Let me get this out of the way: is sexism present in every major society and culture? Yes. But, Black male-bashing - especially about violence and gender issues - is a perennial American sport that never seems to wane in popularity. We expect such anti-Black male behavior as a matter of course from white media pundits and some white feminist theoreticians. However, Black male-bashing is especially disappointing when it comes from a notable person in the Black community, one who claims to be concerned with issues of Black self-esteem and Black "self-lovvve." (I'm always suspicious about someone who blathers on about "lovvve" all the time, like some pop psychology, "New Age" 'therapy' placebo.) Unfortunately, as listeners to Bell Hooks on the San Francisco, KQED-FM, public radio show, "Forum," discovered on January 27, 2003, this Black feminist author falls into the category of out-of-context Black male pathologizing. It seemed more an exercise in Black cultural self-hatred.

Appearing on the program along with acclaimed author, professor and public lecturer Michael Eric Dyson, Hooks was ostensibly invited to discuss her latest book, "Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem." But her statements on the program (whether or not they accurately reflect the content of her book) focused, of course, on Black (especially male) psychopathology - not on Black self-esteem. By doing so, Hooks feeds into the smug and superior fascination that white media programs, such as Michael Krasny's "Forum" show, seem to have with cataloguing everything that is supposedly pathological or deficient with Black people - especially with Black males.

Hooks even sniped at Dyson, asserting that his latest book containing practical suggestions for improving the Black community, including gender relations, is well beyond the intellectual capacity of young Black men. Yet she claims that young working/underclass Black males in the ghetto are all clamoring for her academic books on feminist theory. Such Black underclass males are now, no doubt, abandoning hip hop slang in favor of post-structuralist, post-post-modernist, critical theory argot. I can just hear the bloods now: "Indubitably, the narrative of our lives is bound to descend into nihilistic miasmata vis-à-vis a discursive self-actualization of our sublimated faculties."

On "Forum," the "pathology" Hooks concerned herself with was what she purports to be a sheer "epidemic" of Black male low self-esteem. This, host Michael Krasny posed, could be evidenced by the so-called tendency of Black male celebrities to become involved in relationships with white trophy women. To judge by the tone of Hooks' response, a foreign person unfamiliar with American society would imagine that this at-best numerically occasional practice (concentrated in - imagine that! - the status-conscious Hollywood and sports milieu) is nearly ubiquitous. As if every red-blooded Black male in the country is desperately running out to marry a silicone-enhanced blonde. In truth, the attention given to this subject during the program reflects more host Krasny's or Hooks' distorted obsessions, rather than its true overall significance in the national Black community. Additionally, I assert that Black male physical abuse of even white trophy wives - abuse emphasized by Hooks - are not events inherent to Black males, but have everything to do with how men of any color seeking trophy wives tend to regard them as property.

Even more revealing than Hooks' inflation of the phenomenon into a raging epidemic is her bizarre theory of the supposed cause of such behavior: Black male sexual trauma, she claims, caused by suffering sexual abuse in childhood, which she asserts is common within the Black community. Similar "trophy wife" hunting on the part of white alpha males - the winners get the tall, skinny, leggy blondes with the pouty lips and the big breasts - is seen as a reflection of superficiality, ego, and the generalized commodification of women endemic in American society. Whereas, when the same behavior occurs in Black males, it is attacked as an especially Black pathological problem.

Hooks fails to place certain sexist behavior on the part of a small subset of Black males into context as a mere reflection of the superficial gender standards and ills of American society as a whole. This is precisely because the rules of analysis - and white acceptance - set forth by the establishment and media require acceptance of the premise that Black males - albeit with "the good Black" provisional exceptions - are fundamentally different than other human beings. Under this analysis, Black males are, at root, not only fundamentally different, but uniquely pathological, uniquely predatory (especially sexually) and misogynist - in Hooks' words, sexually immature, traumatized and dysfunctional. Those white and Black feminists who at least implicitly accept this general premise get rewarded. They are awarded, fêted and, most importantly, regularly invited back to white highbrow social and media forums. They are well paid for such service. Some of them even get highly promoted, white-celebrated movies.

Therefore, Black feminists who wish regular access to, and rewards from, the white establishment cannot state the simple truth: that many Black males absorb, to a greater or lesser degree, the sexism and sexual standards of the dominant society. (In the music industry, particularly when it comes to rap - the current benchmark and 'font' of Black male pathology - such sexism is often promoted or imposed by white corporate executives over more socio-politically conscious songs.) Nor can such Black feminists state - and be regularly invited back - that any positive, viable and lasting corrective measures must address sexism in the larger surrounding white society; that the larger society, too, must change in how it considers and values women. Rather, Black feminists and pundits typically must promote and expound fundamental Black male "difference" as a given, and must find a uniquely "Black" pathology for the problem. Racist liberal white feminists can thus safely use Black males as the whipping boy, via some Black feminist surrogates. This helps such white feminists avoid any additional backlash and further bad blood from the white men who control media and social institutions, and on whom such white feminists may ultimately depend for employment or personal and social relationships. It lets white guys off the Hook.

Hooks' assertion that Black male self-hatred based on widespread childhood sexual abuse is the significant factor in any sexist behavior, appears to be the price of entrance that Hooks must pay for being given a regular, celebrated voice in white-controlled media and publishing.

Hooks would never presume to characterize white male sexism in the same way, by arguing, for example, that typical sexist behavior by Italian-American males is a pathology of the Italian macho culture, or that similar behavior by Irish-Americans stems from a feeling of deep-seated inferiority to Anglo culture, let alone supposed rampant child sexual abuse among either ethnicity. For reasons we all understand, she better not talk about Jewish misogyny in Israel, as Jewish-American feminist Andrea Dworkin has done. Nor would any mainstream broadcasting or publishing outlet give Hooks a forum to assert such views. Indeed, Hooks specifically implied that Jewish/Israeli society (any society - except Black, I guess - that has suffered a holocaust) is not sexist! But when it comes to Blacks, "uniquely" pathological arguments are not only permitted, but encouraged by a white institutional system of rewards, and it is white liberals who often seem to love, suitably couched, Black-bashing the most.

I wonder if Hooks really does care about the well-being and social health of the Black community, rather than just getting fêted by whites. It is the responsibility of Black intellectuals to resist these white encouragements toward the pundit sport of Black pathologizing, not to give in to them. At least in instances like these, Bell Hooks has gravely failed - and to all our detriment.

Joseph Anderson is a resident of Berkeley, CA, an occasional contributing political columnist, a local media monitor and political activist.


Your comments are welcome. Visit the Contact Us page for E-mail or Feedback.

Click here to return to the home page








Issue Number 46
June 12, 2003

Other commentaries in this issue:

Cover Story
Muzzling the African American Agenda - with Black Help... The DLC’s corporate dollars of destruction by BC Associate Editor Bruce A. Dixon

McKinney Seems Set For Comeback Bid
by The Publishers

Tweedle DLC & Tweedle GOP

Many ways to pressure Black radio... The Powells: A congenital problem?... A Black candidate’s DLC dilemma

The Weapons of Mass Destruction Hoax by Dwight Welch, Guest Commentator

Bookmark and Share


Commentaries in Issue 45 June 5, 2003:

Cover Story
Bringing Chaos to the Boardroom - Attack on Stock Value Is Key to Union Victory

In Search of the Real Barack Obama: Can a Black Senate candidate resist the DLC? By Bruce A. Dixon, BC Associate Editor

Union Victory

Far-right freaks out on BC cartoons... Black Harvard and the power matrix... Jayson Blair lingers, story not yet dead... Radio One’s role in killing local Black news

"Who Killed Black Radio News?" A letter to BC from Todd Burroughs, Ph.D.

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.