«POWER, MONEY, AND SEX(UALITY): THE BLACK MASCULINE PARADIGM A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and ...»
During an evaluation, an editor cites mistakes that Michael, another black writer, has made in stories over a few years. Along with other black reporters, McCall discovers that some white reporters have required numerous corrections in a single year—more than Michael has in his entire stay at the paper. Michael prepares a formal written response to the editor who backed off, but the editor finds other ways to hound him, causing him to take a leave of absence from which he never returns. These politicizing situations discourage black males from trying to survive in the white mainstream or take traditional routes to success. To McCall, the problems at the paper are the same problems blacks faced everywhere: “No matter how we tried to fit in and help improve the system we couldn’t win for losing” (330). This frame of mind makes it hard for McCall and other black males to interact with whites, even those who are sincere. This difficulty is the result of politicization, i.e. racism, as McCall makes clear: “race relations in this country have become so complex and convoluted that it’s hard nowadays to tell in interactions with whites what’s racial and what’s not” (330).
Politicization further effects how McCall and other black men interact with their offspring, which, according to him, are “doublededged swords” to be flaunted and dodged at the same time. Children confirm manhood, but at the same time threaten to rob their fathers of the little freedom they have. For McCall, children meant you had to play by the establishment’s rules to keep them clothed and fed, subjecting yourself to the White man. This makes black men vulnerable, and no black man wants to be more vulnerable to the world than he already is (274). McCall fears being a father because he is still struggling to make sense of the world and racism. How could he prepare his children? This fear echoes when Debbie gives birth to McCall’s second son. Debbie sees the joys of motherhood in baby food and nursery rhymes, but he sees pain: “job rejections and racial slights, and self-doubt and maybe even self-hate” (298).
The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, Black Boy, Manchild in the Promised, and Holler clearly show that politicization has wreaked havoc on the black male consciousness. Its main weapon is racism which results in social alienation and internalized racism. These are the obstacles that prevent many black males from using traditional roots to achieve success and construct a more positive masculine
identity. bell hooks explains the confusion:
Opening a magazine or book, turning on the television set, watching a film, or looking at photographs in public spaces, we are most likely to see images of black people that reinforce and reinscribe white supremacy. Those images may be constructed by white people who have not divested of racism, or by people of color/black people who may see the world through the lens of white supremacy— internalized racism (1).
What hooks means is that blacks can look at stereotypical images of black males and put them off as harmless without recognizing the threat they pose to the larger society if they go unchecked. One can agree that stereotypes are very valuable in bringing understanding of one culture to the other and a sense of distinctness to culture itself, but Wright, Brown, and McCall prove what happens to young black men who take stereotypical prescriptions for masculinity under the weight of politicization.
It is because of politicization that black men can not recognize new visions of masculinity that Na’im Akbar posits: a masculinity that is formed out of the natural expressions and experiences of Africans.
The idea, according to Akbar, is to “view an aspect of this experience, the reality of being black men, from the full range of what is considered real by ancient criteria of science as established by African minds long ago” (x). Akbar asserts that black men can not envision this because the mentality of the black male today is the mentality of
the slave (6). He explains:
Look at the slave: he’s dependent, he’s passive, and he’s totally waiting for his biological needs to be taken care of by someone else. Look at the male and compare him with the slave who delights in being used as a stud and gains his personal value by his ability to be a stud. Please understand that the people who developed and implemented the slave-making process understood some of the basic laws of human nature, and they understood that they could impede the transforming process. They locked the slaves into “maleness” so that they would stay dependent, non-rebellious and essentially passive in vital areas of human existence. This protected the master and restrained the slave. This “male mentality” predominates in people who are not willing to take the prerogatives and responsibilities of real manhood. (6) Akbar’s point is well taken regarding the transforming process, but I disagree when he claims that the mind of the black male is stuck in a slave mentality, especially since gender was only recognized in slavery in regards to reproduction and not as a subject identifier. Male slaves were biologically male but not socially male. The vision is impaired because black males have internalized the stud image and other masculine prescriptions as a result of politicization that racism causes.
The stud, I further argue, is a recuperation of sexual prowess motif of the badman/tricksters used to establish a masculine identity because black males lack access to the white design. Politicization has caused
contemporary society and become part of the politicization process that black males attempt to overcome, making black males their own worst enemies. These prescriptions are consumed by society as a whole and are continuously perpetuated by it and black males themselves. Consequently it will take more than black males to help
recast black masculinity, as hooks explains:
The struggle-needs to include non-black allies as well.
Images of race and representation have become a contemporary obsession. Com-modification of blackness has created a social context where appropriation by nonblack people of the black image knows no boundaries. If the many non-black people who produce images or critical narratives about blackness and black people do not interrogate their perspective, they may simply recreate the imperial gaze—the look that seeks to dominate, subjugate, and colonize (7).
This is the cycle that has been created as black males formed prescriptions to construct masculinity.
At the core of the maintenance of politicization is what David Troutt refers to as “the race industry.” This industry, according to Troutt, consists of hierarchical pillars of corporate media, entertainment, academia, government, and the law (53). At the top are money makers who drive the decision focus of the industry. And while there are anti-market-makers, “they usually toil in the grass roots of experience and memory, ghettoized into only occasional relevance” (53). African Americans must penetrate the ranks of the race industry and make well informed decisions to provide more diverse services for cultural existence. Otherwise, the industry will continue to treat “its
citizenship…with our children becoming students and consumers of its obsolete products and packaging” (54, 67).
Chapter 3: Prescriptions for Black Masculinity: Let’s Get Crunk This chapter as a whole explores the tensions created by social alienation and how it manifests in black male performance of masculinity and specifically argues that outward appearances and behavior—i.e, baggy and sagging clothes, being hip, the proper strut technique, tough language, and fist fighting skills to back it up— become tropes through which black men navigate societal expectations and their envisioned masculinity. Richard Majors and Janet Billson refer to this as cool pose. Through a continued analysis of Douglass, Wright, Brown, and McCall’s works, the evolution and mechanisms of these prescriptions are discovered. The prescriptions that black males design for black masculinity helped them to adjust to the social and historical environment in which they live and develop distinct attributes to attract attention to and form their masculinity. I conclude this chapter by using Lacan’s notion of the gaze in identity formation to assert that these prescriptions are an attempt by black males to create a gaze that they control and one which is more empowering than the national gaze of the black male created during their early history, as discussed in chapter 1. But something went terribly wrong and black males have become locked into an imagined gaze that they think they control, and one that empowers them; but in reality this construct prevents access to a truer masculine design.
The first prescription of masculinity is to be recognized as a man, as Douglass’s narrative explores. This was very difficult for black men to achieve during slavery, because the institution became provider for the families of black men; black men themselves became studs to produce more slaves. Throughout the narrative, Douglass positions himself as a self-made man. One of the first things one recognizes about the narrative is that it’s a very masculine narrative. Whenever a man is mentioned, such as Demby, he shows the resistance and the defiance of black males against the institution of slavery, even if it means death. Douglass often boasts of the times he overcomes beatings and use them to solidify his masculinity. This is especially the case when he fights Covey. He attributes his escape of slavery to his own individual accomplishments. This is evident in his ability to write passes, which completes his self-made identity. But we see the most telling prescriptions in later texts.
From the very beginning of Black Boy, one notices that Wright’s family is having a hard time meeting their basic needs, especially without a father around. One can assume the father left because it was hard taking care of a family compared to his mistress. Thus Wright’s hunger pains evoke the image of his father because he was the major provider. Wright himself tries to fill his father’s shoes at an early age, but it was not enough to keep the family from being evicted several times or relieve their hunger During the era of Black Boy, one of the central foundations for the prescriptions for black masculinity is set: a peer group. It is in this group that all prescriptions manifest and become detrimental to the black male psyche if it’s given too much control in a black male’s life.
Wright describes the transformation that takes place when one
becomes a part of a peer group:
It was degrading to play with girls and in our talk we relegated them to a remote island of life. We had somehow caught the spirit of the role of our sex and we flocked together for common moral schooling. We spoke boastfully in bass voices; we used the word “nigger” to prove the tough fiber of our feelings; we spouted excessive profanity as a sign of our coming manhood; we pretended callousness toward the injunctions of our parents; and we strove to convince one another that our decisions stemmed from ourselves and ourselves alone. Yet we frantically concealed how dependent we were upon one another (91).
Here one notices the power of black male bonding which is furthered discussed in chapter four but more importantly one notices the prescriptions of masculinity: language and group camaraderie. During Wright’s time, these groups are harmless because of the limited environment in which they live and are mainly used to create a sense of belonging because of social alienation from society and from their parents who are too busy trying to make a living.
Another prescription for masculinity is defiance to people outside the group. A group member by the name of Davi, in Black Boy, shows this when he refuses to answer his mother when she calls him in for the evening. To do so is considered a sign of dependence or weakness.
This type of defiance leads to death and violence during Brown’s and McCall’s life experience because their world is not as limited as Wright’s. One notices hints of violence when Wright and his friends battle with the white boys. These battles would never take place one on one because there would be no group solidarity. There is power in numbers, not only in physical bodies but also in terms of an agreed upon mental consciousness that directs group action.
Fighting becomes a two fold prescription for Wright. He fights with family members to maintain a sense of masculinity while family members themselves try to mute it for his own protection during this hostile era. As Wright becomes a teenager, he refuses to be beaten for trivial incidents he has nothing do with. One such incident occurs with his aunt Addie in her classroom when a boy behind Wright pushes nut hulls under Wright’s desk. Addie wants to punish Wright for this and probably for calling her Aunt Addie in front of the class. Here Wright’s masculinity is threatened because he is accused of something he did not do in the first place and to receive a beating by one’s aunt in front of his “boys” makes him appear weak. Another important attempted beating occurs when Wright is living with his Uncle Tom.
Tom wants to beat Wright for the non-submissive way he tells him the current time. Wright’s voice is too masculine and authoritarian for a boy his age. Wright speaks to him as he does his other family members and is shocked that his uncle, a man who has never lived near him or had any say in his rearing or lack of, is trying to whip him.
Despite the fact that Wright is living with his uncle, he is very much is his own man; he provides his own meals, clothes and sends money to his granny. And now a strange uncle who feels that he is impolite is going to teach him to “cat” as he had seen the backward black boys act on the plantations, is going to teach him to grin, hang his head, and mumble apologetically when he is spoken to (186). There are other beatings in the text and they all serve to strip Wright of his recognition of the self so that he can function safely in the white world, but he rebels. He doesn’t want to relive his uncle’s life, which is a warning to him. Therefore, he stands his ground. From this point on, he “knew that his life was revolving about a world that he had to encounter and fight when he grew up” (147).