GUEST POST TUESDAYS: Black Feminist Consciousness for Black Men and Boys at Vassar College (Ahmad R. Washington)
Ahmad R. Washington is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Development at The University of Louisville. He has a academic and professional background in clinical mental health and school counseling. Presently, he is attempting to develop a framework of social justice school counseling that integrates tenets from critical Hip Hop pedagogy and other critical frameworks.
Early in her career, the preeminent scholar and cultural theorists bell hooks authored a comprehensive framework to describe the insidious and profound ways pervasive ideologies of white supremacy, male supremacy, and imperialist domination are made to comprise an interlocking political system of subjugation that governs this society. This framework, which hooks entitled imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy, describes how our existing social and political systems, including the major socializing institutions (i.e., schools, media, families, churches, etc.), construct “knowledge” and circulate myths that legitimate the subordination of women, people of color, gender non-conforming folx, underpaid and underemployed people, and members of the LGBTQ community. Because these systems of domination operate at optimum efficiency when their methods of reproduction are discrete, veiled, and uncontested, people are discouraged from engaging in the types of critical analyses that could usher in a radically different world. People who experience privilege and oppression within an imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy are dissuaded from contemplating how they suffer under and are complicit with the status quo. It is only when we rely on liberatory theories and practices that are grounded in the lives of the people who are always having to negotiate and resist ubiquitous systems of dehumanization, violence and degradation that the possibility of constructing a collective vision of freedom even begins to become legible.
Developing my capacity to imagine an inclusive vision of Black liberation that is divorced from the confining precepts of Black conservatism, Black capitalism, Black respectability, and the endangered Black male trope was my primary reason for applying to the Imagining Otherwise: Black Feminist Consciousness for Black men and Boys summer camp at Vassar College. Even now, more than four weeks removed from this meeting, I admit that my understanding of Black Feminism is still very, very limited. My march towards embracing a Black Feminist ethos began after several Black women in my life, operating from a place of compassion, demanded that I acknowledge how my myopic indignation around Black suffering regularly ignored the unique ways Black women’s lives are constantly threatened by practices rooted in racism, sexism, and misogyny. In hindsight, their assessments were totally on point. Throughout my life, the primary frameworks for Black liberation I internalized centered the narratives, perspectives and leadership styles performed by cishet Black men. Laudable Black men like Dr. King, Malcolm X and Paul Robeson were the archetypes to emulate. And while Black women like Modjeska Simkins and Mary McLeod Bethune were “present”, because they were referenced so infrequently, their contributions to struggles for Black liberation felt ancillary. Only now am I beginning to appreciate how this approach not only overshadows the contributions of Black women like Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer to the discourse and pursuit of Black liberation, but also how this approach reproduces an already pervasive disregard for Black girls and Black women.
At the camp, I sat with Black men and Black gender non-conforming folx and discussed how we were all attempting to be more accountable for the ways we perform our identities and behave in ways that reinforce a system of patriarchy that always oppresses and endangers the lives of Black girls, Black women, and Black LGBTQ folx. It was reassuring and soothing to be in community with people committed to doing the work of unlearning the delimiting ways we have been oriented to race, gender, class, sexualities, and other social categories and identities. Being in community with likeminded people, people angered by the lack of recourse for the unspeakable ways physical, psychological, economic, and emotional forms of violence are inflicted on Black girls, Black women, and Black queer and trans folx, was eye-opening. For example, I listened intently, in sheer amazement, as Kimberle Crenshaw and Luke Harris--two distinguished legal scholars--illustrated vividly how the misogyny and wanton disrespect for Black women evidenced in the demonization of Anita Hill enabled Clarence Thomas to become a Chief Justice on The Supreme Court, an appointment he has repeatedly leveraged to threaten important civil rights legislation, including affirmative action. Attending the camp has allowed me forge relationships with Black men and Black gender non-conforming folx who want to think seriously about patriarchy, sexism, and misogyny, and how destructive these systems are. I am grateful for the experience because the Imagining Otherwise camp is helping me move towards a freer and uninhibited vision of what Black masculinity can look like; an unencumbered and courageous vision of Black masculinity that does not reflect “the image of the brute—untamed, uncivilized, unthinking, and unfeeling.”