7 questions to a black male feminist

Today marks the 100th celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD). It’s striking that the centenary should fall on the same year in which women world-over find themselves at the forefront of significant political and social events. For example, 2011 has seen the launch of UN Women headed by former Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet. Also, Brazil’s first woman president took seat in January and Congo, a country that has been labelled the most dangerous country for women to live in saw a landmark trial and subsequent sentencing of a colonel responsible for 63 rapes.

However, I want today to take the opportunity to highlight that women aren’t the only ones that are concerned with the effects that patriarchy has on society. An increasing amount of men are joining the feminist movement because they too would prefer an equal society. They too think that empowering women is beneficial also to future generations of boys and girls. Black men are also joining the movement because they realize that concurrent patriarchy is actually quite connected to Western supremacy.

One such man is Dan Tres Omi, a freelance writer and lecturer whose meaningful and powerful writing I came across in Clutch Magazine in a article titled Black Male Feminist – What Being a Feminist means to me. I wanted to ask him why he became a feminist and why he thinks women’s equality is important for men also.

1. It is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (IWD) this year. What does IWD mean to you?

When I think of the International Women’s Day, I immediately think of people like Phoolan Devi of India. Devi who was murdered in 2001 then reminds me of Ida B. Wells. Both Devi and Wells were warriors and both were responding to their immediate crises. They used the pen as a sword to fight for the rights of women everywhere.

Most recently I think of Wangari Maathai of Kenya who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001. She stands out because she was on what later became the Green movement since the 1970s. What I enjoy the most of Maathai is her looking to raise the quality of life for everyone by doing something very simple: planting trees. When you learn about what she went through to just launch her political movement off the ground, you realise that she went through what a great number of women go through every day when it comes to patriarchy. She is a single mom just like my mother. Like my mother, she refused to sit back and just let things be. She rolled her sleeves up and went to work the best way she knew how. If anything, we should be taking cues from Maathai.

2. When did you become a feminist and what led you to make the decision?

Becoming a feminist was a long process. I never set out to become one. As a matter of fact, I was one of those who became a rabid dog if the term ‘feminist’ was mentioned around me. I pounced on anyone who claimed to be a feminist. I thought it was a white thing and excluded women of African descent. I thought it was antithetical to Pan Africanism.

I consider myself a critical thinker. When I wasn’t a feminist, I did see disparities between men and women but didn’t have the terminology to put two and two together. After reading folks like Dr. bell hooks and Audre Lourde who provide a clear analogy of whitesupremacist-capitalist-patriarchy, I was able to put those things together and have a better understanding of those disparities. I was able to connect the dots and see how patriarchy is connected to white supremacy.

Again, it was a slow process for me. I can say it took about ten years for me to come around. Like anyone else, I was raised in a steep patriarchy. I had to learn about male privilege first and realize that privilege is not just invisible but relative. I have to thank many of the sisters I worked with who are feminists. They refused to back down and I thank them tremendously for not giving up on me. I said some harsh and hurtful things during those discussions. They could have easily chalked me up as a loss. They didn’t and I am so grateful for it. So I am living proof that the most reluctant brother can get down for the cause.

3. Despite the male privilege, do you believe that men also suffer from gender inequality and in what way?

Men suffer from gender inequality because of the disparities between men and women. If the quality of life is not raised equally for everyone, we all suffer. Gender equality is good for all of us, men, women and children. Women should earn equal pay. Women should have the same access as men do. This is good for everyone. My daughter and my nieces should be allowed the same career paths as my sons and nephews. That’s a win-win for everyone. Inequality only helps a handful of people. One might assume that privilege and patriarchy is advantageous to all men but this is not true. For example, patriarchy maintains a status quo that still places men of African descent as second class citizens.

We cannot claim to want equal rights and deny this to our woman. So when I hear men cry that there is ‘reverse sexism,’ I have to point out that they sound as ridiculous as white men who claim there is ‘reverse racism.’

4. You are a Pan Africanist as well as a feminist. How do you reconcile that feminism hasn’t always considered those cultures outside of the white western one and that Pan Africanism doesn’t always embrace the struggle for gender equality?

That’s a great question and it’s one I get all the time.  First of all, Pan Africanism is a political ideology that is not based on a cultural basis. Pan Africanism is in fact a concept that came up outside of the continent by Africans in the Diaspora. Some people aren’t happy when this is bought up. It makes sense, since the continent is made up 54 countries with separate histories and cultures. Oftentimes, we Pan Africanist base our understanding under Afrocentrism but the idea that Africa was once a unified nation is a myth.

All of the notable Pan Africanists who were born on the continent, studied abroad, and then came back to become political leaders of many African nations learned Pan Africanism while they were abroad. Many political leaders who took up the mantel of Pan Africanism were ran out of office. In the 21st century, Pan Africanism touted by political leaders in Africa is still unpopular. Pan Africanism is a reaction to white supremacy. If there wasn’t any European colonialism, Atlantic slave trade, or a deliberate European exploitation of African resources, would Pan Africanism exist?

I’m not saying Pan Africanism isn’t valid. It is tremendously important and I think it is a political ideology that provides the only viable solution for self determination for all of Africa and the people in the African Diaspora. If it wasn’t, none of the leaders who espoused this ideology would be dead or run out. If it wasn’t a viable option, then European powers would not go out of their way to destroy it and its adherents.

The problem is too many Pan Africanists don’t see beyond just kicking out the colonialists. Too many of our leaders are European in black face. Many of us intend on replacing the heads of patriarchy and continue the exploitation of our own especially women. This is not going to work. Women have to be a part of the struggle and the solution. If we don’t realize that then we are no better than those who enslaved us to begin with.

5. Do you have any black male feminist role model/s and why?

Kevin Powell was the brother who set me on the right path. I enjoy his honesty. I enjoy the fact that he realizes he is a work in progress. If there is anyone who made me realize what male privilege is it has to be Kevin Powell. It’s a shame that in his work to expose male privilege, he has been vilified and his work virtually ignored.

The film maker Byron Hurt hit out of the ball park with his documentary “Beyond Beats and Rhymes.” This film pretty much drew the line in the sand when it comes to patriarchy and hip hop.

Finally, Mark Anthony Neal was the first person I heard use the term black male feminist and it is Neal’s work that pretty much made me accept that term. I am not suggesting he was the first person to use the term but he was the first person I heard use it.

6. What has been the greatest challenge in being a black male feminist?

The greatest challenge is realizing that there is male privilege. The scary part is that there are days when I wake up in the morning and I embrace male privilege without even knowing it. It is so easy to slip back into patriarchy mode and revert to being sexist. I remember teaching my sons Chi Sao/sticky hands. Unintentionally I called to them only when I began their lessons. My wife pointed out that I never called my daughter. For a moment I wondered to myself why she would ever need me to teach her Chi Sao or spar with her as a girl. Then my heart skipped a beat. There I was, a black male feminist, denying my daughter lessons in Martial Arts because she is a girl. Turns out, she is my best student!

7. In ten years from now, where do you hope that the black community will be in terms of gender equality?

I hope that feminists such as Dr. bell hooks becomes as intrinsic to Black Liberation as Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey. I hope that we read and learn about feminists from other African countries and countries in the Diaspora and their work becomes more familiar to all of us. [Editors note – see post on 7 African feminists for a start]. I hope that when we talk about Arturo Schomburg, we also talk about Ida B. Wells in the same vein. I hope to see the same level of respect given to women in our communities who put in work and are not overshadowed by their male counterparts. I hope to work with more men who see women as partners in our struggle.

Thoughts, questions? Do you agree with the point raised by Dan Tres Omi, that contemporary patriarchy is a Western concept and one which ultimately stifles Pan Africanism? Do you see a link between male privilege and white privilege?

  • sabirah

    Amazing questions and post! It’s great to see the Black male Feminists out there!
    Thank you Minna

  • http://www.mwanabaafrika.blogspot.com/ MBA

    Glad you focused on men in this post. A lot of them think that progress for women’s rights has nothing to do with them when the are part of the process. We all need to stand up for each other – men for women and vice versa.

  • POTO

    Hi, would like to add that is such a cute baby! And I think that Chi Sao is quite interesting! I always believe that Martial Arts were an integral part of African culture before the decoupling of knowledge. For example, after the patriarchy they started to teach like boxing where you’re not suppose to use your feet, or wrestling where you’re not suppose to box. Nothing wrong with this but it still does change the course of events and the way we defend ourselves or keep fit.

    Also science and art where one! Ultimately there was more holistic understanding/education. I don’t have kids yet but when I do I’m going to educate on the oneness of things. Like through arts we learn how vital organs work, how physical fitness leads to better health vs drugs, and how to defend ones self. I really like this concept.

  • http://www.chictherapyonline.blogspot.com chictherapy

    I hope more men will be inspired!

  • http://www.ashy2classy.net Diggame

    Great highlight of brother making a change in the community!!

  • http://www.elephantchronicles-nell.blogspot.com Nell

    it always warms my heart to hear about black male feminists. i think the fight towards equality in every aspect of our lives has to be a movement that involves women and men. when men and women join in solidarity, especially black men and women (especially with a Pan-African mentality), the consequence can only be positive and progressive.

  • Fabian Egbesu Ohore

    This is why i say overtake don overtake overtake (o.d.o.o) as fela kuti go talk am. this is what happens when men loose sight of their testicular fortitude they end up mental “lesbians”( foucault im sorry) better yet female men. i will only comment on the things i know for the brother is obviously sharp however steel sharpens steel as styles p said.
    phoolan has such a questionable history she is in the same vain as the la malinche, and ahebi ugbabe of the nsukka region whereby she took her male masculanism in drag and used to rain down abuses on any one who wronged her. but that is up for debate

    the guy mentions male privelege as a black man he should be crying, when it is we that are in jail more than black women, when black women make more money than black men, when black women are graduating from college more than black men, and even in africa where more black men are dying at the hands of all kind of things such as war and evil governments( the mungiki in kenya and the M.E.N.D boys in the niger delta are proof of such) this is not to argue about who has it worst but this gender industry binary nonsense must stop we need to reembrace our past africaness the ghanians call it sankoofa so instead of black feminist i would rather be a “zuluist” or a “yorubaist” because they involve men and women who create children not the “feminism” that wants to franchise their oppressors movement to freedom.

    as for his non african origins of pan africanism i would agree however i know that men such as olaudah equiano aka gustavus vassa and ohobah cugoano both come directly from africa and they are the founders of pan africanism but i see garvey and henry slyvester williams in the same light.

    again the reference to bell hooks and andre lourde is ironic because here is a woman who titles her paper about not using her masters tools to end her masters oppression yet she likes the name the master gave to her “feminism” we all know how the white female power recieved her.

    my brothers and sisters i want you to read me as africans all this gender is smoke and mirrors go and read white womens rights by lewis michelle newman go and read esther vilar or chinweizu the anatomy of female power, the patriarchy was a matriarchy originating with the male enslaving chivalry of france where many of our modern rationalist ideas come from ( hence the french nightmare was made an american dream but we africans want americanism badly)

    as for bell hooks she is a wise woman however she is introductory and i mean that with the utmost respect, if we dont read people such as immanuel wallerstein we will never understand the origins of capitalism if we dont read karl polanyis the great transformation we wont be able to escape the nonsense of marx and his class wars. if we dont read noel ignatiev we will never understand the nonsense of race and racism when there are poor “whites” just as well as poor “blacks”. so u see my people to just read bell hooks and her “memoirs” is not going to get us out of this rut we are in. chinweizu in his the west and the rest of us shows how the europeans respected africans because we had power it is when we lost that power that we saw ourselves in this situation( let us not forget the past 1000 years of slavery and black suffering are footnotes in the long history of african people)
    chinue achebe the great man has a greater daughter and she wrote this excellent book http://www.heinemann.com/products/E07078.aspx
    it shows us the power that african women always had. women like lisa lindsay do a great job showing how this so called oppressive african male is really a colonial invention. the question is not how we can use our masters tools to fight our masters but how we can bring back our culture in todays present? it is when we stop getting fooled with the inclusion illusion that we will open our eyes for the afrocentric or panafrican i suggest reading steven biko and nkrumah neo colonialism. so in summation let me say thislet us not forget what our graet ancestors who were men and women let us do as sankofa tells us it is in looking back at our past that our future will be clear

    • MsAfropolitan

      Testicular fortitude? Fabian, lwkmd

      Your first two sentences in particular are quite telling of your unfortunate opinion on women.

    • http://www.elephantchronicles-nell.blogspot.com Nell

      to act as if male privilege does not exist is to ignore reality. women may have won many economic fronts in the United States, but that is the United States. is this the case for Egypt? Sudan? Saudi Arabia? Cambodia? Iran? Afghanistan? Honduras? what about in the personal arena? in relationships? in sexual relationships? women that even attempt to exhibit the same freedoms a man expresses (multiple partners, various partners in short periods of time, sex without relationships, sexual aggression) will be shunned by society and called every name in the book. and the main people labeling, chastising, and berating her would be men, especially those she’s looking to have a relationship with. many women will say the same things the typical man would say when it comes to sexually open-minded women, however, they’re not trying to impress other females more than they are their prospective husbands/boyfriends. even when a man rapes a woman, there are still a number of people that will find some way to make it her fault. your sexuality is praised, encouraged, and justified even when it injures another human being. THAT is a privilege.
      all the qualities associated with males and masculinity (strength, decisiveness, logical, etc.) are still valued much more that anything associated with women. when women attempt to display one or more of these qualities, she is seen as harsh, mean, evil, and every other negative trait one can possess. THAT is a privilege.
      and lets not get on the ways in which the woman is treated as a second class citizen in many countries, whose life, whose word (in court, for example), whose well-being is still less important than that of a man’s. THAT is privilege. are more men dying in Africa than women? when you factor in just complications with pregnancy alone, not to mention the fact that wars aren’t fought somewhere in a desert-they’re fought against soldiers as well as civilians. entire communities are hurt when war happens, not just men, and not just those that choose to fight.
      there is no “gender industry binary nonsense”. feminists are the only people in society (with the exception of these 3 or 4 masculinists like yourself) calling attention to the ways in which the concept of “gender” and “gender roles” has had negative effects on many individuals and society as a whole. we are calling attention to gender in order to change it for the better. in the same sense that people of color call attention to white supremacy and racism, not to embrace the black/white/race “industry binaries”, but to disintegrate the idea altogether.
      also, this issue with the word “feminism/womanism/black feminism” is a fickle and trivial one. the term “Africa” has origins in a white man, yet there are no issues with someone calling themselves an African or a Pan-Africanist because we have all come to understand it as something other than what it began as. yes, most of the white women that began feminism were racists and colonists, but that is not what black women aligning themselves with feminism are today. can one not embrace feminism and “zuluism” and “yourubism” simultaneously?
      no one is saying bell hooks is chosen one that will remove us from our rut. however, she is a must-read when we are trying to decipher gender, gender binaries, and the ways in which race and sex intersect. Immanuel Wallerstein is not going to analyze and break down the ways in which black women hurt each other and why the relations between black men and women (in colonized countries, specifically the US) continue to be in a state of turmoil. we must read them all, however, each scholar has their forte and has to be read in that context.

      in order for us to get back to relationship between the traditional African men and women, we first have to recognize that we are far from it in today’s western societies. and that will not be done with Immanuel Wallerstein, Karl Polanis, Chinua Achebe, or even Chinweizu (who raises interesting gender questions, but only gives solutions to men).
      feminism/womanism/black feminism is a movement to end racism, classism, and sexism. women as well as men should align themselves with it when/if they see the reality of our communities and would like to change it. what exactly is the conflict in a male identifying himself with feminism and possessing “testicular fortitude” simultaneously?

      • MsAfropolitan

        thank you.

        “can one not embrace feminism and “zuluism” and “yourubism” simultaneously?” and I would even also add masculinism to the pot because i’m all for men’s absolute freedom of expression, as long as it can be in harmony and i believe that it can

        we have imported many western terms and values; democracy, Africa, Pan Africanism also, as Dan points out etc. Just like the West has imported many values and terms from the rest of the world and there’s nothing wrong with that. Now the balance of power in these exchanges has not been equal, why feminism is one of the tools that can be used to soothe those inequalities
        Thanks Nell, it’s soothing also to read like minded thoughts

  • Fabian Egbesu Ohore

    My sister
    na wa for u o. whats is wrong with saying testicular fortitude? would ur reaction have been the same if said vaginal supremacy/ovarian stronghold even though based on the fact that we are all women( hormones seperate us) my statement means little to nothing. How judgemental of you to state that you can tell my view on women based on two sentences???if i said i can tell all i need to know about a woman is how she dresses how wrong i would be, u would be up in arms( because we all know there is no such thing as a hoe’s uniform. sorry dave chappelle)but im not upset im challenged, even still my two statements negated everything i said??? well since you claim to know me here what i will do for you attatched are two smart “ladies” as fela go sing am that i have debated. im not saying that they know me( hardly) however they have all been exposed through debate to my form of mascualnism. they are both afro feminists heck u might even know them for its a small world.



    i think linking up with like minds will help u further your cause.(only a suggestion)

    but as for knowing me let me tell u this i am a masculanist, here is my summation of masculanism. it has always existed however it was chinweizu the nigerian writer who put the ideas in book form ( Egbesu and my ancestrs willing i will do a follow up) well, i dont want to bombard you here is an exerpt i sent to eccentric yoruba describing the basics of masculanism

    “now back to masculanism
    to me women are smarter and superior to men.
    the womb is what gives women that superiority
    women are stronger than men( what man could give the amount of blood that women give in their lifetime due to menstrual what man could go through childbirth)
    so with that said i think its high time men evaluate their positions in society
    for one we should shun marriage its oppressive to men
    its better to adopt that way we can raise the girls to work
    men should not shun housework and cleaning or cooking( i think i cook better than most girls anyway)
    men should know how to defend themselves
    men should let women fight the wars
    if a man does marry he should be a stay at home dad
    every man should have a hustle so that he doesent depend on no one for income but himself
    masculanist men should live like jesus ( wander have fun dont partake in the society let the women create what pleases them)
    men should only defend kids and the elderly, grown ass women can take care of themselves
    let women sleep with whoever and whatever they want( after all as long as u get some y do u care)
    a womans sexual pleasure is on her( all this female orgasm is just that a female orgasm nothing to do with me)
    men should not do honor killings or get jealous( once u start to claim her u must maintain her), we shouldnt fight over girls
    the mottoes would be women do all the work leave us alone, i was born alone i will die alone
    etc to me if african men adopt such thinking africa can greatly improve
    but let me be clear such wont happen because most women would rebel if men started to live like this maybe not u but the grand matriarchs who enjoy the spoils of patriarchy”

    hopefully know you can see better “my unfortunate view on Women”

    As always i learn
    Fabian Egbesu Ohore

    • MsAfropolitan

      Fabian, you are welcome to share your thoughts to my posts anytime

      However, if your intention is to come here and preach be warned that I will not respond.

      Others, however, may

  • http://www.iupui.edu Thandabantu Iverson

    This evening, I just happened to come upon this thought-provoking, and encouraging, discussion by Dan Tres Omi. I just want to say “Thank you, Brother!” It is quite clear to me that you have been walking in “the Borderlands”–as some feminists/womanists of color have encouraged us to–for some time. Your comments reflect the diligence, humility, self-reflectiveness, courage and optimism that I know many other brothers can muster. We have a long way to go, and we don’t have forever to make our varying contributions to the liberation of ourselves and others. But with the kind of commitment and willingness to take risks that you indicated in your comments, we can continue to walk this walk and reach out to our brothers and encourage them to make the same choice that a sister (in the film “Sankofa”) set before a brother for whom she cared deeply. That choice was (and still is) between ‘being a (hu)man, and being a beast.” Our oppressors have called us to become beasts. Let us do all we can to live the humanizing option.