«POWER, MONEY, AND SEX(UALITY): THE BLACK MASCULINE PARADIGM A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and ...»
As Wright grows older, the pressure of status to be like his peers increases, as it does in many peer groups. He envies his schoolmates who go in the grocery store and pick out what they want to eat. Rather than participate in delinquent activity, Wright is reserved with his schoolmates, “seeking their company but never letting them guess how much he was being kept out of the world in which they lived, valuing their casual friendship but hiding it, acutely self-conscious but covering it with a quick smile and a ready phrase” (148). Here Wright employs the trickster motif of deception which allows him to still be a part of the group without revealing his weakness.
After several attempts at job hunting, Wright acquires a job as a houseboy, which provides him with enough money to participate in the status gaining process. At the midday recess, he crowds into the corner store and eat sandwiches with the boys, slamming down his
admired for the new clothes he buys every week. The ability to participate gives Wright a sense of control and independence. Further control is gained through his boasting to his friends about all the food he manages to eat when his employer’s back is turned. This type of boasting, also known as woofing, is a “behavioral pattern that conveys only predisposition for violence and promotes masculinity” (Majors 24). However, one notices a drastic change regarding boasting for urban black males that almost always leads to violence in Manchild and Holler.
As Wright enters adulthood, some prescriptions loose weight, such as boasting, vulgar, language and fighting, but the recognition of the self remains strong. Because Wright has to help provide for his family, he begins to associate less with friends. Add to that the religious home in which he lives, and the mush-and-lard gravy poverty, one finds that he is cut off from the normal processes of the lives of black boys his own age (204). Wright’s recognition of the self is tested when his principal wants him to read a graduation speech that would be acceptable to a white board member in the audience, but Wright gives his own speech about what he will become not what society would let him become. With almost seventeen years of baffled living behind him, he faces the world in 1925.
But he can not follow the code of silence that many in the black community practiced at the time. “This motif of silence conceptualizes the difficulty that Wright had in establishing himself as a fully conscious individual (Tate 118).” His mother’s beatings were to teach that his skin color did not privilege him to be treated or recognized as a man. He sees the reality this teaching on several jobs. At the optical plant, he learns that he is not presumed worthy to learn how to cut lenses, a white man’s trade, as his boss has promised. The job at the hotel offers a little relief since most of the people he worked with were black, but here too “he marveled at how smoothly the black boys acted out the roles that the white race had mapped out for them” (232). Wright listens for hours at the curses and sex stories of the other males, “wondering how on earth they could laugh so freely, trying to grasp the miracle that gave their debased lives the semblance of a human existence” (233). Meanwhile, white watchmen pat their women on the buttocks whenever they want. On every job, Wright is treated as an “other” with very little respect and confined to particular roles because he reveals, often without thinking, his rebellious consciousness, and as a result disturbs every facet of the southern social framework (Tate 118).
The prescriptions for masculinity found in Douglass and Wright are more for mental and economic survival. Each wants to be respected as a man and be able to make a decent living. Even when Wright participates in a ticket scam at the theaters, it’s only to get enough money to go north. Stealing doesn’t become habitual or status gaining for Wright like it does in Promised and Holler. Also early prescriptions that Wright learns from his peer group fade away as he reaches adulthood, making them harmless. But Promised opens a whole new world for masculinity. Like Wright, the black males in Promised want respect and self-recognition but it’s a very different world in which they become their own worst enemy. These males also want economic status but not only for survival but to represent how well they are doing. It is here that the “ bling, bling” phenomenon begins in which expensive material possessions represents status. These new black males manage the impression they communicate to others through the use of an imposing array of masks, acts, and facades to help them perform their masculinity (Majors and Billson 5).
Brown’s Promised wastes no time in introducing us to the violent world of masculinity. On the first page of chapter one, the reader is greeted with the gunshot wound that Brown receives while stealing with his gang. The world for black males has grown in Promised, especially in the Northern cities. Their environment is increasingly becoming large urban ghettos that have very little protection from crime and poverty. It is still very hard to make a living but raising a black male becomes the biggest challenge because, unlike the South, which limited black male behavior, these urban communities created new problems for black males to deal with.
Belonging to a peer group/gang is one the first prescriptions of masculinity in the new urban world. It is in this group, which includes Toto, Buck, Bulldog, Danny and a host of others, that Brown participates in delinquent activity. It is in this group that he learns how to steal and take off from school, which is known as “catting.” I will explore these peer groups more closely in the next chapter.
Female domination and sexual prowess also become a prescription for masculinity. Brown and his friends are educated about women through the eyes of Johnny D, one of the hippest guys around. To Johnny, every female is a bitch, even mothers. To him there are some nice “bitches,” but they are still bitches. And a man, according to Johnny, has to be a dog in order to handle his bitch. Johnny D. brings reality to this statement when he gets mad at Clara and takes her on the roof and let Brown and other guys “ run a train on her” (have sex).
This is Brown’s first sexual experience. Thus, it’s not surprising that
masculinity. Not every black male has such an experience but most black males have been pressured into having or wanting to have sex in a peer group.
The primary reason why black males have such views of women is that they are born into a male dominated society. Powell argues that such a demeaning view of women is a process that black males learn over a period time, one that often goes unchecked and sometimes is encouraged, both directly and indirectly, by other sources besides the peer group (54). Powell recalls how “his education at home with his mother, at school, on his neighborhood playgrounds, and at church all “placed” males at the center of the universe, with popular culture only adding and solidifying his training (55). Now Brown and his friends’ objectification of women and hypersexuality becomes clear.
It must be noted that this prescription, hypersexuality, is one of America’s most durable and deadly stereotypes about black men. It can be traced back to the early 1500’s, when European explorers in West Africa became fascinated with black sexual practices. One explorer, according Earl Hutchinson, called the penises of Mandingo tribesmen “burthensome members” because of their size (70). It wouldn’t take long for such notions to include all African men resulting in a myth that could be elevated to national hysteria, creating the inferior black hypersexual brute (70). So there should be no doubt as to why (sex)uality seems to be written on the consciousness of black men. And though it is one the most destructive images created about black men, it is one that is also embraced and will be most difficult to deconstruct because the notion that black men have a stronger capacity for sexual enjoyment or simply that black men “ do it” more better is one that most black males accept gratefully (Chapman and Rutherford 119). But these sexual savage images of the black male “tell us more about the repressed fears and fantasies of European civilization than they do about black people’s experience of sexual intimacy (ibid).” This fact is an interesting inquiry for another time.
The acquisition of materials that represent wealth is yet another prescription for masculinity. These acquisitions denote the style of the black male. Black males have learned in the “streetscape of their neighborhoods to walk, talk and, act in ways that advertise coolness.” Brown recalls how he never wanted to get caught catting before he stole a new suit. To him, the suit would make anybody look respectable, and “the cops wouldn’t bother you if you looked respectable”. According to Brown, you could also see how “slick a nigger was” in the street by the suit he wore. One such person is Mr.
Jimmy, a hustler, who knew how to “git by” so well in the streets that he hadn’t had a job in twenty-years. He changed cars every year, dressed up with shined shoes every day of the week, always had plenty of money, always had a pretty woman with him, and kept his hair slicked back. Thus, you have the ultimate trickster/badman who is able to have success without participating in the white mainstream, something every black male wants to accomplish. Thus style informs the black male’s audience how he wishes to be seen and presumably how well he is living.
Because of his lack of appropriate clothing, Brown rarely goes to school. Like Brown, for many black males school is only cool if you can afford the latest attire and participate in the coolest activities.
Black males who can not participate distance themselves. He can not afford to dress like the other guys unless he sells pot on the street. A typical school day for fifteen year old Brown consists of selling drugs, shooting craps, and having sex. Thus Brown’s growth is channeled through the narrow parameters of experiences deemed by his peer group and himself as cool. Brown, Wright, and McCall all want to participate with the larger society, but they do not have the same access as their white counterparts so their behavior may be seen as a form of anger and rebellion, especially when so many other black males are in similar situations. This wide spread anger however, “cannot be treated as merely as a symptom of individual psychological distress, but it most be approached as symptomatic of an underlying social disease” (Gibbs 141). This analogy allows one to analyze more closely the fundamental social factors that contribute to the anger that Douglass, Wright, Brown, and McCall and contemporary black males feel over poverty, discrimination, social isolation, and political powerlessness.
Brown’s typical school days become so boring that he returns on his own to the Warwick detention facility where most of his friends are.
Here at Warrick, Brown reveals to his readers the coolness of language that develops among black males in addition to vulgar language. It is in 1951, according to Brown, that he hears the expression “baby” used by one black male to address another. At the time, such language had a “hip ring to it.” “Only colored cats could give it the meaning that we all knew it had without ever mentioning it—the meaning of black masculinity,” states Brown (165). Thus simultaneously, although this word ostensibly weakens masculinity because of its denotation and connotation, just speaking the words means one is sure of his masculinity. The word went beyond the world of urban black males to permeate jazz musicians and the hip set, boxers, dancers, comedians and many other places in Harlem. It was the introduction of black reflection and soul (166). However, it was also related to the introduction of heroin in the black communities.
Many theories over the years have come about how drugs were introduce into black communities, but the one involving the Central Intelligence Agency is most prominent. According to John Parker, for over a decade or more the CIA sold weapons and drugs to two Los
funneled millions of dollars in drug profits to U.S.-trained terrorist in an effort to oust the Sandinista government in Nicaragua during the 1980s.” Parker further adds that the Sandnista had overthrown the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship in 1979 in a mass-based revolution.
According to Parker, Robert Knight and Dennis Bernstein first aired the
“Undercurrents” series in 1986. The national series interviewed pilots carrying drugs, contras, and drug-enforcement officials. These events became widely know from a series of articles by the San Jose, California Mercury News. The CIA investigated itself, according to Parker, but agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement complained of CIA interference into investigations of the drug dealers in the case, Blandon and Meneses. Thus, it’s easy to see how gangs turned so violent during the 1980’s and drugs permeated black cities across America. All of sudden black people knew drugs were everywhere in their community, but they wondered who was driving the boats and plane to get them there. They new it was not the kids on the corner who were hauled off to prison or detention centers for selling drugs. And it’s not surprising that they became victims once again during America’s war on drugs.