«POWER, MONEY, AND SEX(UALITY): THE BLACK MASCULINE PARADIGM A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and ...»
Heroin has become a double edged sword for black men and black people in general. Selling heroin, and drugs in general, allows black males to avoid participating in the white mainstream by providing economic status, but this gain was/is at the expense of other black males and the larger black community. Many black males use heroin, like pot, as one of their prescriptions for masculinity to be cool. And many who used pot and alcohol to escape everyday problems tried heroin; some never came back and became junkies. Drugs combined with social alienation and politicization devastated the black psyche and continues to disrupt the quest for masculinity today because of economic hold on black males. Brown and McCall watched as drugs took over neighborhoods and entire black communities. “It was as though drugs were a ghost, a big ghost, haunting the community” (180). These junkies became the backdrop of African-American ghettos as they wreaked havoc on the city trying to finding something to sell in order to get a quick fix in the mix of a revolution for masculinity. I say revolution because Brown and black males in general are confronted with the formidable challenges of developing a
society, while managing the turmoil of adolescence (Paster 216). Thus black males become “special objects of projection for a white-maledominated society that focuses on his blackness and his maleness as representations of its disowned self” (217).
Brown discusses this revolution with his friend Alley in order to make him understand that social alienation and domination leaves little room for a revolution, no matter how angry one gets. As an adult reflecting back on his life, Brown realizes that he, and other black males, through their delinquent behavior are fighting their own revolution. Brown’s recalls how his revolution began when he was six
…I fought it everyday in the streets of Harlem, in the streets of Brooklyn, in the streets of the Bronx and Lower Manhattan, all over—when I was there stealing, raising hell out there, playing hookey. I rebelled against school because the teachers are white. And I went downtown and robbed the stores because the storeowners were white. I ran through the subways because the cats in the change booth were white (329).
Once again social alienation comes in play with a dual reality. On the one hand, this alienation instills in the black male consciousness that they are denied access to mainstream society. On the other hand the rebellion that this alienation causes, which black males use to cope with and maintain some sense of status, plunges the black male into a boomerang existence that feeds black on black crime. Thus the revolutions become hopeless because many of the black males are seemingly making progress (329). Having been denied a natural development of their sense of manliness, black males must constantly prove to themselves that they are men (Keil 22).
Despite the almost hopeless forecast, Promised reveals a powerful revelation for black males: progress can not be achieved by avoiding the white mainstream and prescribed formulas of masculinity only compound and confuse the black male psyche. This could have been a turning point from which black males can recast masculinity, but drugs intrude to provide black males with a deadly weapon to use to function, succeed materially, without participating in the mainstream.
This is the devastating transformation that the prescriptions for masculinity take in McCall’s Holler while simultaneously black males follow the tune of prescribed masculinity.
Unlike Wright and Brown, the black males in Holler do not face levels of extreme poverty, but the text makes clear that the politicization of the black male consciousness through social alienation is alive. What is interesting about McCall and the other black males in his text is that they are supposedly in a middle class neighborhood but their parents have working class jobs. Yet the fact remains that their environment should have provided enough social continuity to keep them from behavior that would eventually lead them to prison or get them killed. Clearly for McCall and black males today, the world is a better place but most seem trapped in a paradox, according to Cose, because their options and potential choices are so much greater threat than their predecessors(11), making it difficult to focus on a genuine masculine design. Thus McCall’s text reveals the power of the prescriptions of masculinity on black male youth and how these can cross all class boundaries if certain control mechanisms are not in
masculinity, which has resulted in some contemporary male behavior and performance.
Like the word “baby” used in Promised, Holler also has defined explanations for certain masculine language. For instance, the word “boy” was still commonly used by whites to refer to grown black men, according to McCall. To counter the indignity, young black males addressed each other as “man”: “Hey, man, you goin’ to play basketball today?” “Naw, man, I got too much homework to do.” “Boy” reduces black males into a being that can not think for itself, one unequal to white men. As a result, “Boy” became one of the most detested, disrespectful things somebody could call a black male (17).
At the core of the word “man” is pride, which is of colossal importance to black men who are willing to risk anything for it, even their lives (Majors and Billson 39).
For black males during McCall’s time, fighting is also the ultimate way to gain respect. “The whole emphasis in the streets on being able to rumble is rooted in respect.” It didn’t matter how something was; if it made one appear weak, then steps had to be take to one’s respect and toughness. Black males who have the most violent tempers and the most defiant attitudes gain the greatest respect and act as a catalyst for other black males. Thus many black males try to establish themselves as a bad man. Mancin argues that this tough-guy style may be a by-product of family socialization because some black males learn both affection and disapproval, especially toward their fathers, brothers, and other male relatives, through tough playing (25). This norm of toughness may cause conflict and trouble with others outside the family, such as teachers, and may lead the youth to seek out peers who also are at home with tough behavior. But on a more psychological level, McCall and black males in general may resort to violence, because failure to do so is a threat to their identity and their security as men. Men’s worst fears about themselves and their ambivalent feelings towards women and society can any threat produce defensive hostility and outright violence (Eardley 118).
Under certain circumstance and in certain environments, carrying a gun becomes one of the last additives for respect, which reminds us of the opening chapter of Promised. Most young black males do not realize the responsibilities of having a gun. It’s just another cool prescription additive. McCall almost shoots a friend while cleaning a gun he thinks is unloaded. Nonchalantly, he waves the gun at his friend to make a point during a conversation and almost shoots him in the head. Carrying a gun, he soon becomes aware “that he [has] the power to alter the fate of anybody.” He feels invincible, like a bad man. For McCall and many other black males, guns [are] the great equalizer; even adults began to look vulnerable (73).
The prescriptions for masculinity force McCall to use his gun one day when he, his girlfriend Liz and son Monroe are at the fair. Plaz and a group of his friends confront Liz about flashing her middle finger at Plaz earlier that week. Under the laws of prescribed masculinity, this is disrespect and action must be taken, especially if it’s done in front of a large crowd and in front of one’s girlfriend. After sending Liz and Monroe to the car, McCall shoots Plaz with a.22 caliber pistol in the chest. McCall feels powerful, almost God-like to the point that he wants to shoot Plaz again, but he is stopped by his friend Greg. McCall relates the incident to his stepfather and turns himself in. Here one notices a powerful revelation about cool pose according to Dworkin and Dworkin: the most tragic aspect of cool is that it exists not only as the handmaiden of survival in the ghetto, but that it has become a self-sustaining pattern independent of it’s original functional significance (16). In other words, black males are unable to turn cool pose off when it is no longer needed.
After Plaz makes it through surgery, detectives release McCall on his own recognizance. To McCall, it is an indication about how “they” felt about the value of black life (121). But even more disturbing is the glory and toughness McCall feels after he finds out that Plaz is going to survive, and how he would not be charged with murder. His masculine glory increases as knowledge of the shooting spreads through the street grapevine; his reputation becomes solidified and his performance of masculinity becomes stronger.
masculinity also, but in more definitive terms than Promised. Holler gives the reader a closer look at the pimp character. One way to be cool is to be a pimp. Proud and defiant, the pimp has a bouncy stride.
To achieve the bounce, the pimp takes a regular step with one leg, and then he hops or drags the other leg on the second step. This act of cool pose is part of the black male’s expressive life-style (Major and Billson 19). It’s become second nature to some black males today.
according to McCall, had to learn the walk if he wanted to be cool because “the conspicuous and expressive nature of the AfricanAmerican male’s walk is a way to announce his presence, to
walk is based on rhythm and style. Unlike most white males’ robotlike walk, the black walk is slower---more like a stroll: the head is slightly elevated and tipped to one side. One arm swings at the side with the hand slightly cupped. The other hand hangs straight to the side or is slipped into the pocket: “the gait is slow, casual….almost like a walking dance, with all parts of the body moving in rhythmic harmony (Holler 74). The walk can serve as a threatening and confirming means of power in the face of hostile representatives of the
expressive performance, unconscious black males hope to escape the unbearable “psychic and social stigmas attached to them” (Wallace), but in reality they only feed existing media and social stigmas that make it harder for them reap the benefits of Eurocentric social institutions. For example, because teachers tend to misinterpret, overreact to, and become frightened of black male’s culture-specific behaviors, black males are more often suspended, punished, and recommended for remedial classes (Majors 10).
friends hustle and steal hard to maintain their pimp status. These pimps are part of the cool cat life-style: “the cool cat is an exceptional artist of expressiveness and flamboyant style. He creates his unique identity by artfully dipping into a colorful palette of clothes and hairstyles that set him apart from the ordinary (78).” As a pimp, one is admired by other black males and wooed by girls, regardless of looks or personality. You can also tell a pimp by the way he drives, with his wrist resting limply on the steering wheel while “gangster-leaning” until it appears he is sitting in the middle of the car. This is commonly known as “low-riding.” This performance is designed to draw attention to both the driver and the car. The luxury car or cars with expensive accents are mobile status symbols for black males that epitomize class and status in physical space. They relish being seen, a critical experience for black men who are in the vision of others but whose realities remain invisible to the larger society. A pimp often sacrifices other economic goods in his life or his family’s life and/or participates in criminal activity to perform his masculinity (83).
Popular culture strengthens the pimp character in the mind of McCall and his friends. During McCall’s early life, the movie Superfly (1972) was released, staring Ron O’Neal, who played a high rolling drug dealer who made millions selling cocaine, avoided participating in white mainstream, and drove a shiny Eldorado. This film gave urban black males in particular a black hero. This movie, along with The Mack, glamorized the drug trade and gave the black urban answer to capitalism (102). These popular culture films and the ones that followed, such as hood films, present a profound reality for the black male image. Because of politicization, McCall and his friends viewed the life style portrayed in the film a worthy alternative compared to
participating in the “white system”:
…to our way of thinking, it was no more far-fetched than the civil right’s notion that white people would welcome us into their system with open arms if we begged and prayed and marched enough. As for as risks, dealing drugs seemed no more risky than working a thankless job at the shipyard for thirty years, always under the fear of being laid off. It was six of one and half a dozen of the other (103).
Either way black males felt they were taking a risk, but by participating in the drug trade they could maintain a sense of control and perform masculinity.
Stereotyped popular culture images makes it hard for positive counter images to be effective because the racism of McCall’s time with each new generation of black males is rarely viewed as racism or excessive stereotypes. These media images play on the similar images found in black male culture and supersize them through media exposure and black males replicate them as their own and American cultural in general are bamboozled with the same images that to them subconsciously become more representative of black reality than fiction. Thus “countervailing [media], of all kinds, aimed at dispelling the negative images rarely arise, and when they do they are apt to be dismissed as humorless, political, extreme, or [exceptions to the norm] (Delgado and Stefancic 212). This explains why McCall and his friends and back males in general are so affected by popular culture.