The Dis-empowered Black Man

Justified or not, we are now dealing with a dis empowered black man who has for the longest time curated and defined his masculinity around an ideological standpoint that is now becoming obsolete and somewhat of a dirty word, patriarchy. Patriarchy was and still is a system that serve(d) men’s interests while sacrificing the needs of women, when patriarchy was the acceptable status quo, both men and women had clearly defined and to an extent unchallenged roles in a relationship and in the household. Gender and sexuality were not binary nor were they debatable, sexual fluidity was not a concept that existed. Our grandparents knew what to expect from a relationship and from each other. Women knew to accept ubaba/papa/dad as the authority, the one with the final say, who essentially put down the law on what got done. In cases where there is no elder man in the family, a young boy (even though the mother is alive and he has older sisters) would be treated as the head. Sometimes an uncle would be brought in to marry a dead brother’s widow because a household needed a man to lead it, the woman couldn’t possibly be allowed to make men’s decisions. He was ultimately playing a starring role, while the woman was the supporting act (assuming she featured at all). In pedi we say, ne go lla seeta sa gagwe, meaning when he was there everyone felt it because he put his foot down (poorly translated). Everyone knew their place and didn’t cross those boundaries because that was the standard, it was the way things had always been done without room to negotiate.

But within a democracy were we are working towards a post-patriarchal society (as we should), we’ve had to try to dismantle the traditional ideology that has only served to uplift one gender at the expense of another. What has happened as a result though, is that we’ve had to dismantle a philosophy that has been used as the core or root of manhood. Black women now have black or afro-feminist ideologies that have helped us ground ourselves as we rediscover our identities as independent strong black women, we have feminism as a frame of reference. We also have civil society organizations and private entities like Lionesses of Africa that are helping rebuild and empower the #GirlChild. Unfortunately black men now have nothing, patriarchy is oppressive and African cultures and traditions are now being seen as patriarchy’s ugly step kids, especially in cases where they refuse to evolve with changing times. As a result of the shifts in gender roles, ideologies and political structures, we’re now stuck with a byproduct of a violent black man struggling with a disenfranchised masculinity.


For the longest time they were able to define their manhood on their ability to provide, now women can claim that honour as they lead more financially independent lives, and then some. Power dynamics have changed, and so now a tension has risen in relationships because you have the empowered black woman demanding her place in a space currently filled with the toxic energies of a disempowered black man. The conflict keeps rising because black women now refuse to negotiate their safety, debate their rights to be and they absolutely do not want to live in an environment that forces them to self-police. We find ourselves in a ‘tricky’ positon with a historically former provider who’s now stuck in that liminal in-between place where he’s frustrated about  what his manhood means today in a world of new complexities, while holding on to the traditional power roles they used to enjoy as heads of families. So basically wanting to have their cake and eat or else.

Unfortunately for the black women in their lives, the hunger for that clearly defined safe space where they can freely express their desired masculinity has manifested in violent ways. Black masculinity in particular has now become synonymous with oppressive power and violence. Black women bare the grunt of this rage because they are the soft and closest targets for the black man to throw his firsts on. We are somehow to blame for centuries of emasculation perpetrated on the black man by the white men’s system. They are taking their power back by disempowering the women in their lives through violent actions. In a time of afro-feminist ideology, what role (outside of reproductive purposes) do black men have to play in the lives of a liberated black woman? Because in reality, the disempowered black man isn’t where he is because black women found their independence, he is here because when times changed, they were left out of the conversation. Where is their ‘Take a Boy Child to work Day’? They need to learn or be taught new ways to affirm their masculinities without oppressing or suppressing black women. Black masculinity needs to stop being about overpowering someone else. Right now it just feels like instead of dealing with their issues, they are making their fight our problem. They are using violence to disempower the black women, just as they are disempowered. We are having to fight a war that isn’t ours to fight in the first place.