One of the pieces of my dissertation proposal that I felt needed the most fortifying was an examination of the accepted ideals of masculinity. As I begin my project on what a Black Male uniquely brings to the field of teacher education, I felt it necessary to have a grounding in the ways masculinity has been written about in general so that I might better be able to describe the ways it plays out in teacher education in particular. An Amazon.com search on "Black Masculinity" lead me to the book New Black Man by Mark Anthony Neal. What drew me to the book was the way Neal, a self described Black Male Feminist, sought to renovate the long standing archetype of the Strong Black Man and upgrade some of his characteristic features. I come away from my reading of this book feeling challenged yet optimistic that while I have work to do distance myself from paternalistic practices, I'm on the right path.
What struck me early in the book was how closely Neal ties a progressive Black masculinity to themes from the Black Feminist movement. I wondered how could a man explore his masculinity while paying a great deal of attention to the plight of women. Neal describes how his foundation as a male feminist was laid spending time in the beauty shop as a youth, and soaking up the adoration of a range of females. The simplistic question that I asked myself as I read was "So am I a feminist because I read and enjoyed Terry McMillan novels in high school?" Ultimately Neal comes to describe Black Male Feminism as being committed to anti-sexist, anti-homophobic politics, and dismantling patriarchial practices in the Black community. The later chapters of the book clearly describe the struggle Neal has faced to match his Male Feminist theories with practice. He notes how becoming a father has had a tremendous impact on his commitment to these ideals as they have a direct impact on the way his daughters will be raised and experience the world.
While New Black Man was a little more progressive than I thought it would be when I read the synopsis, the takeaway lessons are no less valuable. Neal hits the mark with his description of contradictions that arise from being a pro-feminist "Hip Hop Head". What does it mean when you espouse the equal treatment of women, but yet bob your head to "Drop It Like It's Hot"? How do you embrace Black homosexuals as part of the community and not just tolerate and encourage their closeted existence? Finally, how do you fight against paternalistic behavior in the church and other sacred institutions for the advancement of the community? I recognized upon completion of the text that there is no set formula for what it takes to be a New Black Man, but instead, there are guiding questions leading to an ideal. These questions serve to "check" ones behavior. The question each Black male must ask of himself is: Am I willing to hold myself accountable for behavior that might reinforce status quo notions of gender that will affect the women of my life (be it daughter, sister, wife, cousin, baby mama)? If the answer is NO, then continue to be disappointed by the male depictions promoted by pop culture. I know I've got to do something because I know I don't want my son learning how to find a life partner watching For the Love of Ray J or Real Chance of Love.