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As a social construct, masculinity is a complex force that often drives behaviors and attitudes for men. While these behaviors are often shaped by societal expectations, values, and ideals of manhood; its implications can be especially disabling or even deadly when considering the Black male. Black men have long faced societal isolation, inequality, and disrespect compared to their white counterparts. As black men navigate their way through society they are constantly reminded through implicit and subtle acts of racism, media outlets, black male circles, and even their own families, about the high importance of being a man.
This constant bombardment of forced self actualization often produces a negative feedback loop, thus contribution to the hypermasculinization of the Black male. By exploring masculinity as it intersects with race, slavery, and media influences. One can conclude that Black men pay a heavy price as they overcompensate their masculinity in efforts to become recognized in a society in which they are often undervalued.
The Atlantic Slave Trade established the most atrocious process of emasculation for the African man.
As Africans were ripped away from their families and tribes; their sinewy strength, never before seen became a direct threat to the dominance and power that the White man desired to maintain. The Enslaved black man, was met with slave codes that reinforced the idea that black men were no longer men but instead, chattel. The constant fortification of the notion that black men were in fact property was a reminder of their inferiority and stripped them of any remaining agency.
As they they were shuffled through the system of slavery, many slave masters utilized psychological terrorism techniques that would keep the virile Black man in a position of inferiority. Examples include, Masters not allowing boys to wear pants, sex farms, sodomy, and the raping of black women.
Depriving a young male the right to pants was a common practice during slavery. Many masters used this psychological technique in order to keep the African grounded and ashamed; for he was unable to properly cover up his manhood and often forced to wear feminine dress like shirts. This practice for many went far into post pubescent development, often creating doubt for young men just as they were beginning to explore their own masculinity. In today’s society we continue to see this type of self doubt as black many men struggle to maintain a form of male identity through dress style. Sagging jeans, colored head scarfs, oversized clothing, and even more effeminate styles that perpetuate slavery ideals and establish an extremely diluted version of masculinity for the black male.
“Sex Breeding” during slavery not only created an awareness for the desirable slave of his prowess, strength, bigness, and potency for breeding; but it promoted a sense of detachment to Black female slaves. Male slaves were hypermasculinized by slave masters to be perceived as emotionless, obedient and brawny. Those who were considered “too weak” or “too soft”, often were subject to beatings, or more harshly, death. As a means of survival, Black men were forced to fear feminine traits and were emasculated to be hypermasculine, only to reinforce negative stereotypes.
This practice continued well after the Emancipation of slavery, where black men were still viewed as beastly, and dangerous, often criminalizing the black males inherit natures and sensationalizing the notion that black men are hypermasculine, constructs formed out of the institution of slavery.
The male slave was always made aware of the fact the he had no rights to himself, wife, or children. In today’s society we continue to see these lasting effects as they relate to infidelity rates, absentee fathers, and a high rate of Black men who bear multiple children. Furthermore, that Black men continue to be desired for their stature, strength and physical abilities produces a competition amongst them to strive towards this sense of hypermasculinity, only to become the next NFL or NBA player who produces profits for a system that so often fails them. So while there is profound need for the superskills of the black man, just as in times of slavery; society continues to deny him the ability to fully achieve his status as a man outside of these arenas. In fact, anything more often leads to his criminalization or death.
Though not given much attention, the sexual abuse of black men during slavery was despicable. So often male slaves were sodomized and degraded in front of other slaves in order to teach them obedience to their master. This type of dehumanization was a direct assault of male slaves masculinity thus creating traumas that would be past down for generations to come.
No longer in the position of being able to defend his family and tribe as in Africa, the Black man was forced to question his manhood. This self analyzation often led to debilitating depression and psychological traumas so intense often leading to suicide or a slave’s murder due to defiance. With his inability to protect his family and total dependency on his master for shelter, food, clothing, and even the designation of intimate relationships;black male masculinity was inevitably dismantled through power and control. In addition, voiding the Black slave the right to his woman’s body and children, was a slavery construct that produced lasting negative emotional, physical, and mental results for Black men as it relates to his current ideals for relationships to his wife, children, and ways of viewing masculinity in society.
This impotence of the black man was maximized by the consistent sexual and physical abuse of the black woman in his presence. In The Mis-Education of the Negro, Carter Woodson gives insight to the psychological conditioning of enslaved men, stating “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions” (Woodson). The psychological effects of conditioning and dependency led to the recognition of their white masters as “The Man”. Through a lack of power they were forced to respond differently to the vicissitudes of slavery.
The dependency on their masters created an infantile relationship which placed The Black male slave’s masculinity in perspective. In order to feel as though life had some level of achievement and to obtained any source of agency, enslaved men decided to become “good slaves”. They also sought to teach their sons to live in a white man’s world as a proxy to survival. The concern of enslaved fathers was no longer to teach their sons how to become men, husbands, or good fathers, because they were stripped of anything that would allow them to achieve these titles. This lack of emphasis on fatherhood has undoubtedly trickled down into today’s black communities.
Media plays an important role in how Black men internalize masculinity. Many young black men model the examples of masculinity that are portrayed through media outlets, often assuming a scattered notion of manhood. While hegemonic masculinity disbars marginalized individuals including black men, it has been used as a tool to reinforce negative ideals and stereotypes. These negative stereotypes are constantly being propelled, by the media we consume. Through media outlets Black men are often portrayed as tough, strong, detached, and unemotional. Whether it be rap videos, sitcoms, and /or simple facebook memes, Black men are always in a showcase of denying their feelings, dominating their situation, sexualizing their women and participating in overt actions of violence. Moreover, black men are often implicated in violence and even murdered by police due to the stereotypes and or actions of hypermasculinity that are assumed.
The tough gang member who post about guns on Facebook, the football player who brags about his sexcapades and or even the super buff Instagram rapper whose always surrounded by hot young women. These visuals all have a direct effect of how a young black male sees himself or who they desire to be. With the rise of social media, there has been an abundance of showcasing of unhealthy behaviors, especially within the black social community.
Our patriarchal society emphasizes the idea that black men are supposed to suppress their emotions, be overtly dominant and even act violently. The constant showcase of these popular convictions is damaging to self esteem and psyche of black males. It leads those who do not live up to the standards of masculinity, to feel self conscience and often forces them to be social outcast or feel the need to overcompensate by performing in a hypermasculine way, thus contributing to the rise of violence by and against black men, increased negative health outcomes, poor education, sexuality issues, relationship difficulties and an overall negative perceptions of masculinity.
There is pressure for black men to conform to white masculine hegemony. White standards of masculinity are centered around Males as providers, protectors, and disciplinarians. “In attempt to compensate for this pressure, some black men, particularly young, lower-income black males, use marginal social locations where power can be asserted through drugs, criminal acts and interpersonal violence, which perpetuate the crime that plagues many low-income, African- American neighborhoods”(Wesley, 2015) Though this is clearly not the reality for all black males, this does allude to the way that black men are perceived by the public. A study conducted in 2011 found that “African-American, college-aged males tend to employ a double consciousness, where they attempt to think and act according to others’ cultural expectations for African-American men”(Dancy, 2011). It is important to realize that a lot of the behaviors carried out by black men are a result of societal pressures and expectations, despite these ideals being negative.
The essential goal of hypermasculinity within black males is to reclaim the bold expectations of hegemonic masculinity. The exaggerations as mentioned before, tend to be based off of behaviors such as physical strength, sexuality and aggression. Hypermasculinity is not only toxic for black men, but women too, as hypermasculinity tends to propel rape culture by breeding men who feel entitled to conquer women’s bodies, without consent.
In conclusion, the construct of hypermasculinity made its presence and has been deeply ingrained in the Black male since the times of slavery. Through a review of the psychological terrorism acted against Blacks during slavery and how it has directly affected black men today; it is clear to see that hypermasculinity is not only toxic, but deadly.
As black men continue to accept these ideals of masculinity not only are they keeping themselves at risk; but they are encouraging a cycle of self violence and disparities that will continue to have a direct effect on quality of life outcomes for black men, their families and entire communities.
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