Moreover, a system of white male culture in the U.S.A. not only sets the norm for what is a male gender, it creates and perpetuates stereotypes about the black male gender. Thus, black men can never fully reach the norm set by white patriarchy because black men, though males, are not white. At the very same time as they experience this barrier blocking them from realizing the norm, they suffer from a barrage of sinful stereotypes.8 The visual and audio media in North America image blacks as entertainers through the professions of sports (i.e. Michael Jordan), comedy (i.e. Eddie Murphy), and the military (i.e. Colin Powell). Black men, in the broader culture, are portrayed as being more physical, powerful, and stronger, meaning more sensuous and sexy. As the perfect sexual supermen, African American males are seen as connoisseurs of the sexual act, having the most endurance and physical equipment, and possessing a being (i.e., an ontology) motivated by a life in pursuit of the sexual act. Black men, in the logic of these myths, are more emotional, volatile and unpredictable. Likewise, they lack intelligence and the values of reason, thoughtfulness, academic insight, and deliberate judgment. This false picture goes on to say that African American males are untrustworthy in the areas of wealth and finance, while they have a natural gift of being criminals and engaging in illegal activity. They do not like to work or work hard and are irresponsible. For instance, they are not leaders, but followers. Furthermore, in these stereotypes, they also abandon their children and depend on black women or on white people to back them up.
African American men can do one of two things. They can accept this understanding of the black male gender or they can choose to create something new. If they accept the white male notions of male gender and the stereotypes that go along with them, then African American males should honestly admit that they suffer as victims of a larger structure, but, at the same, black men are also making conscious choices to carry out the negative aspects of this structure. If this sinful choice is made, it has devastating consequences on black women and children in particular. Basically, one opts for very harmful power and control strategy and tactics against African American women. This takes place in the following ways: persuading black women that they should support the black man at all costs because he is a victim of white male oppression; intimidation, emotional abuse, and isolation of black women; denying and or minimizing any wrong doing but blaming the women; using children against women; using male privilege (such as, acting like the king of the castle or making all final decisions); and carrying out economic abuse, verbal threats, physical violence, or sexual violence (i.e., through direct physical force or nagging pursuit).
Refusing to opt for this negative and abusive choice, African American men can start to reconstruct what it means to be a new heterosexual male. We begin first with accepting the love of God which is in all black men. At the root, all harmful attitudes and actions against black women and children flow from black menís lack of self love. But self love can only come to reality when men understand and feel a love which is greater than any one person. It is a transcendent love, a divine love, a love which comes from the collective body. In this sense, it is not an individual love, but a love which floods the very being of the individual as a gift from love proceeding from the group level into the soul of the individual. Divine love found within black men corresponds to a sacred love for and from the family and community. Ultimate love or Godís love means that God loves black men in spite of the broken vessels that they are.
Such love has profound implications for the ongoing struggle for the African American community to achieve an inclusive and wholistic liberation and to practice freedom. The movement for liberation cannot be sustained through the inevitable ups and downs and forward and backward steps, and the high successes as well as the stinging defeats unless black men love themselves. And the starting point is recognition and acceptance of Godís unconditional love. Indeed, Godís love grants the black man a power which gives his allegiance not to any earthly demonic structures or individual authority figures, but to something which transcends the boundaries of this world. Equipped with this love and power in oneís feelings and oneís intellect, in oneís heart and oneís head, African American men no longer will have to choose the negative and abusive options.
On the contrary, the struggle for liberation and the practice of freedom become oneís vocation from God. This vocation places all social relations, uncontrolled cravings, negative pulls of the black male ego, endless tasks, and incorrect focus on the individual self into perspective. Thus, self-love is not a self-centered practice or feeling where oneís worldview and lifestyle become ďI think therefore I amĒ or ďI pursue money, profit and wealth, therefore I amĒ. Nor does this love indicate a touchy-feely state of being in the world. It is love of self founded on divine love which subordinates the lifestyle of the individual African American male for the liberation and practice of freedom of the family, community, and all humankind.
A spirituality of love from God acts as the foundation for the definition of self. Spirituality, however, manifests in the material, real, tangible world. A true heterosexual black male, full of Godís love, takes a stand against a host of demonic desires and deeds. He speaks out against various discriminations as it pertains to race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and ecological issues. The starting point and yard stick remain justice and freedom for all, beginning with the least in society and the poor. When he lives in the world with this type of talk and walk, he inevitably meets those who wish to maintain their privileges of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and human cravings over all of Godís creation. Therefore, when an African American man stands with the majority (i.e., the poor and the least in society) in contrast to the minority (i.e., capitalist democracy for the few who own wealth and power) his very reason for living will be challenged. Those with power will use different ways to challenge the very notion of Godís love for black men and, consequently, black menís divine given self love. But the more African American men withstand this trial and the more they feel good about themselves, the more likely there will be a healthy black family and community. Again, good feelings and healthy conditions result from engagement in struggle for intentional self transformation and collective transformation. Transformation requires work; work requires discipline; discipline requires sacrifice; sacrifice requires motivation from a higher calling; a calling requires a recognition of being loved; being loved empowers one to love oneself and thereby free others from the external structures and internal demons in their lives.
For Christians, Jesus stands for this liberation love. Godís work in and through Jesus did not depend on and had nothing to do with the fact that Jesus was a man biologically. However, the way Jesus constructed his male gender gives us a model for the construction of todayís new black heterosexual, male. Because he was so caught up in the mission of the spirit who had anointed him to be with the poor on the divine-human journey to practice freedom, Jesus loved himself enough based on this spiritual vocation. The most striking example shows in how Jesus talked to, spent time with, listened to, answered the questions of, healed, and empowered women to become their full selves. He accepted both male and female disciples. He commissioned women, as well as men, to carry out the work of justice from God. Women became the first preachers to proclaim the liberation revelation of Jesus as the risen Christ. Jesus ordained them to carry forth the good news that death caused by a political crucifixion no longer had the final word. In fact, he broke the status quo boundaries around and oppressive definitions of what it meant to be both male and female. Any black male who believes and acts as if any black female is secondary, represents the work of the Anti-Christ. He goes against the entire birth, life, ministry, and legacy of Jesus the Anointed One. For the followers of Christianity, he has stepped (intentionally or unintentionally) away from the path of life, but onto the walk way to destroy the African American community.
To be continued
*This chapter was originally prepared for the Theological Commission meeting of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 28-31, 2000.
8 Review Annie Barner, Say It Loud: middle-class blacks talk about racism and what to do about it (Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 2000); Michael C. Pounds, Race in Space (Lanham, MD.: The Scarecrow Press, 1999); Patricia Turner, Ceramic Uncles & Celluloid Mammies: black images and their influence in culture (New York: Anchor Books, 1994); Leonard Cassuto, The Inhuman Race: the racial grotesque in American literature and culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Lee D. Baker, From Savage to Negro: anthropology and the construction of race, 1896-1954 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); Thomas F. Gossett, Race: the history of an idea in America (New York: Schocken Books, 1971); Mary Pattillo-McCoy, Black Picket Fences, Privileges and Peril Among the Black Middle Class (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999); and Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (Santa Fe, N.M.: Twin Palms Publishers, 2000).
Rev. Dr. Dwight N. Hopkins is an ordained American Baptist minister. He is Associate Professor of Theology at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. Dr. Hopkins received his M.Div., M. Phil., and Ph.D., degrees from Union Theological Seminary, New York and also holds a Ph.D. from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Dr. Hopkins has published several books including Introducing Black Theology of Liberation; Down, Up and Over: Slave Religion and Black Theology and he served as editor of Black Faith and Black Talk: Essays in Honor of James Cone's Black Theology and Black Power. The opinions expressed are those of the author and are used by permission.