Last week, while taking a break from unpacking boxes in my new apartment, I walked down to Lake Merritt to read some more of Gary L. Lemons' "Black Male Outsider", a book that i've only read 20 something pages of but has really been blowing my mind. More about that later. I see a colleague running around the lake, and he is running with a woman friend. He recognizes me, and they slow to a stop to take a break, panting through introductions and stretching. My colleague starts talking shop, and the dark glasses wearing woman looks down and asks "what are you reading?" I show her. She reads the title, and then the subtitle: "Teaching As A Pro-Feminist Man." Her eyebrows arch skyward, and she lets out a hearty laugh, repeating the subtitle as if it were punchline from a good joke, with extra enunciation of the word feminist, to accentuate the absurdity of the "joke". I calmly smile and say "yes, i write a feminist blog." She looks back down at the book, her expression partly hidden by her glasses. She reads the back a bit, nodding slowly, saying nothing. What is she thinking? Meanwhile, I don't think my male colleague actually caught any of this, he was ranting about something unfortunate that happened at work. At some point, they decide their break was long enough. We smile and say good byes and good to meet yous. I watch them run away... and I am left with the impression that somehow, the idea of being a black man who identifies as feminist... is funny. Hilarious. Farcical. Something that comes on after Tyler Perry's House Of (Dire) Pain with a laugh track that comes on while the main character does an action for gender equality and justice.
I think about the reactions I would have had if the woman had been black. If she had been white. She was a mixed race woman, probably in her mid 20's, and I personally don't know if she identifies as a woman of color. I wonder how i could have handled it differently. I wonder if she left still thinking it was funny, or if it left some other impression. I wonder how i could have brought my male colleague into this surprising and short moment. But most of all, I ponder that for this woman, somehow my maleness and/or blackness makes the idea of me being feminist kinda ridiculous.
Would love to hear thoughts on this! And to be clear, though this left me feeling a little bit shaken, confused and minimized, i don't perceive this action as a mindful attack, or even something that i should judge this woman about. It brings up larger questions for me besides this woman's experience. If anything, I appreciate the opportunity to think about what this incident raised for me.
SO YES. The book!
It is a memoir and scholarly treatise that is speaking very very deeply to me (yes!! you understand me!! i nod my head so much while reading this) and like i said, i haven't gotten too far. I appreciate that he entitles the book "Black Male Outsider" because he has chosen to mindfully stand outside of the prescribed roles of heterosexism and patriarchal masculinity. Which definitely holds one up to public scrutiny and suspicion. How on point that I receive laughter for identifying with this book! Black Male Outsider indeed. Here are some of my favorite quotes so far:
"...Black Male Outsider functions as a pedagogical autobiography of black male liberation. With unbridled candor, it lays bare my yearning to be free from years of internalized wounds of white supremacist thinking and patriarchal masculinity. At risk of sounding overly dramatic, I am no longer afraid to admit that embracing black feminist thought was a life saving action for me." -xvi"The more i scraped through the thickly layered, crusted-over pain of past boyhood hurts and heteronormative notions of masculinity attached to feelings of racial inferiority, the clearer I began to see the work in this memoir as spiritually grounded."-xix"We promote the belief that all men should be in perpetual process of soul work toward the rejection of white supremacist patriarchy." -xix
And there is much more, with references to bell hooks, Aaronette White, Manning Marable, Patricia Hill Collins, W.EB. Dubois, Alice Walker, Marlon Riggs, Audre Lorde and more. Click to Feminist Review for a full review from someone who has read more than i have!
I do really love that Lemons speaks of this path as being spiritually grounded. This is spirit work, this is heart work. Love is a large motivational factor for me doing this work, as most of the people in my life are female, people i love. There are also many LGBTQ folks in my life who i love. It has become hard for me to reconcile saying that i love people while turning away when oppression is a daily experience for the people i say i love. It is a path of self-respect as well, when considering that latter notion. And also self-love, as Lemons demonstrates with the willingness to plumb into and heal the tender and exploited parts of himself that were warped by patriarchy. This is work I also continue to lovingly do. Among many other things, this path is a spiritual path of revolutionary love.
Who do you love?