Black Male Privilege: Contradiction and Diversion- Part II

Yesterday at the Brecht Forum, there was a panel discussion on the question of “Black Male Privilege” The panelists were Prof. Mark Anthony Neal, Prof. Marc Lamont Hill, Prof. R. L’Heureaux Lewis and filmmaker Byron Hurt, with Esther Armah moderating.. I attended this event thinking that perhaps there may be room for a dialogue, because this is a concept that is still very nebulous in the minds of many. There would be none of that at all, there was uniformity on the panel on this question, with Marc Lamont Hill raising some slight concerns of how this concept may be widely misunderstood. Beyond those remarks, there was practically a united front on this question, with no serious dissenting view presented in counterargument. All in all, it was an insular conversation.

Dissenters Mischaracterized

At the beginning of the event, there was a sort of a spoken word performance of an actor speaking about how he doesn’t see Black Male Privilege as real. He was dressed down, as a supposed representative of working class Black men. This performance went on for about 5 minutes, with him basically being a human prop, expressing no coherent argument. This attempt at encapsulating the other side essentially presented the dissenters of BMP as angry and inarticulate Black men with a limited understanding of the complex issues of gender, patriarchy and male privilege. Only those on the panel were imbibed with a greater, and more comprehensive view of what the Black male and female situation is, which of course is beyond the grasp of regular everyday folk. This shows that the other side is not taken seriously, and that to a certain extent the concerns of dissenters of this theory were not worth taking seriously. I remember overhearing chuckles as the actor intentionally stumbled over the Cradle-to Prison Pipeline point that was raised as part of the act. The last time I checked, the Cradle to Prison Pipeline is a pre-set death trap for low-achieving Black students(male and female). I can’t find the humor in that.

Projection in Place of Analysis

In my last post on this issue, I addressed the class disparities that are inherent in this kind of argument. None of this was discussed, so I wont recapitulate it here. However, I must add that in this discourse, there was a great deal of projection coming from the panel onto other Black men. In my view, the things that were discussed were not examples of privilege, but male chauvinist behavior simple and plain. The vast majority of examples cited came from Black college campuses and Black churches. While these are spaces where male chauvinism are acted out, there is nothing particularly Black about this. The church has historically been a patriarchal space, along with higher education all across the board. Nothing new there. What this turned into was a confessional about the personal pasts of the panelist, not an analysis of how this applies outside of academia. If it’s the case that BMP only applies in certain spaces, then it is situational, not endemic across the board when it comes to Black men in general. If folks are privileged, and they feel so, then they should own up to it personally, and not try and tell the rest of us what we possess. Its not enough to say that privilege is invisible, and just leave it at that. It has to be quantified. White privilege is quantifiable, for example the ability of white convicts to be as likely to receive job offers as Black people with no record at all. Where is the similar data on BMP? Much more proving must be done before this shaky theory can get a semblance of credibility.

Intellectual Elitism

There is a great deal to be said about a forum that doesn’t feel the need to address those who do not agree in a serious manner. When one calls themselves an intellectual, yet does not see fit to defend their ideas, the self-designation is questionable. Rather than caricaturing your detractors, it is more respectable to engage them, point by point. But hey, I guess the panelist cant be inconvenienced by having to deal with a dissenting viewpoint. Instead of an opportunity to have a dialogue about the thorny issue of male privilege, patriarchy, and misogyny, we got what was a united front with no opposing viewpoints allowed to represent themselves in any real way. This was a missed opportunity, and actually reduces the level of discourse in many ways. Until then, there will be many Black men like myself who see this theory as another swipe against them. If you think there is “defensiveness” now, then wait until a lot of working class brothers realize that they are being talked about, and not to. Then, there will be even more challenges to this flawed theory, and even though no one wants a “battlefield” there will be much more in the way of needed pushback forthcoming.

Marc W. Polite
Still not convinced of “Black Male Privilege”


  1. What most disturbed me was how the discussion degenerated from a serious discussion of politics (however biased it may be) to an Alcoholics Anonymous-style group therapy session.

    That was inappropriate in the extreme and really didn’t belong at a political event (hell, even in a therapeutic event, it would have been out of place – those spaces have strict confidentiality rules …this space, of course, did not).

    And, in the end, it degenerated into the “unmarriagable Black men” trope – with the mass unemployment of Black men blamed on, essentially, laziness rather than American capitalism and institutional racism.

    But, to be 100% fair, let’s judge this event on it’s own emotionalized terms – the “loving” discussion that was promised to us by moderator Esther Armah.

    I didn’t feel the love.

    I DID feel the bashing of working class Black men – who are bad fathers if we leave and abusive patriarchs if we stay and most of us are undesirable husbands irregardless, lazy if we can’t get a job and obsessed with “the White man’s vision of success” if we do.

    And, just to adopt the AA meeting/Christian revival session/Stalin-era communist self criticism session-style mode of confessional that the meeting was built around, let me say this;

    Far from loved I felt kicked and slapped – Othered and alienated – silenced and erased.

    This was a pain so intense I felt it in my brain and bones the next day – I woke up puking my guts out, was so disoriented that, for the first time in my 24 years in the American labor force I MISSED PICKING UP A PAYCHECK (and this brotha does NOT miss picking up my money EVER – at least not normally)

    So yeah, even on their own terms of being a “loving space” – this meeting was a colossal failure.

    I THOUGHT the “Black Male Privilege” theory was dubious before this meeting.

    Now I KNOW it’s total nonsense!

    Gregory A. Butler

  2. Thank you for writing this. I agree that the spoken word artist with the supposed “dissenter” voice was pretty problematic because it wasn’t a fair representation of an opposing perspective. The performance didn’t accurately capture the ideas of those who are opposed to recognizing the existence of black male privilege. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder why you did not speak up at the event. I don’t know what you look like, but I think I would have remembered a dissenting voice. I took issue with the way in which black male privilege was being served in this male-dominated, heteronormative manner, devoid of both a woman’s and a Gay black male’s perspective. Knowing full and well, that the panelists were not the ones who created the program, planned it or arranged it, addressing Armah herself seemed more appropriate. As such, I asked Esther Armah specifically about the way in which the panel was structured and she partially answered my question. Were you not paying attention? Armah stated herself that she deliberately sought to present a one sided, insular perspective on black male privilege. She went further to say she wanted to probe into the lives of the panelists. So to criticise the men on the panel for setting up this atmosphere – without mentioning Armah at all, the person whose event this actually IS – is illogical. She invited the poet with the “incoherent argument”. Through and through, this was Esther Armah’s event. I am grateful that she put it together, and I am looking forward to more panels created and moderated by her. But to criticise the event in this manner, without a simple inquiry into who planned it this way and why, results in a carelessly misinformed blog post. You can’t complain that this wasn’t a debate when the person who planned it was offering a one-sided perspective.

    Those who are opposed to the idea of black male privilege turn to you as a beacon of their ideas. You have an audience, so I urge you to please dig a bit deeper and present accurate dissent.

    One more point… your post seems to be fundamentally based on your self-preservation. It comes off as if you feel attacked by this term “black male privilege”. Well, whether we identify black male privilege as chauvinist behavior, or flat out sexism, it must be uprooted… because as Mark Anthony Neal so accurately noted – “THE SHIT IS JUST UNHEALTHY!”

    what we call it is less of an issue – what we can do to uproot it is where we need to focus.

    All in all, I am glad you wrote this & I come to you in a position of respect.

  3. White privilege, not just black male privilege is considered invisible, for reasons specified by white social scientists who admit to having privilege. It is only quantifiable to the extent that research studies reveal its existence, and its prevalence. The same could/has been done for black male privilege, albeit under a different title. The gender wage gap, for example, substantiates the fact that black men are privileged over black women. I was also in attendance at the forum and I must agree that perhaps this notion was not given enough attention: privilege always comes at the expense of others and BMP is no different.
    I agree with

  4. Marc, glad you wrote the blow-by-blow on this “performance”, this show moderated -orchestrated – by Esther Armah, Monday at the Brecht Forum, an entirely inappropriate space to address a Black issue.

    It sounds like it was just as I envisioned, a thinly veiled group diatribe AT Black men by people who are too goddam cowardly to speak TO us as Black men. Why in hell bring four prominent African American academics to a space, and barely challenge their intellectual chops on the issue? It smacks of a fearful sham played on an unsuspecting public.

    I disagree with Aisha when she implies that Esther Armah made it plain that the intent of this “event” was a mere knuckle-cracking warm-up for the participants. Any academic worth his salt has the competitive fire and instinct of a world-class athlete, and relishes a challenge upon which to whet his mental attack, and flex his intellectual muscle.

    And, madam Aisha, we heard before this event, one of the participants say, he would, and I quote, “punch holes” in Marc Polite’s argument, which meant he expected to become fully engaged in a no-holds-barred debate about this subject. This was an honorable desire that Esther Armah, clearly, had no stomach for, as hse effectively disarmed the panelists, as well as, the dissenting members of the audience.

    All of this is quite disappointing to me, and reflects quite seriously upon Ms. Armah’s integrity as a serious advocate of her own cause. To stage and orchestrate such a farce as this, and still expect to be taken seriously in the future, reflects a person with delusional ideations cause by a massive ego.

  5. @ Isaiah I do not see how anything I wrote implied that Esther Armah presented a “knuckle cracking warm up” for the panel participants. If you were in attendance, you would have heard her state explicitly what her goals and intentions were for the event. No implication – simply put, this was Esther Armah’s event where she invited speakers she chose to promote the idea of black male privilege. Perhaps your questions and concerns should be directed to her. What are the panelists supposed to do about offering a dissenting opinion? Debate amongst themselves? A dissenting voice was not invited to speak. That falls on Armah. A woman gender scholar was not invited to speak. That falls on Armah. A gay black male gender scholar was not invited to speak. That falls on Armah.

    My intentions in replying to Marc’s post were to (a) ascertain why he did not speak up at the event [Marc explained to me that Armah would not call on him to speak]; and
    (b) to urge a distinction between criticism of the existence of black male privilege and criticism over the manner in which this program was planned & executed. taking issue with its existence varies greatly from taking issue with how a moderator plans her event

    the whole point of this discourse is for a reaction to the sharing of ideas. So I would imagine a blogger would want a panelist to address or “poke holes” as you stated. I don’t know about you, but I am not a PhD on a panel. However, I get the sense that Marc appreciates us reading & engaging on his blog.

  6. My last comment was cut-off so I reposted for clarification:

    White privilege, not just black male privilege is considered invisible, for reasons specified by white sociologists (like Peggy McIntosh, Michael Kimmel, and Michael Schwalbe) who admit to having white privilege. The invisibility comes into play because the privilege is intangible (i.e. the way one is treated is something abstract) and not easily recognized. It is only ‘quantifiable’ to the extent that social science research reveals its existence, and pervasiveness. The same could/has been done for black male privilege, albeit under a different title. The gender wage gap, for example, substantiates the fact that black men are privileged over black women; black women still make less on the dollar than their black male counterparts. I was also in attendance at the forum and I must agree that perhaps this very important element of BMP was not as clearly explicated as it could have been. Privilege always comes at the expense of others and BMP is no different. Again, black men are privileged in relation to black women.

    I also agree with a point made in your last post. The conversation around BMP has a tendency to do what is professes to be against: male-centering. With this in mind, Black Male Privilege might more appropriately be called black female oppression. As L’Heureux Lewis pointed out, the concept is not a new one. Black feminists have been talking about this for years. There is, however, something to be gained by sensationalizing the topic. As Mark Anthony Neal mentioned, the move is a strategic one. How many people would take the issue seriously if it were publicized by black (feminist) women? Very few –as history as shown us.

    No one is suggesting that black men are not systematically oppressed on the basis of their race, but owing to their male identity, they are conferred certain privileges –particularly within the black community. So, yes, even the black male janitor has BMP. No, he does not have class privilege; no, he does not have race privilege; but, YES, he has male privilege. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, this black male janitor has a family. Let’s even say that his wife is the primary wage-earner in their family. While her income may be higher than his, chances are (which can also be read as: “studies show…”) that she does not make the financial decisions in the family. More than likely, she is the disciplinarian amongst the children (rather than the “fun” parent) and she does the bulk of the housework (second shift), and the emotional work (third shift). This example is supposed to illustrate that ‘she who brings in the bacon’, probably STILL does not have the power we might assume comes with economic resources. These things are absolutely privileges.

    At the root of all of this is gender inequality. We live in a patriarchal society, and the black community is no exception to this. Male dominance does, however, operate in a few different ways amongst black folks. Again, the panelists spoke to this fact. Because our unjust justice system has robbed our community of so many black men, for the few that manage to escape the long, racist, arm of the law we glorify any and everything they do. We may, rightfully, worship genuine black male success, but, let’s be honest, we also applaud black male mediocrity.

    Finally, you said something in your previous post on the issue that bears an uncanny resemblance to the sentiments rampant during the Civil Rights Movement:

    “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.”

    For me, your statement calls to mind the difference between male privilege in the black community, and male privilege in the white community (I should say: one of the differences because there are many, the biggest of which might be that black men have no real institutional power). When white feminists speak up against gender inequality their actions are generally not seen as undermining solidarity within their race. That is also a product of white privilege. As the dominant group in our society, white people don’t have to consider things like: ‘do my actions reflect something about my entire race?’. For black women, the intersections of RACE and GENDER make it so that we remain, largely, silent about the inequality WITHIN our community for fear that vocalizing these concerns would be seen as provoking disunity. I can’t recall if it was Marc Lamont Hill or Mark Anthony Neal, but the comment made was: “black people are complex enough to deal with more than one issue at a time”. Don’t you agree?

  7. “And, in the end, it degenerated into the “unmarriagable Black men” trope – with the mass unemployment of Black men blamed on, essentially, laziness rather than American capitalism and institutional racism.”

    Can you provide a specific instance of where you felt this sentiment being echoed? I think I missed it entirely if it was there, and I am fairly confident that it did not come from either Marc Lamont Hill nor Mark Anthony Neal.

    I am sorry you felt attacked, brother, but BMP is in no way intended to be an assault on black men. It functions to raise consciousness about gender inequality, regardless of how oxymoronic the label “black male privilege” may seem. Please, read my post below. I promise, it was written ‘in love’.

  8. Intent is irrelevant – if it looks like an attack and feels like an attack, it’s an attack!

    Towards the end of the event, there was plenty of sideline from Esther Armah and from women who spoke from the floor about – to paraphrase – how ‘lazy’ Black men are, how mass Black male unemployment is basically a function of Black men being too lazy to look for work, what terrible fathers we are – the usual man bashing nonsense you hear from a certain type of upscale sista.

    It was all very hateful and abusive, quite frankly – and quite blind to the REAL problem, that America no longer needs the labor of the Black man.

    We were America’s cheap labor source of choice for 400 years – til the factories moved to China and Mexico, and Mexican labor was used to replace us on those jobs that could not be exported.

    We’re unnecessary men now – a surplus labor force that is repressed and jailed because they don’t need us.

    And if that wasn’t bad enough, we have our sistas – and elite “Ideal Black Men” like Hill, Neil and Lewis – kicking us while we’re down.

    That’s offensive and angry making, and there’s not a damned thing “loving” about it!

    Not to mention it is flat out dishonest to claim that we have any kind of “privilege” over anybody!

  9. Sista, with all due respect, are you seriously trying to tell me that a Black janitor has “privilege”?


    I’m sorry, but this whole “Black Male Privilege” theory is just a pile of nonsense – I don’t care how many elite Negroes with degrees claim to believe in it (they should stick to talking about THEIR privilege, rather than trying to dump it on us!)


  10. Good evening Aisha. I am glad you responded to my post. I felt the necessity to write this because as I expressed to you on my Twitter page, I had my hand raised during the Q&A session, but did not get called on.

    You framed the naysayers as “those who are opposed to recognizing the existence of BMP” That is a reframing that suits your viewpoint, because it makes anyone who speaks to the contrary of this view seem like they are in denial mode.

    And about Esther Armah, I saw no point in critiquing the moderator. Did I get my facts wrong? I was “carelessly misinformed” just because I chose not to include the moderator in my criticism of the content of the event? The moderator leads the discussion, in my opinion, they are just doing a job.

    Again with you saying self-preservation, you are framing it to your advantage. I am not fighting to “preserve” my privilege so to speak, I am saying that I don’t have it. I do feel under attack, because its an indictment of all Black men to say that they have privilege when most of us don’t. You are saying that many of us are complicit in Black female oppression solely because we are Black men.

    Finally, words and terms do matter. You can’t on one hand be for the idea of BMP and say on the other hand that it doesn’t matter what we call it.

    I am glad you came at me respectfully, and I extend the same courtesy to you as well.


  11. Good evening Ellen. I cited the example of the white convicts exactly because that is something quantifiable. There is a gender gap in wages that cuts across race, I don’t see anything particularly “Black” about that.

    I agree that there is Black female oppression. The attempt to repackage this idea as privilege and sensationalize it is a bad approach. If we want to get at the truth, lets get at the truth, not just flip words around to get folks riled up.

    It was Mark Anthony Neal that said that, and I agree with his sentiment. However, I feel as though to say that Black men have special privileges is accusatory, regardless of that man’s behavior and attitudes towards women.

    What exactly do you mean when you say “Black male mediocrity?”

  12. My two cents…. Racist Man and Racist Woman, dragged us here in chains and separated the male from the female. It would seem to me that this hasn’t changed. I’m convinced that Black people are obtuse for the most part. We don’t know much. The racists know that we don’t know much. They know that everything we know, they taught us.

    If Black people would simply focus on who brought us here in the first place. Who went into Africa and enslaved all of it’s Black inhabitants. Who controls all the resources in Africa and created the deplorable conditions you have in Africa today.
    Maybe we could solve some of our problems. (It’s worth a try don’t you think?)

    Some how, no matter what the issues are. Racist Man and Racist Woman always get a pass. What a phenomenal system they have created. Rome would be proud!

  13. @Lance- Thank you for your commentary. What you said is part of the reason I described “BMP” as a diversion as well. While it’s important to acknowledge the damage that misogyny and male chauvinism does to our community, it’s also necessary that we recognize the big picture. Black men and women intellectually sniping at one another over perceived “privilege” doesn’t help either of us.

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