The Black Man's White Man Fantasies
By David Ikard
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sounds eerily similar to the ‘Go-back-to-Africa’
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
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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