Authenticity and Black Manhood

I won’t lie, the idea for this post came from Donovan Ramsey’s piece on manhood. His post addressed the larger troubling points surrounding Black masculinity and I’m going to drill down a little bit into a specific aspect of Black manhood – it’s perceived authenticity as how a man ought to be developed.

Our masculinity is formed and carved for us from the day our sex is discovered. The boy gets the blue room; the girl gets the pink room. The boy plays cops and robbers (formerly known as cowboys and Indians, which was what we called it when I was a youngster); the girls play with dolls and play dress up, whatever that is. The point is that gender roles are imprinted in most children’s heads before they have a chance to notice it. This isn’t new, just a recap.

Black masculinity comes in the same way, only in varied forms. What it means to be a Black male in this society (and others, often in jest) is a commodity being bought and sold on the open market. What do I mean by that? Somebody bought the idea that all Black men are thugs and sold it to the public in such a way that we began to believe it. Even worse, we began to consider that image of violence and credibility as what it meant to be a man.

Then there’s the image of the wealthy Black man, who does what he wants, when he wants, and damn the consequences. He may have acquired a trophy white wife as a piece of social jewelry or not, though the average image is that he did get his “white gold.” I have nothing against interracial dating…as long as the parties are entering the relationship for legitimate reasons, not like “a white woman on my arm makes me legitimate.” But again, we were bombarded with this image that we believed that most wealthy Black men behaved like this. Many of us aspired to, and still do as a result.

If you think I’m joking, you should think about the Black thug and Black rich man images and stories you often see and hear and read and see how closely they fit the picture.  Unfortunately, Black masculinity can be shaped without the Black community’s input.  However it happens, a clear picture of what it means to authentically be a Black man is one that has yet to be put on public display and accepted.  Though the initial question, “what is it to be a man?” is one of major importance, Black masculinity has inextricable links to how Black men are perceived both within and outside of the Black community.  Right now, we all know plenty of stand-up Black men who have demonstrated what they believe it is to be a man, and yet the public perception of the average Black man is that he is supposed to do something illegal, offensive, or wrong.  Just how he looks is enough to menace, depending on who’s being looked at (or in the area of, for that matter).

This is all besides the initial point, which is that the notion of an authentic Black masculinity, one that encapsulates all of what Black men endure and how they should respectfully and proudly interact with the world and his brothers and sisters, hasn’t been conceived of to my knowledge.  Admittedly, since I left graduate school I could be slipping, but even the topic of Black masculinity is one that isn’t often covered in academic circles, especially not philosophical ones.  With that said, what would an authentic Black masculinity look like?  Should there be an authentic Black masculinity?

Honestly, I’m torn.  When I think about the diversity amongst Black people, placing an absolute term like “authentic” makes me nervous.  As far as I’m concerned, there are too many Black people out here that deny their blackness so I’d rather not exclude those who do want to claim theirs.  But the question of how caricatures can be viewed as an authentic view of Black masculinity is one that does carry weight.  Just how powerful have these vehicles been such that manhood is something that’s constantly emphasized and lacked simultaneously?  Seriously, it boggles the mind.  Then again, masculinity isn’t something to be handled lightly.  Think of the impact that one’s idea of manhood can have on growing minds.  It behooves us to craft such a strong sense of what it means to be a Black man, in a global sense, just to let our future generations have a chance.