Posts Tagged ‘Black Masculinity Movement’

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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 have recently been placing a lot of thought into what some would consider the feminist thoughts of Black women and the implications they held for Black men. I particularly explored 2 interesting videos by Black women that were very provocative but made powerful statements on a number of levels: Erykah Badu’s “Window Seat” and Nicki Minaj’s “Lookin Ass Niggas.” regardless of how anyone felt about either video, it was clear that these visual images along with their lyrical content made powerful statements that elicited a myriad of responses. For Black men, I think, there is a powerful statement being made in regards to Black female sexuality that should be explored.

Isis

Isis

Badu and Minaj

In watching Badu’s walking the street of downtown Dallas, Texas slowly undressing, part of me was just waiting to see if she was going to actually go all the way nude. But by the time she does and is shot down in the video closing the video with a short monologue stating:

They play it safe, are quick to assassinate what they do not understand. They move in packs ingesting more and more fear with every act of hate on one another. They feel most comfortable in groups, less guilt to swallow. They are us. This is what we have become. Afraid to respect the individual. A single person within a circumstance can move one to change. To love herself. To evolve.

-Eyrkah Badu

I found my arousal to be more intellectual than sexual. My first thought was ‘what the fuck does that mean?’ I then jumped on YouTube to watch the video again and take in the lyrics and the images that were being depicted. After the second view I was smiling and nodding because I respected the bold statement. On third view I was throwing my fist in the air because Badu, as only she can, had inspired thought, challenged the status quo, made a poetic and socially conscious stratement boldly and artistically. Badu’s statement – no doubt – incited Dallas officials to take legal action against her because the guerilla filming sought no approval from the city for its filming and her nudity threatened the integrity of the city and its ability to protect its citizens from nudity (lol).

Nicki Minaj who is one of the few female Hip Hop artists with mainstream visibility. I found Nicki’s Lookin Ass Niggas single to be fascinating. Especially when analyzed in conjunction with the video. Here is Nicki, scantily clad, sensually posed, and sexually alluring. However, the content of the song contrasts with what the visual images might normally suggest to a man. Even while Nicki stares coyly at the camera she tells her male onlookers to “stop lookin at my ass ass niggas” while arching her back so her ass is looking at you (whether you look back or not). Nicki let’s it be known that she is not going to forgo her sensuality or shroud her body to not be objectified by a man; she’s just not going to be objectified. Her sensuality/sexuality is not for make consumption.

The Problem

One of the most poignant comments that I have heard made me really ponder my thoughts about Black women and the appeal/sexual desire for Black women. It was when Erykah Badu — in response to the criticism of her Window Seat video said:

People are uncomfortable with sexuality that is not for male consumption

– Erykah Badu

So perhaps the problem was not integrity but some flaw in the patriarchal way that we view the female body and the contexts in which we allow it to occur publicly. Badu’s statement was such a powerful one  because it made me clear that the mainstream of American society is more accepting of nudity/sensuality when it is grounded in lust. One needs to look no further than popular television to see the growing trend of full female frontals and male backsides (that would have been taboo a decade ago) to see that we have become more liberal in our censorship and in what we consider improper. However, the country goes into an uproar when say Janet Jackson’s nipple is accidentally exposed during a performance or when a female music artists don outfits that look like lingerie or when a singer goes nude in a video to make an artistic statement. E. Badu is definitely onto something, especially in considering the Black female body.

The Point

When I truly consider the statement that Badu made, it really opens a window of consciousness of which I had previously been unaware. I had never considered the thought that a woman could wear something sexy and revealing and it not be for the attention of men. In true patriarchal fashion I never thought twice about this. Now that is not to be confused with the thought that some people (make and female) have in believing a woman is asking to be raped, harassed, groped, or grabbed because of what she’s wearing. I’ve never thought that but what makes sexism so sinister is that like other oppressive forms of thinking it situated itself in your consciousness in a way that tells you that it is “normal” and “truthful” and, therefore, okay to think and there’s no need to question it.

The Black female body is not an object to be consumed nor is her sensuality/sexuality a commodity to be possessed. These things are an extension of her identity and are shared at her discretion. No man (or person for that matter) should think themselves entitled to or worthy of that gift. If she wants you to have it, she’ll let you know (“nigga nigga”).

 

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

In Black Masculinity studies there is a term called cool pose. This term was used by Richard Majors and Janet Mancini Billson in a book called “Cool Pose.” Cool pose is a coping mechanism created by Black Men in order to deal with the oppression of white-supremacy. Majors and Billson define cool pose as “the presentation of self many black males use to establish their male identity.”

The Threat to Survival

As a performance, cool pose is designed to render the black male visible and to empower him

– Majors & Billson, “Cool Pose”

It is the context of making an offense of cool pose that creates a persona and performance that the Black man plays out before the world. In studies concerning cool pose it is often referred to as a “mask” that Black men use. I disagree with that term as I think it implies a willful deception, which cool pose is not. Cool pose is a logical and natural response to environmental conditions. In most cases, I would argue, that cool pose takes place mostly on an instinctive level which has its own frame of consciousness. sharpton9n-4-web

One of the biggest issues with cool pose is that it is constantly being used to diagnose the problems of Black men: drug selling, violence against each other, lack of educational success, etc. In doing so, much of the scholarship is intellectually dishonest. It suggests first the answer and then describes the problem. If cool pose is to be used to study and understand the minds and behavior of Black men, it will have to be honest enough to begin with what is observed and what is known to be fact and from that premise explore the answers to the whys. When approaching cool pose as a phenomenon of Black male behavior, it is easy to see and understand how cool pose is a benign phenomenon and not a malicious attack.

Any creature that is continuously placed in a hostile environment learns to become keenly aware of itself, its environment, and the continuous dynamic occurring between the two. This is because of the survival instinct that all animals have as a biological imperative to survive. A psychological dilemma occurs when, as human brings, who presume ourselves to be the highest evolved creatures on this planet, are reigned to a savage and barbaric level of living that conflicts with our humanity. To be brought to this level of survival is to reduce a person to their base selves. For Black people this psychological dilemma creates other dilemmas and issues. Cool pose is one of those. Cool pose is a psychological coping mechanism meant to protect the mind from the damage of living years under the weight of double consciousness. Cool pose has been called a mask. I submit to you that it is not a mask, it’s a sword and shield.

Cool pose furnishes the black male with a sense of control, inner strength, balance, stability, confidence, and security.

-Majors & Billson, “Cool Pose’

The Sword

Cool Pose as a weapon had serves to repel potential threats. Cool pose as a weapon is the mean mug that Black men wear on their faces: a look that forces people to give them their space and think twice about crossing them. Cool pose as a weapon is the BBoy stance that tells the world that Black men will not moved by the world around them. Cool pose as a weapon is the Black man’s first line of defense. It helps to make sure that “if you don’t start none, there won’t be none.”malcolmx

A man is to carry himself in the face of all opposition as if everything were titular and ephemeral but he.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

Cool pose as a weapon gives Black men the power to control themselves and, therefore, have some measure of control in their environment. The dynamic between a person and their environment is a detailed dance that depends upon the tone and cadence of the song that’s played. If a man is to survive a dangerous and oppressive environment, then he must learn to be dangerous and confrontational. The sword of cool pose offers this. Without being physical it allows the Black man to violently oppose his environment and station in life. He is able to redefine what it means to be cool to allow himself the potential of being cool. He is empowered to redefine success so that it more accurately reflects the world in which he lives. I would argue that it is this inner reinforcement and outward aggression that makes cool pose appealing to everyone – to be desired by women and emulated by non-Black men. Power is attractive and cool pose gives Black man a power that radiates from within and makes them seem larger than life.

The Problem

The problem with cool pose as a weapon is that the Black man must be able to accurately determine who and what are threats and who and what are not threats. This is difficult to do if the majority of an individual’s environment – sometimes down to their own mother and father – has been a threat. How then do make this individual believe that there is anyone or anything in this world that might mean him no harm? This individual has been growing through the earliest stages of their psychological development without one of the basic needs of all human beings: a sense of safety. Or even for those that may have had nurturing parents, there usually comes a time when those parents are helpless to protect their sons. Think of the many Black boys we have lost this year to some hateful act of violence. Those mothers could not protect their sons and, while that is not a casting of blame upon the mother, it is evidence that there is a lack of safety for Black men in America. As Black men grow up and begin to have theses experiences (such as being profiled, stop-and-frisk, wrongfully accused) it spells one thing to the Black man: no one can be trusted to save me but myself.jay-z-stylish-and-cool-look-still.

That mentality is what causes the issues with cool pose because if no one can be trusted, then the Black man can let his guard down with no one. In the research on cool pose I saw it written that because cool pose requires a reserve (not repression) for emotional demonstrations, Black men have trouble forming strong bonds. Well, that’s debatable. Certainly being guarded does not lend itself to the development of an intimate relationship; however, I wouldn’t say that Black men are incapable of developing strong bonds. I would say that it is a challenge for them to do so.

The Point

Cool pose is sword and shield for Black men. It has both negative and positive implications and consequences. What cannot be said is that it is a problem or something that Black men should not access for survival. I am always flabbergasted when individuals seek to decide what a person should or shouldn’t do and how far a person should or shouldn’t go when they are faced with imminent danger and an inevitable threat to their lives. Who can dare to judge the inexpressible price one pays for their life without considering what that life has called upon them to do? It is an affront to the humanity of the individual.

For Black men, cool pose has been a survival tactic and, despite this being the 21st century, the Black man is still not safe. So, why then, we would suggest he not use every weapon in his arsenal to ensure his own survival. If we are looking for a change to be made, make it with the society that has created the circumstances that have made it necessary for the Black man to life by any means necessary and survive at all costs.

 

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. The first step is to come back to ourselves. 

The Story

One thing I have noticed in the writings on Black masculine identity is that there is a tendency to over-deconstruct the behavior, values, and ideals of Black men. Many of the analyses are far reaching attempts that reduce the Black masculine identity to tattered rags in need of discarding. While some of the initial deconstructive analysis uncovers some truths to be considered, it usually finds its way into the standard imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal framework which shapes much of our thinking in America. That is when the analysis loses its academic merit and the fire of its intellectualism (if there was any) and sinks into an oppressive propaganda that implies that at the core of the Black man, something is very wrong. I don’t believe that is true.

What is very wrong is the fact that those developing these analyses don’t recognize the flaws in their own critiques. After they have deconstructed the Black male identity down to the core, they rarely offer anything in its place. Instead the Black man is left with shreds of his identity and no clue what should be there instead. I submit to you that, at our core, Black men are not troubled. We are a flawed and evolving group of individuals like any other in this country. Most of our work begins beyond our core in that space where we deal with the world around us: other people and their perspectives and realities and their perceptions of ours. We are willing to put in the work and grow, but we have no intention of sacrificing the core of our being. We are not just Black and not just men; we are Black men, that makes a difference.

Pride, Dignity, and Respect

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

In a world that is constantly telling you to be something other than what you are; that what you are is inferior; that what you are is dangerous; that what you are is useless; that what you are is powerless, the attainment and protection of pride, dignity, and respect becomes a grave endeavor. Have we forgotten that the drive toward pride, dignity, and respect is what fueled the civil rights movement in which all Black people demanded to be treated as people and complete citizens of this country? Have we forgotten that the drive toward pride, dignity, and respect is what ignited the Black Power Movement in which all Black people were determined to define themselves and find the beauty and power in being who and what they were in spite of society’s opinions? So why, then, does it seem so astoundingly deviant for Black men to desire the space to be who we are in spite of the fact that who we are (naturally) does not always fit within the constraints of expected socially acceptable behavior (remembering that these standards are created from the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal framework).

They [Black males] engage in an unyielding drive toward the pursuit of pride. Pride, dignity, and respect hold such high premium for black men that many are willing to risk anything for it, even their lives.

– Majors and Billson, Cool Pose

When we use the word pride in society today, it often comes with a negative connotation that leads us to believe that this is not something someone should possess or desire to possess. That is because of the confusion brought by the church. The religious definition of pride, as one of the seven deadly sins, is something completely different from the one in our dictionary. The deadly sin of pride — created ages ago — must be translated into our language today. In that respect the term would not be pride, but supremacy. The deadly sin of pride speaks to the idea of thinking of ones self and anything one does as superior to

I_am_a_man_protest_marchanyone else. Today’s definition of pride refers to dignity and having a high opinion and satisfaction with ones self-respect and self-esteem. So while I might agree that Black men are prideful creatures, this is not to say that they should not be. Conversely, a Black men had better have some sense of pride to steady him for the blows that his dignity is sure to face.

Even today pride, dignity, and respect are high priorities for Black men. There is a very good reason for that. It is because historically and even unto this very moment there are no specific guarantees in a Black man’s life. He is not guaranteed to live to see 25, he is not guaranteed to obtain a college degree, he is not guaranteed to make the money that he desires or deserves, and he is not guaranteed to escape arrest and/or incarceration (despite whether he abides by all laws or not). His entire life is a gamble. His entire existence is a game of roulette in which he takes some risk that may or may not make him a winner and in the same ratio of chances may bring his very demise. Therefore, he places higher value on the breath he takes in the moments of his life and what he can create in those moments for sure. Pride, dignity, and respect can be attained from any social station in life. Pride, dignity, and respect can be attained no matter how much education one has or does not have. Pride, dignity, and respect can be attained regardless how much money he has. It is internal and attainable. It is better that a man is directed and guided by that which is internal that to entrust his identity to anything outside himself — that cannot possibly know him better than he knows himself. In order for Black men to salvage their self esteem and no whither and die emotionally and spiritually in the face of aversion, we must cultivate and protect our pride, dignity, and respect.

Be A Man Where You Are

Be a man where you are…you must be a man here and force your way into intelligence, wealth, and respectability. If you can’t do it here, you can’t do it there. By changing your place, you don’t change your character.

– Frederick Douglass, Horace Greeley and Colonization

So much emphasis is placed on where Black men should be and what they should be doing; however, much like Frederick Douglass asserts, a man must learn to be a man from right where he is. This vantage point will allow Black men to separate their notions of manhood from white-supremacist patriarchal thinking that suggests that a man is measured by what he has and what he has accomplished. Pride, dignity, and respect can be achieved in spite of those factors and will yield greater gains in terms of standards, values, and integrity that will guide that man even when he manages to change his station in life. What we see most often now are Black men who obtain the materialistic aspects — by any means necessary — and when they come into that space they care nothing about how they got there or what it means to have gained access to that new space. So in effect they only succeed in changing their place within the framework rather than opening the door for greater access to that space by other like them.

blackprideThe Problem

How a Black man chooses to pursue pride, dignity, and respect depends upon where he thinks he will find it and how he thinks he can get it. The direction of his pursuit is influenced by how he grows up, where he grows up, and who he is raised by. All of these factors play a part in the Black man’s journey for pride, dignity, and respect. For example if he grows up in the hood and the code of the street is the value system that he is taught and believes in, then it is only natural that he would see pride, dignity, and respect as something to be obtained from street credibility, hustling on the corner, and aggressively defending his manhood. If, however, he grows up in the suburbs where allegiance to the mainstream opinion is predominant, then he will believe that pride, dignity, and respect are found in education, social status, and obtaining a powerful and profitable position in corporate America.

There is no one thing that can define what all Black men see as an expression of pride, dignity, and respect. There is no one way that Black men go about obtaining pride, dignity, and respect. What I am certain of is that, no matter where they come from or in what way they choose to pursue it, pride, dignity, and respect are important to Black men — and rightly so.

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The Point

Black men are often chastised for the drive toward pride, dignity, and respect. Granted depending upon the context in which it is being sought, there can be some major issues in our pursuit of pride, dignity, and respect. But that does not make the pursuit of pride, dignity, and repsect a problem. It means we are going about it the wrong way. We have to realize the truth: that pride, dignity, and respect are things that a man acquires through his character and that actions that guide them, not through an accomplishment. Then we have to take the time to teach our young Black men and little Black boys the that we have learned.  We, as Black men, have to begin to separate ourselves from the values and perspectives of the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy that shape our thinking and define ourselves for ourselves. I submit to you that we do have the answers inside us; we just have to trust our own instincts.

Osiris come together.

An Angry Black Man

References

Douglass, Frederick. Horace Greeley and Colonization. Frederick Douglass’ Paper. 1852.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Self-Reliance. 1841.

Majors, Richard and Billson, Janet Mancini. Cool Pose. New York: Lexington, 1992.    

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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.