The work around black men in America is very much in the news these days. The Obama administration has made a bold statement of acknowledging the unique challenges faced by this population and making a commitment to promoting advancement and achievement among black men. My home state of California has led the way with groundbreaking legislation including a unique House Resolution (HR 23), committing to changing the outcomes for black men and boys as well as all men of color. PolicyLink, where I currently work on the program team, has been intimately involved in black male achievement work and will launch a new website and blog devoted to these efforts later this month.
The Leadership and Sustainability Institute for Black Male Achievement has declared the month of October to be Black Male Achievement Month (#bmaoct.) At the same time, October is also recognized nationwide as LGBT History Month and includes National “Coming Out” Day on October 11. Far from being at odds, this coincidence is a terrific reminder that while we seek to promote and support efforts to create better outcomes for black men and boys in general, we cannot forget to have the conversations within the black community about gender justice, sexuality, orientation and what it really means to be male identified and black in our world today.
LGBT communities celebrated earlier this year with great gains in terms of marriage equality; but the excitement was tempered for black LGBT people with the decision coming down in the wake of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act. This juxtaposition of political concerns exemplifies how black LGBT people often sit at a difficult crossroads of race and social orientation in America. Similarly, it is well established that black men find themselves in the most vulnerable positions in American society at large and the same holds true for black GBTQ men. But the broader injustices of racial profiling, barriers to employment and advancement, health concerns and being targeted for violence, are only made more bitter when black GBTQ men are demonized within black communities and are seen as a “weak link” in the strength of the black family or somehow buying into a white centered and therefore counterproductive view of black male identity.
If it were indeed true that black GBTQ men were a weak link or counterproductive, we would not have the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, the writing of Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, or contemporary media voices like CNN’s Don Lemon, ESPN’s LZ Granderson or author Keith Boykin. And of course, we would never have had the grand vision and epic social organizing skill of Bayard Rustin to bring together the 1964 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the setting for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Through black male achievement work, we have an opportunity to really grow. Leveraging the insight and creativity of organizations like Brown Boi Project and by exploring deeper connections with broader gender justice movements including women and transgender people, black men can not only lift up what makes them uniquely valuable to our society, but also explore the depths and breadth of the masculine of center orientation. An affiliation with these other efforts will not “de-masculinize” or “ghetto-ize” the crucial work around black men. Rather, these movements should serve as examples to declare a fully developed and enlightened masculinity for black men that does not oppress others to achieve its place in society. This is a male identity that takes responsibility for ending rape; it is a manhood that does not deny or shame same gender love; it is a masculinity that embraces its own femininity. It is father, protector and provider as well as being fathered, protected and provided for. It is, in short, what it means to “come out” as a whole, healthy and complete black male.