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"WHAT'S JUSTICE GOT TO DO WITH IT?"

A PERSPECTIVE ON MULTICULTURALISM & THE MEN'S MOVEMENT

© 1995 by ONAJE BENJAMIN

"While most issues that concern white men in the men's movement are issues for men of color as well, the converse is not true."

"Black Men in the White Men's Movement, 1986"

Tony Bell

As an African-American male who has survived almost fifty years living in a Eurocentric society that has repeatedly demonstrated its intolerance to incorporating and supporting the cultural sovereignty of people of color, I fully agree with Tony Bell's statement of almost a decade ago. The experience of males of African descent in America, has been and continues to be, one of pain, suffering and oppression. Today's unprecedented levels of violence, incarceration, addiction and disease have so adversely affected African-American and other men of color that we consider ourselves an "endangered species." Clearly, " ...the converse is not true."

Many European-American men involved in the Men's Movement suffer from what I call the "Field of Dreams Syndrome." They create events, conferences, councils and lodges, then sit back and wait for "shoeless" Joe Jackson or more appropriately Satchel Page to emerge from the cornfields. Men who, in their personal lives, have minimal or no interaction with men of color, suddenly hunger for cross-cultural communal experiences with their "brothers." They also ardently replicate and practice the sacred rituals of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples, but spend little or no time learning about or supporting the plight of these oppressed people. And yet they continue to ask "Where are the men of color in the Men's Movement?

For most men of color, the word "movement" evokes the images and histories of people who, in the past and in the present, have struggled for justice and dignity. For over two decades, the Men's Movement has remained but a microcosm of the larger society, racially and culturally segregated as it is. For the most part, the inclusion of men of color in men's work does not appear to be a priority within the Men's Movement. Nor is there much evidence of interest in social change or justice issues. To the credit of those involved, there are efforts to create a multicultural and politically accountable Men's Movement.

The Mosaic Foundation, under the stewardship of Michael Meade, has sponsored multicultural events across the country. As a European-American, Michael Meade has modeled the kind of commitment needed to create a multicultural movement. He has initiated dialogues across the barriers of race, age, culture and sexual preference. He has created short-term non-violent communities where the tensions and conflict that exist across cultural boundaries can be aired. Yet, since the Mosaic Foundation has focused solely on creating multicultural events with themes related to youth violence, the absence of elders, racism, and other conflicts that are tearing this society apart, the number of European-American men who are willing to support these efforts is dwindling. What am I and other men of color to think of this financial and participatory retreat from political reality and multiculturalism?

The National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS), a pro-feminist group many times at odds with other branches of the Men's Movement, advocates a perspective that is, among other things, anti-racist , gay affirming and committed to justice on a broad range of social issues. While I don't agree with all of its positions, it is clear that NOMAS provides a "playing field" where men of color can find support for those concerns that are specific to our struggle and survival.

Lee Mun Wah's film The Color of Fear (reviewed in our February issue) provides an example of the type of dialogue that must take place if multiculturalism is to become a reality in the Men's Movement. The work of Aaron Kipnis, Robert Moore, and others is creating "user friendly" models that recognize the contributions of people of color, and advocate diversity and political accountability within the Men's Movement, are also steps in the right direction. Additionally, groups like the Men's Health Network. Men's Rights, Inc., and other men's advocacy groups need to create linkages and build coalitions with organizations of color like the Black Men's Health Network, and the Urban League, who are working on similar issues.

What is needed within the Men's Movement is a clear vision of what becoming truly multicultural will entail. European-American men seeking to create such a movement must expand their agenda beyond that of "inner work" and personal transformation to embrace issues of justice. European-American men, groups, councils and organizations must begin to assess their commitment to social change and justice. The community they seek to build must be more than a New -Age version of the Elks Club. They must develop socially responsible models masculinity that are not dependent upon "power over" other groups of people.

What does justice have to do with it? My own vision of a multicultural men's movement is grounded in the quest for justice. Men like myself are more likely to interact with European-American men when we see that they are taking the necessary steps to enter into a meaningful and honest dialogue. These steps include looking at their "shadows" as relate to racism and other forms of oppression and making a commitment to work for an end to racial injustice. It is essential that European-American men understand that their inaction or collusion in the perpetration of racism, sexism, classism and homophobia not only continues the legacy of pain and suffering, but extracts a toll of them as well.

What European-American men must understand is that men of color are presently involved in a struggle for the very survival our families, children and communities. Any effort to invite us into those activities that are collectively recognized as the Men's Movement must, in addition to addressing those issues common to all men, validate our experiences and be committed to social justice.

Onaje is a political activist who for the last twenty years has worked in various peace and justice movements. He is concerned about the violence, poverty, racism and sexism that exists in the world. He is founder and director of Men's Work, a consulting firm that provides training and counseling services that emphasize the development of a Socially Responsible Masculinity Onaje resides in the Woodstock, New York area. He can be reached at P.O. Box 603, Woodstock NY 12498.

Onaje is planning to come to Seattle to conduct a workshop and begin working with a group of men. If you are interested, let Bert Hoff (527-5173) or the Seattle M.E.N. office know.


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