«POWER, MONEY, AND SEX(UALITY): THE BLACK MASCULINE PARADIGM A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and ...»
The political correctness of popular culture to represent the various stereotypical reality of black life and behavior, according to Wallace, may be “precisely the issue when it comes to the general inability of the dominant culture to take black people serious and to see them as [diverse] human beings” (300).
McCall’s mother gives him an ominous warning that he does not understand until years later: “You gonna learn one day that life out there ain’t as easy as you think it is” (95) Like McCall, black males trapped by the prescriptions of masculinity fail to understand they cannot use the master’s tools to dismantle the house through performance; they have to construct their own.
Sexual prowess is taken to a more vicious level in Holler compared to the other texts. It’s very typical for black males at a certain age to wonder and talk about sex, but if left unchecked it can lead to male domination and a warped view of female sexuality. At the age of fourteen, McCall is summoned by a friend over the phone to come to Turkey Buzzard’s place where they are holding a girl captive in a bed with twelve other black males waiting in the living room. McCall consciously knows he wants to grab the girl’s hand and escort her home, but the peer pressure for him to meet the masculine standards of the group is too much. So he remains silent while they convince the girl to have sex with them; they call it running a train.
Though I mentioned earlier that the super sexualized labels has been branded on to mind of black men by a white male dominated society, at this contemporary juncture of “reading” McCall’s novel, one can not remove black men from these sexual myths as contributors and facillators of their reproductions. Because black men, according to Brent Staples, are denied equal access to the prosaic symbols of manhood, they manifest their masculinity in the most extreme form of sexual domination. When they have been unable to achieve status in the workplace, they have exercised the privilege of their manliness and attempted to achieve it in the bedroom. Feeling a constant need to affirm their masculinity, tenderness and compassion are eschewed as signs of weakness which leave them vulnerable to ever-feared possibility of female domination (85).
Here Staples identifies the ascription of sexual superiority in which McCall and his friends feel the need to control and dominate the young girl in order to elevate them to another level of masculinity. The implications of black male bonding on the sexual edict of black males are revealed in the next chapter.
The last chapter of McCall’s text is appropriately called Cycles.
McCall comes to realize, as a father, the influence that prescribed
masculinity has on his eighteen year-old son:
I sensed that the cultural pull of pseudo-macho hip-hop fads was even more powerful than the things that once influenced me. I began to see signs of that after he met and started hanging with some cats at a local basketball court: He bopped with a more pronounced pimp and started letting his baggy jeans fall lower on his behind; he suddenly became resistant to doing household chores and took on that arrogant body language that teenagers use as their coded way of telling their parents to go to hell (410).
McCall as a father recognizes early that his son Monroe is traveling a dangerous path, and moves to Arlington to take him out of the hood.
Unlike his parents and many parents today, he has rap sessions with his son about life and growing up black and male. This type of open communication makes it very easy for Monroe to ask if it was ok to take sex from a girl “if you take her out, and she won’t give it up” (410). McCall at this age received an affirmative answer from his peer group, but here he had a rare opportunity to rewrite the script for this prescription of masculinity. He confesses to his son about all the terrible things he did to girls and therefore could not bring himself to preach to Monroe about what was right. Instead, he uses Monroe’s mother as an example of an alternative to the danger in viewing females as pieces of meat. For all the prescriptions that Monroe encounters, McCall talks and communicates living and personal
masculinity. Monroe becomes the first grandchild to finish school, and McCall is confident that he has skipped the rite of passage to prison.
The risk taking and self-destructive aspects of these prescriptions, which make up cool pose, are often “symbolically expressed as part of a compulsive masculinity, where typical masculine values, that were discussed earlier, become rigid (Majors and Billson 24). These prescriptions and their catalysts limit the actual masculinity of black males because instead of having what Richard Merelman calls a “defined cultural projection (94)” of new and empowered modes of masculinity black males continue to recycle and strengthen current destructive modes. In the next chapter, I show how Brown, McCall and black males in general perpetuate these values through “male-to-male transmission in a tight knit street culture, which leads to smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, fighting, sexual conquest, dominance, and crime” (34) The maintenance of such a masculinity becomes a daily chore for black males because they are always on stage. When this type of masculinity is reinforced through the media, it sticks like glue to black male psyche.
Before considering media influence and representation of black masculinity, it’s important to note the connection literacy plays in the lives of Douglass, Wright, Brown, and McCall, a design tool that gives them a new conception of masculinity. There autobiographies clearly
constructing their masculinity, but interestingly, literacy becomes a weapon that helps them to move beyond the constrictive boundaries of prescribed masculinity. Sometimes, as these texts have shown, this quest for masculinity leads black males on destructive path of violence against themselves and their community. The male protagonists discussed earlier all attribute their behavior in many ways to a limited world view and experience before literacy becomes apart of their lives.
Clearly Douglass’s encounter with The Columbian Orator gives him the psychological understanding that there is more to the world than slavery and he is more than just a slave. H.L. Mencken’s books and other literary texts show Wright the power of words, and how to use them to express his emotions. Wright himself recognizes that he has lived the perfect novel; now he can use words to tell his pain and triumphs.
Similarly, Brown encounters the power of literacy at Warwick while working for Mrs. Cohen. She senses great potential in Brown despite the fact he is in a detention center, and gives him books about Mary McLeod Bethune, Jackie Robinson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Einstein, and Albert Schweitzer. After reading these texts, especially the African American ones, Brown wants to know things, do things and wonders what might happen if he could get out of Warwick and also from his old life in Harlem (151). For McCall, the literacy link is much more personal, as he connects with Wright’s Native Son and its protagonist Bigger Thomas: “the book’s portrait of Bigger captured all those conflicting feelings—restless anger, hopelessness, a tough façade among blacks and a deep-seated fear of whites—that I’d sensed in myself but was unable to express” (164). Like many black males would be, McCall is surprised that somebody has written a book that so closely reflected his experiences and feelings. The link all the male protagonists make with literacy becomes the foundation on which they realize access to the American design of individual success and freedom. But many black males have such a limited, confused reality
existence and way of life is etched so deep in their minds it becomes the only possible reality, as this passage from Wright’s Native Son so
You’re trying to believe in yourself. And every time you try to find a way to live, your own mind stands in the way.
You know why that is? It’s because others have said you were bad, and they made you live in bad conditions. When a man hears that over and over and looks about him and sees that life is bad, he begins to doubt his own mind. His feelings drag him forward and his mind, full of what others say about him, tells him to go back. The job in getting people to fight and have faith is in making them believe in what life has made them feel, making them feel that their feelings are as good as others’.
All the male biographies depict the lived reality of black males’ prescriptions for masculinity and their consequences in narrative form, a place where most young blacks hardly venture. But putting the struggle of black men on screen becomes a mixed blessing. In chapter one, I showed briefly how early newspapers and movies depicted the black male as an aggressive beast that needed to be controlled. But what happens when the black male struggle for masculinity becomes a visual reality in hood films? A three prong effect ripples through American society: such films strengthen society’s one-dimensional gaze upon black men as menaces to society, while simultaneously seemingly revealing the negative conditions of common environments of black males. This confirms the racist belief that black men live lives filled with drugs, violence, and poverty; and this sets up the concept of static dysfunctional space. Therefore, the characters characterized by
photographic slide pf black males, who presumably live the reality of the visual presentation. This is the result of the first wave of hood films Boyz N’ the Hood (1991), directed by John Singleton and Menace II Society (1993), directed by Allen and Albert Hughes.
The realities of these films converged years earlier in the 1965 novel Manchild in the Promised Land. However, despite the fact that millions copies were in print, I had never heard of it before taking on this project. Where would black males be if they read about the same violence? However, like many black males, these films claimed my attention over and over again. I argue that these films and other
prescriptions. Most of the black male patrons left the theater with confirming power that it was necessary to do whatever one had to do to maintain his reputation, his masculinity, regardless of how much sense it made or who would be wounded or killed in the process. A moment of masculine glory amongst the home boys is worth any price, even if it means one has to give up his life.
After watching this movie, for the first time in his life, a good friend of mine during our high school days stood up to the bully who teased him because of his small size. My friend should have felt sorry for the bully; however, the pencil he drove into the bully’s arm and the fact that he got away with it, made him feel like a bad ass “nigga” in the tenth grade, that is until his parents snatched him back into reality when they heard of the incident during Sunday’s service. Many black males didn’t have parents like his who recognized the subtleties of black male behavior that needed to be addressed immediately; they had hood films and society in general that glorified lethal black male aggression in the media with very few or veiled alternatives.
John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood attempts to portray the social problems in inner-city Los Angeles through three friends who grow up together in the hood. This movie had wide appeal to white audiences, because rather than focusing exclusively on white racism directed at African Americans, it addressed violence and conflict within the black community (Bogle 344). Some characters in the film find hope for their situation through athletics and other opportunities, but others succumb to their degrading environment while maintaining a code of masculinity.
Hood opens with a group of kids discussing a shooting from a previous night; one of the kids shows the group a dead body which represents the reality of their environment. The major characters are half-brothers Doughboy, Ricky, and Trey. Ricky rests his faith on an athletic scholarship because he is an outstanding athlete. Doughboy follows the code of the street to survive in an environment with no way out. Trey is Ricky’s best friend who comes to the neighborhood to live with his father after his mother fails to put him on the right path, or in her words “teach him how to be a man.” I admire the film for the strong disciplinary /teacher/father figure found in Furious, Trey’s father. Upon Trey’s arrival, Furious sets very strict rules and institutes a host of house duties. These duties become very important to Trey’s construction of masculinity because they instill a sense of responsibility and discipline in him. Furious is also the type of father who talks to and explains things to his son. For example, someone breaks into the house on Trey’s first night living with his father; his father manages to fire two unsuccessful shots. Trey tells his father he wishes he would had blown the head off the assailant, but Furious informs his son that he would have just been contributing to killing another black man. This statement is simple but has a profound affect on young Trey: it teaches him value of human life.
Furious also spends time alone with Trey, discussing everything from sex to self-respect. These father-to-son-talks help Trey make life-changing decisions during his stay with his dad; these talks are something many black fathers do not instigate. Ellis Cose recalls his psychologist friend, Kirland Vaughan’s, revealing comments on this subject: black boys don’t have the sense of the world in which their fathers lived. And there is little understanding of each other’s life, causing a breakdown of intergenerational empathy and a diminished parental ability to educate” (116). And indeed, in the autobiographies I have discussed, McCall is the only major protagonist who has such discussions with his father. Furious also tries to teach Trey and his friends about gentrification in which property values are driven down, and then the property is purchased and redeveloped by others. Here Furious implies that Black Americans need to own their communities.