FUNCTIONAL AND INTENTIONAL SEXISM
Why, then, do Black men occupy a privileged victim status in antiracist discourse? How has this come to pass? The dual effect of intentional sexism and functional sexism provides a partial explanation. Intentional sexism here refers to political or legal efforts within Black liberation movements that are intended to subordinate Black women’s experiences or that are based at least in part on explicit patriarchal notions of gender. The Million Man March (hereinafter, the "March"), organized by the Nation of Islam (hereinafter, the "Nation"), presents a recent example. The March called for a "holy day in atonement for our misdeeds, seeking operational unity and solidarity among ourselves."14 According to the Manifesto for the March, "Until Black men stand up, Black men and Black women cannot stand together and accomplish the awesome task before us."15 The organizers of the March made it clear that the March constituted Black men’s individual and collective attempt to "stand up"; therefore, women were not invited. Black men were urged to take their rightful place as the "head of families," to take back control of the Black family from Black women (who are sometimes perceived to be the "carriers of [the] black family pathology"),16 and to assume the patriarchal role as the "’maintainers’" of women and children.17 Black women, on the other hand, were encouraged to "[do] bake sales, raise. . . money or stay home and take care of the children."18 This "women-stay-at-home" sentiment is based on traditional notions of gender and domesticity ("a woman’s work is in the home") and forwarded the notion that the public sphere of political discourse is no place for Black women.19
This argument notwithstanding, the March was not an insignificant Black community event. Indeed, as several of the contributors to this volume argue, most notably Ishmael Reed, Cornel West, Anthony Farley, and Eddie Glaude and Ronald Sullivan, at the very least the
March reminded us that Black political consciousness and grass roots efforts can provide an impetus for Black political activism. The fact that so many Black men (and some Black women) participated is a symbolic if not a real indication that Black men are ready to be politically counted.
Functional sexism denotes antiracist efforts that primarily attack Black male racial subordination as a means of eradicating Black racial subordination. This male-centered strategy could result from the perception either that Black men’s cumulative experiences with white supremacy, particularly in the context of the criminal justice system, render them "endangered" in a way that Black women are not or that Black women’s experiences with racism are a subset of Black men’s experiences with racism. Whatever the rationale underlying the male focus, the political impact is the same: the marginalization of Black women’s experiences in antiracist efforts.
Consider the discourse supporting the establishment of African American male academies. A number of "public school districts. . . proposed or implemented African American all-male schools (or classes) in a controversial attempt to improve the academic performance and self-esteem of African American boys."20 These academies were not instituted to marginalize Black female adolescents or to trivialize the extent to which they face severe educational obstacles; they were intended "to promote the positive academic and holistic development of an endangered segment of our society—the young African-American male."21 Nevertheless, the discourse about these academies often ignores the degree to which Black girls are burdened by racism,22 discards the particular educational difficulties with which black girls are confronted,23 and draws a causal connection between the absence of Black girls and Black female teachers from the classroom and the success of Black boys.24 The focus on Black boys and not Black girls creates the false impression that the educational status of Black female adolescents is such that they are not in need of these kinds of academies or that, if they are in need of such academies, in a zero-sum political world their need has to be subordinated to the perceived needs of Black male adolescents.25 The social meaning of this differential treatment is that, whatever the status of Black girls, it is Black boys, members of the first sex, who have the potential to become strong Black men, the potential to save themselves and thus the Black community.
Significantly, an examination of how functional sexism is implicated in the establishment of Black male academies is not intended to replicate the pitting of Black men against Black women in the disreputable "who is more oppressed" inquiry.26 As Derrick Bell observes, "[t]his society has not much loved either black men or black women."27 There is thus no justifiable basis for treating the subordinated status of young Black men as more deserving of Black political solicitude than the subordinated status of young Black women.