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Alright, Y'all. Here's What ‘Toxic Masculinity’...ISN'T

Black men are not the enemy, sis. Goodness.

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I've never really been a bandwagon kind of person. Matter of fact, my mom said that after the standard "da-da" and "mama", my first words were made up a complete (broken) sentence—"I do myself, Mommy." She also said that, as a toddler, instead of toys, my preference was to shake newspaper (and here I am, a writer). One other pearl is she had planned to name me "Ryan" but when I was born, she said God told her to name me "Shellie" instead. In my 30s, I found out that Shellie is Hebrew for "Mine; Belonging to Me"—to being in a covenant with the Most High. That's why, I've always accepted that my path was going to be different; that following the masses wasn't going to move me and, even though I work in media, I totally agree with the Jim Morrison quote, "Whoever controls the media, controls the mind." Sometimes those "whoevers" are shady as all get out with very cryptic agendas. And that's putting it nicely.

So yeah, when it comes to this particular topic that I am broaching today, I already know some folks are gonna be pissed. Some are gonna definitely disagree. Others may end up being more than a little triggered. I'm fine with all of that because, while I definitely do wholeheartedly believe that toxic masculinity exists (toxic femininity does too; see, there goes a trigger), I also think one of my all-time favorite quotes very much so applies to this subject matter—"The excess of a virtue is a vice." Aristotle once said that. What it means is, even when something is good, when there is no balance applied, it can become, well, not so good. So yes, we do need to address toxic masculinity. Full stop. At the same time, to get to the point where thinking that masculinity, period, is wrong or to feel like unless men think just like women do, they are problematic—that is problematic. That is "vice" thinking.

So yes, I think I have a responsibility to speak on this particular topic. Because as a woman who loves men—especially Black men—I want to be certain that in the process of making sure that I support women who have been subjected to men who abuse their masculinity (I'm actually one of those women, by the way), I don't disparage, berate or condemn men overall…simply for being men. Not only that but, I hope you won't just throw the phrase "toxic masculinity" around either. That before you use it, you'll first ponder some of the points that I'm about to make below. Ultimately, for everyone's sake.

Are You Sure You Hate All Things Patriarchy? YOU REALLY SURE?

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A few months ago, I got into a conversation with a woman who was talking about how ridiculous it is for women to pay for dates, open doors for themselves—you know, chivalrous stuff. At the same time, she was also venting about how toxic patriarchy is and that it needed to end. I said, "OK, so if you hate patriarchy so much, you should ask men out, propose marriage and not expect a man to provide for or protect you." Her response was comedy to me. She said, "That's not patriarchy. That's masculinity." Umm, yeah. OK.

A patriarch, by definition, is the male head of a family. If you look up the definitions on Dictionary.com, you'll also see a lot of biblical references to the word (just for the record). Yep, patriarchy is about a father having supreme authority and men being in power. Now while that last definition has definitely been abused within our culture and I'm in full support of balance being brought to the forefront in that area, those other definitions? What's the problem with a father leading the home? So long as he isn't abusing his authority, why is that such an issue? Why does the mere thought of that piss so many women off? Well, unless you didn't have a father in your life and/or your father was a poor example of one. Since our fathers are our first introduction to how we process men, in general—well, I'm sure you can see where I'm going with that.

However, on a deeper level, since patriarchy is about authority and authority is oftentimes seen as power only, another definition that I'd like you to consider for the word is "an accepted source of information, advice, etc." Some synonyms to keep in mind would include "influence" and "strength".

Typically, when someone is in an authoritative role, they are leading, right? OK, so expecting a man to pay for dates or propose marriage to you—that means they are leading, correct? How did that not all come out of patriarchy? And if that's what you expect, how can you be 100 percent anti-patriarchy? Seems like an extreme contradiction to me.

That's why I think a good place to begin with all of this, is to not just be yelling you hate patriarchy because you hear so many other people say it. Spend some time really understanding what the word consists of, why it is so esteemed in the Bible (and other holy books) and if you actually hate it—or do you pushback on how it is oftentimes misused and manipulated (and it is). Because again, a father being an accepted source of information and advice while taking care of his home and influencing his daughters to want a man of strength who will do the same for her and her own family someday—I'm not sure what is exactly "toxic" about that. Do you?

What’s So Wrong with Being Masculine?

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Remember how the woman I was talking to said that she had no problem with masculinity? Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of women don't agree with her which is interesting because, a very basic definition of the word is, "pertaining to or characteristic of a man or men". There's not enough time to cover everything that would fit that definition; however—men having more testosterone, men having more physical strength, men being better at motor skills and being analytical (while we're better with intuitive thinking and being empathetic), men being larger in size and men being more assertive (while we're warmer and more friendly)—you know who came to these conclusions? Science. Lawd. While we're out here tripping that so many GOPs don't respect science (like when it comes to COVID-19), there are more and more people who act like science shouldn't apply to male and female differences too. Not only that but some folks are taking it to the extreme, as if masculinity and femininity are now some sort of character flaws. Whew.

And when it comes to masculinity, something that I've been paying attention to, more and more as of late, is what the internet calls the "manosphere". As it relates to Black men in particular, some YouTube channels within the demographic that immediately come to mind are Poor Man's Podcast, Aba & Preach and Oshay Duke Jackson (yes, I've also checked out Kevin Samuels; that's another article for another time. So much to unpack there!). And here's the thing.

Do I agree with everything they say? No. They are individuals. They are also men. I am a woman. There are differences. Science says so. At the same time, I am intentional about hearing where they are coming from because, as a Black woman who professes to be pro-Black, I can't be that if I'm on a mission to dismantle Black men at every turn while shutting their own voices out. It's ridiculous when men do it to us. It's no less ridiculous when we do it to them.

That's why I've written articles for the platform like "We Asked 10 Men What Makes A Woman 'Wife Material'", "10 Husbands Speak On What Made Them Choose Their 'One'", "10 Men Told Me How They Feel About 'Marriage Pressure'", "10 Single Men Shared Some Thoughts They Wish Women Would Take At Face Value", "10 Men Told Me How They Like To Be (Emotionally) Pampered" and "10 Things Husbands Wish Their Wives Truly Understood". It's because there are a whole lot of women who are out here speaking for men, translating for men, thinking that they should be mouthpieces for men when there are plenty of men who can speak for themselves. As someone who embraces my femininity more and more by the day, I don't feel threatened or triggered by the fact that sometimes, men are extremely different than I am. That's because I believe that male/female dynamics can bring about a beautiful balance. I also think that it's arrogant to feel that if someone isn't like me, they are wrong. And there is A LOT of that energy going on out here right now. And pride comes before a mighty fall. Again, the Bible says so.

So yeah, when it comes to the term "toxic masculinity", something else that should be thought about is what is wrong with masculinity, in general, before jumping to generalized conclusions. If it's simply that it isn't everything that we can immediately understand or relate to, honestly y'all, that's just not good enough. We need to do better. Much better.

The Media Shouldn’t Override Your Own Standards and Beliefs

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You probably heard something along the lines of, "If you keep repeating a lie, people will eventually believe it" before. It's true. Know what's crazy? The root of that resolve actually comes from a racist individual who pushed some dangerous Nazi propaganda once upon a time. I don't want to credit him by mentioning the exact quote or by mentioning his name. Still, I thought it was fitting here because there are a lot of things—dangerous things, some things that are also flat-out lies—that are funneled through the media and are repeated over and over…and over and over that, shoot, even 10 years ago, we didn't believe. And it seems like, more than ever, making men obsolete is on the top of the media's list.

If you're a religious person, there is nothing even remotely Scriptural that supports that way of thinking. If you've got a father, brother, other male relatives, a husband, a son and/or some good male friends, how could you even consider getting on board with that kind of platform? At the end of the day, how can you allow the media—something that always has an agenda and oftentimes, it's not for the greater good (look at how much media backed and even celebrated our former president)—to distract and deceive you so. I love men. I enjoy men. I know some really awesome and amazing men. And I don't care how much I hear or read the phrase "toxic masculinity" in a day, that isn't going to change my mind about those facts. That term isn't going to brainwash me into believing that they are bad, simply because they aren't women.

Watch Out for Those Double Standards

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One day, we'll have to get into how baffling it is that we as Black people will constantly discuss how racism has affected us as a culture and community and yet, for some reason, white feminism gets a pass on all of that. Why should any of us think that white feminists would be about uniting the Black family in any way, shape or form? That's why I almost cringe whenever I see Black women on social media talking about how trash or unnecessary Black men are. It's because, in my mind, I'm picturing an entire network of white people sitting back and eating popcorn while they scroll Twitter and IG to see us tearing one another to shreds. And here's the thing—when Black men dog out Black women, we all agree that it's counterproductive to doo; that it's also disrespectful as hell. OK, so why is it alright when we do it to our men? It's not. To think otherwise? That is a huge double standard.

Case in point. How come y'all didn't tell me about "foodie calls"? Apparently, there are women out here who know they aren't even remotely interested in men who like them and yet, they will accept the date—and even demand where they want to go—just to get a free meal. And yes, the phrase is a take off of "booty call" which we know is a call that is for sex only. When I was discussing how "SMDH" I thought that foodie calls were with a few women, they were like, "What's wrong with it? My time is valuable." Umm, so not the point, sis. You are using that man for his resources. Oh, but let a man hit a woman up for sex and never call again, and he's an ass. The double standards run rampant around here.

That's why I definitely believe that there is such a thing as toxic masculinity and toxic femininity. When something is toxic, it's poisonous and when either gender abuses/misuses/manipulates the other in order to accomplish a self-consumed goal, especially when it's at the expense of harming/hurting/offending another individual, that is all kinds of toxic. It's not just men who are capable of doing that either—like the fact that it's criminal for a man to hit a woman and yet I see women hit men all of the time in movies, on television shows as well as on YouTube and in TikTok skits…shoot, I've witnessed some women in my family do it too.

Double standards are entitled and hypocritical as all get out. Please make sure that you don't subscribe to them. Because doing so? That is toxic.

Men (Especially Black Men) Are Beautiful. Full Stop.

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Recently, while writing an article on what Black men value about Black women, I smiled at something one of my Black male friends said that he loved about us. "You all are strong and sexy. The fact that you're so capable to help us deal with all that we're dealt with, especially in this country, makes you extremely valuable to us. Your strength is a part of what makes you so sexy."

Yeah, I know how a lot of the toxic masculinity crew will take that. We don't need to be carrying you men. That's what's wrong with y'all now. Lawd. Please stop it. A wise person once said that if you constantly look at things through a keyhole, everything will be keyhole shaped. That isn't what my friend said. He said that the fact that we are able to support them when white America is constantly damning them, he finds that to be attractive and appealing. And you know what? The fact that the Black men in my life, I could call any of them, right this second, and they would be like, "Sure Shellie. Whatever you need", I find that to be undeniably beautiful about them.

That's why I also get that white America doesn't want Black men and Black women to feel this confident and secure in one another. They want us to see each other as obsolete and then shout it from the rooftops. The last thing they want is for me to write an article like this and end it by saying that yes, there is some real toxic masculinity out here. HOWEVER, automatically being a man and, especially a Black man, is not. I don't care how much that lie is perpetuated, I will never be on board with it. Black men, as men, are beautiful, special, sacred even to me. And no, I don't want or need them to be just like me for me to acknowledge them, praise them and support them. Believing that I should? To me, that is toxic.

In the Bible, Mark 10:6(NKJV) says, "But from the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female.'" To me, this means that men serve a purpose and women serve a purpose. We're all supposed to be things like kind (I Corinthians 13:5) and have a form of gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:23), no doubt. Yet if we were supposed to be just alike, we would be. The male design? It's amazing. The female design? It's unmatched. The egos involved when it comes to trying to manipulate either into becoming a carbon copy of the other? To me, that is what's toxic. That's what needs to be addressed more than it tends to be. So that balance can transpire. So that true toxic masculinity can be handled and dealt with without destroying masculinity in the process. Full stop.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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