Archive for the ‘Collecting Osiris’ Category

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This series seeks to help create a body of resistance literature that will chronicle the collective radicalization of a Black Masculinity movement that seeks to decolonize our minds and invent identities, in resistance, that transcend stereotypes. We will speak up and force the world to deal with us. The first step is to come back to ourselves.

The Story

At this time in our country there is an interconnection of struggles. As a macrocosm, the larger struggles affect those on the smaller levels. For the Black community this means that now alongside our own struggles for justice, equality, developing a national identity, and healing the Black family connection, we also have the struggle of economic survival, the struggle to maintain our cultural heritage, and the struggle to gain greater representation in the public discourse.

In the wake of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, there have been, naturally, waves of criticism. However what I find most troubling is that from many of Black voices seeking to critique the President’s initiative there is a single issue they all seem to have: that the initiative focuses on Black and Latino boys. While no one denies the very specific issues that Black and Latino boys and men face in this country, there seems to be a objection to addressing those specific issues exclusively in one initiative. Most problematic is the criticism of Black people against the initiative. I’m sure the initiative will not be without its flaws or its kinks to be worked out — what initiative or policy has ever started out as great and imperfect? However, most of the criticisms from the Black voices demonstrate divisive thinking that doesn’t serve the greater interest of anyone.

The Problem

The phrasing of the arguments against the exclusivity of the initiative’s focus is the tell tale sign of the petty divisive minds behind the thoughts. These critics are not saying that the problem is that the initiative focuses on Black and Latino boys; they’re saying its a problem that it doesn’t include girls.

The author of one article that I read stated that:

But when black men occupy space at the center of the discourse, black women lose critical ground. I wish these struggles did not feel like zero sum struggles. I wish that black men — Barack Obama included — had the kind of social analysis that saw our struggles as deeply intertwined.

Whoa. That comment is sophomoric in sentiment, realistically ignorant, intellectually stagnant. This particular author cites for paragraphs the specific disparities and struggles that are evidenced in the lives of Black and Latino men and somehow ends with this conclusive thought, which in itself produces the same divisive logic that the author chides the President for.

The fractured relationship between Black men and Black women bears the strain of these other struggles along with the gender specific issues that we face on a daily basis. The weight of these struggles sits on our shoulders like the world on Atlas’ back. We are strained and frustrated and all we really want is for some things to change. Our thirst for this change is the crux of the rift between Black men and Black women. We have allowed our justice to blind us to the singular truth of how we have survived the tragedies that have been inflicted upon us over the last decades: we belong to each other and we are stronger together.phonto-2

Reconciliation

I would never assert that things such as misogyny, male bashing, and racism do not need to be addressed; they do. However, that is not an excuse for us to approach the topic any kind of way. We have become selfish and capricious in our battle against these attacks on us. Where we should be examining the threat and discovering its roots so that we might yank them from their grounding, we go into a blind rage that makes us see anything different from us as an opposition and, ultimately, a threat. This is the only way that I can fathom that Black men and Black women could ever suggest that we are enemies of each other.

I, personally, as a Black man have and always will love Black women. They have always been one of the most beautiful and intriguing beings I have encountered on this planet. I was given life by a Black woman. It was a black woman’s arms that first held me. It was a Black woman’s lips that first kissed me. It was a Black woman’s disappointment that first convicted me. It was a Black woman’s pain that first cut my heart. It was a Black woman’s love that forced me to become a man. It was a Black woman’s support that helped heal my hurt. It was a Black woman’s presence that first made my dreams seem real. In short, I cannot speak for every Black man, nor can I wholly explain the hared and anger some Black men may feel towards Black women but I cannot believe that they are the majority. It is also my love for Black women and my desire to see Black men and Black women, as a whole, reconciled to one another. That love demands that we be critical of one another — but not for the sake of uplifting ourselves at the detriment of the other. That wouldn’t be love at all: not love of one’s self or love of one’s community.

If only one party in the relationship is working to create love, to create the space of emotional connection, the dominator model remains in place and the relationship just becomes a site for continuous power struggle.

– Bell Hooks

The Point

Only a mind that has not yet been decolonized would think that there is room for only one struggle. America is full of struggles happening simultaneously and not every one is in opposition to the others. Mainstream society, the media specifically works from rules that do not have a vested interest in anything outside of itself as an institution (as most institutions do). Often there is only 15 minutes of attention given for any major event that has ties to a deeper struggle. These event s are serv

There is a balance that must be found between loving one’s Black self, loving Black women, and loving other Black men. There is no need to choose one and forsake the other — I have no idea where we have come up with this notion, which is a complete affront the very concept of Love. That would be like asking a parent to pick one child to love and hate the rest: it’s illogical, unnecessary, and it is the sign of an immature soul ignorant of the truth about Love. Love does not use ultimatums, generalities, and extremes. What makes Love such a powerful force worth reverence is that it can be all things at all times to all people. Love would never ask one to sacrifice one’s self in its name — we invented that idea. Love does not have a shallow reservoir for which a person much choose to not love too many things or too many people for fear of running out. There is enough Love to go around. Love is what we most lack right now and it is what we most need.

I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’,

An Angry Black Man

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This series seeks to help create a body of resistance literature that will chronicle the collective radicalization of a Black Masculinity movement that seeks to decolonize our minds and invent identities, in resistance, that transcend stereotypes. We will speak up and force the world to deal with us. Let the Black Masculinity movement begin.

The Story

I was in a seminar discussing Black masculinity and during the group discussion several Black males brought up concerns about the way Black men are covertly portrayed in the media as savages and brutes. One brotha refered to Lebron James’ cover of Vogue magazine.

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Now as a Black man looking at the cover, I am immediately filled with several emotions. The first is a slight repulsion of the likeness of the cover to the image beside it, then there is a touch of anger at the audacity to make such a correlation and also anger due to the fact that Lebron is so ignorant or hungry to reposition himself in white patriarchal society through fame and fortune that he would allow himself to be exploited in such a way and give permission to the world to continue to see Black men as savages. The most lingering feeling is confusion. That confusion comes because my mind cannot reconcile why Black men are seen and portrayed in this light.

The image of the Black man as a savage and brute is related to the more socially acceptable term “hypermasculine.” Black men are constantly called hypermasculine. This is especially justified when Black male rappers (who have a lot of mainstream visibility) are evaluated in the ways that they talk and conduct themselves. Many Black men are not necessarily in approval with all of the antics of Black male rappers and, in frowning at those antics, we allow society to use these men as archetypes for describing all Black men and the natural tendencies of Black men.

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Black male rappers are Black men and they do have natural Black male tendencies. Some of these tendencies go to the extreme and are not something that we, as a group, are proud of; however, we cannot allow our brothas to be martyred for our sakes. These men are not perfect but they, too, are not savage brutes nor are they “hypermasculine.” They are Black men acting in a context. That context doesn’t always bring out the best in them and some of them are too ignorant to know how to conduct themselves in a number of contexts (the least of which is national public scrutiny).

Hypermasculinity

To explore the notion of hypermasculinity, let’s first look at the word itself. Hyper suggests an excess or exagerration and masculinity means to have the traditional qualities associated with the male gender. Therefore, to call a man hypermasculine is too suggest that he has an excess of qualities associated with the male gender. Now isn’t that preposterous. We don’t go around suggesting that there is something wrong with a woman who is “girly” or very feminine. We don’t go around suggesting that someone’s eyes are excessively brown. So how does it make sense to describe any male as excessively masculine?

Hypermasculinity has become a code word for young, Black males. It used to give a connotation of danger and violence to the image of Black men. Rappers epitomize this image and give power to it through their embrace of violence and gang culture; however, it becomes a question of what came first the chicken or the egg. Hip Hop is a mirror that reflects the culture in which it exists. Therefore, when rappers indulge these images they do so because it is a reality that they have existed within. So, then, is it the rappers fault or society’s fault that the environment exists to inspire the images rappers perpetuate?

I have to refer to rappers because it is that image that influences everyday Black males and creates fads and slang phrases that society then uses to relate everyday Black men to these rappers images which are then related to this notion of hypermasculinity which holds a connotation of danger and violence. That is how a young Black boy in a hoodie can be seen by a grown non-Black man and thought of as a danger or threat that needed to be eliminated (Trayvon Martin). That is how Black men who sag their pants or walk around shirtless can be seen as hypermasculine, hypersexual dangers to women (white women most especially).

In examining the idea of hypermasculinity it is also important to not that we rarely see a term attached to White males who portray the same, if not more, “excessive masculine qualities.” Take for instance professional football players. Many of the White and Latino men who play the sport are just as “masculine” and/or “excessively masculine” as Black men even when they commit violent acts of crime. A large number of current and former football players end up charged with committing acts of violence, but they are never demonized to the extent that rappers are (and these days a third of them have never done any of the things they talk about in their lyrics and hold undergraduate degrees not obtained through athletic scholarship).

So it bears concern to me when this term is used, and especially when it is used against Black men. I’m not big on conspiracy theories but I would go as far as to say that in the individual situations where it is used, there is an intention to taint the image of the Black man upon whom it is being used.

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Masculinity as a Social Construct

Masculinity, as a concept, is a social construct that attributes certain qualities to the male gender. It is society who assigns those qualities to the male gender, which means one only has to be male (a genetic choice of nature) to have those qualities and it be socially acceptable. The qualities that are related to the idea of masculinity are subjective — except for the those that the majority of society agrees upon. So with that level of subjectivity, how can we accurately measure masculinity and, therefore, have a standard against which to decide whether someone is excessively masculine? Having a lot of qualities subjectively associated with a characteristic that is not chosen by the individual cannot be a bad thing nor can it be unnatural. However, when it comes to Black men, it is suggested (by Blacks and Whites) that we can and generally do have too many male qualities. Asinine. What I think is often at the root of this thinking is a resistance to patriarchy, misogyny, and male supremacy that has been deeply internalized by the Black male psyche, which is a righteous stance to take, but not at the denigration of the collective Black male image.

The truth is that in an imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy where men (specifically White men) hold the greatest potential for power, the greatest threat to that is a non-White male. Most dangerously, the Black male. Why the Black male specifically? Because of the history of oppression (from slavery to Jim Crow and beyond) that the imperialistic white-supremacist capitalistic patriarchal male has imposed upon the Black male. It is only reasonable to believe that, if there is any male in this society with the greatest motivation for overthrowing the imperialistic white-supremacist capitalistic patriarchal male, it would be the Black male. Therefore, the ascension of the Black man to any true position of manhood in this country threatens the framework that supports the system. As Senator William Windom said in 1879:

the black man does not excite antagonism because he is black but because he is a citizen.

– Senator William Windom of Minnesota

Supremacy works through objectivity. Therefore, if it can be perpetuated through the systems of society (such as media) that the Black man is some hypermasculine brute savage that just happens to walk on two legs and operate at a higher level of thinking than most animals, then the concept of treating the Black man with the same consideration and rights and privileges as White men seems ludicrous. And not only will society subconsciously accept these notions, they will help to ensure them.

That is the true depth of repercussions that occur from allowing the Black man to be labeled as hypermasculine. So when Lebron James is presented on a magazine cover in an image that very blatantly mimics that of King Kong, what may look like a simple magazine cover with a coincidental likeness is actually something much more insidious.

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The Problem

In order to suggest that a man is hypermasculine, there has to be a standard of masculinity. So I have a question for anyone that suggests that any Black man is hypermasculine: what or who then is the standard for masculinity? And how did they get to be the bar which to measure every other man? Is the White man, the Asian man, or the Latino man? And if they are, how then can we account for the variances of masculinity within these groups? Think about it. Try to answer. Exactly. More inane propaganda that has to foundation in logic or reality.

The major issue with the way Black men are portrayed in the media is that fact that we do not resist and redefine these images and the language used to attribute these characteristics to us. While in the group discussion I presented to the brothas the fact that they, themselves, had used the terms “brute” and “savage” without opposition. Granted they did oppose the use of these words to describe Black men, but they had not resisted and redefined. We must take seriously these instances of covert racism. It is not a matter of pointing fingers and placing blame at those who create, perpetuate, or participate in such acts; it is the resistance and correcting of the errors that is the major concern. As long as we allow the world to misshape our image, cry ignorance, and seek excuse from the damage that it causes, we will forever be at the mercy of external forces in terms of shaping our identity. That we must not allow.

The Point

The point is that, from an intellectual standpoint, there is no such thing as hypermasculinity. One cannot have too many masculine qualities if he is male. He may have more or less than others but that does not make him better or worse than the other; it does not make him more or less male than the other. And what we, as Black men, need to realize is that the use of this term in description of ANY Black man is a covert attack on our masculinity. We must shun this notion altogether and refuse to use this word in description of ourselves or our brothas because when we do we allow the world to protray us as brutes, savages, and niggers (I wonder if the NAACP wants to run a campaign for that?). There is more than one way to keep a Black person a nigger and America has mastered most. As a collective group we must align ourselves against the notion of the Black man as hypermasculine/inhuman. We must define and affirm our masculinity as, maybe different than any other man in America, but not natural. Our masculinity is not dangerous or threatening — unless the intent is to keep us subordinate in this society. There maybe something to be afraid of if that is the motive because we have no intention of remaining in the dregs of this society. Anyone who is in opposition to us taking our place as men should be afraid because we will overcome them. We are men and we will be treated and portrayed as such.

Osiris come together.

An Angry Black Man

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After having several recent discussions regarding Black Masculinity, I was impassioned to take up the subject for rigorous research and intellectual thought. I was dismayed by what I found to be a severe lack of Black male voices speaking new ideas on the subject. Most often Black men were responding to that which was already stated, whether true or untrue. A perfect example is a seminar I attended that was given by a local activist group led by Black men. In the group discussion several of the Black men brought up concerns about the way Black men are portrayed in the media and how often those images are derived from and covertly reinforce historical stereotypes. One brotha said he wanted to discuss why Black men are frequently displayed as hypermasculine savages and brutes when there are other forms of Black masculinity. The first thing that came to my mind was the fact that he was using language and adjectives that we, Black men, never created or dictated as being relative to us. This is where I discovered the problem that has birthed this series and will in effect support a movement for Black men.

Black males who resist categorization are rare, for the price of visibility in the contemporary world of white supremacy is that black male identity be defined in relation to the stereotype either by embodying it or seeking to to be other than it.

– Bell Hooks, We Real Cool

One major problem is that as Black men we don’t often offer the world alternative thoughts, interpretations for those notions that exist that do relate to us as Black men and we do not create original images, archetypes, and terms that accurately describe us as Black men. Like the brotha in the group, we take those terms, stereotypes and adjectives that have been created from outside the Black male populace and we either approve or reject them. This is called being reactive. It will only get us so far. We have to redefine those existing notions, stereotypes, and adjectives as well as create new ones of our own. In short, we have to lead the discussion on the subject of Black masculinity and the Black masculine identity. We cannot allow others to define us for us or we will forever be relegated to a backseat in a discussion about ourselves and will always be reacting rather than creating.

I have often pondered why no body of resistance literature has emerged from black males even though they actually own magazines and publishing houses. They have control over mass media, however relative. The failure lies with the lack of collective radicalization on the part of black men (most powerful black men in media are conservatives who support patriarchal thinking). Individual charismatic black male leaders with a radical consciousness often become so enamored with their unique status as the black man who is different that they fail to share the good news with other black men. Or they allow themselves to be co-opted — seduced by the promise of greater monetary rewards and access to mainstream power that are the payoffs for pushing a less radical message.

– Bell Hooks, We Real Cool

This series seeks to help create a body of resistance literature that will chronicle the collective radicalization of a Black Masculinity movement that seeks to decolonize our minds and invent identities, in resistance, that transcend stereotypes.

All you are ever told about being black is that it is a terrible, terrible thing to be. Now, in order to survive this, you have to really dig down into yourself and re-create yourself, really, according to no image that yet exists in America. You have to impose, in fact — this may sound very strange — you have to decide who you are, and force the world to deal with you, not with it’s idea of you.

– James Baldwin, Studs Terkel Interview

Brothas assemble. We are not going quietly into a future that has reserved no space for us in a world that has feared and never loved us. We will speak up and force the world to deal with us. Let the Black Masculinity movement begin.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

References

The Myth of Osiris

Pratt, Louis H. & Standley, Fred L. An Interview with James Baldwin Studs Terkel. Conversations with James Baldwin. University Press of Mississippi. 1989

Hooks, Bell. We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. Rutledge Publishing. 2004.