«POWER, MONEY, AND SEX(UALITY): THE BLACK MASCULINE PARADIGM A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and ...»
This equality and respect is not only something that Brown does not have; it is something that most black folk in Harlem do not have.
During his life, Brown witnesses the devastating decay of Harlem caused by drugs, violence, corruption, and racism, despite its status as a black Mecca and cultural reservoir. It is the South all over again;
this time, however, blacks are confined to a larger space, a city rather than across the tracks as in Wright’s case. But to borrow from Brian Gilmore, it becomes clear to Brown and McCall that black progress was eroding and “the prospect of obtaining the new skills necessary for survival in a capitalistic society [seemed] virtually nonexistient” (46).
Like Wright, Brown finds that his presence in particular places makes him a suspect. When he moves out of Harlem to Greenwich Village, he moves out of black space. One night while in his room he rents from a white couple, he is confronted by the police. Only the assurance of the white landlord privileges and authorizes Brown to be there. A few days later, a similar incident occurs when a drunken cop confronts him on his way to shave downstairs. With the safety razor in his hand, Brown feels his life is at risk. But once again the landlord’s whiteness is the only thing that gives Brown space and status.
Politicization causes whiteness to penetrate the very core of black existence, as Brown’s friend Alley relates to him in the following
You come up all this time, [Claude], all your life in Harlem.
And there is the white landlord, man, who your folks got to be worried about paying the rent to. There is the white grocer, who your moms got to be going down pleading with….to give her some credit so she could feed her kids.
They got to be going and taking their stuff to the pawnshop to some damn white pawnbroker, who they go to beg for a few dollars, because he knows they’re up tight and need the money. They got to go to the white butcher, who’s going be selling them same old dried-up neckbones, pig tails and pig feet. Everything is white (328).
It is this mentality that makes it difficult for Brown and other black males to navigate socially in American Society and find other ways to establish place and status.
Nathan McCall’s Makes Me Wanna Holler ushers in a new era of politicization in which drugs provide black males with lethal access to the American dream. Because of racism and social alienation, as a result of politicization, the economic lure of drugs becomes a stabilizing factor for equal access. Holler represents the contemporary status and view of the politicization of the black male consciousness to the masculine design. One finds strong similarities with Promised in terms of drugs, violence, poverty, racism and generational confrontation; however, one does notice the potential for black male success if black men could see beyond politicization, as McCall eventually does. At the beginning of the text, the reader finds McCall in a two-parent home, in a middle class neighborhood; he regularly attends school but soon, however, takes a destructive path that leads him to prison. Holler confirms that there were still many perils to face when one grows up black and male in America. In a read of this text, I demonstrate the progression of politicization that leads McCall and some black males to reject participation in mainstream society.
McCall wastes no time in acquainting the reader with the affect whiteness has on blacks. The beating of the white boy who rides his bike through McCall’s neighborhood on Cavalier Boulevard, harks back to Wright’s beating in the South and Ralph Ellison’s narrator’s thoughts of beating a white man who refuses to “see” him. It is as if a type of ancestral retribution is taking place. The script is reversed: the white boy is beaten, according to McCall, because of the “general principle,” i.e. whiteness, just as blackness evokes violence from whites during Wright’s southern lessons. It is as if McCall and his friends are beating all white people on behalf of all black people. This is the rage that politicization builds on and almost makes McCall another black male casualty of the streets.
encounters. This occurs when one’s environment is less than standard or equal because of the failure of social institutions to address the community’s needs. McCall recalls two things that remind him of his shaky place in the world despite his sense of well-being in Cavalier manor: the poor whites that live close by and the little girl that is shot.
According to McCall, “it is a twist of fate that well-off blacks live so close to the poorest, scruffiest-looking whites in the city” (9). As a result of this disparity, these whites terrorize blacks by hurling bricks and bottles at their cars as they take the short cut through Academy Park to get to their homes. They feel their whiteness even privileges them to terrorize Cavalier Manor itself.
McCall also recalls that when he was ten a little girl was shot while sitting near a picture window in her living room. No arrests are made and the killing brings home the fact that nice neighborhood or not, blacks still are not safe in Cavalier Manor. McCall’s parents teach him to be leery of white folks and that whenever they are in the neighborhood it is an ominous sign.
environment is the big ditch filled with snakes and rodents that the city never closed off, and which “stood prominently in the main thoroughfare as an embarrassing monument to blackness” (10). To McCall, “ it is as if the city fathers purposefully left it open to make a statement, to remind blacks that the community would only be so nice and that, no matter how uppity they got in cavalier Manor, the white folks downtown still called the shots (10). This type of politicization sends the message that blacks are not privileged to have peace of mind in their own neighborhoods; neighborhoods should never be too uppity in appearance. There most always be a reminder of where blacks belong.
Like in all the previous texts, race becomes the driving force of politicization at an early age for the protagonist. McCall learns, like Wright during his battle with the white boys from across the railroad tracks, the consequences of his skin color. He recalls putting clay on his upper body like a little white girl while on the beach. The white girl privileges whiteness when she says, “if you let the clay dry, maybe you will be white like me” (11). Even at this young age, McCall and the little girl had already begun to learn their place in a “raceobsessed country.” Race affliction as a result of politicization is all around McCall. As his parents try to arm him with racial pride, they face many contradictions. His parents insist that he and his brothers “get meticulously well groomed and pressed whenever they are going somewhere around whites” (12). When either one dares act up in public or removes themselves from the soldier-like stance, they receive a whisper through clenched teeth from their mother to “stop acting like a nigger” (12). This is despite the fact that rowdy white kids enter the same public places, shiftless, barefoot with their parents, who allow them to do virtually anything. McCall envies the white kids’ freedom and craves the specialness that excluded them from his own self-defeating burden: “it seemed that he was a nigger by birthright and destined to spend his entire life striving in vain to shed that rap. But white people could never be niggers, even when they acted like one” (12).
Here McCall recognizes the privilege of whiteness that many black males internalize early on. This internalization causes black males to become trapped in environments that they know are destructive to them but cannot see beyond the rift of racism because of politicization.
McCall’s environment and the criminal acts he commits lead him to prison, but even the events leading up to his sentence are affected by race as McCall reveals: “I shot and nearly killed Plaz, a black man, and got a thirty-day sentence; I robbed a white business and didn’t lay a finger on anybody and got twelve years” (150). To McCall, society values white life more than it did black. McCall’s words also speak to Asim’s conclusion that some black males now have to deal with the “subtler jargon of judical retrenchment” (30).
Like Brown, McCall pays close attention to his stepfather’s racial nuances in his interactions with white people; he hates the way his stepfather humbles himself around whites. One day he accompanies his father to work on a large estate. While pulling crabgrass, three white boys, McCall’s age, begin bouncing a ball very near where they are working. McCall waits for them to acknowledge his stepfather’s presence in the way that his parents had taught him and his brothers to treat grown-ups when entering their company (16). Here McCall witnesses politicization when the boys treat his father like an “inanimate part of the scenery,” and his father responds with a submissive smile. Here race protects the white boys from ever having to acknowledge blacks as their equals. This scene makes McCall selfconscious of the fact that the boys were as self-assured about their exalted place in the world and that his father knew how contained his life is (16). This is the realization for McCall that there are two distinct worlds in America and a different set of rules for each: the white one is full of the possibilities of life. “The dark one is just that—dark and limited” (17). McCall wants to gain respect from a society that has not learned to give it to African-Americans. His father, however, would view this behavior as laziness.
McCall understands his father’s behavior during the summer of 1971 while working at a construction site. As the water boy, McCall cursed and fussed at constantly and never called by his real name. He views the supervisor as an overseer and can not understand why the other black men do not come to his aid. The face of the country had changed for blacks since Jim Crow, but not in the minds of some whites. McCall wants to prove that he is not lazy or scared to work, but it required painful psychic sacrifices to remain employed. Like his father who is a tower of force to reckon with at home but a submissive
personalities: away from work he is the “baad-assed nigger” who demands respect; on the job, he is a “passive Negro” who lets the white men push him around. The “badd-assed nigger” translates into respect for black men. McCall feels like he can only get such respect from the urban streets of America. Here one notices what Fanon calls “the elements in the colored man’s comprehension of the dimension of the other” (17).
In other words, black men behave differently around white men, especially in terms of language and masculine performance. Wright, Brown, and McCall all recall being in the presence of whites in which standard English is a must. Fanon argues that this self-division is a direct result of colonialist subjugation” (17). I posit that this selfdivision evolves into black male spectragraphia in which the black male is positioned to be cognizant of his behavior because of a privileged white presence/gaze and at the same time present an equal reflection.
Only black males who have access to and follow society’s route to success can hope to replicate the reflection; others rebel against it by creating a distinct reflection that redefines them as black men. If one agrees with Fanon that language is not only syntactical but also assumes a culture and supports the weight of society, one notices that McCall, Brown, and Wright have always privileged whiteness in the presence of whites, but the roles are never reversed; “for not only must the black man be black, he must be black in relation to the white man but the black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man” (110). In each, blackness is always negative and restricted. It’s no wonder that blacks and whites feel socially alienated when they are the minority in each other’s groups.
McCall recognizes the respect he seeks when he meets Turkey Buzzard’s father who is known as Country. He recognizes a duality that exists between other fathers and Country: other fathers looked “bent over and defeated” when they came home from work but Country “stood tall and proud.” Country drives Cadillacs, has gold teeth, and is always “as clean as the Board of Health.” Because of politicization, it does not matter to McCall that Country most likely acquired his money illegally. All that matters to McCall is that Country “does not earn his living slaving at a shipyard or bowing to white folks on some other gig” (84). This frame of mind is a result of the generational change that was taking place all across black America.
According to McCall, his stepfather is from the deep South and cut from the civil rights mold, and thus believes that blacks can overcome racism by “slaving hard and making do with what little they had” (86).
On the other hand, McCall’s generation is more militant and less inclined to make compromises because of the color of their skin. These are radical changes that filter into the heads of the new generation of black males growing up in American cities. Still, for a while, all hope seems lost for McCall as he participates in delinquent activity to create a masculine identity. This part of his life is analyzed in chapter three “Prescriptions for Masculinity.” Like Wright and Brown, McCall eventually crosses over to the white mainstream in order to find a legal job, after finally understanding that street life can quickly end his life. In the mainstream, however, the true essence of politicization becomes clear. To some measure Wright, Brown, and McCall understand that delinquent activity is wrong and that they may have to pay the price if caught. But it becomes clear to McCall while working for the Atlanta Journal Constitution that to the white mainstream it doesn’t matter if you are participating in legal or illegal activity; there are still limitations in both worlds, and you are treated differently because you are black. McCall comes to this conclusion after several black colleagues make mistakes in articles that require the paper to print a correction. After the black writer, Cassandra, makes two mistakes, the editor freezes her out by giving her fewer and fewer assignments until her confidence is broken.