Elevate Difference

Black Male Outsider: Teaching as a Pro-Feminist Man

In this compelling, readable volume that is part memoir, part classroom case study Dr. Gary L. Lemons employs the theme of moving from silence to voice, and what this means for anti-racist, feminist pedagogy. He eloquently writes about his experiences teaching and learning in majority white classrooms as a pro-feminist, African American man.

Filled with the citations from work that has inspired and supported his pedagogy—such as bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Marlon Riggs, and Patricia Hill Collins, as well as quotes from the many critical autobiographical writings Lemons assigned to his students—Black Male Outsider is a powerful memoir and teaching tool. He offers educators at all levels effective strategies they can adapt to their own classrooms to teach and learn across difference and is one of the most compelling books on this subject to come out in some time.

For thirteen years Lemons was a professor at a small, progressive, liberal arts college in New York City. His book highlights his classroom strategies to challenge students to confront the interrelated forces of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia, often through teaching black, feminist literature. He also highlights how he worked to encourage students to come to a deeper understanding of the ways white supremacy has shaped American culture. To further illuminate his path to being a pro-feminist educator, Lemons also delves deeply into his own personal history of growing up in Arkansas and surviving domestic violence perpetrated by his father.

Lemons, whose doctorate is in English literature, is adept with language, and he plays with it throughout the book. Unfortunately, his many italics, parentheses, and quotation marks—while making a strong point about how institutionalized power inhabits the very language we speak—become a distraction from his otherwise clear prose. They threaten to become too cutesy for the depth with which he addresses his subjects.

Fortunately, Lemons and the students whose work he quotes provide powerful examples and testimony of the possibilities teaching across difference offers. He demonstrates how one can find strength in difference that resists a banal, depoliticized celebration of multiculturalism. He also powerfully makes the case that men can and must be feminist advocates and allies. 

As Lemons writes in the conclusion, his book "promotes black feminist memoir-writing pedagogy that opposes all forms of domination, and it promotes the critical necessity of one’s movement from silence to voice about the effects of its dehumanization—personally and politically." Lemons bravery in confronting the violence social injustices wreak on society in his teaching and in his writing will serve his readers alike and equip them with knowledge a theoretical framework in which they can formulate their own ideas of how to heal from the wounds of white supremacy in their own lives.

Written by: Eleanor Whitney, April 10th 2009

Interesting review. I think there was a bit of cultural bias in regards to the mention of the 'cutesy' nature of his punctuated writing (i love lots of punctuation... and smiley faces too), but other than that, a very interesting review. As a Black Male feminist who gives workshops on Patriarchy, I found it very admirable for you to review this book, particularly since so many feminists disregard the voice of men, especially men who are people of color... especially Black Men.

Love for the people, -T. Love