Theorizing Black Masculinity: Sexuality, Authenticity, & Self-Construction

Nov 19, 2015 | - Nov 19, 2015 | 4:15 pm - 5:45 pm

691 Barrows Hall

Theorizing Black Masculinity: Sexuality, Authenticity, Self-Construction

Between Class Lines: Politics of Respectability and the Ghetto Allure in the Romantic Relationships of Middle-Class Black Men
Joy Hightower, Sociology

Marriage and family literature has routinely emphasized Black poor and white middle-class comparisons. As a consequence, understandings about Black relationships are fundamentally about the poor, while studies of middleclass relationship patterns are fundamentally about whites. The relationship decisions and intimate experiences of the Black middle-class (BMC) are thoroughly understudied; and as a result, continue to be constructed through the lens of the Black poor. Recent studies of BMC relationship patterns invoke all too familiar narratives: BMC men, like low income Black men, are still considered economic and social failures. Despite little research that has empirically studied them, BMC men continue to be offered as an explanation for Black women’s singleness. In this presentation, I link stigmatizing discourses about declining rates of “Black” marriage, increasing rates of interracial marriage among successful Black men, and the perennial placement of Black men outside of fatherhood to racial projects of mass incarceration and homosexual deviance. Through interviews with BMC men, I examine how these discourses shape their perceptions and understandings of dating, relationships, and marriage. I consider 1) how they see themselves as romantic partners, 2) how they contest or endorse racial stereotypes, and 3) how women’s assessments and perceptions of their racial authenticity reinforce social boundaries of subjugated forms of Blackness. I find that there is a correlation between BMC men’s perceived racial authenticity and women’s sexual desire. I will discuss how respondents interpret and rationalize their own desirability amidst assessments of their race-based and class-based presentations.

Poems That Shoot Guns: The Black Arts Movement and Emasculating Authorship
Zachary Manditch-Prottas, African American Studies

Perhaps no work of the American Black Arts Movement is more infamous and polarizing than Amiri Baraka’s’ aptly titled poem, “Black Art”. In the poem Baraka calls for “Poems that shoot guns” and “poems that kill”. A telling rhetoric nuance of the text is that the author calls for poems and not poets that will “shoot guns”; demanding “Poems†that kill”, rather than poets that kill. While poets are to author these violent “live words” there is no mention that they will partake in violence literally. To my reading Baraka’s selection of poem over poet should not be regarded as merely a semantic oversight but rather as a telling signifying instance by which to consider how the ambition of BAM literature functioning as black liberatory action ironically traverses with BAM theorizations of the racial and gendered restrictions that writing poses and signals.

This essay explores the implications of Baraka’s language as a case study evidential of a critical paradox, and subsequent anxiety, implicit, and often explicit, in the Black Arts Movement regarding the ambivalent masculine prowess and racial authenticity of black male authors. It will be argued that while within the purview of BAM ethos the written word was meant to be, as well as meant to catalyze, revolutionary action they also served as the author’s announcement of physical action deferred. Returning to the example of “Black Art” the violence of the poem†serves as the evidential paper trail of the inactivity of the poet. Baraka’s murderous words are proof that he is not, at least at present, killing anybody. My essay will explore the interlocking racial, gender and sexual ramifications of violent words. In effect, my essay will consider Baraka’s poem as evidential of the following anxieties of BAM authorship 1: physical inaction announced as displacement from the masculine corporeality made paramount by BAM conceptions of black revolutionary action and, 2: the author’s relationship to the white emasculation, often articulated through sexual epithet, BAM theorists associated with American literature.

Thursday Forum Series

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