For at least the past month or so, the theory of “Black Male Privilege”” has been making the rounds from NPR to the more prominent sites in the Black blogosphere. This theory, promulgated by Prof. L’Heureux Lewis represents an extension of the work of Jewel Woods. There is even a “Black male privilege” checklist which one can peruse to see the special rights that Black males as a group supposedly have. While it is important to be cognizant of issues relating to gender inequality, I cannot endorse this theory on the whole as it is problematic as an analytical tool.
I have been following this idea closely for the past month, and despite all of the writings in propagation of this theory, I remain unconvinced. Now, I must say that there definitely is such a thing as male privilege, it does not make sense to deny that. However, I take issue with the notion that Black men have some kind of special rights in society, as it flies in the face of the day to day, and current realities of what we face as a people.
The dictionary definition of privilege is: “a special advantage or right possessed by an individual or group. A privilege is a right or advantage gained by birth, social position, effort, or concession.” The key word in the definition is advantage. As much as I would like to believe that the Black struggle has gained fighting for rights of both Black men and women, it’s a bit much to argue that we now have privileges.
Another key thing that has gone unaddressed in this entire conversation so far is: which Black men are we speaking of? Are we talking about well to do, professional, college educated Black men, or are we talking about all Black men as having privilege regardless of their socio-economic status? If we are talking about the latter, then I must pose this question: Are the proponents of Black male privilege seriously arguing that a Black male janitor or Black male security guard has some type of societal privilege?
If we are talking about the latter than this concept very much looks like yet another attempt at wholesale condemnation of Black men, just for existing. This makes it an imprecise tool at best, and at worst a notion that lends itself to be seized upon by elements outside of the Black community to attack from a more intellectual vantage point.
There are forces working against the interests of Black people in myriad ways, and it would be a mistake to add to their arsenal with a concept that appears more about ruffling feathers and garnering attention. There is indeed a great deal of anti-Black backlash underway at present and it would suit us better to have a needed conversation about how we can keep ourselves from losing so much by attrition then to manufacture ideological constructs that miss this point. The crisis that Black men are enduring is not a “narrative” it is very much happening in real time and on the ground. No amount of intellectual browbeating will change the facts of contemporary Black life. There are so many half truths said about Black men, that there is no need to add to the pile with concepts that do more to attack under the guise of “accountability”. At a time when Black interests are losing their primacy, and concrete, measurable indicators like personal wealth, home ownership and jobs are being whittled away, does this concept lead to anything but further marginalization and disenfranchisement?
In closing, I also feel the need to point out that this concept does exactly what it is attempting to remedy. By the name of the theory alone, you are re-centering the question on Black men, and I believe that this is the source of the trouble.
If we want to talk about the increasing incarceration of Black women, it is possible to do so without conferring a status on Black men that they do not have. I see this talk of “Black Male Privilege” in the same light as I see “Post-Racial Society” a proclamation of a new reality We must be careful not to raise theories that threaten to muddy the waters and serve as a diversion from Black interests overall. In this case, “shadowboxing” will just ensure that we get laid out by the real adversary right in front of us.
Marc W. Polite