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«POWER, MONEY, AND SEX(UALITY): THE BLACK MASCULINE PARADIGM A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and ...»

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A Dissertation

Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the

Louisiana State University and

Agricultural and Mechanical College

In partial fulfillment of the

Requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy


The Department of English


Kendric Coleman

B.A., Louisiana State University and A&M College, 1997

M.A., Louisiana State University and A&M College, 1999

May, 2005


Table of Contents


........................................ iii CHAPTER 1


DEFINITION, AND SIGNIFICANCE................... 1 Defining and Extending the Notion of “Cool Pose”....... 2 Freedom of Movement and Politicization of the Black Male Body........................... 4 Synthesizing the Trickster/Bad-man Figure(s)......... 24 Building the BMP—Points of Analysis................35 CHAPTER 2 THE POLITICIZED BLACK MALE CONSCIOUSNESS....... 39 CHAPTER 3


LET’S GET CRUNK............................. 84 CHAPTER 4


MY LUVA................................... 139 CHAPTER 5


UNLEASHED................................ 179 BIBLIOGRAPHY.................................... 186 VITA............................................ 197 ii Abstract This study develops the Black Masculine Paradigm (BMP), a construct used to trace historically specific components that inform black masculinity and explores the physical and psychological defensive strategies employed by black men in Richard Wright’s Black Boy, Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promisedland, Nathan McCall’s Make Me Wanna Holler, and James Earl Hardy’s B-Boy Blues.

Specifically, this project offers that power, money, and sex(uality) are located at the core of the BMP, and these social objectives are negotiated through politicization, prescribed masculinity, and heterosexuality. This project reads the politicization of the black male body through its presence in literature and film. Adding to work included by literary and cultural studies scholars, the study has social and psychological dimensions that suggest an alternate form of black masculinity as well. The study reveals that these strategies affect the black males’ economic, social and physical movement, and creates a corrupt national narrative that is informed and disrupted by racism.

–  –  –

Chapter 1: Contextualizing Black Masculinity: Scope, Definition, and Significance This project develops the Black Masculine Paradigm (BMP), a construct I use to trace historically specific components that inform black masculinity in the U.S. First, I extend and further define what Richard Majors and Janet Billson refer to as “cool pose,” the physical and psychological defensive strategies employed by black men to maintain detachment in tense encounters, and I wed it to the effect of man’s limited economic, social and physical movement, and a corrupt national narrative informed and disrupted by racism. The notion of black masculinity that prevails in contemporary critical discourse focuses on the single components that make up black masculinity, particularly behavior and performance, and materialism. Specifically, I offer that power, money, and sex(uality) are located at the core of the

–  –  –

paradigm’s major components: freedom of movement and politics of the body. My project then reads the politicization of the black male body through its presence in literature and film. Adding to work included by literary and cultural studies scholars, my study has social and psychological dimensions that suggest an alternate mode of black masculinity as well. Using the trickster and bad-man figure as archetypes of black masculinity, I read the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Richard Wright’s Black Boy, Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land, and Nathan McCall’s Makes Me Wanna Holler to explore physical, social, and economic movement. Further, I

–  –  –

demonstrate the importance of performance in black male selfrepresentation. Finally, I employ the novels of Wright, Brown, McCall and James Hardy B-Boy Blues to read sexuality as a problematic design for masculinity.

Defining and Extending the Notion of “Cool Pose” Majors and Billson’s theory of “cool pose” places black males on a collision course with white social institutions. They posit “being male and black has meant being psychologically castrated—rendered impotent in the economic, political, and social arenas that whites have historically dominated “(1). Of course, many black men define their manhood the same as white men do—as breadwinner, provider, procreator, and protector. However, because black men have not had consistent access to social capital they need in order to fulfill their dreams of masculinity, cool pose becomes a surrogate for masculinity, adopted mostly by young inner city black males, “that is used as a tool for hammering masculinity out of the bronze of their daily lives in a restrictive society” (2). It consists of the physical—unique patterns of speech, walk, demeanor, dress, and psychological components—poise under pressure, the ability to maintain detachment from emotions and tense encounters; all of these act as “a defense to ward off the ill effects of racial oppression and social inequality” (2-3). “Cool pose” for some black males becomes more important than life itself, which explains the fact that African-American males die earlier and faster than white males from suicide, homicide, accidents, and stress-related illnesses; that black males are more deeply involved in criminal and delinquent activities; that they drop out of school or are suspended more often than white children; and that they have more volatile relationships with women. (2) Thus, cool pose can end in destruction, if black men cannot navigate through hegemonic social institutions.

Essentially, cool pose is a coping mechanism that black men use to develop a distinct form of black male aesthetics, behaviors and actions that they see as essentially male, and/or as acting male. I argue that in contemporary America cool pose is an articulation of masculinity that synthesizes tropes of the trickster/bad-man figure, and this modified version of black manhood demonstrates the increasing importance and changing definitions of masculinity from slavery to the post-modern era. Majors and Billson trace various forms of cool pose to African Culture in which the people were in harmony (cool) with nature. I posit that filtering cool pose through the lens of the trickster/bad-man figure reveals it as a definitive trickster trope, reconfiguring Majors and Billson’s limited construct that addresses ritualized sexuality, yet hardly considers heterosexuality as a masculine construct, nor addresses homophobia. Further, I use Maurice Wallace’s idea of black male specularity to examine the current placement of black men in the American national narrative.

Integrating Wallace’s notion into my framework allows me to read masculine performance as internalized racism and as a coping strategy. The wide critical net I cast produces a more inclusive mapping of black masculinity.

Freedom of Movement and Politicization of the Black Male Body Freedom of movement refers to the ways in which black men have been limited because of racism: physically, socially, and economically.

Physical and social mobility refers to the limited restriction of blacks during slavery and segregation in which they could not utilize the same facilities as whites. This project positions racism as a restrictor of black males’ social mobility in American institutions. Economic movement, which greatly affects social mobility, refers to black men’s ability to achieve financial success and the false status it creates. As Christopher B. Booker’s I Will Wear No Chain! argues, the greatest obstacle for black men to overcome is the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Because slavery took the place of family and responsibility, it forced black men to reconstruct their masculinity in terms of sexual prowess and materialism; yet, the modern world requires black men to overcome the social fallout of Jim Crow. Jabari Asim suggests that the social remains of Jim Crow cast a veil over black men’s attempts to confront current forms of inequities “within the context of an increasing globalized economy and polity” (i). Thus, as America’s wealth and ideas extend beyond its geographical border, the black voice is seldom heard. This silence emblematizes the remaining elements of Jim Crow within the educational and criminal justice system. Asim’s “Black Man Standing” implies that black men, in order to fulfill Christopher Booker’s plea to overcome the legacy of slavery, must deal with modern day white supremacy. For example, black athletes adorn the fields of many predominately white universities but are scarce in their graduate programs. Asim asserts that the forces of white supremacy today have “replaced their customary rabble-housing inanities with the subtler jargon of judicial retrenchment and illconceived ‘contracts with America” (30). Indeed, according to Ellis Cose, black males are twice as likely to receive jail time than their white counter-parts for the same offense (6), as these “contracts” put black men in the unique position of desiring protection from the law in a nation that theoretically guarantees such protection yet practically neglects that responsibility.

–  –  –

Politicization happens when the ethnic body commits a severe crime.

For instance, people who were and appeared Arab were intensely viewed with suspicion and received harsh treatment after 9/11. This image, however, is not as solidified as the black male image. Whites have also been politicized to some degree, but white males still control mechanisms that check and balance their politicization. White males commit crimes too, but they are not criminalized within the national narrative. That is, no one rounded up bald headed white men after the Oklahoma City bombing. White men are also negatively portrayed in

–  –  –

representation from becoming a definitive image. Despite slavery and its complexity of white involvement, all white men have not been politicized as racist. The politicization that has occurred does not limit white men’s social, economic, or physical mobility because they control most of the institutions that restrict these movements for black men and have had a hand in the institutional design: the education system, criminal justice system, etc. The proof of the politicization that has occurred to black men lies in black men who are able to navigate social institutions and become successful. Take a middle class black man who has never had problems with the justice system, performed well in primary and higher education, and achieved a comfortable economic and social existence. His status works well in his immediate social environments: at work, in his community, and around his friends. However, outside this world, at any moment, he can be a victim of politicization. The ongoing situation in New York City in which some cab drivers will not pick up black men is very telling of this process.

Mark Neal and E. Lynn Harris argue that middle class status does not protect black men from police brutality and its inherent racist assumptions. This status is effective in certain environments, but at any given point any black males regardless of status, may be seen as “just another nigger,” making them easy scapegoats. Economic status is very important within the BMP, for black men have been limited to a certain level of masculinity because their identity is condensed into stereotyped blackness. In other words because of racism, financially successful black men can only achieve a certain level of masculinity.

One black man represents all black men. For example, when one black man becomes a perpetrator, all black men become collapsed into him. It happens so frequently that many black men have become members of the “please-don’t-let-them-be-black” club (Harris 21).

Neal and Harris’s commentary goes behind the mask of financial success to examine how black male wealth does not increase their masculine status.

Much of the racism that limits black men’s mobility is located in the negative portrayals of black men as beasts, criminals, and buffoons.

During slavery, the dominant caricatures of blacks as mammy, coon,

–  –  –

groveling. These caricatures were performed in minstrels that answered deep psychic needs for white audiences (Boskin and Dorinson 93). For blacks, this ridicule forged psychic chains: a bag for Uncle Ben, a box for Aunt Jemima, a cabin in the sky for Uncle Tom, and a pancake restaurant chain for Sambo (94). Such images positioned white men within the institution of slavery as the paternalistic caretakers of slaves. Pragmatic and instrumental, these representations were created from whites’ need to oppress blacks. For example, during the Reconstruction Period, many white writers like Thomas Nelson Page argued that without slavery’s suppression of blacks’ animalistic tendencies, especially men, blacks would revert to criminal savagery. Thus, the brute caricature began the politicization of black men within the national narrative and was solidified.

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