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.