Black Men and Masculinity
This is a guest post by poet JJ Bola first published on his Blog This is life. Bola is born in Kinshasa, Congo but raised in London. His poems and musings are thought provoking and examine life from a different side.
Black men and masculinity. A topic of discussion that does not receive as much attention as it should, nonetheless, it needs to be discussed more frequently if we, as black people, and humanity in general, are to form progressive, balanced relationships with one another.
We live in a predominantly patriarchal world, and in contemporary western society, black men in the diaspora, have had a particular image projected about them. Black men, through literature, the arts, music, media etc, have continuously been shown as brutes, thugs, violent, vandals, etc. However, in cases, where the imagery is a positive representation, as professional, they are still shown as emotionless men, who are ruthless in thought. We have been bombarded with this image, of black men, and guns and gangs, interestingly, to the point where, just google the word “thug” and look at the images you get.
This image has been constructed through commercial/mainstream hip hop and rap (not to be confused with traditional underground hip hop and revolutionary rap), and many black boys have gone through a process of self identification with this particular image (This image does not necessarily mean a person is “bad”, I remember when I was in school, many of my black friends and I wore baggy clothes, baggy jeans sag low, but got good grades in school and went on to graduate and be professionals). The anger of young black men, usually comes from the understanding that in western society, they are still perceived as a threat, which then creates a notion of hypermasculinity as form of rejection of the mainstream and survival. As black men, we also internalise this notion of being a “threat” to the point where we see those who look like us as a threat. You know the scenario, two black boys walking down the road, eye contact is made, first one two look away loses, “chicken”. If you stare too long, we know what the end result is. Too many young black men have been violently attacked or even killed through situations as simple as this (Every black man reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about, especially when a simple head nod can diffuse the whole situation, but again the front of being a “man” or “hard” is chosen for fear of appearing weak). Particularly in areas that have a high population of black men. So the average black boy comes to the realisation that they have to be strong to defend themselves from racist people/institutions, NF, EDL, the Police and from other black men, thus a sense of a need to be twice as strong arises to survive in the west. The classic “screw face” look comes to mind, I’ve been there in my younger days many times. Notice how this ever so rarely happens in Africa. I have grown up in London, when I visited Africa for the first time, I was surprised to see young black men who didn’t know each other, look at one another and smile whilst greeting. There is something about the societal mentality imbedded in the west about black men, that turns a lot of us like this, particularly when we are young and impressionable. Furthermore, just observe the number of young black men, who overcompensate with their physiques, desiring the muscular look. Hypermasculinity.
One of the most damaging images ever to be associated with the black men, which finds its origin in the period of enslavement and colonialism, is that of an highly endowed, over sexual man, lustful, and lecherous man. First projected upon us, and then internalised by us, to the point we make music or constantly refer to our supposed phallic superiority. I’ve been in those conversations, especially, in my youth, where brothers were talking a certain way, and felt the need to overcompensate by constantly talking their size or the number of women they’ve slept with. True this is not limited to black men, of course not, however, this braggadocios chauvinism has been internalised by and is viewed of us. If you are a black man, or someone who has had a relations(hip) with a black man, just think whether you’ve had this conversation before:
“A: So, is it true what they say?
You: about what?
A: You know about *insert reference to the black man’s manhood here*”
This has lead to the hypersexualisation of black men, from boyhood years, as a way to prove how much of a man they are. Furthermore, the unfounded and absolutely degrading rumour is that black men are notoriously unfaithful. As a result, we often end up seeking sex as a replacement for love to fill the void that was left from past experiences and emotional repression, which is destructive as it is only temporary pacifier.
The consequences of the above mentioned factors is very destructive, as a black man, and the relationship formed with others. Black men in general, are not given an opportunity to express their emotions or feelings. Any attempt to do so, will seemingly nullify your masculinity. Of course, we can speak of our need for sexual healing, a la Marvin Gaye, which “helps to relieve my mind”, but what about our emotional healing? Where are the black men talking about their feelings? The lack of emotional relief, for black men, as a homogenous group, has devastating consequences, particularly on our relationships with black women and our children. Interestingly, the percentage of asian men and white women in interracial relationships is higher than that of black men and white women, but such emphasis is placed on the black/white relationship mainly because of historical factors, but also, a lot of black men will date a white women, or date interracially, whilst disrespecting black women as a group, and not just the individual woman who broke his heart.
This comes from the fact that a lot of resentment that still lingers about the failures of black relationships, and the opportunity for black men to express their hurt at failed relationships is non-existence, even within our social group. Particularly when I was a young black man, I know from experience that when one of the boys in the group had a failed relationship, we celebrated by going out, to get him more women, and basking in his new found “freedom”, which only internalised patriarchal mentality, and hypersexualisation setting up destruction for future relationships. It was only in our older years, did we begin to speak slighty more about how we felt. Even still, it is limited at best.
There are, however, many black men who are breaking free from this imposition placed on us, and challenging notions of black masculinity, and defining their own ideals. This needs to be given closer attention to and received, not only by black men, but black women also. We are given so many examples of the failures that black men have committed, and rarely the successes, in relationships, and as individuals, on a personal, holistic level. I feel as though everyone writes about black men, apart from black men, and everyone reads about black men, apart from black men.
Black men, we need to speak, unapologetically…
I’m not saying I am right or wrong, there is much to be discussed, but this is a start….
If you really want to go in detail, I recommend We Real Cool: Black Men & Masculinity by Bell Hooks. Very thought provoking.
What are your thoughts?