The Damaging Effects Of Teaching A Distorted Version Of Masculinity
We can stop criticizing one another and ourselves for not reaching socially constructed benchmarks; benchmarks conceived without Black people in mind.
December 10, 2020 at 3:54 pm
In a recent article, I discussed the impact of radicalized masculinity on relationships and society in general. In this piece, we look at the intersections of radicalized masculinity and race in America.
Edward Baptist, in his book, The Half Has Never Been Told, detailed how enslaved Black men and Black women were brutalized to create America's capitalist empire. An empire built around the principles of greed, racial politics, and radicalized masculinity: a corrupted blueprint of how men should behave within a patriarchal driven society. Aspects of this corrupted blueprint include: Men should never show emotions; men should be forceful and aggressive, and men should employ sanctioned violence as a means to an end. Lastly, and most importantly, men should always maintain power and control, especially over their family — even if that control means using force and violence against their families. Baptist outlines the ways enslaved Black men and women were treated and viewed as subhuman and offered no meaningful status in white antebellum society. They were called hands. Hands, only useful to toil the cotton fields and do whatever the slave-master ordered.
In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation legally freed all enslaved persons in the United States. Slavery and all forms of indentured servitude were abolished, as decreed by the 13th Amendment. The 14th and 15th Amendments followed giving Black people full citizenship and Black men the right to vote. Black women, and women in general, would not obtain the right to vote until 1920. Even though these amendments were law, they did not alter the mindset of the white people who felt Black men and women should continue to be viewed and treated as second-class citizens. Many laws and policies created after the three Post Civil War amendments, including the infamous Black Codes and Jim Crow laws, were designed to ensure Black people could not enact their full citizenship. Though Black men were legally full citizens, including the right to vote, they were institutionally blocked from realizing their full status as liberated men in American society. Their only access to perceived power rested in radicalized masculine control over their families.
Tim Wise explores this further in his book, Dear White America. He explains how institutionalized racism in the form of Federal Housing Administration(FHA) and Veteran Administration(VA) home loan programs and the Serviceman's Readjustment Act, commonly referred to as the GI Bill, helped white men secure the financial means to build wealth and status, and garner respect in their homes and communities while denying Black men the same opportunities. These programs, coupled with wide-spread race-based hiring practices, cemented the disenfranchisement of Black people from the assumed benefits of a capitalist society.
This disenfranchisement, however, did not deter Black men from believing in the flawed concepts of success as defined by radicalized masculinity. The man was still supposed to lead the home and be a leader in society. How could Black men accomplish this in a country systematically denying them sociopolitical assistance and legal pathways to achievement? The truth is, success, as defined by radicalized masculinity, was only a dream for Black men. A deferred dream, as described by Langston Hughes.
For Black men to realize this dream, as flawed as it was, they needed a receptive and willing environment. Therefore, they turned inward to their families and romantic relationships. In these Ebony spaces, men, women, and children all had roles, similar to broader white society. The women and children's roles were often subservient to the man's role. The man was "king of his castle," ruler of his home and romantic relationship(s). Many Black women, wanting to see their husbands happy and fulfilled, freely submitted to this false narrative. They sacrificed their happiness, and often their safety, to help Black men achieve their version of the elusive American Dream.
These sacrifices did not lead to Black men being happier or fulfilled. The increased "control" Black men wielded over their families, only highlighted the utter lack of influence and power they actually had in broader American society. This reality caused many Black men to cling tighter to the tenets of radicalized masculinity, as a justification of their physical and emotional deprivation and heavy-handed control directed towards their families.
In his iconic play Fences, August Wilson brilliantly illustrated the emotional deprivation inherent in radicalized masculinity via a heated exchange between the story's male protagonist and his son. In the play, the son, Cory, asked his father, Troy, "How come you never liked me?" Troy responded by listing the basic needs of food, clothes, and shelter he’d provided for his family. He told his son he provided, not because he liked or loved him, but, it was his "responsibility." His responsibility, his duty, but not his joy.
Cory left the moment feeling emotionally rejected. Troy's need to feel he was being a "real man," would not allow him to see the tragically missed opportunity of this moment with his son. If Troy would have told his son he liked him, or even better, loved him, and the way he showed it was through his provision, Cory could have departed with elevated self-worth and permission to express emotions through words and deeds.
Cory, like other sons, could have used this type of permission as a building block towards liberating from the confines of what Tony Porter calls, The Man Box. This is a box defined by the dictates of radicalized masculinity. In this box, men are taught expressing their emotions is a sign of weakness, and real men are never weak. Even though Wilson's play was fictional, the lessons were real and inspired by a collection of true events in and around his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
A more contemporary example is the heavily publicized matter between T.I. and his oldest daughter. This story strongly demonstrates this idea of heavy-handed, masculine control still present in Black communities.
T.I. disclosed last year that he accompanied his 18-year-old daughter to a couple of her gynecologist appointments to “check her hymen." T.I. stated that he did this since his daughter's 16th birthday to ensure she was still a virgin. Many people criticized and labeled T.I.'s actions of policing his daughter's sexuality as controlling and oppressive. Initially, T.I, backed by some public support resisted yielding to his critics. T.I. insisted he was being a loving and protective father. However, as criticism grew, T.I. was encouraged to more deeply examine the true reason behind his actions. In doing such, T.I. was able to admit the extremely controlling nature of his actions.
Where do we go from here? How can we begin healing our spaces from the damage caused by radicalized masculinity?
The first step is to acknowledge we did not create radicalized masculinity. It was an unwanted sociopolitical construct forced upon us by our en-slavers. Next, we start giving daily affirmation to the beauty of our skin color, our enviable body shapes and our enduring resilience. Then we forgive one another for our collective roles in perpetuating this colonized way of thinking. A way of thinking which diminished our self-worth by making us believe we were less than who we really are. We were systematically limited as to how far we could rise in this radicalized masculine and racist society, but this can change today.
As we move into a decolonized mindset, as family therapist Thea Monyeé suggests, we can begin defining our own reality. We can resist and refrain from using colonized language and suppressive/oppressive thinking to define our manhood, womanhood, or even our gender. We can stop criticizing one another and ourselves for not reaching socially constructed benchmarks; benchmarks conceived without Black people in mind.
This will take some time and patience. 400 years of colonized thinking does not disappear overnight. Time and patience notwithstanding, the most important tool we need to repair these damages is love. Black people, Black men, can start the practice of loving themselves enough to transcend the chronic emotional and physical damages caused by institutional racism and radicalized masculinity.
Below are a few books I found helpful in my journey towards de-radicalizing my masculinity:
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, by Dr. joy Degruy
The Truth About Men, by Devon Franklin
Male VS Man, by Dondre' Whitfield
The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer
The Will To Change, by bell hooks.