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I recently watched a video in which a white male knocked on someone’s front door and asked the residents to remove a car they had parked in their own front porch. Why? Because the car had a sticker on the windshield that said black lives matter. The visitor, who was incensed by the sight of the car, stated that “All Lives Matter”; and when told the car wasn’t bothering anyone, he rebutted with “It’s offensive to me.” Watching the video renewed my honest curiosity about what could possibly be offensive about a group of disenfranchised people, standing up for and defending their basic human rights. How do people who share the perspective of this person justify their contempt towards the Back Lives Matter movement? How can they take offence to a statement that is unquestionably true? Don’t black lives matter to them? How is it that some white people understand, and others don’t? And arguably the most perplexing question, how do you still insist that you’re not racist? If I were a part of a social class that marginalized others I would definitely see how my words and actions affect them, especially if they told me how I was hurting them every time they had the chance…right?
Then I remembered that I am a man… Not only am I a man, I am a man who has often been annoyed when listening to radical feminists on various digital platforms. Then I thought to myself, that’s not the same though; radical feminists are unreasonable because they have a one-sided approach that blames men for almost everything. They seem to get so upset when someone has a different opinion or presents any statistics to disprove what they say. How could I agree with you when your entire premise is predicated on the idea that men are oppressing you just by being men? Then I heard myself, and I couldn’t help noticing how racist my own words would sound if I changed female and male to black and white. I heard it but I still couldn’t believe it. They are not the same, after all; I know I’m a good man and I’m not sexist. To prove it to myself I decided to list the ways in which the feminist movement is different from the “Black Lives Matter” movement. I even looked up various definitions of radical feminism, and there was virtually no difference. In every entry online, simply changing male and female to black and white gave an almost exact representation of the black civil rights movement. The Wikipedia entry for radical feminism even includes the term “male privilege”.
I have to admit, I was astonished at the sight of the term “male privilege” in the article. I had never heard it referenced before and the most provocative feminist term to me up until this point was “toxic masculinity”. My disdain for the phrase came after trying to understand what it meant and realizing that the behaviours of toxic masculinity are not exclusive to men at all. They are, in fact, inappropriate behaviours and I absolutely agree that women shouldn’t be subjected to such things. However, I could never get past the fact that masculinity was a part of the label and that being masculine had inadvertently become a toxic thing. Of course women suffer horrible things at the hands of men. Of course I know that women are suffering. I’m not sexist, but I just can’t get behind the idea that this is because men are generally masculine and I would rather each man be assessed on the merits of his own character or the lack thereof. Turning to the idea of male privilege, I noticed that in my life I had never felt like I had privilege in comparison to a woman; but being black I knew exactly what it meant. I could clearly see that growing up I enjoyed freedoms that females did not and that I could do with impunity things that females were criticized for. My mind quickly surrendered itself to the concept of male privilege and I briefly wondered if I might have been wrong about toxic masculinity before concluding that I was not.
Upon realizing all this my mind had come full circle to the video that sparked this journey of self-exploration and the questions I had earlier. I was looking a lot like the man who knocked on a stranger’s front door to tell them “it’s offensive to me”. I realized that even though I knew exactly what women meant by “toxic masculinity” and I agreed that those things were hurtful to women, I would be borderline miserable if I heard millions of people saying it everyday on the news while maintaining that I am not sexist. I saw that even though my point is 100% valid and the behaviours associated with toxic masculinity are not inherently masculine or exclusive to men, I could imagine the rage that a woman would feel if I said that after she explained how she has been personally hurt by men with these behaviours. I also realize that I have only now gained this perspective because of my experience being black, and that had my only exposure to this idea continue to come from radical feminists I may never have developed this new degree of empathy for their plight. Does this mean that this whole time I’ve been sexist? Is it possible that if I was white – would I have been racist?”
As I think back to that sticker on the windshield and why it was considered offensive I can see that the terms “Black Lives Matter” and “toxic masculinity” are not the same and it’s not possible for me to apply the same defence to both, one is arguably misleading and the other is objectively true. I did notice, however, that the reaction a number of white people have to “Black Lives Matter” is similar to the reaction that a number of black people have to “Make America Great Again”. As a black person I understand that the negative reaction to MAGA is not because black people do not want America to be great; and is not to say that great things never happened in America, but rather the political ideologies behind that completely plausible statement. And this makes me wonder if the negative reaction that a number of white people have to BLM is not to say that black lives don’t matter and is not because they don’t care about civil rights, but that they are simply unable to agree with all the accusatory implications that come along with the unequivocal truth that black lives matter. While this entire train of thought is all wholesome and cute, the wrench in the spokes is that ever-infuriating call back “All Lives Matter”, which happens to be offensive for the same reason as MAGA and BLM – is true but we don’t like the idea behind it. It represents white people absolving themselves of the previously mentioned accusatory implications of BLM. It should be clear from that last sentence that I do have some implicit bias being a black person, but doesn’t everyone? And let’s say hypothetically that I was a man who wasn’t sexist but was not able to agree with the accusatory implications of radical feminism, maybe I would also be using an offensive statement in an attempt to absolve myself of any misplaced blame.
Does this mean they might not be racist? Or does this mean they happen to be like me? Or does that mean I am actually racist? I honestly don’t know but I’m really glad I’m taking the time to think about it because it’s been therapeutic for me. If we try to see ourselves in our enemies and look for the humanity in them then they become less like enemies and more like people who think differently than we do. Having written this, the world is still crazy as hell but it kinda feels like I have less enemies.
You can find Marc-Anthony at @marcanthonymuzic
(Blessings in abundance!)