“When the Power of Love overcomes the Love of Power, the world will know peace.” -Jimi Hendrix
This is a continued conversation that started here. It’s an open-hearted letter to my fellow cis-gendered, straight brothas. Black men specifically, though this may resonate with Indigenous and other men of color, too.
For some time, I’ve been thinking about the idea of radicalized male heterosexuality. Identifying as a straight man is supposed to mean that you love women. But turns out, the way that the patriarchy is set up, most of the oppression, violence and full-on hate that women experience comes from us. Our whole identity and posturing can be around how many women we “love”, how much we “love” women and dangit, how could any man love another man when we “love” women so so very much.
We as straight men say we love women, but I wonder. Can one truly love someone that they see as less than them? Someone not worthy of respect? Someone seen as a possession? An object that only exists for our pleasure? Might as well get married to a convertible Jaguar, because this is not how you relate to someone you love, or see, as a human. Ironically, many of us who see our male friends as equals and confide in them on levels they don’t confide in with women may actually be in a better place to have healthier romantic relationships with other men! A relationship of equals, you know?
God bless my dad, he was the first person who modeled what it looks like when a cishet man embodies radical love. It was in his parenting. As kids, my younger sister G and I spent our formative years in Kingston, Jamaica. We loved to play football (aka “soccer” to heathens) with our neighborhood friends, making anything at all into goalposts whether it’s a stone, milk crate, or a sleeping dog. At the age of about 9, G became quite renown as a neighborhood baller and even played in other neighborhoods. Dad noticed her talent and wanted to support it. He asked G if she wanted to play for our grade school. G said yes, and Dad went to bat for her.
Well, the school was pretty firm in holding the line that the football team was for boys only. Our dad was very insistent though. Finally, a compromise was reached: G could go to the official team practice sessions but would not be allowed to play in actual games. These terms were accepted, and G started to train with the school team. It turned out to be a mixed blessing though because while G got to play her beloved football on a real football field with the best in the school, it came with some not-so-fun reactions. Murmurs from parents and students on the sidelines about her being on the field; parents wondering aloud how this girl got to play when their precious boy never qualified for the team, etc. Also, if she played too well and “chop” a boy on the field, leaving him to kick breeze as she used her fancy footwork to deprive him of the ball, the boy would be shamed, ego bruised, to have been shown up so dramatically by a girl. Because patriarchy.
Asking G about it today, she says “What was also hard for me was that I became a spectacle.” Just to kick a ball with her friends. It was indeed a lot for a 9- year-old to take on. After some more awkward training with the team, crestfallen, my sister went to dad and said she would prefer to not go to practice anymore. To this day, she describes it as a breakup. She hung up her cleats and stopped playing football because it had caused too much pain. It’s only several years later when we moved back to New York City, that G went to high school and saw a poster on the bulletin board that said, “GIRLS SOCCER TEAM TRYOUTS.” She was jaw-dropped. It said Wednesday at 6 pm, and she went. Her love for football was resuscitated, and she heartily reclaimed it. I for one enjoyed watching her play, especially knowing the deeper significance of it. She went on to play on women’s teams as an adult as well. I’ll give you “soccer” heathens some points, at least there were more opportunities for girls and women here. Jamaica is only fairly recently getting a national women’s team together for the World Cup.
G said this episode was a “pivotal point in my life.” In different ways, it was for me, too. I had watched patriarchy dim a spark in my sister’s spirit. And I had also witnessed my dad do his best to support her. Support her dreams, her joy, her humanity. It was radical fatherly love, a love willing to swim upstream against the demanding currents of patriarchy, in an attempt to let my sister have the same chances as any boy. It affected me to see my dad advocate for her in this way, and it also affected me to see my sister denied access to the team because she wasn’t a boy. This planted a seed that helped me grow into a person that would advocate for girls and women in my life. A seed that grew past only honoring the struggles of my sister, mom, and girlfriends. I had to refuse to compartmentalize their experiences as “worthy” of advocacy. None of this disconnect of making women feel uncomfortable from catcalls in the street, none of the prioritizing of my desire over the feelings and experiences of another human.
We can have radicalized male heterosexualities when we truly love women as equals and work to dismantle oppressive patriarchal systems in ourselves and our communities. We can’t just look away when misogynoir raises its ugly head. We listen to Black women, and we rise in solidarity with them. That’s love for real. And we in turn gain more love in our lives. We gain humanity as we honor their humanity, their feelings, their experiences, their lives. We don’t just rally for George Floyd, we rally for Breonna Taylor. And we also rally for Tony McDade, the black transman who was recently killed by police. We rally for Black transwomen like Bree Black who are murdered with zero repercussions. We rally for all of us. Because All Black Lives Matter. Because we are all precious. Because women and LGBTQ folks have been rallying for us Black men. As you know, Black Lives Matter was started by black women, some queer. So surely, we as Black men can rally for them. And many of us are; I know I am speaking in generalities. We need this to become a significant wave though. To paraphrase brother Jimi, when embracing women and LGBTQ folks in radical love becomes more important than maintaining cis-hetero patriarchal power, our communities will know peace, and we can rise as a unified force. Ase’.
Richard M. Wright is a healthy masculinity specialist, public speaker, author, counselor, educator and multimodal artist. He also identifies as a sci-fi geek and an intersectional Afrofuturist. His personal Wakanda resides somewhere between ‘80s Kingston & ‘90s NYC in his mind. www.richardmwright.com