What is an ethnic group? An ethnic group is a human population whose members identify with each other, usually on the basis of a presumed common genealogy or ancestry . These ethnic groups are usually united by shared cultural values, common fields of communication, or religious practices. So perhaps the theory of Black masculinity can be considered an ethnic group. There is the obvious factors of being ‘Black’ and ‘male’ that connects these members in this group; they have skin color and gender in common.
Perhaps this cultural group has come together to be more then just a group who have race and gender in common. It goes beyond that and Black masculinity has members who are not ‘Black’. Perhaps this questions if history, ancestry, and genealogy are factored in when becoming a members of a group. But will these members be truly accepted in the cult of Black masculinity. Within the dominant culture African American men have developed their own sense of identity. These men have integrated themselves into American society creating a culture of their own.
They have established a language, a sense of dress, and behaviors. These protocols help this group of men emphasize their ethnicity and gender. Members of this group who follow these traits are considered to be part of the cult of Black masculinity. What is happening is that white men, because of the influence of pop culture, are permeating the boundaries of the Black masculine cult. This is an experience of somewhat reverse assimilation. At first it was the assimilation of the Black man into the white man’s world and now it is as if roles are reversed.
How the white men see the Black masculinity portrayed through the media and want to be part of it. Anthropologist Fredrik Barth specifies three conditions under which ethnic groups develop and define themselves: (a) a dominant culture is present with the power to maintain conditions whereby other groups of people, (b) are stereotyped, and (c) are constrained to certain roles that function complementarily in the general culture. Barth argues that ethnic distinctions are born out of conflict .
The above conditions are necessary for the maintenance of ethnic distinctions. So, the maintenance of ethnic diversity requires domination by one group of the rest. Using Barth’s definition of what an ethnic group is and which boundaries are defined by these rules this paper will prove how Black masculinity conforms to these guidelines establishing them as an ethnic group within the dominant culture. This paper will also explore the difference that is expressed by black males in American culture through the use of language, dress and behavior.
The cult of Black masculinity will prove that ethnic groups can create something of their own while inventing a new culture in which they can partake in and be control of. Black Masculinity “A particular type of black masculinity–one defined mainly by an urban aesthetic, a nihilistic attitude, and an aggressive posturing–has made its way into the cultural mainstream in the last two decades. ” There are many contributing factors but the image of Black masculinity has come about due to the popularization of hip-hop culture and the prominence of rap music and the “videomercials” that sell it.
More specifically, it is the result of the popularity of the urban “gangsta” and his embodiment in the “gangsta” rap of artists such as Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Tupak Shakur. Black masculinity is the attempt for black males to incorporate what the dominant culture believes to be masculine. Most studies have, however regarded Black Masculinity as an alternative to social status, rather than as an extension of it.
‘Black Macho’ has been portrayed, therefore, as differing in kind rather than degree from the wider gendered power relations within Society at large… It is however; only within the context of wider power relations — and as an extension of them –that Black masculinity can be fully understood… Black masculinity is then perhaps best understood as an articulated response to structural inequality, enacting and subverting dominant definitions of power and control, rather then substituting for them. Rather than a hostile and withdrawn entity [black masculinity] can be seen as a base for interaction and negotiation with wider society .
These men have taken an idea which already exists according to society and incorporated what they believe is their definition of masculinity. This expression of masculinity, according to Mercer and Julien: “subjectively incorporates attributes associated with dominant definitions of manhood – such as being tough, in control, independent – in order to recuperate some degree of power or active influence over objective conditions of powerlessness created by racism. ” Black masculinity embraces the stereotypical role of what a Black man typically resembles. What the dominant culture portrays: the tough guy, more body then mind.
This is received as negative because they are not achieving what the ideal is, what “Whiteness” is. So would this group of men be considered an ethnic group within the American society? According to Barth an ethnic group embodies the following: “Largely biologically self-perpetuating, shares fundamental cultural values, realized in overt unity in cultural forms, makes up a field of communication and interaction, has a membership which identifies itself, and is identified by others, as constituting a category distinguishable from other categories of the same order. ”
Those who choose to conform to these norms of this group will reject or discriminate against others and this leads to the inclusion of this specific group. Behavior How one behaves will determine what group they will fit into. These behaviors include how one dresses, acts and talks. Black masculinity has their own sense of dress, actions and even language. Depicted through the media the Black masculine male will dress “gangster”. There stereotyped baggie jeans and big t-shirts with the jewelry and baseball caps. This reinforces the hyper-sexualized stereotyped male in society.
Recently, Richard G. Major’s concept of the “cool pose” has proved an insightful term for understanding the dynamics of black masculinity as it has developed in response to unequal conditions in the modern urban environment. In a series of closely related works (listed at the end of this essay), Majors argues that black males have accepted the traditional values of masculinity but are so restricted by social and political factors that many of them have been deeply frustrated by their inability to enact these traditional masculine roles.
“In brief,” Majors explains, “cool pose originated as a coping mechanism for the ‘invisibility,’ frustration, discrimination, and educational and employment inequities faced by Black males. In response to these obstacles, many of these individuals have channeled their creative talents and energies into the construction of masculine symbols and into the use of conspicuous nonverbal behaviors (e. g. , demeanors, gestures, clothing, hairstyles, walks, stances and handshakes)” .
Majors includes in his examples of the cool pose such diverse behaviors as the use of humor, feigned emotional detachment, and specific stylistic expressions like the black athlete’s inventive basketball dunking, football spiking, and end zone dancing, as well as black musical performers’ aggressive posing and graceful yet strenuous dancing styles. A prime ingredient of the cool pose as a compensatory form of masculinity is an exaggerated style of toughness: “Symbolic displays of toughness defend his identity and gain him respect; they can also promote camaraderie and solidarity among black males” .
Unfortunately, as Majors is careful to point out, the ritualized hyper masculinity performed by many black men as a cool pose, particularly the preoccupation with enacting a tough persona is rife with the negative potential to promote dangerous lifestyles (e. g. , gang bangers, tough guys, drug dealers, street hustlers, and pimps) and to reinforce harmful stereotypes. These images illuminate the figure of the menacing Black male.
He embodies images of the black heterosexual rapper, athlete, and movie star which challenge the racist depictions of black masculinity as incompetent, oversexed and uncivil, in the end a threat to middle class notions of womanhood, family and nation . Perhaps with these embodiments this is why Black masculinity is its own ethnic group. They were unable to assimilate into the dominant culture because they were seen as a hyper sexualized threat to white women. This left these men to create something of their own, through dress, language and action.
This group uses language as another expression of social difference. African American Vernacular English is the language that is used to communicate, it is also known as Black English, Black Vernacular, or Black English Vernacular. Black English is also known as Ebonics, a combination of “ebony” and “phonics”, this language is spoken by many Blacks in the United States and around the world. Black masculinity has accepted Ebonics as their language because it is something that is unique to the African American culture.
The problem with this form of communication is that it is not widely accepted within the dominant society. The children who are raised by men who are part of this cult of Black masculinity are told to speak differently because the form of communication that they have learned is not acceptable. This is a miscommunication and some parties tried to get Ebonics recognized as a language and to be taught in the school systems. This law was not passed but it was interpreted and they are now teaching the children how to translate African American Vernacular English into American Standard English.
Jackson sees language as “badges and emblems of identity can be seen as a kind of message, the successful transmission, reception, and decoding of which necessary to the interaction is taking place. ” This is why Black masculinity is as strong as it is because it embraces their own language and through this they are able to maintain relationships with others in this group of men. Such as the word “Nigga”, if this word were used by someone outside of this cultural group then they would be considered racist but through music and use within the group it is considered to be a term used to identify each other.
It would be seen as odd if someone who did not embody Black masculinity started speaking in African American Vernacular English because they may not have the ancestry which allows them to embody Black Masculinity and their language. Boundaries To form a cultural boundary it is presumed that the borders would be between different homelands, ethnicities, religions or language groups. In the case of Black masculinity the majority are situated all over North America and the rest of the world.
With such a diverse spread it would be hard to place physical borders on this group. “Ethnic groups are not merely or necessarily based on the occupation of exclusive territories; and the different ways in which they are maintained, not only by once-and-for-all recruitment but by continual expression and validation…” In saying this, those who partake in the cult of Black masculinity erect borders through communication such as language and body language. Those who do not respond to these actions are not considered to be part Black male society.
There is certain protocol which will be followed within the group and if this is not followed then there is the identification of an outsider who is trying to break through the borders. The problem with Black masculinity and the exclusivity of this culture is that it is widely available in pop culture. It would be easy for someone who is not part of this ethnic group to study the mass media and learn the traits which define Black masculinity. Black masculinity is based on ascription how people identify their culture and how they identify themselves within this culture. Their boundaries are socially constructed.
Ethnic groups share common culture which includes shared religion, language, style of dress, housing, shared customs; attitudes, beliefs and most have the same perception of a common past. As discussed earlier this group embraces a shared common culture which separates them from the dominant culture. They have created themselves due to a particular historical circumstance and in this case it is colonization and the invasion of the White man. The identity of Black masculinity is reliant on how individuals embrace it, constrained by it; act on it and through this Black masculinity will have a separate identity as an ethnic group.
To separate themselves they have must be able to distinguish them from the dominant culture by “creating appearance of cultural discontinuity”. Black masculinity has done this by assuming roles such as the gangster rapper, the black athlete or movie star. By creating these identities they are constructing a boundary between “us” and “them”. Overtime groups tend to become culturally more homogenous. This endangers the boundary and makes it harder to maintain but in order to preserve its distinct identity these boundaries need to be maintained by the group.
Boundary maintenance serves to isolate the group from alternative value systems (according to which its members may find themselves ranked differently), preserves the group’s existing internal power structure, and provides a potential source of political power for the group through solidarity and numbers . Black masculinity is a strong force in the media and to follow what their cultural beliefs are would be easy. They have familiarized their culture with the dominant culture allowing anyone to be able to participate in their beliefs. This weakens their borders and makes it harder to maintain a stronghold at their borders.
The only thing that would not be broken within Black masculinity is in the name. To be a true part of this ethnic group one would have to be a Black male. This is the only thing that will hold true to maintain the borders of Black masculinity. Biologically Self Perpetuating Black masculinity has become such a widely known phenomenon and even those who do not share the same ancestry seem to be able to embody traits of this group. Traditionally an ethnic group would share a common background and kin.
Through the use of mass media the cult of the Black male has become highly sexualized and those who see this machismo want to be part of it. Ethnic groups are primarily endogamous and this new assimilation into their group will cause problems with this. This is a problem because it takes away from the power of what this group stands for and what they embody as the macho man. “In a social order where white beliefs form fundamental explanations of how individuals should enact their color-sex positions and associated role expectations, black males do not, regardless of their economic status or intellectual capabilities, have the cultural prerogative to take the initiative.
” This quote redefines that there is a dominant culture and allowing assimilation this group is allowing the power to be taken away. As these men are portrayed as hyper sexualized in the media it introduces them to something that the dominant culture views as the ideal, this goes back to colonization and the want of what the White man has, the unattainable. “A major reason for the initial encounter was the mystique attached to the hitherto unavailable ‘the white goddess’ ” . This “white goddess”, the unavailable, is the difference between the dominant culture and the Black Masculinity.
Black men move between majority and minority cultures and must negotiate the racism and discrimination that accompany caste-like minority status. Frazier suggests that Black masculinity and male role identity must be viewed in these varying social and cultural contexts . Specifically, Black men are expected to conform to dominant gender role expectations (e. g. , to be successful, competitive, aggressive), as well as meeting culturally specific requirements (e. g. , cooperation, promotion of group, and survival of group) of the Black community.
“certain patriarchal values such as physical strength, sexual prowess and being in control as a means of survival against the repressive and violent system of subordination to which they were subjected” . The dehumanizing aspect of this myth, a myth that Mercer claims many black men do not want demystified because it in some ways (e. g. , strength, sexual prowess) raises them above the status of white men, is that, while an emphasis on the body as brute force is a marker of the difference between male and female, it is also a key symbol in the division between nature and culture.
Perhaps this is why Black masculinity came to be. It is argued that the members of the Black Power movement defined the politics of race within “metaphoric of phallic power,” which developed out of male activists’ desires to counter cultural articulations of black male inferiority , and that this is readily seen in the writings of influential figures such as Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Eldridge Clever, and Amiri Baraka. Wiegman further claims that the phallocentric perspective was also articulated through the macho, hyper masculine characters appearing in the blaxploitation films of the early 1970s.
It is through Wiegman’s phallic theories about Black males that this ethnic group created the term and culture of Black masculinity. Conclusion Through Barth this paper has been able to discuss the boundaries which the ethnic group Black masculinity was able to control. They were able to create their own ethnic group in response to the dominant culture. They defined themselves through being Black males. They embodied what it meant to be. They did this by dress and action.
This is recently obvious through the media and ‘gangta’ rap and perhaps with this embodiment they are able to prove that they are able to exist as a powerful force within the dominant culture. Black masculinity members are able to have their own sense of language whether it be verbal, Ebonics, of physical, “cool pose”. This is how they established members of the group and were able to communicate with each other by these means. They reinforced that the “cool pose” displays toughness and it gains him respect and from this it promotes solidarity within the group of Black males.
The “cool pose” is not always a good thing. In the media the dominant society does not see the athlete but the gangster and the stereotype which is created by the dominant culture. They are seen as a threat and to keep them safe Black masculinity was created in an attempt to create values and rules of their own in order to obtain status in a dominant culture. To keep this group exclusive these Black men created a language of their own and through this they communicate and they are able to maintain a strong bond through these means of communication.
Through the use of language they create borders. The borders which they created allow them to maintain who they are without being assimilated into the dominant culture. They have embraced and emphasized who they are and what they stand for. To protect this they erected borders such as similar dress/style, language, sense of history and shared customs. These aspects are unique to them but as popular culture embraced these aspects such as language and dress the borders began to break.
One thing that the dominant culture could not break is their gender and race. They were African American men and no matter what the dominant culture did to try and assimilate them they had this to celebrate. This is important to maintain the strength of your borders. Black masculinity is a group of Black males who have been able to preserve that they are part of an ethnic group and they have history which needs to be respected. They are trying to sustain a culture that is slowly being integrated into the dominant culture.
If this group follows what Barth has laid out in order to maintain boundaries then Black masculinity will be able to be whomever they want within the dominant culture. REFERENCES Alexander, C. The Art of Being Black. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. Barths, F. Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. Oslo: Universitesforlaget, 1969. Frazier, E. Franklin. The Negro Family in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939. Gray, H. “He Is a “Bad Mother*S%@! #”: Shaft and Contemporary Black Masculinity. American Quarterly. Vol. 50, No. 2, 1998. Gray, H.
Cultural Politics. A Special Section:Black Masculinity and Visual Culture. Callaloo, Vol. 18, No. 2. (Spring, 1995). Jackson, J. Language Identity of The Colombian Vaupes Indians. In Baumand, R. ,Sherzer, J. , Exploration in the Ethnography of Speaking: Studies in the Socialand Cultural Foundations of Language. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Majors, R. , & Bilson, J. M. Cool Pose. New York: Lexington, 1989. Mercer, K. Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 1994. Mercer, K. & Julien, I.
Race, Sexual Politics and Black Masculinity: A Dossier. London: Lawerence & Wishart, 1998. Smith, A. D. The Ethnic Origins of Nations. Oxford: Blackwell, 1987. Staples, R. Black Masculinity: The Black Male’s Role in American Society. San Francisco: The Black Scholar Press, 1982. Wiegman, R. Feminism, ‘The Boyz’ and Other Matters Regarding the Male: Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema. London: Routledge,1993. Wilikinson, D. Y. Expectations and Salience in White Female – African Male Self-Other Role Definitions. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1977.
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