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Breaking the Silence: Toward a Black Male Feminist Criticism

by David Ikard

Can black males offer useful insights on black women and patriarchy? Many black feminists are doubtful. Their skepticism derives in part from a history of explosive encounters with black men who blamed feminism for stigmatizing black men and undermining racial solidarity and in part from a perception that black male feminists are opportunists capitalizing on the current popularity of black women's writing and criticism. In Breaking the Silence, David Ikard goes boldly to the crux of this debate through a series of provocative readings of key African American texts that demonstrate the possibility and value of a viable black male feminist perspective.

Seeking to advance the primary objectives of black feminism, Ikard provides literary models from Chester Himes's If He Hollers Let Him Go, James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, Toni Morrison's Paradise, Toni Cade Bambara's The Salt Eaters, and Walter Mosley's Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned and Walkin' the Dog that consciously wrestle with the concept of victim status for black men and women. He looks at how complicity across gender lines, far from rooting out patriarchy in the black community, has allowed it to thrive. This complicity, Ikard explains, is a process by which victimized groups invest in victim status to the point that they unintentionally concede power to their victimizers and engage in patterns of behavior that are perceived as revolutionary but actually reinforce the status quo.

While black feminism has fostered important and necessary discussions regarding the problems of patriarchy within the black community, little attention has been paid to the intersecting dynamics of complicity. By laying bare the nexus between victim status and complicity in oppression, Breaking the Silence charts a new direction for conceptualizing black women's complex humanity and provides the foundations for more expansive feminist approaches to resolving intraracial gender conflicts.

Some reviews of David Ikard's book:

Herman Beavers, author of Wrestling Angels into Song: The Fictions of Ernest J. Gaines and James Alan McPherson and Associate Prof at U of Penn, says,

"David Ikard's Breaking the Silence respresents one of the most thorough and insightful mappings of the gender politics resonating throughout African American fiction and criticism. Embracing the role of black male feminist, moving with ease through texts produced in the last half of the twentieth century, Ikard critiques the ideological and aesthetic blind spots that have plagued the creative and critical practice of writers and critics alike, as he instructs us not only on the importance of retooling interpretive strategies to identify and vocalize the ravaging effect patriarchy and masculinity have wrought in the black community but also on the costly expense of failing to do so."

Michael Awkward, Professor at U of Michigan and author of Negotiating Difference: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Positionality, writes,

"Locating himself as a learned, sympathetic, and sometimes disputatious participant in black feminism, and engaging authors both central and peripheral to its core investigations of patriarchy, Ikard skillfully probes these novelists' varied representations of the politics, possibilities, and limitations of black American masculinity as a mode of social performance."

David Ikard is an assistant professor of English at the University of Tennessee. He lives in Knoxville with his wife and two children.