A theological reconstruction of the black male consists of not only the love of God and the life of Jesus, but also realizes that God is black from African American males. To be made in the image of God compels black males to make a leap into the blackness of Godís essence for them. To worship and surrender total allegiance to something or somebody alien to African American males is slow self-destruction and internal spiritual death. A black God affirms every physical characteristic of what the U.S.A. calls black. And God says it is good. This brings about a subversive move precisely because a spiritual vision, value, and vocation overcomes all the negative stereotypes forced upon and propagated against black males. God (as spirit) manifests in the phenotype (i.e., the biological and physical characteristics) of African American males. Such a claim can cause a disruption in the minds of men.
Specifically, for too long black males have been on their knees praying to an old white man with grey hair. On the theological level, this is nonsense since black folk represent the image of God. Therefore theologically, God by necessity is black if black folk are images of God. And on the psychological and emotional level, praying to a white male god has meant, in the context of North America, black people willingly giving their complete selves to the very same image of the system and structure of the supremacy of whites over blacks. In this sinful faith of self-hatred, black men can only be themselves by first becoming white. However, whites nor blacks are divine in and of themselves. God is black for African American males due to the divine choosing of those on the bottom of societyís scale. Again, Godís spirit is a spirit of liberation and she chooses to manifest herself as black to be with the "little ones" of this earth. When African American men go against their black culture, context, and characteristics, they oppose the God for their own human liberation.
Not only is God black, God is both father God and mother God. First of all, the being of God is a spirit. Human speech simply gives various verbal symbols for this divine spirit of liberation and freedom.9 For example, Jesus (i.e., the spiritís decisive revelation for Christians) has various human symbols for divine power-the Savior, the Liberator, Son of God, Son of Man, Maryís Baby, Lily of the Valley, the Shepherd, the Alpha and the Omega, etc. Again, human beings receive the spirit and attempt to name the revelation in the best manner possible to paint the presence and power of God. The spirit cannot be contained within one human symbol. Specifically, the human symbol or description called ďfather GodĒ represents only one alternative. We cannot limit the power and presence of God to one gender. God gave birth to all of humanity and all of creation. God watched over this creation and nurtured it, protected it, taught it, and gave/gives life to it. Therefore, Godís spirit also assumes or takes on the human symbol or gender of "mother God". God is both mother God and father God. The male symbol for God (i.e. father God) represents only one gender and, left by itself, excludes over seventy per cent of the African American church and over fifty percent of the black community.10
Theologically, we all are made in Godís image. Therefore, black women reflect the female gender of God-mother God. When black men continue to pray to father God only, they are perpetuating and protecting African American menís privileges and expectations of automatic entitlement. Similarly, they continue to subordinate black women and discount the divine reality in their ebony sisters. Men, and unfortunately with the help of some women, have established gender hierarchy with a patriarchal god who says he has all power. But this power is limited to one gender. Likewise this power is limited to hierarchy and not equality. A limited divinity is not God, but the creation of black men who benefit from assuming that African American women are secondary creations of God. A further example of this claim is seen with the clear contrast in the emphasis on blackness or Africaness on the part of black men. Why is it that black men do not fight as hard for the female gender of God as they struggle for the black and African dimensions of God?
An African connection does occupy a prominent position in the reconstruction of the new black male. African Americans have a mixed background and identity. Centuries have made them integral to what has become the space and time called the United States of North America. Simultaneously, however, a black man recognizes and develops the legacy of his African ancestry. The African part of the black male is the very difference which distinguishes his divine identity. In the belief structures of West African peoples (i.e., the ancestors of the majority of present day black Americans), sacred and secular operate together. Otherwise, God would be impotent and missing from some aspect of Godís reality. If black men are men, then they respond to a calling which covers all aspects of everyday life in the U.S.A. Faith stretches beyond a ritual on Sunday or a private prayer. The presence of faith translates into the struggle of liberation and the practice of freedom in the private, public, personal, and political spheres of breathing. The God of liberation instructs the new black male to be a man wherever he breathes.
Furthermore, the West African legacy gives a black man a sense of respect based on how well he participates with, takes care of, and shares in the African American family. It cuts against the notion of the absent, authoritative, non-vulnerable, domineering North American male who expects entitlement simply because of his biological make up and a negative affirmative action based simply on his male gender. The West African influence, moreover, centers a black man on the well being of the community. "I am because we are" and " without community, one is an animal" became the hallmark of the African American maleís lifestyle. The new black male opposes capitalist individualism of me-first and profit-first at the expense of the collective. Such a deadly practice and demonic religion positions one race or gender or class or sexual orientation "first" above others. Therefore, black men in North America grow out of a world view and way of life handed down from West Africa.
I am part of two groups attempting to talk through and walk into what it means to be a new heterosexual black male. The first example consists of black Christian, heterosexual males, most of whom are married to or in relationships with African American women. This first instance is what we call a menís cell group. Meeting twice a month, on Saturdays at 7 am, the cell group has at least 14 members. This space and time expresses a sacred, holistic perspective on life. We engage in prayer and Bible study, as well as read various types of liberation materials from a host of disciplines and subject matters. We have read black theology and womanist theology materials; we have spent time covering literature on the plight and prospects for the black male in America. We have learned about meditation and spiritual formation. We also look at documentary videos from Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Martin Luther King, Jr., Paul Robeson, to John Coltrane, Fred Hampton, various black preachers and black churches, and more.
The sharing on political, cultural, economic, local, national, and international events provides, in addition, a location for individual reflection on the joys (i.e. praise reports) and pains (i.e. prayer concerns) of each individual black man in the room. Tears have been shed as well as discussions about working with poor black folk and protesting some injustices in the African American community. An ongoing focus is how to become strong black Christian males who can accept the love of God and love of the self and work with the black woman to enhance the African American family and community. However, the ultimate goal is to participate in the well being of the least in every society of the world. Some of the men involve themselves in areas of direct political work, economic development or grooming a new generation of young black men through rites of passage programs. We have engaged in heated debates on black parenting and on the ups and downs of Wall Street. Self-criticism has become part of the group especially when we discuss how we participate in the liberation of poor blacks; this manifests in the areas of providing jobs, enhancing black health, writing on behalf of the least, proclaiming the gospel of good news and justice for the oppressed, and creating right relationships in other ongoing projects.
The second process of reconstructing black maleness takes place in a black theology and womanist theology course which I teach with my wife, a womanist anthropologist and theologian.11 Since 1997, we have been co-teaching this course every spring, both at her graduate school and at mine. To our knowledge, this remains the first and only such course co-taught by a black theologian and a womanist theologian. In terms of the syllabi, lectures, and the co-managing of the classes, we have tried to model what female-black male and black theology and womanist theology relationships mean as practical intellectual disciplines of equality and freedom. Usually, during a ten week quarter, we spend two weeks on each of five social science categories-race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and the ecology.
For instance, when we begin with race, the first week offers the black theologianís perspective on the thought and life of race. Students read theological interpretations of race. During class, I, as the black theologian, present a lecture which includes both a social science definition of race and a theological interpretation of race. Both theoretical and personal experiences are brought to bear in this teaching method. Then my wife, the womanist theologian, responds from a womanist perspective. Next we both engage in a dialogue and, sometimes, a debate. Students enter the conversation after this moment. The next week, we continue on race; but the womanist lecture is presented. After the lecture, the black theologian responds; conversation and debate unfold between the two professors, and then student join in. The presupposition is that throughout this conversational format of theory, personal experience, and seeking individual and collective transformation, we seek to clarify and create what it means to be new black men and women. From that particularity, other participants bring their full intellect and experiences into the discussion.
In addition to theoretical constructs and personal stories, what I am hearing is that it is one thing to write and teach about the creation of a new African American male gender. It is another to co-teach a course with a womanist and the womanist is my wife. More specifically, I mean that the course does not end in the classroom. We continue the discussion in our daily living, either verbally or in practice. Since we both are tenured professors, authors, teachers, lecturers, international travelers, and co-parents, there really is no credible, compelling, or consistent theological excuse for assuming that the ďmanĒ has to do such and such because he is a "man". Therefore when we discuss the five categories from our classroom teachings, we resume this dialogue on the other side of the threshold of the academic space. In fact, in a very real sense, the title of this course could be "Black Theology and Womanist Theology: form the kitchen to the classroom." Indeed, the black male has to learn a gender which opens itself to challenges and transformation in all areas of what it means to be loved by a God who wants liberation for the poor. Some of these inclusive and wholistic areas are vulnerability, protection, intimacy, political protest, self-critique, new forms of leadership both in the home, church, and broader civic society, and other frontiers.
The question of the creation of a new heterosexual black male gender, from the perspective of black theology, flows like a weaving process. It never progresses in a straight line. Like all scientific discoveries, quality relationships, and the implementation of the finest visions, becoming something new unleashes a quilting and layering process. Sometimes, the newness reveals itself as bright as the morning sun or as clear as the brilliance of a black summer night. Other times the struggle falters and goes backwards, gripped in the old hand of male privilege. But what has to be the foundation of this crucial effort is openness to what black theology claims so adamantly. That is to say, God loves the poor and those who work on justice for the least in society. Here marks the purpose for the revelation of Jesus the anointed one on earth. Male chauvinism (i.e., the attitude of superiority), male privileges (i.e., the practice of this attitude), and patriarchy (i.e., the system which exists in spite of how nice individual men are) cut against every thing that God, Jesus, and West African ancestors have called black men to be, say, and do. The good news is that African American men will be fully human when black women achieve their full humanity. I am because we are. And we are part of a faith and a tradition that says, "God may not come when you call God, but God is always right on time."
*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
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.