Last year, I interviewed for the chief student affairs position at a Black women’s college in the South. During my interview, people kept asking me “why do you want to be here?” I knew that the seemingly-innocuous question obscured the one they really wanted to ask: “why do you—a Latino/Jewish man who will be seen as white down here and is also gay—want to work with and for Black women.” In my meeting with the all of my potential supervisees—all of them Black women—I told the group “you do not have to be a Black woman to care about and want to support Black women.” I commented that few people who looked like me had historically cared about Black women so I assumed there might be mistrust. In fact, men who looked like me had often been the source of great pain and oppression. However, I explained, that mistrust would not stop me from working on behalf of Black women.
I love Black women—personally, professionally and politically. I realize that this surprises many people. Some wonder if I am simply fetishizing Black women as sassy, “keepin’ it real” sistas, sort of a 21st century Sapphire. Unfortunately, many gay men—white men particularly—love to conjure this stereotype when meeting Black women. Personally, Black women have played a critical role in my life. I have known too many Black women to ever pigeon-hole them. I know too well that Black women are as diverse than any other group. No, my love comes from a keen understanding of the role Black women have played in my life and in American history.
During my college career, it was a small group of Black women who helped me be comfortable with myself as someone with multiple subordinated identities. As a biracial gay man from a working-class background, I often felt schizophrenic in a society that could only see in one-dimensional terms. Most importantly, my friends helped me survive at a college where I was the only openly gay man on campus. These friends taught me how to hold my head high while walking through groups of people throwing slurs at me. These women introduced me to the work of Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and other Black feminists/womanists to help me work toward my own liberation by understanding the systems that oppressed me. These works helped me understand that I was not the problem, society was.
Black women have also shaped how I see the world. Since college, I have been a student of Black feminism and womanism. `Black feminism` argues that sexism, classism, racism and other forms of oppression are inextricable from one another. Social change movements, including other forms of feminism, that only focus on single dimensions of identity will always exclude large groups of people it purports to help. Black feminists argue that the liberation of black women entails freedom for all people, since it would require the end of racism, sexism, and class oppression.
To read more about Chris MacDonald-Dennis’s love for Black women, click here!