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  • Guest Editors' Introduction:Transforming Black Men In Feminism
  • David Ikard (bio) and Mark Anthony Neal (bio)

The scholars in this special edition on black (male) feminism are the sons and daughters of privilege. We are privileged in that we no longer have to (re) fight the battles that self-identified black feminists of the 1970s waged against race, gender, sexuality, and class privilege from the ivory towers to the block. The late Nellie McKay used to remind her graduate students (especially when they would grumble about having to navigate white male privilege in graduate school) that black feminist scholars in the 1970s literally kept texts such as Zora Neal Hurston's 1937 classic Their Eyes Were Watching God alive by Xeroxing copies, along with other out of print texts, for their students to read in the classroom. Operating in mostly white and elite academic spaces, they also had to raise holy hell when they were graduate students to write dissertations that engaged race, class, and gender politics in black texts. Though it would seem unthinkable to the contemporary student, their chief intellectual burden was establishing that black writers generally and black women writers in particular had something of intellectual and cultural worth to contribute to academe and U.S. culture.

As Morrison recounts in Playing in the Dark, many white scholars of that era took pride in the fact that they had never read a black novel. Thus, black feminists (handful that they were) spent the bulk of their time, energy, and meager resources convincing white academia that black folks were smart and insightful too, that theirs was a human experience run through with all of the complexity, contradictions, and fullness of the so-called great white (male) writers in the literary canon. What made this effort to be seen and respected even more [End Page vi] challenging was that black women were further marginalized within mainstream (white) feminism and the civil rights and Black Nationalist movements. The title of the iconic black feminist anthology encapsulated these challenges: All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave.

Today, we witness the fruits of black feminism's labor in and beyond academe. Black women writers such as Hurston, Harriet Jacobs, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker are not only staples in high school classrooms and on college syllabi, but they are household names and some even have substantial commercial viability. Hurston's, Morrison's, and Walker's texts have all been made into movies and Morrison and Walker are highly sought-after speakers with international celebrity. In addition, bell hooks, arguably one of the best-known black feminist scholars, has also garnered public and intellectual prestige. Indeed, black feminism's influence on the academic landscape has been nothing short of transformative. Intellectual interest in black women writers has skyrocketed. Not only is it now possible to write a dissertation that focuses exclusively on black women, but scholars that specialize in American literature from the nineteenth century to the present are deemed intellectually lacking within the field if they are not conversant, on some level, with black women writers.

Though the black feminist movement has always had a spattering of black male support, most black men—then and now—view black feminism as "whitewashed" and anti-black male. It is hardly surprising, then, that black male participation in black feminism has always been a sticky political issue. It certainly didn't help matters when, sensing the rising popularity of black writers, several prominent black male scholars in the 1980s and 1990s cashed in—literally and figuratively—on the discourse. As a consequence, black women feminists (of that generation in particular) often viewed even the most politically earnest and sincere among us with suspicion and skepticism.

Though black male participation in feminism is not a hot button issue for contemporary black feminists—whose chief concern pivots on bringing political ideals in line with social practice—it is still an issue that occasionally stirs controversy, as was the case in the inaugural issue of this journal.1 Indeed, it was this and other such controversies that prompted us, the guest editors of this issue on black male feminism...


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