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.
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.
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”