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Advancing Black Feminism In Public Health

Dr Quinn M. Gentry

By Dr. Quinn M. Gentry

Quinn blog 7

Welcome to my blog on “Advancing Black Feminism in Public Health.” My goal is to move black feminism from the margins to the center of public health by applying 10 key principles as legitimate and comprehensive frameworks for adequately addressing health threats and related social and structural determinants of health in the lives of black women and girls.

Dr. Quinn M. Gentry

Principle 7:

Understand Black Women's Daily Lives of Reality, Roles, Relationships, and Risk-taking

In this blog, I elevate black men’s voices for principle no. 7 (of 10): Understand Black Women’s Daily Lives of Reality, Roles, Relationships, and Risk-taking for advancing black feminism in public health.

“I got a black husband, six feet three, two hundred and forty pounds, with a 14 shoe, that I don't want to be liberated from. But we are here to work side by side with this black man in trying to bring liberation to all people.”

Fannie Lou Hamer, Civil Rights Leader Tweet

When it comes to black women’s daily lives, among the many factors that set black feminism apart from mainstream white feminism is our support and advocacy for black men as our birth, step, surrogate, and community fathers, as well as the fathers of our children. Additionally, black women are connected to their black sons, brothers, uncles, clergy, teachers, mentors, civic, and community leaders. In fact, black women’s intimacy with, and affinity to, black men complicates public health interventions, primarily due to the ebb and flow of pain and pleasure in love, family, and social relationships.

 

As Fannie Lou Hamer asserts, when it comes to addressing issues related to black men, in general, black women are interested in working side by side with black men towards civic, social, economic, and health equity. In like manner, I support including black men as valued voices in mounting winning and sustainable solutions for public health threats, such as unwanted pregnancies, maternal and child health, violence against women, and sexually transmitted diseases.  

 CENTERING BLACK MEN IN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ADVANCING BLACK FEMINISM IN PUBLIC HEALTH

1. Consciousness-raising

In honor of the life and legacy of black feminist thinker, bell hooks, who transitioned on December 15, 2021, I chose her voice for the consciousness-raising perspective as to why black men must be fully present in the fight for race and gender equity. In her book, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity (2004), bell hooks framed her standpoint for centering black men in addressing socio-economic and social injustices as follows: 

“Wisely, individual radical black males understood and understand that imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy is an interrelated system of domination that will never fully empower black men. Right now that system is symbolically lynching masses of black men, choking off their very life, by making it all but impossible for them to learn basic reading and writing skills in childhood; by the promotion of addiction as the free enterprise system that works to provide unprecedented wealth to a few and short-term solace from collective pain for the many; by widespread unemployment; and the continued psychological lure of life-threatening patriarchal masculine behaviors. Anyone who claims to be concerned with the fate of black males in the United States who does not speak about the need for them to radicalize their consciousness to challenge patriarchy if they are to survive and flourish colludes with the existing system in keeping black men in their place, psychologically locked down, locked out.”

bell hooks, Black Feminist Thinker, Author, Lecturer Tweet

2. Constructive conversations

Black men’s voices are essential in advancing black feminism in public health. In my own efforts to center men’s voices, I launched a series I call, “constructive conversations” about social and health threats facing black women and girls. These constructive conversations with 6 black men from my inner-circle resulted in healthy dialogue about gender equity, love relationships, educating and mentoring young black boys, and black men’s mental health. Collectively, these men contributed valuable viewpoints from a place of thought leadership via their professions, but also shared vulnerabilities via their lived experiences.

 

Watch and listen into conversations with the following leaders below:

  • Rev. Orlando Evans: Senior Pastor; Civic/Community Leader; Former Corporate Executive
  • Joseph Kellogg: Financial Coach; Entrepreneur
  • Dr. Robert Yancy: Retired Dean, School of Business; Entrepreneur; Civic/Community Leader
  • Rev. Victor Tate: Senior Pastor; Civic/Community Leader; Former Corporate Executive
  • Symeon Ivey: Mental Health Specialist; Public Health Analyst
  • Jevon Gibson: Healthcare Executive; Public Health Innovator

Rev. Orlando Evans discusses Black men’s total health and wellness, the significance of addressing gender equity in families, and provides insight for enhanced black male engagement in mental health and public health.

Play Video

"One reason why the barber shop model has been so successful is because there is a level of engagement. There is a movie or sports game or music in the background; someone playing checkers or chess; a brother in the alley selling barbecue; and the people are engaged talking about things in a manner that's comfortable because the distraction of the barbecue, and the distraction of the haircut keeps them opened up in a way that's comfortable without feeling forced or pressured."

Rev. Orlando Evans, Civic/Community Leader Tweet

Joe discusses the value of exposing young black disadvantaged boys to legitimate career options, and he critiques the educational system for its continued resistance to evolving into a more relevant learning environment, where young boys have opportunities to build knowledge and skills in preparation for achieving the American dream through diverse and legitimate means.  

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"One of the things that has had the most impact on my life is exposure. Being given the opportunity to speak and present and feel valued did it for me. I had some visual aids around me of people doing things that weren't legal. But, I remember being attracted to the idea of a businessman in a suit. I remember seeing men in suits outside of religion and church and I said, 'Now that's clean; I think I want to be a businessman.' I didn't know what that meant. I just knew I wanted to do something where I could put on a suit and tie and I could be sharp; and planting that seed back then put me in the position I am in today."

Joseph Kellogg, Financial Coach Tweet

Dr. Yancy discusses mentoring black boys through his lived experiences as a student under the leadership of Morehouse’s 6th President, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays. He then connects that exposure to the ways in which he committed to mentoring disadvantaged boys. 

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"My role model is Dr. Mays. I was 16 when I came to Morehouse. Dr. Mays made us go to Chapel every day for a half hour; 4 days a week he would have successful black men tell us about his struggles...And once a week, Mays himself would come in every Tuesday."

Dr. Robert Yancy, Civic/Community Leader Tweet

Rev. Tate discusses the significance of creating a safe space for black boys and men to be heard. He gives a glimpse into being mentored by former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson. Rev. Tate also traces today’s absentee father pathology to the historic trauma of slavery and social programs that penalized black men’s presence in the lives of black women and children.

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"One of the ways men gauge respect is by being genuinely listened to and being heard without wanting to fix us."

Rev. Victor Tate, Civic/Community Leader Tweet

Symeon discusses what it meant to be my first intern and first full time employee. As a mental health specialist, he gives insights on black men’s unmet mental health needs, including more practical strategies for reaching and engaging black men in difficult conversations around emotions and mental instability.  

Play Video

"I don't understand how you view a white boy with a weapon as the victim and a black boy without a weapon as the villain."

Symeon Ivey, Mental Health Specialist Tweet

Jevon discusses the complexity of including young black men in reproductive health, and provides insights on conceptualizing a male-centered health intervention called “the locker room” as a safe space for young boys.

Play Video

"Here's why I chose the locker room. It's the one space where everybody is exactly the same regardless of socio-economics and sexual orientation. When you strip down in preparation to go play a sport, in the locker room, everybody's the same."

Jevon Gibson, Healthcare Executive Tweet

3. Complementary approaches

  • Womanism, a term introduced by Alice Walker, acknowledges the complex relationships between black men and black women. Womanism as a sub-field in women’s studies has evolved into a standpoint where black women can address gender and race oppression without directly attacking black men in her immediate circle.
  • The social construction of reality paradigm provides a theoretical framework for examining black love relationships in everyday life. Objective reality refers to institutionalized “stocks of knowledge” relegating relationships. Subjective reality reflects one’s interpretations of lived relational experiences.
  • Masculinity, as studied by black feminists in public health, is concerned with how family, culture, religion, media, and sports shape black masculinity. It views these influences as barriers and facilitators of healthy male development. Black feminists also critique ways in which masculinity in general reproduces behaviors, emotions, language, and practices that are harmful to women, children, and society.
  • Implementation science accounts for the complexities of behaviors, systems, and multiple actors when designing an intervention for a high-risk group. Centering black men in public health can lead to relevant interventions aimed at modifying black men’s adverse behaviors, thereby serving as a structural intervention for some vulnerable women and children.
  • Black family studies contextualize black family dynamics through a lens of slavery, sharecropping, migration, the industrial revolution, and post modernity. Among its contributions to social science, this body of work offers an explanation of how the American political economy presents the black family with unprecedented racially-constructed environments that intentionally destabilizes and fragilizes black families.

4. Critical viewpoint

Black boys and men will feel valued and respected in America when . . . . . .

My constructive conversations with black men included multifaceted discussions about the concept of “RESPECT”. Among the common themes, a clear narrative of historical disrespect emerged, as each shared their beliefs about what authentic respect in America would look and feel like, by finishing the sentence: “Black boys and men will feel valued and respected in America when…”

Christopher Minter, Artist, Scholar, Activist
Bard College, Class of 2021, Studio Arts/Africana Studies
(pictured in photo)

5. Call to action

“Whether you have a Ph.D. or D.D. or no Degree, we’re in this bag together. Not to fight to try to liberate ourselves from the men, but to work together with the black man, then we will have a better chance to just act as human beings, and to be treated as human beings in our sick society…We are here to work side by side with this black man in trying to bring liberation to all people.”

Fannie Lou Hammer, Civil Rights Activist Tweet

In closing, let’s work side by side in our quest for equity, through gaining the respect we deserve as individuals, as families, and as a community of people who care deeply for one another. I am doing my part by building close, caring relationships with the young black men in my family.

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