Blowing Smoke In An Empty Chimney: Underneath Male Privilege

My Dear Readers,

I have dedicated the year of 2015 to examine male privilege, and specifically, its impact within the African-American community.  For years, we have focused on civil liberties and human rights. In doing so, our male leadership has ignored the pain and suffering that comes from our attempts to justify male privilege in our community as a result of this movement.

Although male privilege has historically been seen as a characteristic of white males, black males have also benefited from this privilege within their communities.  This has not only resulted in traumatic impacts on male-female relationships but also has had a profound effect on how male identity and self esteem is valued and pursued.

A major outcome of male privilege is domestic violence.  Domestic violence disempowers and traumatizes not only the family and the individual involved, who imprisons himself by such actions and behaviors, but the community as well.

Below is such a story….


Dear Visible Man,

I need your opinion regarding something that took place between my wife and me.  My spouse and I are African-American. We have been married four years, and we have an 18 month-old baby, and are expecting another child later this year.

We have very intense disagreements.  There have been several times when, following an argument, I have come home from work to discover that she has taken my son and left. When this happens, she usually goes to a relative’s house, stays 1-2 days and then returns home.

After our most recent argument, I was concerned that she was once again leaving with my son, so I blocked the door to prevent her from leaving.  She suddenly began screaming to the point where people throughout the apartment complex could hear her.  I immediately got out of the way.  She left with my son, returning one day later.

After telling them about the incident, one of my coworkers informed me that I could have been arrested for domestic violence against my spouse even though I did not touch her.  This is total crap.  The cops are going to come and put me in jail for what? Because I wanted to stop her from taking my son?  Nonsense!

I can’t believe that’s true.  I dare the cops to come in and touch me.  I am not going peacefully.  I will sue their ass for harassment.

Just saying.

Got Rights Too, Seattle, WA


Dear Got Rights,

There are times in which I simply want to shake my head and say move on.  This was one of those times.  Yet, I kept returning to this, re-reading and shaking my head.  My grandmother used to say that “an empty chimney will blow smoke and no fire.”  And this is exactly what you are doing.

Could you have been arrested for domestic violence? Absolutely!  I’ll explain my reasoning in a minute, but there are a few questions I want you to consider:

  • Was the child being placed in danger due to your spouse’s desire to leave with the child?
  • Did your spouse threaten to not return with the child? Is there a history of leaving during times of tension and not returning with the child following a cooling off period?
  • Did your spouse act recklessly in her actions? Was the child at risk of injury by your spouse’s actions?

I would ask you to be willing to explore the following:

  • The possible trauma that the child is going through by the constant emotional upheaval between you and your spouse.
  • The possible anxiety and stress being placed upon your spouse and the child she is carrying during pregnancy.

In the State of Washington, where you live, the definition of domestic violence is:

“Physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent harm, bodily injury or assault, between family or household members; sexual assault of one family or stalking as defined in RCW 9A.46.110 of one family member or household member by another family or household member.”

(RCW 26.50.010)

It is essential for you to understand that it is NOT the role of the police officer investigating the alleged violation to prove “de facto” (i.e. in fact, or in effect, whether by right or not) that a law has been violated and whether you have violated the law.  The police officer has the authority to exercise his/her BEST JUDGMENT whether

  • the law has been violated, and
  • Whether there is probable cause to hold a specific individual for the violation of the law.

Furthermore, it is the office of the prosecutor and not the police officer that decides, after reviewing the written report by the arresting officer, whether:

  • a law has been violated, and
  • Whether there is sufficient evidence to show de facto that a specific individual is to be charged with the violation.

Here’s why you, due to your behavior, may be subject to arrest for violation of the stated legal code:

  • By blocking your spouse’s avenue of escape, this may be probable cause for arrest should your spouse be able to establish that because of your actions, she felt that she or the child were in danger of imminent harm.
  • Your spouse was pregnant during the time of the altercation. The police officer has the discretion to designate your spouse as a vulnerable person, which is also probable cause for arrest, if your spouse believed she was in danger from you.
  • The fact that your wife was heard screaming throughout the apartment complex by others may also be seen as probable cause for arrest.
  • Remember, best judgment is subjective not objective. Every police officer may have a different standard to reach “probable cause.”

Concluding Words

Young man, your words demonstrate immaturity, privilege and reckless disregard for the safety and welfare of not only your family, but for your personal safety as well.

There is nothing in your words that can justify the actions you took.  There is no indication that you have taken into account the impact of your behavior upon your child.  There is a history of repetitive emotional turmoil between you and your spouse.  Your spouse acted with reason and forethought to remove the infant, herself and the unborn child from the residence to allow for a cooling down period.

Since the child was never in danger, and there was never a threat of terminating your contact with the child, one can only conclude that you blocked the door to prevent your spouse from leaving because you were upset that she was taking the child outside your area of control.  This behavior of power, control and domination is not in balance with a mature and healthy marital relationship.

There is a specific issue of male privilege in which I would ask that you address with yourself.  In loving the other person, you must question your underlying need to command obedience.  If you do so, you may see that the problem lies not within the relationship, rather, it lies within your own psychological foundation and your ill informed perception of what both masculinity and the marital bond consist of.  From a professional and clinical viewpoint, such behaviors will not maintain a healthy martial relationship.

Not only have you been reckless in placing your spouse, child and unborn at risk of traumatic impact, your comments about how you would respond to the police (“I dare the cops to come in and touch me.  I am not going peacefully”) are a signal for a train wreck ready to happen.

Should the police come to arrest you, they will come prepared to deal with you with all means necessary and that includes the use of deadly force.  Police officers take domestic violence calls very seriously, and such incidents have led to police officers and others being hurt and killed.

If there is a willingness to listen to anything I’ve said in this piece, remember these words and live to see another day, with your spouse and children:

  • Never, ever resist the directions of a police officer.
  • Follow all commands without hesitation.
  • Release your “personal space.” Allow yourself to be handcuffed and taken into custody.
  • Whatever concerns there are…seek resolution in the courts ….not in the streets.

Many of our issues as African-American men lie within intergenerational trauma and historical trauma.  Over the years, experiences as a people with an enslaved and disfranchised history repeatedly responding to the pressures of racism, oppression and discrimination will create this trauma.

Lacking power within society at large may reinforce the desire for power within the marital relationship.  In doing so, one only succeeds in the infliction of further trauma and disempowerment.  Your actions in seeking power, although hidden under the veil of love and concern, may be in all actuality, displays of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and disempowerment.

Stop blowing smoke from an empty chimney.  The power you seek lies within self.  It is not power over your loved ones that will bring you this power.

I strongly encourage you to address the basis of this behavior.  Move past the cultural taboos of seeking assistance to explore the psychological pain, which lies within.  The issue is one of trauma.  We do not have to continue to suffer or inflict suffering onto others.

A wise person learns from his/her mistakes, makes corrections and finds the right path; the foolish one will continue without direction, never finding the road even when it is in front of his/her face.

-Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life


The Visible Man

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s