My Blackness Had Become A Usual Prism

My blackness had become a usual prism while my maleness sat on the sideline in its innocent slumber.  It was relatively easy to write about the anger and pain of racism relating to Ted Wafer.  Wafer was a white man who murdered Renisha McBride in late 2013.   She was a young African American woman who Wafer shot in the face with a shotgun, after she knocked on his door in the wee hours of the morning searching for help.  He killed her as he shot her through his locked screen door as she lay dying on his stoop.  Wafer is awaiting to be tried and will be acquitted or sentenced. 

My outrage was easy to access after learning of the several murders of Black men and women across America.   As an African American man I have lived with a pervasive fear of being shot or killed at the hands of a racist.  In my other postings, my rage is apparent as I write about white supremacy, racism, and hate crimes.  I write about the policing of the black body as I deconstructed the racial bias implicit in stop and frisk and stand your ground laws.  I was blinded by fear and rage, minimizing the ways that my male privilege was implicated, even on a minute level, with Ted’s action.

Then came a facebook posting on February 18, 2014 by Nicholas Kristof, a popular journalist with the NY Times:

“There’s a heartbreaking regularity to these stories: A man with a gun gets in a dispute, he fires, and a kid is dead. In this case, it’s a 15-year-old girl. If he had had a knife or a baseball bat, she would still be alive. I’m sure the shooter has learned his lesson, but society never seems to. We regulate cars to make them less lethal, and I don’t see why we can’t regulate guns so as to reduce their toll as well. What do you think?”

Nicholas did not identify that the shooter was African American and the girl that was killed was too.  This posting came shortly after the media attention on a White man who shot and killed a Black teenage boy for playing his music too loudly.  By not acknowledging race, Nicholas posted highlighted gender bias as an explanatory factor in the death of the girl.

Here is my response that garnered 33 likes from Nicholas’s readers:

“This is a problem that men have…but we don’t talk about it from a male privilege perspective…if women started shooting men in this way, we would find a solution, right quick.”

Then another one of his readers, a woman replied to my posting:

“Yes and children/woman are more often than not the innocent victims, so just not important enough apparently”

My response:

“I agree…I think male writers can help this whole situation by naming this as male privilege…a problem not named cannot be solved. By no means am I perfect and just getting in touch with the ways in which I am privileged in some categories and not privileged in others.”

I stopped short in my blog postings exploring hate crimes and racism when my analyses brushed up against other forms of unspoken male privilege.  The unspoken thread of the rights of maleness that are clearly implicated in who perpetuates hate crimes, and who, for example, polices the black body.

Defining Male Privilege

Male privilege is the social, and thus psychological ability of men, to engage in various forms of assertion, aggression, and promotion of power that advantages boys over girls and men over women.  It is an invisible code, culturally defined and supported by our United States society, that I learned as a boy and it is reinforced in me as a man.  This privilege although nearly invisible it daily permeates my life as being a man.

Male privilege and its code has multiple ways that it operates.  Although as a Black Gay man these privileges may be weakened, they are not completely invalidated.  I still possess vestiges of its power that makes managing life issues (e.g. career, family, money, and feelings of safety) less problematic than they might be.  It is a form of privilege that can promote a climate of hostility and perpetuate the use of violence as a viable solution to resolving disputes.  It is exchanged easily, for example, with handshakes with other men.  The code tells me how I can be physically and emotionally close to men in some settings and physically distant in others.  For example, boys and men learn that it is OK to pat each other’s rump on the football field but never to display these types of responses on a public street.

It is a form of privilege that can castigate hate, or at the very least, derision.  A form of derision toward everything that is not male.  Sometimes this derision or distain becomes cloaked within social and public policies, for example, men’s negligence in providing heart health care for women, or the silly thinking behind charging women more money to clean a blouse when it is smaller in size than a man’s shirt.  One example of my male privilege is to observe the characters, themes, and programs on television.  Leisure time for all essentially becomes leisure time for men.  On any given weekend in American society TV shows are mostly sports and programs aimed at men, hunting, racing, and so forth.

Male Privilege as evidenced by the Top 10 United States TV Shows

According to TV Guide ( on February 21, 2014, here are the top ten rated shows for the week.  (Note: My armchair analysis and brief synopsis in parentheses):

1 The Blacklist (stars a man as a spy)

2 Dancing with the Stars (men twirling women around)

3 Homeland Not (stars a woman CIA agent being supervised by a man)

4 Scandal (stars a black women business owner in love with a white male president)

5 NCIS (stars mostly men solving crimes)

6 Sleepy Hollow (stars a headless man in early America)

7 The Bachelorette (stars a man dating multiple women)

8 Under the Dome (women and men trying to stay alive under a dome)

9 America’s Got Talent (a talent show hosted by a man but judged by 2 men and 2 women)

10 Suits (a male college dropout and the goings on in a law firm).

You should see the top 100 shows, yep, most of them relating to men.

Don’t Cry Out Loud

As a boy I learned that holding in my feelings, stoically and not showing physical or emotional pain, as evidenced in my ability not to cry, is a rite of passage to becoming a man.  As a man I learned that the threat of physical violence or using a gun is an acceptable method for resolving conflicts.  Violence from men is applauded in many social circumstances especially when we defend our supposed property (eg., children and women) as Ted Wafer will likely assert in his defense, or espousing patriotic ideals of protecting my country.

The harder part of living a writer’s life is to seek and explore multiple truths while struggling with thorny social justice issues.  In my ranting I missed the connection between Ted’s male privilege and mine.   I want to separate all aspects of myself from men like Ted Wafer, and frankly it is a lot easier to see him as the perpetrator of violence through a racial lens rather than a male lens.  The harder truth is to see his heinous and despicable acts through the lens of violence implicit in the construction of male privilege.  My blackness had become a usual prism while my maleness sat on the sideline in its innocent slumber.

I didn’t arrive at this conclusion with any “A-HA” moment.  Instead, being the feminist I aspire to be and working for nearly 30 years in understanding the interlocking nature of oppressions, my maleness and the privilege associated with it, seemed to be hidden.  Understanding my male privilege is my road less traveled.   It appears to hide itself from me, as if it is a thing that can run to a hidden corner. I suppose the ability to explore racism, blackness, and gayness with such fervor will actually help me in solving the riddle of understanding how privilege and oppression, at times, can interlock.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mark says:

    Thanks Brian for such a thoughtful and heartfelt anaylsis of male privilege – it makes me think of my own male privilege that is often masked by the prism of my gayness… and how we are a gay couple may often not be cognizant of our privileges as two men. Bravo! Mark


    1. brianlragsdale says:

      You are welcome Mark, and thanks for reading my work. Yes I think there might be an exponential effect with male privilege when talking about gay male couples in some instances. Interesting observation/analysis.


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