«POWER, MONEY, AND SEX(UALITY): THE BLACK MASCULINE PARADIGM A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and ...»
advancement, which the green grass symbolizes; blacks live in an isolated, dark world enclosed in a white envelope, which the black pavement symbolizes. Even within his own environment, Wright can be threatened despite the passage’s false notion that whites would not come into black neighborhoods. During this game, Wright recognizes the privilege whites felt they had to impose on blacks anywhere at any given time, especially on their jobs and in the community. Wright witnesses this first hand during his politicization in the South, which makes him aware of the possibility of being killed or otherwise injured because of anything he might or might not say or if he inadvertently violates the ethics of living Jim Crow.
Wright relates a disturbing incident that demonstrates the consequences of not using the “gems of Jim Crow.” While delivering packages for work, he punctures a tire on his bicycle. White men drive by and offer to take him and the bicycle along by his clutching it with one hand and clinging to the side of the car with the other. The men are drinking and offer him a flask, but he declines, saying, “oh, no!” He is immediately hit between the eyes with an empty whisky bottle and falls backwards from the speeding car into the dust on the road, his feet becoming entangled in the steel spokes of the bicycle. Quietly amused, the men get out of the car and stand over him; the man who hits him asks: “Nigger, ain’t yuh learned no better sense’n that yet?..
Ain’t yuh learned t’ say sir t’ a white man yet?” (214) Dazed, with his elbows and legs bleeding, Wright tries to stand up, but the attacker doubles his fist and kicks the bicycle out of the way. Another man asks him with contempt, “Yuh wanna ride t’ town now, nigger? Yuh recon yuh know enough to ride now” (214). As they are leaving the scene, they “comfort” him by saying: “Nigger yuh sho better be damn glad it wuz us yuh talked tu’ that way” (214).
The behavior of these men is a type of politicization replicated from the condescending attitude and mentality of slave owners. Wright as a black man can not forget the artificial status of race and class nor decline a white man’s offer; if he does, he must still thank and respect white men for it. It is this type of politicization that makes Wright grow silent and reserved, as the nature of the world in which he lives becomes plain and undeniable (293). He understands why generations of black parents implant the feeling in their children that there are multiple, dangerous limits involved in blackness. It is this type of politicization that defines Wright as a “non-man, something that knew vaguely that it was human but felt that it was not” (229). For Wright, the white men are part of a “ a huge elemental design toward which hate is futile” (229).
Sometimes Wright’s physical presence in certain environments proves how limited his space and status is. While making deliveries in a white neighborhood late one Saturday, a police car forces him to the curb. Immediately upon getting out of the car, the policemen draw their guns, an automatic reaction to blackness during this time, and ours. Ordering him to keep still, they search his pockets and packages. Finding nothing suspicious or incriminating, one of them tells him: “boy, tell your boss not to send you out in white neighborhoods after sundown.” Wright introduces this episode with this remark: “negroes who have lived South know the dread of being caught alone upon the streets in white neighborhoods after the sun
neighborhoods unnoticed, the color of a black man’s skin makes him suspect, converts him into a defenseless target” (215). Furthermore, Wright suggests that a black man during this time, still regarded as a servant, or an entertainer, may work for white people during the day, but in the evening, and on Saturday night in particular, when white people socialize, and mentally and physically plot among themselves, he does not belong.
Wright finds, however, that even when his services are needed by whites he is a suspect. During an interview, one white woman’s “habit had overcome her rationality” and made her ask Wright “Do You Steal?” Here, Wright is “quickly learning the reality—a negro’s reality— of the white world” created through the politicization of the black male consciousness. Wright becomes, as Charles Johnson explains, a phenomenology of the black body to the white woman (604). That is, his black skin, “amalgamated into the institutional décor” of Southern society (Wallace 31) presents his spectrality as a social subject rather than a social being that has very limited roles and evokes certain cautions from the perspective of the woman. He is aware of this politicization but wishes he had made contact with whites earlier in life so that the “tension he felt would become a habitual condition, contained and controlled by reflex” (176). However, to borrow from Cose, Wright cannot embrace the roles he is told constantly to embrace, despite a steady diet of society’s contempt, so he rejects the script and endeavors to create his own (3).
By the time Wright becomes a young man, the politicization he faces in the South convinces him that living as “Negro” is cold and hard. He finds himself on a journey to understand “what was it that made the hate of whites of blacks so steady, seemingly so woven into the texture of things” (190). He recalls how nothing about the problems of the Negroes is ever taught in the classrooms at school and wonders why his friends avoided the subject. At this point, Wright fails to realize that black men and black people in general, are not subjects of interest in the white educational system. However, he is very aware that he lives in a country in which the aspirations of black people are limited, marked off; thus he feels he has to go somewhere and do something to redeem his being alive: he has to go North.
As Wright tries to save money to go north, the politicization becomes so extreme that it forces him to consider illegal ways of gaining money because of his limited place and space in society. The
compromised and they wondered how Wright himself would get ahead.
Many other blacks acknowledged to Wright that they steal on their jobs. Wright knows that in the long run it is futile to steal, that it is not an effective way to alter one’s relationship to one’s environment;
however, it is very apparent that there are not many other ways to change his relationship to his environment when most of his money is
immediate opportunity are the only obstacles preventing him from crossing the line because of his “inability to adjust himself to the white world has already shattered a part of the structure of his personality and broken down the inner barriers to crime” (236). The opportunity does present itself while working at a theater in which he double sells tickets. Finally, he is able to venture to the North, the symbol of freedom.
While in the North working in a research lab, Wright himself discovers the damaging effects politicization has on the narratives that
black and whites formed about each other:
All [Blacks] were working daily in a building where scientific history was being made; the light of curiosity was never in their eyes. They were conditioned to their racial “place, “ had learned to see only a part of the whites and the white world; and the whites too, had learned to see only a part of the lives of the blacks and their world (363).
Here the product of politicization is revealed: social alienation resulting from the racial roots of America. This is the great human suffering that Wright and other black males dealt and deal with in addition to probing the cosmic question of black and human existence in a country that does not show them how to live a human life.
Wright’s struggle for a new of way living in the North reveals a new but also deadly set of circumstances for the black male consciousness.
Similarly, Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land historically picks up where Wright’s Black Boy leaves off, but in regard to the black male consciousness, one enters a new chapter that depicts “ a misplaced generation of black men in an extremely complex, confused society searching their dreams, their sorrows, their small and futile rebellions, and their endless battle to establish their own place in America” (7). Where Wright’s text reveals the oppressed conditions of living under Jim Crow, Brown moves the reader toward the oppression of the urban landscape. Like Southern Blacks, Urban Blacks become locked in a spiraling world of decay. It is here that this decay creates and I locate the beginnings of black on black crime. Promised is about the sons and daughters of sharecroppers who fled to Northern cities where they thought existed unlimited opportunities for prosperity and no color problems. According to Brown, “to them, [the north] was the “promised land” that mammy had been singing about in the cotton fields for many years” (8). However, someone forgot to tell black Southerners that what they were on their way to would become the ghetto for the next several decades. “The children, particularly black males, of these “disillusioned colored pioneers inherited the total lot of their parents—the disappointments, and the anger with little hope of deliverance” (8). “For where does one run to when he’s already in the promised land?” (8) During this time of the 1940’s, black males faced a new generation of politicization in which their environment becomes solidified. Constantly faced with poverty, drugs, violence, crime and prison, they try to scratch out not only an existence, but gain economic and social status, even while engulfed in racism. Though slavery seemed a distant memory and lessons of Jim Crow are no longer taught, the urban black males in Promised still find that it is very hard to establish space and status through education and hard work. With the decreased threat of physical abuse from race found in the South and the concentrated numbers of black youth in the city, black males etch out space and status by any means necessary, mostly at the expense of other blacks.
Promised begins with the shooting of Brown while stealing. Early on in the text, one learns that Brown lives in a very poor neighborhood where it is a struggle to just survive day to day. As a result of
confirmation as low-level drug dealers, gang-bangers, and policecertified demons which makes it easier for them to accept the message that life is meant to be “short and that the only glory they are likely to get is glory won by the following a code of the street” (Cose 11). Brown recounts visiting friends who have very little food.
His freedom and his friends’ freedom indicate that there is very little parental or communal supervision. This lack of supervision is what leads Brown in and out of detention centers until his early teens. His troubled youth becomes very important to the chapter on prescribed masculinity, in which Brown and other males use black male prescriptions to maintain a masculine status and acquire physical, social, and economic movement.
Most of the politicization for Brown occurs during his early adult years, when he decides to go on the straight and narrow, except for one incident when he accompanies his father to court. It is during this court scene that one recognizes Brown’s disgusted of how race affects black people, especially his father, who has previously seemed so powerful in Brown’s eyes. The Browns are in court to receive a settlement from a bus accident. Claude is disturbed by his father’s behavior; his “yes sirs” and “no sirs “are reminiscent of the southern lessons taught to Wright. Therefore, I read Claude’s father as a part of Wright’s generation. But Claude sees no need for his father to be so subservient to the lawyer when he speaks to him, especially when the lawyer is being paid to do a job and they are in court as victims not criminals. But Claude knows it is the same old black and white story “that he and his dad have already been patted on the back” for (94).
The respect Claude has for his father as a man dwindles: “And I used to think he was a real bad nigger. I knew now that he was just a head nodder. … I heard myself saying, “I guess we ain’t nothin’ or nobody huh, Dad” (94-95). After this, Claude is anxious to return to the detention center to participate in delinquent behavior, “and show people that he could only be fucked over so much” (95).
Brown’s parents are politicized to the point that they try to instill goals in Brown and his brother that allow them to survive but not be too aspiring. Brown’s father thinks that being a bus boy is a really good job; forty-five dollars a week is a good sum of money. Brown’s generation, however, wants more than just to get by. After Brown informs his mother that he is going to quit because it is too hard to work and attend school, his father demonstrates the success of politicization: “boy, you don’t need all that education. …You ought to stop going to school and stop all that dreaming” (280). Here Brown’s father recalls Wright’s mother and Douglass’s master Covey through their teachings of acceptance; now he is teaching his children to succumb. When Brown’s brother, Pimp, tells their mother he wants to be an Air Force pilot, she immediately responds by telling him “not to go wantin’ things that ain’t for you, just go out there and get you a good job” (280). Brown begins to understand that his parents lived their lives according to the superstitions and fears that they had been taught in the cotton field (280). To them, Paul Robeson is a bad nigger: any black man that steps out of his place trying to pursue dreams that might get him hung is a bad nigger. He does not understand his parents’ fear and his parents do not understand his dreams. Brown compares his generation in Harlem to that of the first Africans coming to America, a new negro that nobody understood or was ready for. Brown feels like a misfit in a world he refuses to bow
consciousness and maintain his dignity, he quits his jobs. Even when he does have a job, money and expensive clothes, he finally realizes that he really doesn’t have anything if he doesn’t have equality and respect.