By Guest Contributor Lamont Lilly
Dr. Mark Anthony Neal is a professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke University. He is the author of five books including Soul Babies (2002), New Black Man (2005) and the forthcoming Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities (2013). He is also co-editor of That’s the Joint! (2011) and is host of the weekly webcast Left of Black. After sitting-in on one of his classes, we paused for a few questions. Read along as Neal speaks quite insightfully on Spike Lee, Nas, Black feminism, and the n-word.
Lamont Lilly: Dr. Neal, in your book New Black Man, you describe how you were first tagged a “Black male feminist” on the BET Tonight Show. Being that you embrace this tag, can you share with us the meaning of a Black male feminist?
Mark Anthony Neal: (Laughing) Well, when I first began graduate school I was introduced to something called Feminist Theory, a body of work that attempted to intervene in both political discourse and everyday realities regarding the notions of equity between men and women. The idea that men inherited a certain amount of privilege from their maleness was a privilege even more complicated when factoring race into the equation. I was taking classes in the English Department and became curious to the question, “Where are all the Black women writing about this?” There I was, reading Barbara Christian and Barbara Smith, and on my own I began to seek out sisters like bell hooks.
I remember purchasing my first bell hooks reading on me and my wife’s first wedding anniversary. It was my first attempt at critically engaging that type of material. Hooks is one of the most important figures out there on studies of gender, sexuality, and race in the last 20 years. She’s written 15 or so books and none of them with footnotes. She was taking this high theoretical language and writing it in a way that was both applicable and accessible to everyday folks. It was under this context that I was introduced to not just feminism, but Black feminism.