The Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities and the Department of Africana Studies at Stony Brook University invited two South Bronx natives, Mark Anthony Neal and Joan Morgan, to discuss their relationship with feminism while navigating the realms of toxic masculinity.
Neal, who is the chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke University, led the discussion, talking about his own upbringing as a young, black boy from the Bronx learning to embrace black feminism.
“Black feminism is not your enemy,” Neal said. “Black feminists are thought as building a wedge within black communities and for me, this becomes important because I have to think about the places and spaces where I was raised.”
When mapping out a progressive masculinity, one that embraces vulnerability and gender equality, Neal stressed the importance of coming to terms with black male privilege. Although black men are racially marginalized in society as a whole, he explained that people cannot ignore the gender privilege within black families and communities.
From the time he spent in black women’s beauty parlors waiting for his mother to get her hair done, to stumbling upon feminist writers like Patricia Hill Collins on his mother’s bookshelves, to fathering his own daughters, Neal explored how different types of feminism have shaped his identity.
By sharing anecdotes of the people who taught him values of accountability, “like the men who weren’t necessarily nurturers but they valued education for their children,” Neal said, “they knew if a partner or babymama or wife wasn’t going to be there, they had to take on those roles.”
Although these acts do not generally fall under conventional feminism, Neal sheds light on the impacts one’s cultural background has on their alignment with feminism and their awareness of gender relations. Despite their rejection of the feminist label, members of the South Bronx community adopted progressive gender roles.
Neal explained that the reason many in communities like the South Bronx reject feminism is because black feminists are often portrayed in a negative light in popular culture and the media. Neal called for a discussion-led education where members of an already-deprived community can create a language where black feminist thought seeps in.
Morgan, a feminist author and a pioneering hip-hop journalist, and Neal, have been lifelong friends since living in the same apartment building in the South Bronx. The two had a dialogue about how to tackle and make sense of feminist movements that aim to dismantle oppressions rooted in patriarchy.
“I feel like we’re in a very self-congratulatory moment about progressive politics when really this is where we should have always been,” Morgan said about the aftermaths of celebrating cultural accomplishment like the Me Too movement.
Morgan highlighted that because the movement has placed its attention on Hollywood, feminist thinkers need to talk about how underprivileged communities are disembodied by it. As a feminist thinker, she pushed towards a reeducation process that voices the impact of the Me Too movement meeting “cancel culture,” the idea of calling out people who are ethically problematic and refusing to support them in the future.
“After we call everyone out, how do we define what accountability looks like?” Morgan said. “How do we give justifiable reparations to people who have been harmed and rehabilitate the people who have done the harm? If we are not having those conversations simultaneously, we are in big trouble.”
Together, Morgan and Neal raised questions about the privileges in being exposed to women’s and sexuality studies, progressive gender politics that are unacknowledged and the conversations that could promote change in societies where toxic masculinity is reinforced.
The uncertainty of recognizing whether people are “participating in toxic masculinity or that they’re victims of toxic masculinity,” Morgan stated, “contributes to the ongoing problem where inclusivity and gendered freedoms are not prioritized.”
Like Neal, she used her platform to talk about black feminism like the theory of intersectionality, which is the understanding overlapping identities, and its constructive influence in diverse feminist spaces.
“Black feminism is, so in our freedom, no one gets left behind,” Morgan said.
Emilio Castillo, a junior sociology major said the talk gave her a new perspective on how to approach toxic masculinity.
“They were building on accountability and call-out culture that doesn’t have to be about: ‘alright, we are canceling them, they’re gone.’ It’s about a conversation and getting to that level of maybe I can talk to this person, and we can get somewhere.”