“Black Male Privilege”: Contradiction and Diversion

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

An Un-privileged Black male


  1. Well-written piece, brother. We have discussed this issue ad nauseum, and I am glad you chose to expurgate on the issue.

    I think it is most important to address the “ethnicization” of male privilege as an unnecessary obfuscation of the issue. It almost makes the subject unpalatable, and indigestible for the average Black male. It is my belief, that if we are about clarity on the subject of a very real Male Privilege in this world, then we need to stop the racialization of the issue. It is as though Black men must be the poster child for this thing before the world can accept it’s existence…


  2. I had a long thread on this topic. Been meaning to blog it but no time. Since you have tagged Brother Dr. Henry, I will pass along my criticisms. kzs:

    Privilege as i understand its use in social studies/humanities denotes superior status or advantage within in given social system. but you cannot, in my opinion, wall off discussion of black male/female relations from the larger system of white supremacy that produces those relations and pathologies in the first instance. clearly brother henry was sensitive to this problem in the NPR and denied that he was talking about privilege in relation to white men. But Henry simply saying it ain’t so doesn’t make it so.

    Any solution that focuses on the myth on black male privilege is, in my opinion, doomed. It can never work because it is a gross distortion of the white supremacist system. There are no privileged set of black people within the system of white supremacy. There are only classed/gendered/generational groups who have pseudo “privileges” under specific circumstances. In some instances black men will be “privileged” in other instances black women will be “privileged” and in yet other instances wealthy black people will be privileged, and so on.

    Black male “privilege” is a poorly constructed-even if well intended -distraction (L’Heureux never even bothered to mention white supremacy in the interview!) that, despite brother L’Heureux’s claims to the contrary, pairs Black and White men as partners in crime. (I believe his silence on Black female privilege affirms this view.) In other words he has distracted us away from addressing the very real pathologies produced by white supremacy to focusing on an mythical all mens club that silences and otherwise dominates women. Rather than focusing on convoluted notions of “privilege” we should address specific acts that undermine black progress including black-on-black misogyny and patriarchy.

    The list: (The Myth of) Black Female Privilege

    • black men have for centuries disproportionately faced the ultimate act of white supremacy–death. advantage black women.

    • and we can toss in massive incarceration on top of that. they faced these particular assaults because they posed particular kinds of threats to white supremacy. advantage black women.( the NPR interviewer saved brother Henry from making the deeply problematic claim that EVEN BLACK MEN IN PRISON ARE PRIVILEGED. Say what??? Yes, black women are being arrested at a high rate. but the number of black men in prison is still greatly disproportionate. black men simply cannot be arrested any faster. the arrest rate has reached a saturation point of sorts.)

    • black men are increasingly finding it more difficult than black women to find work. advantage black women.

    •black men are disappearing from colleges and universities. advantage black women.

    • black men are easy targets. they are stereotyped as violent beasts which sets us up for assassination by police. advantage black women.

    Faux privilege as situational

    I basically came down on the need to separate privilege and pathology. No black people have privilege under global white supremacy. Rather a subset of victims based on gender, generation, region, class etc have shifting *faux* privilege depending on what’s being analyzed. in some instances there is faux black maleprivilege or black female privilege or black elite privilege, etc. Given the shifting nature of faux privilege–which is really no privilege at all–it makes more sense to root out specific pathologies like misogyny.

    However, if we are gonna apply brother henry’s logic of tallying up faux “privileges” we wind up with stuff like:

    •black male privilege
    •black female privilege
    •black elite privilege
    •black elders privilege

    and so on.

    black “privilege” does not exist. only situational faux privilege. the far less likelihood of black women not being murdered is a faux privilege. no matter how you slice it it’s better to be alive than to be barbecued or hung from a tree. punishment meted out to black men maybe 90% of the time.

  3. An excellent critique of a (white) man-made “phenomena.” This would be an excellent piece for race-talk, the online magazine/blog~please reachout to me for submission info if you like, or check them out on the web }:~) @punch_vj on Twitter

  4. @All- thank you for participating in this discussion. I felt in necessary to address this topic since it was becoming the “talk of the town” for the past month or so.

    @Kwame- I concur. We need to have conversations about Black male misogyny, but it is a dangerous thing to elevate it to the level of “privilege” Then you run the risk of equating white male privilege with SOME well off Black men. Its a slippery slope at that point.

    @Isaiah- I too tire of Black men being the whipping boy whenever someone wants to illustrate misogyny. I felt the need to offer some much needed pushback on the concept. Its one thing to carve out a niche in terms of understanding, but when more is done to divide then unite, then its problematic.

    @VJ Hunter- Thank you. The last thing I want is for this to turn into another ABC Nightline special of how Black men are effing up once again.

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