Friday, November 21, 2008

From 50 Cent to Obama: Change And Representations Of Black Masculinty.

"I will listen to you, especially when we disagree." - Barack Obama, Acceptance Speech Nov. 4th 2008

That quote alone toppled a whole reigning archetype of masculinity in the United States. "I will LISTEN to you, ESPECIALLY when we disagree?" This is a refreshing new model of masculine strength, after 8 years of "smoke em out of their holes" trigger happy cowboy/global gangsta rhetoric. The Cowboy archetype does not listen. Is not that skilled in communication period. Power is inherent through whiteness, maleness, access to money, government and tons and tons of weapons. The Cowboy is also the Playground Bully who teases and disrespects men who try to use reason instead of global bully measures. But now enter Barack Obama, whose unfolding archetype of a more balanced, communicative man (to the point of getting really close to people who opposed him, and appointing some to his cabinet!) And Cowboys now see the world shower him with adoration they know they would never receive. Its almost like the looped message we got from so many sweet (albeit heteronormative and problematically gendered in some ways) romantic comedies of the 80's: Beautiful and thoughtful girl is with the jock bully for the dance, but realizes that she really wants to be with the communicative nerd. An allegory for the rise of the outcast.

And the outcast has risen. Barack Hussein Obama, mixed race son of a Kenyan Muslim man and White American Christian woman, born in Hawaii, schooled in Indonesia... 44th President of the United States. History has yet to show the ripples that his appointment caused in the psyche of people of African descent around the world, to see one of our own, historically oppressed people in the most powerful office on the planet. I remember hearing so many fatalist conversations on street corners, brothas sucking their teeth, "They can't let him win. He can't win." And they spoke to something a lot of us felt. But i wish i could have been in their shoes, to experience what may have blossomed in their chests when the news came on November 4th. I was of course busy with my own "blossoming", elated beyond belief, jumping up and down. But i had a positive outlook from jump. And it was great to have that positive stance affirmed :)

In one swoop, there is new cred for black masculinity and strength. We have so many expressions of masculinity (as I explored in my post Nostalgia For The Gender Fluid 80's,) from jheri curls to dread locks and baldheads, from Prince, Earth, Wind and Fire, to Chuck D and Easy E. But after Easy E, it seemed that the only model of black masculinity that was perpetuated in the media was the gangsta. You know, like don't smile when someone is taking your picture, be hard. The ubiquity of these monolithic images is absorbed by all, to the point where a black man who doesn't embody that swagger and hardness may not be perceived by some people to be "really black" or "really a man".

And truly, Obama's blackness (or African American-ness, more specifically) is in question, since he is of immigrant African descent, and bi-racial. And also because he exudes Harvard and Columbia, not West Oakland or South Bronx. This dynamic and others are brilliantly critiqued and parodied in David Alan Grier's hilarious and insightful skit "Is Racism Dead?" Obama finds some solidarity amongst black men of similar masculinity... and the question as to whether racism died with Obama's appointment, is umm, dealt with appropriately :)

At the top of this post is a short documentary by African American anti-sexist activist and filmmaker Byron Hurt, a film called Barack & Curtis: Manhood, Power & Respect. Here the comparision of 50 Cent and Obama is delved into deeply, and how these expressions of black masculinity shift in the mass mind and the black community. Mad props to Byron and his work, he is definitely an inspiration to me.

I am glad that my young nephews are growing up with this new media expression of black masculinity. I am thankful to have balance restored in so many ways, including how black men are portrayed in the media. This is indeed one of the many positive manifestations of the momentum of Change. May Obama be blessed with at least two terms of exemplifying that a man can have access to aggressive power with out relying on that to express oneself, that a man can be communicative and be powerful, that a hetero man can believe in gay rights, that a black man can restore pride to a whole country. Ashé.


Unknown said...

I hope that Obama's foreign policy doesn't reproduce the aggressive, masculinist "War on Terror"/culture of fear that has characterized the past 8 years of George W. have to say that hawkish friends and a problematic stance on Afghanistan don't bode well for Obama's foregin policy, but it remains to be seen. The U.S.'s historical and contemporary role as imperialist (and masculinist) bully may or may not change....Is the new face of American imperialism a black one?

Unknown said...

I hear you gina. I definitely think Obama is tons better than W. and am excited about having an intellectual president (as opposed to W.) and the significance of having an African American prez, esp. when I thought Americans couldn't vote for him b/c of their racism. That being said, we're still likely to have a foreign policy that's in line with imperialism. I think that Obama as an individual is representing a much more communicative, fuller version of masculinity (as opposed to caricatures, e.g., cowboy). But there is the man as the individual, and the man who is president representing nation--as a representative of nation, we'll have to see what his policies look like. In the role of individual, I admire him and his outreach to rivals. However, bringing in moderates and more conservative folks into his circle will bring policy choices in that direction, which is defn a concern. My best hope is to keep the pressure up from the progressive flank--at least more hopeful than the W. reign.

richard said...

mmm! good points people, got nothing to add there!

Five Steez said...

I think it will be interesting to see how the new generation sees themselves and the world now that Obama will be President. And I'm sure Obama is just the first of many more black and non-white people who will break down barriers over the next 5 or 10 years.

//DJ Dmadness// said...

Whatup fflood! Yeah that line in Obama's speech really stood out to me too, I was talking with my middle school students about it the next day when we were studying conflict resolution. Finally the kids can see a world leader using tools instead of weapons to resolve conflicts!

richard said...

yes Peter, good talk, good talk! Its a good time to be alive, to witness the beginnings of possible new consciousness with new examples of masculine power and broken racial ceilings.

and woy, mi nevah know sey yu whole name was so boasy cuzzin! big up!! :)

hey DMadness! good to see you up in here! And also good to hear that you too were feeling this quote and modelled it back to the youth. That's what i love to hear! Thanks for the works, bless up

hscfree said...

I found your blog through Pam's House Blend, and I am enjoying what I've seen thus far.

Regarding the post, I am hopeful that the pendulum is swinging back with regard to how the we see masculinity (though I am a huge fan of people simply acting as adults, as opposed either to men or women).

I definitely plan to come back to this blog. Excellent work man.

Anonymous said...

love this blog.


Hello there!

I believe that Obama is attempting to put the right people in place. He is bringing in many sharp minds who will critically examine the issues and who will HOPEFULLY remain focused on what is best for this nation and not just what is best for one group in this nation.

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

richard said...

hscfree: thank you! And thank you Pam's House Blend! gotta peep that! and i hear you on masculinity vs. humanity. it is my belief that until the dominant patriarchal constructions of masculinity become more of a minority expression of possible masculinities (making way for feminist, nurturing, non-competitive, anti-heterosexist, etc masculinities) that we can embark on a journey of looking past gendered constructions, and looking at all in egalitarian humanist terms.

ALLAN: Thank you man!!! :)

Lisa: Thanks as always for the comment, I'm crossing my fingers witcha! its looking BHO is trying to form a think tank of critical thinkers that don't all agree. may this truly pave a way to a new more egalitarian era. lets do this!!!

Anonymous said...

...Muslim father? I thought the father was an atheist. Oh well.