Thursday, November 13, 2008

Redefining (Black/White) Masculinity

(Letter from Ukie Villain)

Dear Byron Hurt and Tyler Durden,

Thank you for your commentaries on masculinity.

Byron, you compare Curtis Jackson (aka 50 Cent) with Barack Obama, drawing upon the themes that their power and prominence make each of them, in their own way, figures of masculinity in American culture. Recent years have given us the impression that the only strong, virile black men out there were the thugs--the ones who could take the women, the money, the drugs, and the jail-time without flinching. Those who relied on their intellect instead of their muscle were seen as selling out to the 'white' culture. As you say, it's a repainting of post-Civil War painting of the black man as a Buck.

Barack has changed that. By winning against long odds to become the nation's first Black President (assuming all goes well between now and January 20), he has shown that a man can be brainy, calm, and black. He hasn't left his culture, but rather has embraced it, and has still shown that with hands-in-pockets, sleeves-rolled-up, and basketball-shooting-proficiency, he can still command authority, demand respect, and achieve power.

Despite the differences between the Rapper and the President-Elect, there is a commonality here. "These are black men that are playing in a game that was not designed for them; they are playing in a way that has allowed them to be successful against great odds." (Video above, 9:07) Both of these men took what they wanted, but they did so in very different ways. Which is the more masculine of the two, and will Barack's rise to prominence and power lead more young black men to emulate him?

Tyler, you speak to masculinity beyond race, although it seems your message is targeted most directly at white men like me. White men don't have rap stars to provide role models--we have TV sitcoms.

Homer Simpson and Ray RomanoAnd we see all the time that the archetypal man in our society--violent, stupid, and lazy--is not exactly someone worthy of emulation.

Likewise, those who are shown as powerful in business or politics are shown as ultra-consumers: those who have all the money and power they want, and are filling their lives with so much stuff, defining themselves by their Ikea-catalog-lives or their $2000 suits. You seem to believe that neither of these options is acceptable as a true measure of masculinity, although that is what society proposes as the only two options for white men these days.

I'm sad that you had to turn to violence to express your manhood, though I understand the need to violently shake off the expectations of a society that highlights consumerism or slobbery as the path to self-expression of manhood. Ever seen Complex Magazine? It's enough to make me want to hit someone, in any case.

But I find it ironic that at the same time that black men see a role model in Barack that allows them to leave violence and thuggism behind, white men are looking at consumerism, violence, stupidity, and/or laziness as their preferred methods of expressing masculinity. This seems to be going in the wrong direction.

I say that we should define masculinity in a way that neither requires self-definition as a function of what we own or the size of our bank accounts, nor the necessity to take by thuggish force! Rather, masculinity could be defined by work ethic, ability to care and provide for others (even with the knowledge that femininity does NOT require being taken care of or provided for), and genuine expression of self through physicality and emotionality.

In any case, I thank both of you for your thoughts on masculinity, and hope that men in this nation can actually behave as such.


PS. Thanks to NPR for giving the heads up on Byron's short documentary, and spurring my thoughts.


cadh 8 said...

I am so glad to see this post. There are so many angles to explore on the issues of race since the election. I am glad to see that someone has made a start.

I heard a discussion of "post election feelings" on NPR yesterday. One of the men being interviewed who was black (they had a mix of races and genders) said that afterwards he went to work dressed in his best suit. He said he "Looked it like something". He was so proud...not just to have a black president, but that he had been right about his fellow American's, black and white, ability to elect a black president. Barack Obama has some how opened all of our eyes that we can be different, and maybe we already are. Hope is the word that comes to mind. And hope is a place that leaves room for all people. Even us confirmed republicans!

Thanks for the interesting assessment of masculinity. I really enjoyed the post.

brd said...

The documentary by Byron Hurt is really interesting. Thanks for sharing it. There is so much here to think about, including the video quotation from Fight Club. I have not read the book or seen the movie, but must do that soon. (CaDh8 didn't you recommend that to me?)

The interesting conclusion of the documentary is the parallel of the 50 Cent model with the George Bush, powerful white male patriarchal model as being so similar. It was also interesting that Hurt accused the "gansta" style blacks as assuming a role that was like African slave traders who sold their own brothers into slavery. Complicated analogies.


Anonymous said...

Not as erudite as your post on black/white masculinity, just another perspective.


Anne G G said...

brd - I'm sad that I couldn't watch the documentary as I was reading just now. . . . my download speed is too slow right now. But I watched the fight club clips, and I've always found fight club fascinating, and very mystifying.

Perhaps you should watch fight club, then read Wild at Heart by John Eldredge (a Christian book that espouses some pretty shallow views about masculinity). Then maybe finish it off with a few videos of Mark Driscoll, a scourge on the American church (start with this video - it will offend you, and I'd love to hear what you think:

brd said...

Anne GG
I just watched a Driscoll video, in which he stated that the church is not innovative and that all of the innovative men are home watching football. I laughed and laughed.