull city. I wanted to get my friend's perspective on this issue because he had been living in the area all his life, whereas I had only been in the area for a few years. His response was as disturbing as it was enlightening. With deep emotion he expressed frustration at what he viewed as an "infestation of foreigners" to the area. "They're all over the place," he bemoaned, "even in the parks on the weekends. Its like they're taking over." He continued, "they'll accept the dirtiest jobs for little or nothin' in terms of pay, which makes it that much harder for Black folks to get decent wages. Frankly, I wish they'd pile back into those dilapidated vans of theirs and go back to wherever they came from." The deep sense of entitlement driving his indictment of Mexicans chilled me to the bone. "You sound like a Jim Crow White man," I said, cutting him off. "I mean your 'Go-back-to-Mexico' speech sounds eerily similar to the 'Go-back-to-Africa' language that has historically been used to trivialize Black human rights and suffering." To his credit, my friend owned up to his xenophobia, and has since become outspoken on such matters.

I open with this anecdote because I want to draw attention to a crucial problem among Black men that has yet to be productively addressed—namely, the ways that Black men have internalized many of the problematic notions of power and control of their White male oppressors. James Baldwin articulates the problem best in his essay "Freaks and the American Ideal of Manhood" when he warns that the "object of one's hatred is never, alas, conveniently outside but is seated in one's lap, stirring in one's bowels and dictating the beat of one's heart. And if one does not know this, one risks becoming an imitation—and, therefore, a continuation—of principles one imagines oneself to despise." The truth of the matter is that most Black men, whether they will admit it or not, have a love/hate relationship with White men. They covet the ways that White men are able to use their social and economic power to control minorities and women, even as they vehemently repudiate the ways that that power is being used to dominate and control them.

It is this phenomenon of complicity in oppression that Audre Lorde had in mind when she noted that the "master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." The point that I am trying to make is simply this: In order to have a serious impact on the dismantling of racial inequities in the twenty-first century, Black men must own up to the ways that they participate in the maintenance of the White male status quo. I am not talking about the "treat-your-woman-as-a-Black-queen-and-take-care-of-your-children" kind of transformation. I am talking about a serious overhaul of the ways that we think about manhood. Like, say, abandoning the notion of the sexually endowed Black man—a stereotype that most of us openly endorse because of the illusion of power that it promises. Like, refusing to participate in the kind dangerous racial and cultural stigmatizing that my friend above fell prey to. Like, treating Black women as political, familial and spiritual equals who have suffered, in most cases, far more than Black men because of gender oppression. Like, showing the same kind of enthusiasm for our sons' academic pursuits as we do their athletic ones. Like, having the gumption to speak out about Black men's problems even though doing so may cost you street credit with your boys and/or male colleagues.

A famous psychologist once quipped that insanity is the act of expecting radical change in your life, while adamantly refusing to alter any of your social behavior. If there is any truth to this statement, then most Black men are in desperate need of therapy. Even as we say we want to explode the White supremacist regime that exploits and oppresses us, we continue to engage in patterns of behavior with the women in our lives, our children, our co-workers and each other that reinforce rather than challenge that regime. This is not to say that Whites are not responsible in large measure for cementing Black men near the bottom (just above Black women) of the socioeconomic hierarchy in America. To the contrary, they owe us a great debt, materially and otherwise, for centuries of unspeakable acts of cruelty and enslavement, but a debt (if we are to be honest with ourselves) that will unlikely be realized in this or the next generation. Ours is the dilemma of all oppressed groups. We must take on the bulk of responsibility for addressing a problem that is not of our making. Is it fair? Hell, no. But, neither is death or paying taxes. The point is that Black male empowerment is not about convincing Whites that Black men have—and continue to—suffer from racial discrimination and economic exploitation. But, rather that empowerment is about Black men changing their own behavior to reflect the kind of social transformation that we expect and demand of our oppressors. To expect that radical social change will occur without a major transformation in behavior and attitude on our behalf is... well... insane.

David Ikard is Assistant Professor at The University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He is the author of "A Black Male Feminist Critique of Chester Himes' If He Hollers Let Him Go" (African American Review), "So much of what we know ain't so: the other gender in Toni Cade Bambara's The Salteaters" ( Obsidian II ) and the forthcoming book-length manuscript Reconstructing Black Manhood in the twentieth-century Black Novel.

-- September 12, 2003

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