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why has George Bush who hails from an upper class, New England cultural heritage

 repudiated that elite form of culture for the persona of a redneck Texas cowboy?

 Does this peculiar phenomenon have anything to do with how masculinity

and manliness are structured in America?


Jill Nelson                                                                                                      Orlando Patterson



Masculinity Manliness Violence

Issues in Black and White in America

By Rudolph Lewis


I was committed to struggle, and that commitment necessarily included struggle with my own biases, prejudices, and weaknesses. I did not just wake up one morning and write Malcolm My Son because I didn’t have anything else to do. I wrote it because it reflected my own attempts to understand the breadth, depth and nature of Black humanity. And ditto for my participation in the struggle to smash sexism and develop women.Interview with Kalamu ya Salaam

My first serious intellectual conversation on the topic of masculinity, specifically, black sexuality occurred in an extended discussion with Kalamu ya Salaam. That was about four years ago when I interviewed him sharply about his views on the relationships of men and women as they appear in Our Women Keep Our Skies From Falling (a booklet of essays on women and rape), What Is Life? (a book of essays including responses to the publication emphasis on women writings), and Malcolm My Son (a dialogue between a homosexual son and his mother). Until this episode this was probably my most intense discussion ever on a critical subject that is too often avoided within the community and among black men. Though the discussion was exceedingly informative and enlightening, it was very bumpy and incomplete. That was the case because I had not come to the same conclusions as Kalamu. He believed that homophobia and rape were rampant within the black community. I put those discussions on the backburner. Artistically, I found his erotica (stories and poems) more interesting.

The above publications by Kalamu were published in 1980 and into the 1990s, which demonstrate again the trailblazer and the tuned-in thinker that he is. These discussions of masculinity, manliness, and violence have again come to the forefront of my mind. Within the last week or so I have had numerous email discussions on these topics, beginning with a listserv discussion of the Malcolm X Letter which concerns itself with the relationship between Malcolm X and his wife Betty Shabazz. She according to Malcolm charged him with impotency and the inability to satisfy her fully sexually. Many of the listserv discussants believed the letter was a racial conspiracy another attempt to undermine the masculinity of the black man. In short, they believed the letter a fraud. I thought the letter made Malcolm more human and that it did not in the least tarnish his courage, his love for his people, and his willingness to sacrifice all for his people.

During this period, I was reading Mohammed Naseehu Ali's The Prophet of Zongo Street, which includes the short story "The Manhood Test."  This is a story about the marriage of Mr. Rafique and his wife Zulai, who is viewed by some in her community as a "sexual monster." From the first night, Mr. Rafique was unable to sustain an erection. A lack of openness (honesty and trust) between husband and wife is the ultimate cause of ensuing quarrels and bickering, not too unlike what is reported in the Malcolm X Letter:

As time went by, Mr. Rafique assumed the un-Islamic and ungodly act of blaming the "old witches" on the street for his problems. He thought of having a talk with his wife, to tell her "face-to-face" that her aggressive sex manner was the main cause of his inability. But in the end he feared coming across as a wimp with such an open admission of unmanliness. So he remained silent.

Their marriage continues to unravel and finally after first agreeing to the "manhood test" and then declining to go through with it Mr. Rafique grants his wife her desired request of a divorce. These events occur in a Ghanian Muslim society, so they are only peripherally important in a discussion of masculinity and manliness in America.

Though also patriarchal in its orientation, America is unique and has its own sexual and manliness complexities generated and influenced by centuries of enslavement of a significant portion of its peoples on the basis of race and a puritanical and a racialist protestant religion. Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson has noted that America "has a unique problem with miscegenation and the protection of white femininity, which creates the value of whiteness as a social good" (On Black and White Relations). Yet Patterson fails to emphasize that that complex was accompanied by violence of the most vulgar variety. However, Patterson, according to Chicago columnist Clarence Page, argues that "culture, more than economics or historical racism" accounts for the excessive percentage of crime and violence among America's black boys and young black men.

In "A Poverty of the Mind," Patterson refers to black manliness issues as the "Dionysian trap." According to the History Guide: "Drunkenness and madness are Dionysian because they break down a man's individual character; all forms of enthusiasm and ecstasy are Dionysian, for in such states man gives up his individuality and submerges himself in a greater whole: music is the most Dionysian of the arts, since it appeals directly to man's instinctive, chaotic emotions and not to his formally reasoning mind."

Its opposite, the Apollonian, which implies, according to the History Guide, rational thought, structure (sculpture) the ability to make distinctions” is the realm of another American racial group. For in his metaphoric generalization, Patterson wrote, "Young white Americans are very much into these [Dionysian] things, but selectively; they know when it is time to turn off Fifty Cent and get out the SAT prep book." In short, white youth are more culturally rounded, than black youth. "For young black men, however, that culture [Dionysian] is all there is — or so they think," Patterson concludes.

The question we must raise here is whether Patterson as a  British Caribbean scholar lacks an understanding of the American psyche be it black male or be it white male. That is, does Patterson have a true understanding of "black rage" in America? Does Patterson's B.Sc. in Economics from London University and his Ph.D. in Sociology from the London School of Economics (1965) provide him the requisite skills and understanding to provide a correct analysis of the American male psyche be it black male or white male? As I understand it, Patterson believes in an elite form of culture, which should be cosmopolitan and based on universal literacy and upper-middle class values.

Seemingly, Patterson farther believes his "young white Americans" are more sympathetic and receptive to that elitist point point of view than the black youth of our decimated inner cities. If that is indeed a Patterson truism, I am urged to ask, why has George Bush who hails from an upper class, New England cultural heritage repudiated that elite form of culture for the persona of a redneck Texas cowboy? Does this peculiar phenomenon have anything to do with how masculinity and manliness are structured in America? We might go farther and ask whether President Bush's war on Saddam and Iraq have anything to do with his cultural valuation, or devaluation, in wanting not to appear as "coming across as a wimp." That was indeed the media view of George Bush before 9/11. Did Bush fall into Patterson's "Dionysian trap" despite his upper class heritage?

It was Rodney Foxworth, Jr. who first brought my attention to Orlando Patterson's "A Poverty of the Mind."  Below is his worthy and apt response to Patterson's "Dionysian trap" and cultural thesis, for Foxworth concludes as Clarence Page concludes, "Hip-hop is not the problem," that is, "the 'cool-pose culture' (gangster life, sexual conquests, party drugs, 'bling' [jewelry], 'ka-ching' [money], absentee fatherhood and the exploitation of women), pop culture promotes" :

i have been immersed in the culture of the white middle and upper classes since i was at least 15 years old. in a few months i'll be 22. i have never witnessed more promiscuous sex, recreational drug use, wasteful consumption, and other behaviors that would be construed as "amoral" or "unethical" than I have when around this peer group. and none of these behaviors seems to deter their access or opportunity. they are at fine universities that, if not encourages, then turns their eye to such behaviors.

their parents do the same, in fact, in my experience they have blatantly allowed it. these white, middle and upperclass parents don't receive scorn for their children's ethics. no matter. their kids have access and opportunity. their kids aren't getting knocked up at 13 and 14 and 15 and 16, not because they are abstaining, but because their parents provide them condoms and birth control, or tell them to get it for themselves. and their kids aren't getting arrested for selling drugs because the cops don't go into their neighborhoods.

this is to say that the poor, poor urban blacks in particular, are punished for their "unethical" behavior and yet, at the same time, never awarded for "ethical" behavior. i am in no way condoning "unethical" behavior. but i think we need to come to grips with the fact that ethical behavior and morals will never supersede opportunity and access.

along with merit and industriousness, ethics and morality are one of the ploys utilized by the powers-that-be to explain the dire predicament of the poor, which of course, absolves them of any blame—and more importantly, responsibility. I mean, Dubbya was a lazy coke head and Clinton an adulterer. And they stand today as two of the most "successful" men in the world. And it ain't because Dubbya replaced vodka with Jesus that he got into the presidency. (email message)

This personal testimony of Foxworth's lived experience I find of greater significance and insight than that of the glorified NYTimes op-ed piece by Harvard professor Orlando Patterson, who, though maybe not a traitor, seems to have an agenda other than the liberation of black folk in America. There is considerable evidence that Patterson like the rest of Americans (black and white) has had a greater sensitiveness to black crime than white crime, to street crime over political crimes, and black adolescent social misbehavior.

There is considerable support to be found  for my conclusion and for Foxworth's view of the racist distinctions made by society and the criminal justice system in Ronald Walters' White Nationalism, Black Interests  and his description of the impact of Bill Clinton's Crime Bill of 1993-1994 :

The impact of this disproportionally negative treatment of Blacks may be summarized thus: Activities in which blacks are involved have been more closely criminalized and sentencing has been extended for those offenses; that as a result of the targeted policing of Black communities and extended sentencing, incarceration rates have increased dramatically; that the most serious offenses committed by Blacks disproportionately yield death sentence, and the range of those offenses has been broadened. The end result of this systemic pattern of treatment by society through the instrument of the law is that the breadth and depth of the incarceration rates and application of the death penalty have captured a significant portion of the black population, rendering it unviable for the common social pursuits of family, community and citizenship for some time to come (195).

There is a centuries-long instilled white punishment motive when it comes to dealing with black males in America. That should not be deemphasized. It did not disappear with the slave whip or with the lynch rope. It was merely sublimated and it was not merely transferred to the black underclass and its culture of poverty. I sympathize indeed with Jill Nelson's general sentiment in her commentary "It's Hard Out Here for a Sister . . .," though I am not certain how hard it is for her personally: there indeed should be no "uncritical embrace of hip-hop culture by so many of us—and the attempts to dismiss those who speak out against its misogyny, violence, and materialism" [which] "are a manifestation of the profound cynicism and hopelessness that define so much of contemporary American life."

There should not be at all an "uncritical embrace" of violent acts or the rhetoric of violence.  Whatever their source. I am indeed aware of the violence that occurs within the black community. I've seen we roaming in packs stomping, jumping the defenseless among us. Neither is Rodney Foxworth blind and unaware of it:

I have been the victim of such beatings as you witnessed. it is really par for course growing up in Baltimore. they call it "jumping" or at least this was the slang some 9 or so years back. my mother calls it cowardice. whatever it is, i had chalked it up to the fact that i wore khakis and dress shirts; there was no other reason in my mind. twice i was "jumped" in middle school. i went from winning the student of the year award at Roland Park Middle School my sixth grade year, to being a C student at best the remaining two years. i don't know how i got into City, it must have been the strength of my test scores. i had become a miserable student after those encounters. i was bruised mentally and feared public transportation for a good while. why were my black peers beating me, when i had done nothing to them? this is a question that i had posed to myself. and i don't think that black oppression being the cause would have been much comfort to younger me. (email message)

This devastating and debilitating violence  is not only carried out in our homes and on the street, but also in our prisons with black male gang rape of young black boys. These acts of sublimated homosexual rape concealed behind the mask of domination, provoked by the least little symbol of disrespect desperately need to be curtailed by political education. There is indeed a problem of valuation and devaluation of human life in all sectors of American society. Even if violence within our communities is overly exaggerated and over-criminalized, there is definitely coming from our black boys and young black men too much wasted energies, and an underutilization of beautiful minds resulting from a lack of consciousness and consciousness raising on these dire issues of masculinity and manliness as manifested in American culture. Energies that could be used to reconstruct our personal lives, our families, and our communities mirror rather the violence of the greater culture and feed into white nationalist strategies of punishment.

According to reviewer Robert W. Widell (Emory University), Steve Estes, in his book I Am a Man!: Race, Manhood, and the Civil Rights Movement (2005), also points out  that manhood claims or issues have been a "part of a long tradition in black protest that dated back to the days of slavery. . . . [that] claims to manhood served as both the inspiration and the foundation for the emerging civil rights movement." The definition of manhood, however, became restricted  to "men's rights"—"efforts to achieve meaningful and substantive change in the life opportunities of African Americans," which Estes views as rather "quixotic"—rather than "human rights" and the "inclusive struggles for social justice." Many of the social programs now in place for black boys and young black men seem to emphasize the former and exclude the latter. This lack of political education will ultimately feed back to the individualist strategies that initially led these males astray.

And then there was Malcolm and Robert Williams (Negroes with Guns). And the Deacons for Defense & Justice and the lost of fear of White Citizens Councils and Southern White Terrorism disbanded and squashed by the  FBI and the courts. And then the rise of the Black Power Movement and  the Black Panther Party in Oakland and its rapid spread across America. "As a result," writes Estes," (t)he Panthers found that the masculinist rhetoric of their early years created an atmosphere in which violence became a means for proving manhood, not for furthering the revolution they had envisioned" (p. 177). Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party remain as iconic figures among black youth, that is the emphasis and connection of manhood and violence. But of course this emphasis and connection of manhood and violence is true of both our nation's internal and international politics, as we have already noted in the character of our president George  W. Bush.

Another good read on the subject of masculinity and manliness is Lakshmi Chaudhry's article "Men Growing Up to be Boys: Madison Avenue Cultivates a Peter Pan Version of Masculinity," in which there is a discussion of British author Mark Simpson's “metrosexual,” coined in 1994. The term connotes "an 'epochal shift' to a narcissistic form of mediated masculinity; a man who 'has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference'. . . . George W. Bush strutting around on an aircraft carrier is every bit as metrosexual as a teen idol like Orlando Bloom." The dangers for all of us lie in tv images and consumerism, especially when there is an "uncritical embrace."

For according to Simpson, the message they tell "all males [is] that … they never need abandon their narcissism." Buying the "right products," that is, "ornamentalism" becomes the essence of masculinity. Traditional values like courage love of community willingness to sacrifice those we associate with persons like Martin and Malcolm are a threat to "market-driven narcissism."  It all sounds rather hip hoppish to me, though in white face and rather middle-class. All of us (black and white) need to reexamine our views on masculinity and manliness in America. We also need to expand our love of and empathy for black boys and young black men struggling for survival in our decimated inner cities.

posted 3 April 2006


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The Warmth of Other Suns

The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man's turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by "the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn't operate in his own home town." Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the "great migration," the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an "uncertain existence" in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.

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Panther Baby

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

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W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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