The Shapings of Black Masculinities

March 14, 2013
By

hraThe B52 bus picks up passengers on the corner of Gates and Lewis Avenue in the mostly working poor to middle class, black Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. This particular bus stop, which is a few blocks south of the famed Marcy Projects of Jay-Z’s past, is visited by hordes of black residents of various ages daily.

Today, if any of those black commuters take a moment while waiting for the often packed B52 to arrive, they might notice a demeaning billboard plastered on the bus stop beckoning their attention: a poster strategically created by the NYC Human Resources Administration’s (HRA) Department of Social Services which cautions viewers about the “real cost of teen pregnancy.” The ad is really teaching them, lecturing us, about the real costs of black female reproduction and evidences government’s desire to police black bodies, black sexuality, black life.

Additionally, this particular ad, which features the face of a beautiful black baby girl, offers a resoundingly clear memorandum on black manhood: that is, black teen men won’t father…black men aren’t committal…black men exit the lives of their children…and, frankly, black men ain’t shit.

According to the HRA’s website, “The campaign will be on display on subways and bus shelters citywide, and will also feature an interactive texting program and a video” for the purposes of illuminating “the high costs teen pregnancy can have for both teen parents and their children.”

The $400,000 HRA initiative has rightly been criticized by Planned Parenthood of New York City and others for its failures to attend to the various factors that may impact teen pregnancy rates, namely, “poverty, violence, limited access to health care, as well as gender, racial and ethnic inequalities.” To be sure, the ads are reprehensible.

kimani

Kimani Gray

In another mostly black neighborhood of Brooklyn, East Flatbush, which is not too far from Bed-Stuy, 16-year old Kimani Gray was shot and killed by NYPD on Saturday, March 9th. The New York Times reports the officers got out of the car to question Kimani after police claimed that they noticed the teenager adjusting his waistband in a “suspicious manner” and “pointed a .38-caliber Rohm revolver at them,” which subsequently resulted in the police shooting Kimani to his death. Witnesses, however, contend that the story as told by the police exaggerates, if not wholly misrepresents, the truth.

Kimani’s death at the hands of the NYPD must be considered alongside the other shooting deaths of black men including 18-year old Ramarley Graham, who was one of three black males killed by NYPD in early February 2013 according to Colorlines.com. The shootings, at the hands of city police, echoes loudly the very point that the HRA ads suggests, namely, the belief that black life—black male life—is insignificant, and, therefore, expendable.

But the marred bodies of black boys and men who’ve been hit by police officers’ guns are more than representations of precarity. They are targets of the myriad projectiles aimed in the direction of black life. And no matter the class of the black man, his age, his neighborhood, his sexuality, his swag, his swish, or lot, “bullets” will surely fly his way in NYC.

Space shapes.

In fact, masculinities, including black masculinities, are performed partially in response to the various external conditions present within the geographical spaces, like NYC, where they emerge. In other words, masculinities are shaped by skewed conceptions of gender, a sexist culture, and the range of structural conditions that impact black men quite negatively.

Consider, for instance, what type of black masculinity might emerge in response to a city funded teenage pregnancy prevention ad that pretty much tells black teen females that black boys ain’t shit in a city where police use tax-payer funded guns to shoot its residents? And how can we encourage black boys and men to resist the need to perform power (that hurts), toughness (that victimizes), and swag (that boasts chauvinistically) when, in fact, demonstrations of power, toughness, and swag might be performed by black boys and men to counter state violence? Thus, we should ask how we might re-create masculinities that do no harm and also consider the forces at work that tend to shape black male gender performances in destructive ways.

Black masculinities are created within heteropatriarchy and tend to be overdetermined by misogyny, sexism, violence, and rape culture. It is our responsibility as black cis and transgendered men to name and disengage caustic masculinities, but we should also consider why black men would fight so damn hard to perform the “strong black man” caricature in various spaces in the US, like NYC. Indeed, we black men must consider how our senses of self and the masculinities we perform are shaped by the conditions present within the spaces that we move through.

Whether we encounter dehumanizing messages when reading an HRA teen pregnancy ad while awaiting a bus in Bed-Stuy or face down the barrel of a gun in the hand of a NYPD officer’s hand while hanging with friends in East Flatbush like young Kimani Gray, our masculinities emerge in response to the myriad forces we encounter in the spaces in which we exist. The project of recuperating a range of black masculinities that do no violence to women, kids, and other men, then, requires that we name and resist patriarchy, sexism, misogyny and other violences while simultaneously thinking through the ways in which black masculinities also emerge in response to the very real possibilities of violence inflicted upon cis and trans-gendered black boys and men.

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60 Responses to The Shapings of Black Masculinities

  1. Keyoshe on March 14, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Numbers don’t lie, Darnell. How about instead of complaining, man up?

    • Alex on March 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm

      Ugh, really? I wasn’t going to comment but I’d hate for this to be the only response to this wonderful post.

      People do what they do because it works for them. Saying that individuals should just change their behavior assumes that they’re crazy to do what they do, and it’s downright silly to assume that entire classes of people are systematically irrational in the same way.

      Moreover, I don’t think just telling people to be more of a man is a valid response when the entire topic being discussed is how messed up some ideas of masculinity are. “Man up” is the part of the problem Darnell identified, not the solution.

      • MAHAKALA on March 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm

        too many black men are white supremacist’gangsta-toms who look to white men for cues on how to be men;
        and, depressed boys CAN’T afford to rear children born to depressed girls.

        • Gail on March 16, 2013 at 4:37 pm

          If depressed boys can afford clothes and bling to impress depressed girls and their fellow depressed boys, then they should be responsible – “man up” and use condoms. It’s a lack of the ability to look towards the future that condemns the poor to live in their depressing present.

          • MAHAKALA on March 16, 2013 at 6:43 pm

            girls have a responsibility make him use a condom; the cold truth is he is too immature to stick around and take care of a baby.’ Girlsespecially and boys are not properly educated about the responsibility of rearing a healthy child.

        • thomas more on March 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm

          If we looked to white men for cues on how to be men (which is a ridiculous assertion), then perhaps more of us would stick around to shepherd our children into adolescence and adulthood.

          • MAHAKALA on March 17, 2013 at 2:42 pm

            ‘white supremacist uncle-aunt-cousin toms’ have NO integrity or morals about responsibility to the black community.

    • Dinean on March 16, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      Numbers don’t lie? Right because we’ve never seen data skewed to strategically position an organization. Furthermore, Mr. Moore never suggested that the numbers were inaccurate. Instead, he has shown that the this particular campaign attempts to demoralize, criminalize, demonize black males among their female counterparts rather than using messaging that directly impacts the reasons for teenage pregnancy or better yet empowering young black females to utilize the power in their sexual relationships and protect themselves. So while the numbers may not lie, it is destructive to black communities to use data to teach young girls of color to further disassociate themselves with young black men.

  2. Keyoshe on March 14, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Numbers don’t lie, Darnell. How about instead of complaining, man up?

    • Alex on March 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm

      Ugh, really? I wasn’t going to comment but I’d hate for this to be the only response to this wonderful post.

      People do what they do because it works for them. Saying that individuals should just change their behavior assumes that they’re crazy to do what they do, and it’s downright silly to assume that entire classes of people are systematically irrational in the same way.

      Moreover, I don’t think just telling people to be more of a man is a valid response when the entire topic being discussed is how messed up some ideas of masculinity are. “Man up” is the part of the problem Darnell identified, not the solution.

      • MAHAKALA on March 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm

        too many black men are white supremacist’gangsta-toms who look to white men for cues on how to be men;
        and, depressed boys CAN’T afford to rear children born to depressed girls.

        • Gail on March 16, 2013 at 4:37 pm

          If depressed boys can afford clothes and bling to impress depressed girls and their fellow depressed boys, then they should be responsible – “man up” and use condoms. It’s a lack of the ability to look towards the future that condemns the poor to live in their depressing present.

          • MAHAKALA on March 16, 2013 at 6:43 pm

            girls have a responsibility make him use a condom; the cold truth is he is too immature to stick around and take care of a baby.’ Girlsespecially and boys are not properly educated about the responsibility of rearing a healthy child.

        • thomas more on March 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm

          If we looked to white men for cues on how to be men (which is a ridiculous assertion), then perhaps more of us would stick around to shepherd our children into adolescence and adulthood.

          • MAHAKALA on March 17, 2013 at 2:42 pm

            ‘white supremacist uncle-aunt-cousin toms’ have NO integrity or morals about responsibility to the black community.

    • Dinean on March 16, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      Numbers don’t lie? Right because we’ve never seen data skewed to strategically position an organization. Furthermore, Mr. Moore never suggested that the numbers were inaccurate. Instead, he has shown that the this particular campaign attempts to demoralize, criminalize, demonize black males among their female counterparts rather than using messaging that directly impacts the reasons for teenage pregnancy or better yet empowering young black females to utilize the power in their sexual relationships and protect themselves. So while the numbers may not lie, it is destructive to black communities to use data to teach young girls of color to further disassociate themselves with young black men.

  3. Keyoshe on March 14, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Numbers don’t lie, Darnell. How about instead of complaining, man up?

    • Alex on March 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm

      Ugh, really? I wasn’t going to comment but I’d hate for this to be the only response to this wonderful post.

      People do what they do because it works for them. Saying that individuals should just change their behavior assumes that they’re crazy to do what they do, and it’s downright silly to assume that entire classes of people are systematically irrational in the same way.

      Moreover, I don’t think just telling people to be more of a man is a valid response when the entire topic being discussed is how messed up some ideas of masculinity are. “Man up” is the part of the problem Darnell identified, not the solution.

      • MAHAKALA on March 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm

        too many black men are white supremacist’gangsta-toms who look to white men for cues on how to be men;
        and, depressed boys CAN’T afford to rear children born to depressed girls.

        • Gail on March 16, 2013 at 4:37 pm

          If depressed boys can afford clothes and bling to impress depressed girls and their fellow depressed boys, then they should be responsible – “man up” and use condoms. It’s a lack of the ability to look towards the future that condemns the poor to live in their depressing present.

          • MAHAKALA on March 16, 2013 at 6:43 pm

            girls have a responsibility make him use a condom; the cold truth is he is too immature to stick around and take care of a baby.’ Girlsespecially and boys are not properly educated about the responsibility of rearing a healthy child.

        • thomas more on March 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm

          If we looked to white men for cues on how to be men (which is a ridiculous assertion), then perhaps more of us would stick around to shepherd our children into adolescence and adulthood.

          • MAHAKALA on March 17, 2013 at 2:42 pm

            ‘white supremacist uncle-aunt-cousin toms’ have NO integrity or morals about responsibility to the black community.

    • Dinean on March 16, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      Numbers don’t lie? Right because we’ve never seen data skewed to strategically position an organization. Furthermore, Mr. Moore never suggested that the numbers were inaccurate. Instead, he has shown that the this particular campaign attempts to demoralize, criminalize, demonize black males among their female counterparts rather than using messaging that directly impacts the reasons for teenage pregnancy or better yet empowering young black females to utilize the power in their sexual relationships and protect themselves. So while the numbers may not lie, it is destructive to black communities to use data to teach young girls of color to further disassociate themselves with young black men.

  4. Keyoshe on March 14, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Numbers don’t lie, Darnell. How about instead of complaining, man up?

    • Alex on March 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm

      Ugh, really? I wasn’t going to comment but I’d hate for this to be the only response to this wonderful post.

      People do what they do because it works for them. Saying that individuals should just change their behavior assumes that they’re crazy to do what they do, and it’s downright silly to assume that entire classes of people are systematically irrational in the same way.

      Moreover, I don’t think just telling people to be more of a man is a valid response when the entire topic being discussed is how messed up some ideas of masculinity are. “Man up” is the part of the problem Darnell identified, not the solution.

      • MAHAKALA on March 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm

        too many black men are white supremacist’gangsta-toms who look to white men for cues on how to be men;
        and, depressed boys CAN’T afford to rear children born to depressed girls.

        • Gail on March 16, 2013 at 4:37 pm

          If depressed boys can afford clothes and bling to impress depressed girls and their fellow depressed boys, then they should be responsible – “man up” and use condoms. It’s a lack of the ability to look towards the future that condemns the poor to live in their depressing present.

          • MAHAKALA on March 16, 2013 at 6:43 pm

            girls have a responsibility make him use a condom; the cold truth is he is too immature to stick around and take care of a baby.’ Girlsespecially and boys are not properly educated about the responsibility of rearing a healthy child.

        • thomas more on March 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm

          If we looked to white men for cues on how to be men (which is a ridiculous assertion), then perhaps more of us would stick around to shepherd our children into adolescence and adulthood.

          • MAHAKALA on March 17, 2013 at 2:42 pm

            ‘white supremacist uncle-aunt-cousin toms’ have NO integrity or morals about responsibility to the black community.

    • Dinean on March 16, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      Numbers don’t lie? Right because we’ve never seen data skewed to strategically position an organization. Furthermore, Mr. Moore never suggested that the numbers were inaccurate. Instead, he has shown that the this particular campaign attempts to demoralize, criminalize, demonize black males among their female counterparts rather than using messaging that directly impacts the reasons for teenage pregnancy or better yet empowering young black females to utilize the power in their sexual relationships and protect themselves. So while the numbers may not lie, it is destructive to black communities to use data to teach young girls of color to further disassociate themselves with young black men.

  5. Katie on March 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Thank you for this. This is both beautiful and enlightening. Your description of black masculinities and the influence of negative campaigning like this has given me a new set of thoughts to think.

  6. Katie on March 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Thank you for this. This is both beautiful and enlightening. Your description of black masculinities and the influence of negative campaigning like this has given me a new set of thoughts to think.

  7. Katie on March 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Thank you for this. This is both beautiful and enlightening. Your description of black masculinities and the influence of negative campaigning like this has given me a new set of thoughts to think.

  8. Katie on March 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Thank you for this. This is both beautiful and enlightening. Your description of black masculinities and the influence of negative campaigning like this has given me a new set of thoughts to think.

  9. Havlová on March 14, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    I am so happy to see someone writing about this, and I love how you are connecting the issues going on in a very small geographic space.

    I too have seen these abominable HRA signs, and since I work with youth of color in Brooklyn, I have heard from them how the shooting of Kimani makes them feel.

    Basically, what I hear is that being a young person of color in Brooklyn feels like being a constant target.

  10. Havlová on March 14, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    I am so happy to see someone writing about this, and I love how you are connecting the issues going on in a very small geographic space.

    I too have seen these abominable HRA signs, and since I work with youth of color in Brooklyn, I have heard from them how the shooting of Kimani makes them feel.

    Basically, what I hear is that being a young person of color in Brooklyn feels like being a constant target.

  11. Havlová on March 14, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    I am so happy to see someone writing about this, and I love how you are connecting the issues going on in a very small geographic space.

    I too have seen these abominable HRA signs, and since I work with youth of color in Brooklyn, I have heard from them how the shooting of Kimani makes them feel.

    Basically, what I hear is that being a young person of color in Brooklyn feels like being a constant target.

  12. Havlová on March 14, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    I am so happy to see someone writing about this, and I love how you are connecting the issues going on in a very small geographic space.

    I too have seen these abominable HRA signs, and since I work with youth of color in Brooklyn, I have heard from them how the shooting of Kimani makes them feel.

    Basically, what I hear is that being a young person of color in Brooklyn feels like being a constant target.

  13. Anti_Intellect (@Anti_Intellect) on March 14, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    Thank you for writing this insightful and nuanced post. Many people complain about what Black masculinity does and what happens to Black masculinity, but few people are willing to examine the culture that Black masculinity is created in. The messages sent by that teen pregnancy ad, and the messages sent by police violence against Black boys, all shape the way Black men interact with themselves and their environments. We have to speak this, otherwise we miss out on a key aspect of saving ourselves and our brothers. In your piece, you say “Black masculinities are created within heteropatriarchy and tend to be overdetermined by misogyny, sexism, violence, and rape culture.” I think it is important to remember that WHITE SUPREMACY plays a huge role as well. Great piece, Darnell!

  14. Anti_Intellect (@Anti_Intellect) on March 14, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    Thank you for writing this insightful and nuanced post. Many people complain about what Black masculinity does and what happens to Black masculinity, but few people are willing to examine the culture that Black masculinity is created in. The messages sent by that teen pregnancy ad, and the messages sent by police violence against Black boys, all shape the way Black men interact with themselves and their environments. We have to speak this, otherwise we miss out on a key aspect of saving ourselves and our brothers. In your piece, you say “Black masculinities are created within heteropatriarchy and tend to be overdetermined by misogyny, sexism, violence, and rape culture.” I think it is important to remember that WHITE SUPREMACY plays a huge role as well. Great piece, Darnell!

  15. Anti_Intellect (@Anti_Intellect) on March 14, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    Thank you for writing this insightful and nuanced post. Many people complain about what Black masculinity does and what happens to Black masculinity, but few people are willing to examine the culture that Black masculinity is created in. The messages sent by that teen pregnancy ad, and the messages sent by police violence against Black boys, all shape the way Black men interact with themselves and their environments. We have to speak this, otherwise we miss out on a key aspect of saving ourselves and our brothers. In your piece, you say “Black masculinities are created within heteropatriarchy and tend to be overdetermined by misogyny, sexism, violence, and rape culture.” I think it is important to remember that WHITE SUPREMACY plays a huge role as well. Great piece, Darnell!

  16. Anti_Intellect (@Anti_Intellect) on March 14, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    Thank you for writing this insightful and nuanced post. Many people complain about what Black masculinity does and what happens to Black masculinity, but few people are willing to examine the culture that Black masculinity is created in. The messages sent by that teen pregnancy ad, and the messages sent by police violence against Black boys, all shape the way Black men interact with themselves and their environments. We have to speak this, otherwise we miss out on a key aspect of saving ourselves and our brothers. In your piece, you say “Black masculinities are created within heteropatriarchy and tend to be overdetermined by misogyny, sexism, violence, and rape culture.” I think it is important to remember that WHITE SUPREMACY plays a huge role as well. Great piece, Darnell!

  17. Toni on March 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Keyoshe numbers can lie. Numbers can be twisted. Numbers can be misrepresented. Various industries including government, advertising, marketing– show us this everyday. http://www.theroot.com/views/retire-myth-black-men-jail-and-college It’s so much deeper than manning up. It’s about healing and transformation on an individual and communal level so we can talk about these issues without flat out denying the others’ perspective.

  18. Toni on March 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Keyoshe numbers can lie. Numbers can be twisted. Numbers can be misrepresented. Various industries including government, advertising, marketing– show us this everyday. http://www.theroot.com/views/retire-myth-black-men-jail-and-college It’s so much deeper than manning up. It’s about healing and transformation on an individual and communal level so we can talk about these issues without flat out denying the others’ perspective.

  19. Toni on March 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Keyoshe numbers can lie. Numbers can be twisted. Numbers can be misrepresented. Various industries including government, advertising, marketing– show us this everyday. http://www.theroot.com/views/retire-myth-black-men-jail-and-college It’s so much deeper than manning up. It’s about healing and transformation on an individual and communal level so we can talk about these issues without flat out denying the others’ perspective.

  20. Toni on March 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Keyoshe numbers can lie. Numbers can be twisted. Numbers can be misrepresented. Various industries including government, advertising, marketing– show us this everyday. http://www.theroot.com/views/retire-myth-black-men-jail-and-college It’s so much deeper than manning up. It’s about healing and transformation on an individual and communal level so we can talk about these issues without flat out denying the others’ perspective.

  21. Joyce on March 14, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Here’s something that shapes black masculinities: Raising daughters but loving sons. This practice has had an influence, & it hasn’t been good.

  22. Joyce on March 14, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Here’s something that shapes black masculinities: Raising daughters but loving sons. This practice has had an influence, & it hasn’t been good.

  23. Joyce on March 14, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Here’s something that shapes black masculinities: Raising daughters but loving sons. This practice has had an influence, & it hasn’t been good.

  24. Joyce on March 14, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Here’s something that shapes black masculinities: Raising daughters but loving sons. This practice has had an influence, & it hasn’t been good.

  25. Dinean on March 29, 2013 at 8:45 am

    I also take issue with the fact that this ad makes the assumption that without a man a woman can’t raise a child!

  26. Dinean on March 29, 2013 at 8:45 am

    I also take issue with the fact that this ad makes the assumption that without a man a woman can’t raise a child!

  27. Dinean on March 29, 2013 at 8:45 am

    I also take issue with the fact that this ad makes the assumption that without a man a woman can’t raise a child!

  28. Dinean on March 29, 2013 at 8:45 am

    I also take issue with the fact that this ad makes the assumption that without a man a woman can’t raise a child!

  29. Asjia on April 8, 2013 at 1:31 am

    I’m glad to read that this post does not back-up the message of this HRA poster and that it confronts and exposes the real issues that challenge black men. Black men have the hardest time expressing their masculinity because a little too far one way and they become violent and a little too far the other way they’re too soft. Constant police presence in predominantly black neighborhoods instills angst, hostility and deep rooted fear. Through experience I can say that when you are told you ain’t shit long enough and reminded of it daily you start to believe and it manifests itself within you. Black masculinity doesn’t have a chance against misogyny, sexism, violence, and rape culture when innocent black men are targeted by police just because they look “suspicious”. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, buuut, white people have figured out how to keep black communities down by targeting the male population.

  30. Asjia on April 8, 2013 at 1:31 am

    I’m glad to read that this post does not back-up the message of this HRA poster and that it confronts and exposes the real issues that challenge black men. Black men have the hardest time expressing their masculinity because a little too far one way and they become violent and a little too far the other way they’re too soft. Constant police presence in predominantly black neighborhoods instills angst, hostility and deep rooted fear. Through experience I can say that when you are told you ain’t shit long enough and reminded of it daily you start to believe and it manifests itself within you. Black masculinity doesn’t have a chance against misogyny, sexism, violence, and rape culture when innocent black men are targeted by police just because they look “suspicious”. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, buuut, white people have figured out how to keep black communities down by targeting the male population.

  31. Asjia on April 8, 2013 at 1:31 am

    I’m glad to read that this post does not back-up the message of this HRA poster and that it confronts and exposes the real issues that challenge black men. Black men have the hardest time expressing their masculinity because a little too far one way and they become violent and a little too far the other way they’re too soft. Constant police presence in predominantly black neighborhoods instills angst, hostility and deep rooted fear. Through experience I can say that when you are told you ain’t shit long enough and reminded of it daily you start to believe and it manifests itself within you. Black masculinity doesn’t have a chance against misogyny, sexism, violence, and rape culture when innocent black men are targeted by police just because they look “suspicious”. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, buuut, white people have figured out how to keep black communities down by targeting the male population.

  32. Asjia on April 8, 2013 at 1:31 am

    I’m glad to read that this post does not back-up the message of this HRA poster and that it confronts and exposes the real issues that challenge black men. Black men have the hardest time expressing their masculinity because a little too far one way and they become violent and a little too far the other way they’re too soft. Constant police presence in predominantly black neighborhoods instills angst, hostility and deep rooted fear. Through experience I can say that when you are told you ain’t shit long enough and reminded of it daily you start to believe and it manifests itself within you. Black masculinity doesn’t have a chance against misogyny, sexism, violence, and rape culture when innocent black men are targeted by police just because they look “suspicious”. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, buuut, white people have figured out how to keep black communities down by targeting the male population.

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