«POWER, MONEY, AND SEX(UALITY): THE BLACK MASCULINE PARADIGM A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and ...»
One has already witnessed Brown’s introduction to sex and women, but McCall’s 101 classes with his peer group reveals how and why heterosexuality is the ultimate prescription for masculinity.
Nutbrain, his first mentor, commands big respect on the block by virtue of his status as an established lover who conquers women for sport. Everything from masturbation to oral sex is described in vulgar terms, even the whole intent of sex. These corner lessons take place often and help shape McCall’s view about women, love, and sex.
Nutbrain influences him to believe that the pursuit of women is a macho game, and the object is to “get the pussy” without giving love; men that loved were called “pussy-whipped” (42). A pussy whipped man, by the group’s standard, has no control of masculinity and exposes all his feelings, which makes him weak, vulnerable.
McCall leaves the street corner class with knowledge of two types of
“there were women, such as your mother, sister, and teacher, and there were bitches and ‘hos, all females who didn’t fall into that first category. Bitches and ‘hos were somebody else’s mother or sister or daughter. As long as they weren’t your relatives or the relatives of a hanging buddy, they were fair game” (42).
Clearly one can notice the damage that is done to the black male psyche by these peer groups. When you add the effects of hip-hop music videos and Hollywood movies about black men and women and how they treat each other, it’s not surprising that many black boys have to be deconstructed and re-taught how to respect black women, themselves, and their fellow blacks.
Now that McCall, at the age of thirteen, has the 411 on sex and women, he feels pressured by all the bravado around him to get some conquests literally under his belt. Eventually, he does. This early exposure to sex that McCall and his friends have makes them seemingly invincible, because now they feel really grown, complete;
they feel like men. Soon they start running trains on girls. These trains are not viewed as rape but “as a social thing among hanging partners, like passing a joint” (44). The person who sets up the train got pats on the back and points added to his rep. For McCall and his friends, the train functions as their “normative sexual socialization pattern of sex-role identity” (Brathwaite 87). Both Brown and McCall is taught to evaluate each other according to the prescribed masculine model that warps their view of black female sexuality.
McCall’s first train demonstrates the overpowering force of the peer group. He is called by his friend Lep to meet him at Turkey Buzzard’s house to train a girl Buzzard has tricked over. McCall looks at the girl and feels sorry for her. He wants to reach out and do what they all know is instinctively right: walk her home and apologize for their temporary lapse of sanity” (45). But when cool behavior is placed “ahead of acknowledging and dealing with true needs and fears, they contribute to one of the more complex problems in the black community today: black-on-black crime” (Majors and Billson 19). But this is the first train for the group, and if he comes to the girl’s defense, they would accuse him of falling in love, being a punk. His reputation would be destroyed. McCall keeps these feelings to himself and waits for his turn to conquer. This event solidifies the groups’
camaraderie and identity:
The train on Vanessa was definitely a turning point for most of us. We weren’t aware of what it symbolized at the time, but that train marked our real coming together as a gang. It certified us as a group of hanging partners who would do anything and everything together. It sealed our bond in the same way some other guys consummated their alliances by rumbling together in gang wars against downtown boys. In so doing, we served notice—mostly to ourselves—that we were a group of up-and-coming young cats with a distinct identity in a specific portion of Cavalier Manor that we intended to take out as our own (49).
So at the expense of young black women who have their own problems to conquer, McCall and his friends show the other guys how cold and hard they are. They run many trains at each others’ houses while parents and their community only see a group of boys innocently hanging out.
As Brown predicted earlier, guns become a must have tool in the arsenal of the peer group. It becomes very important to McCall’s group when they confront the Cherry Boys who start coming to their bus stop to talk to their girls. They are in the wrong territory. McCall carries the gun when they confront the other group. They clearly outnumber the Cherry Boys and begin beating them. McCall thrusts the gun up against the temple of one the boys. He feels like a god, and he has an audience of fifty mesmerized school kids watching so he performs his crazy nigger act: “make a move, motherfucka, I’m gonna blow you away!” (67) Afterward the boys leave in defeat; the ear-pierced ear, gold-toothed McCall and his friends celebrate the triumph of their first real throw down. They are riding high on the horse of prescribed masculinity; they had all its components.
As in the hood films, these senseless battles cause a boomerang effect. The defeated group always retaliates to reestablish their own reputations. The Cherry Boys regroup and return to Cavalier Boulevard and find McCall alone. They jump him, but he escapes. McCall calls his backup but most of them are conveniently unavailable, except for Shane and Shell Shock. Walking in silence, the three confront the Cherry Boys, now thirty strong. Reality hits McCall as he gets closer;
he longs for the world of the spelling bees:
all of sudden, I didn’t want to be rock hard anymore. I would have given anything to be a regular schoolboy, a no-name lame with no rep to defend; to go to school and do my class work; to have the freedom to be scared, unbound by false bravado. But I’d crossed the line and was compelled by teenage illogic to go all the way. So I walked toward my crucifixion (69).
This reflection shows that it’s not too late for McCall to break away from the peer group; he experienced life without it, but those who never experience spelling bees or had McCall’s stable but often unaware family life, would never have such reflections. McCall and his friends take a few weeks to recover from their beating. Rather than proving to McCall and his friends that such behavior is senseless and life threatening, it only proves that the pledge he and his friends make while hanging together to back each other up is mostly talk, and that he needs something else; he needed a piece, a gun. It’s a gun that seals his fate during a robbery of a local McDonalds; No one was hurt, but McCall is no longer a minor. He is a young black male growing up in America.
The power of peer groups has been thoroughly explored, but in order to clearly reveal the struggles for prescribed masculinity and the restrictions it places on black males, one must examine black male homosexuality, particularly black males who are in the closet or living on the “down low.” My concern with homosexuality is with the debilitating affect that prescribed masculinity and heterosexuality that prevent D.L. homosexuals and the black community in general from embracing and recognizing this identity because of social alienation, racism, and homophobia.
maintenance of prescribed masculinity, one only need to scroll through gay personal ads as I’ve done many to times to asses this part of the
project. Here is a typical “DL” ad verbatim:
This ad reveals and conjures a lot of questions about black male homosexuality, but here I focus on the maintenance of masculinity.
Notice how the ad poster situates his masculinity with his physical description; sometimes the ad is accompanied by a blurred picture as this one is. He also clearly states that he is a “masculine” man; others use “straight acting,” “DL man,” or “bisexual.” All of these identities negate complete homosexuality by maintaining a connection with heterosexuality, leading to masculinity. The ad also makes clear that he is also looking for someone who fits one of the descriptives he himself embodies. Some ads further state “no punks, faggots or feminine guys.” These descriptives may expose the identity of “DL” men while in the public sphere. Also these latter descriptives denote some form of femininity, which may be reflected in terms of dress (loud colors, tight clothes), talk (high pitch voice, smacking of lips, use of drag queen language), performance, (twisting while walking, moving of hands and head in a feminine manner), and the physical (hairstyles that suggest femininity, or feminine products such as lip gloss or clear finger nail polish).
interrogates by the kinds of questions he poses about the making of certain identities: “people invent categories in order to feel safe; white people invented black people to give identity and ‘straight’ cats invent faggots so they can sleep with them without becoming faggots themselves” (88). Without the pressure of feminine features, DL men create a safe conscious space to sleep with other men without the stigmas. This space reminds me of Cora Kaplan’s reading of Giovannni’s Room as she attempts to make sense of “the cultural and psychic fear at the heart of homophobia, a panic that Baldwin must
problematically, in relation to an idealized homoerotic masculinity [that may shatter prescribed masculinity]” (39). In other words, most DL men are looking for other gay men who have all the components of prescribed masculinity in order to create this physical and psychic projection of a perceived heterosexual identity.
This very descriptive DL formula for black gay DL men develops because of the stereotypical feminization of homosexuality and the tendency to associate homosexuality with white men. This view is partly due to one-side media exposure and production. When the news covers gay events, they usually focus on gay pride events and the most outlandish gay participants, usually drag queens, transvestites, and transsexuals. All the gay TV shows and movies focus on white men and maybe a very feminine acting black man, but none come close to representing the masculinity of many gay black men, who are still trying to be recognized as men, let alone gay. To further borrow from Kaplan, these images “crystallize a whole nexus of fear and prejudices [within the black male psyche and disturbs the] primordial order of men and women; a distinction—biological, social, and psychicthat may secure an empowering sexuality” but with disgust (45).
These images also make black and gay identity hostile to one another, which in turn creates homophobia, hypermasculinity, and prescribed
organizations that have allowed them to break down barriers in their community while black men are left to dwell in the abyss deep within their communities and culture while other battles are being fought.
In James Early Hardy’s novel B-Boy Blues, Mitch briefly but profoundly comments on the racial bias that is present in some Lesbian and Gay organizations that are predominately white by choice.
Mitch recalls running for office in some of the gay and lesbian groups he volunteered for “but was told both directly and indirectly, that in order to get white support, [he] couldn’t be “ too black” and [he would] have to find [himself] a white boyfriend (80). Hardy, through the character of Raheim, confronts these social issues and the homosexual man who must wear the mask of prescribed masculinity and heterosexuality. For black gay men, it’s like double social alienation for being black and gay, and trying to be a man. I believe the jargon of prescribed masculinity and racial authenticity has had debilitating consequences for Black American sexual politics. Kendall Thomas asserts that the “homophobia and virulent masculinism that underwrite the politics of racial authenticity in the current conjuncture are best understood as the displaced expression of internalized racism, which is in turn a symptom of a sexual alienation among black Americans of epidemic proportions” (61). This displacement is the result of black cultural and social institutions that specialize in doubleedge politics of division, as Eldrige Cleaver does in Soul on Ice in
reference to homosexuals:
The cross they have to bear is that, already bending over and touching their toes for the white man, the fruit of their miscegenation is not the little half-white offspring of their dreams. It seems that many Negro homosexuals…are outraged and frustrated because in their sickness they are unable to have a baby by a white man (102).
According to Rudolph Byrd, “by posting homosexuality as a discredited sexuality incompatible with Black manhood and corrosive of the goals of black revolution, Cleaver traduced and legitimized homophobia in Black public discourse” (17). As a result of this shift, masculinity becomes prescriptive, self-inflictive and emasculating.
Raheim epitomizes what the ad placer is looking for, a B-Boy.
Notice that the B-Boy is identical to the young males discussed earlier in Holler and Manchild. Due to the in-depth definition that Hardy provides and its importance to masculinity, I’m quoting a rather
lengthy section from this novel concerning “B-Boyz”: