Concerning topic #2 and black masculinity in North America – a short essay

In a recent speech for Keppler, Laverne Cox commented on the fact that trans women of colour experience much street harassment, and have the highest homicide rate of the LGBT community. However, she sympathized with the black men who have harassed her, theorizing that they see her as a disgraceful “embodiment” of the emasculation that black cis men suffered during the eras of slavery and Jim Crow. I would like to expand on her theory by suggesting that transmisogynoir (hatred of black transgender women) among black men also comes from the aspect of their oppression that holds them as less ‘masculine’ than white men. This essay will argue that popular portrayals of black cisgender men are what have caused some to lash out at black transgender women.

There are detectable patterns within cases of harassment and killing of trans women in North America. As suggested by Ms. Cox, it is often done by cis men, and soon after the realization that the woman is trans – to oppose outward previous sexual interest. I theorize that cis men use verbal and physical violence to regain the sense of masculinity ‘lost’ by expressing interest in trans women. In North American society, men are disciplined to display masculinity through heterosexuality, sexual prowess (e.g. catcalling), and violence (Fields). Many hold the incorrect notion that trans women are really men, and thus that attraction to them is ‘gay’; therefore, they may express embarrassment about this attraction, and a desire for redemption, with violence.
As suggested by Ms. Cox, the situation is very particular within the black community. Throughout history, colonialism and cultural imperialism has held men of colour as more effeminate and therefore somehow inferior to white men. Uchenna Offor describes the oppression of black men in particular during the eras of slavery and Jim Crow:

Black Men were not allowed to perform the duties of what is considered masculine because it would allot power to the Black Race. The controlling images of the Coon, Brute, Tom, and the Picaninny were all ways to degrade and hold Black men to a lower esteem. Although stereotypes of being lazy, ignorant, child-like, angry, overly strong, over sexed, crazed, animalistic were constructed out of the Jim Crow era, these stereotypes are still commonly used when depicting Black Men in media.

Moreover, the fetishization of black masculinity during slavery, as described by Ms. Cox in her speech, lives on, albeit less violently, in works of media such as “Django Unchained” (Cook). It is and has always been an attempt by white men to control black men. As Ms. Cox suggested, the trauma of such oppression, which continues to exist, may pressure black American males to have to prove their masculinity and make it their own. In a short documentary by Byron Hurt an interviewee stated, “We, unlike white males, had to earn our masculinity… because of the difficulties of being able to obtain a sense of masculinity, because of our past, it became the most important thing to us”. Avery Jonas spoke of many black men having to obtain this sense of ‘cool’ masculinity through gang activity, due to economic oppression preventing opportunity for advancement (Morss). Moreover, street harassment would be an easy way to associate oneself with hegemonic masculinity. I theorize that transmisogny may exist among black cis men for the same reasons as they do in all cis men, but that additional pressures may motivate additional aggression. Moreover, with masculinity defined as the absence of femininity (Fields), transmisogynoir is very particular within the black cis men who believe that black trans women give in to white supremacy by denying masculinity.

The media continues to contribute to this aggression by offering no solution. According to Charles Gause, “National broadcasts of African-American males being apprehended by law enforcement locally and regionally is a daily ritual”. However, I have noticed that in news reports of black-on-black violence, speech is usually used to demonize the aggressor rather than sympathize with the victim. This is not the case in situations where the aggressor is white, and/or the victim is white and cisgender. The priority does not seem to be to end transmisogyny, but rather to enforce racist stereotypes of black men. Moreover, there is never any contemplation on this black violence as the possible result of white supremacist patriarchy. Especially without this consideration, constantly representing black men as “studs, pimps, players and criminals” (Jackson, 87) in news and in fiction implies that their violence is somehow biological. This parallels the way that black American slaves who revolted were thought to be sick (Naragon). In result, all black masculine culture, even non-violent, is demonized – taken back ‘under control’ of white supremacy. It is implied that black masculinity, as a resistance of white supremacy, must be contained, and this has ‘justified’ the unfair number of incarcerated black men (Gao).

To summarize, white supremacy has historically branded black men as less ‘masculine’, and therefore inferior, to white men. The operation of this oppression has evolved but still demonstrates similarities to the eras of slavery and Jim Crow. In result, black men may feel additional pressure to meet the constructed standard of masculinity through sexual prowess and aggression. This aggression tends to be directed towards black trans women, who are accused of surrendering to white supremacist ideas. This poses questions about how transmisogyny might be operating among other races victimized by colonialism and cultural imperialism.

Word Count: 900

Works Cited

Cook, Robert. “Black Masculinity in Narrative Media Part 3: Noble Savages.” Web log
post. World Within Logos. WordPress, 10 Aug. 2013. Web. 9 Mar. 2015.

Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox on Bullying and Being a Trans Woman of Color.” YouTube,
19 Dec. 2013. Web. 9 March 2015.

Fields, Errol Lamont. “Codebook First Draft: October 2007.” Racial Identity, Masculinity
and Homosexuality in the Lives of Young Black Men Who Have Sex with Men: Implications for HIV Risk. Maryland: Johns Hopkins U, 2009. 248. Web. 9 Mar. 2015.

Gao, George. “Chart of the Week: The Black-white Gap in Incarceration Rates.” Pew
Research Center. Pew Research Center, 18 July 2014. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

Gause, Charles. “The Social Construction of Black Masculinity: (Re) Presentations in the
American Pop Culture.” Gradnet. Miami University of Ohio, Oxford, n.d. Web. 9 Mar. 2015.

Hurt, Bryon. “I Am a Man: Black Masculinity in America.” YouTube, 30 Oct. 2006.
Web. 9 March 2015.

Jackson, Ronald L. Scripting the Black Masculine Body: Identity, Discourse, and Racial
Politics in Popular Media. Albany: State U of New York, 2006. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.

Morss, Paige. “Avery Jonas ’16 Discusses Black Masculinity in the Media.” The
Phillipian. The Phillipian, 22 Jan. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2015.

Naragon, Michael D. “Communities in motion: Drapetomania, work and the development
of African‐American slave cultures.” Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies. London: Routledge, 1980. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

Offor, Uchena. “Masculinity: A Depiction of White Manhood vs. Black Manhood.”
Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies Program. University of Pittsburgh, 7 Nov. 2011. Web. 9 Mar. 2015.

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4 thoughts on “Concerning topic #2 and black masculinity in North America – a short essay

  1. Excellent job SnowFlake123. I Did the same topic as you but took a completely different approach so i really loved reading your blog and thinking about Cox’s speech with different themes in mind. Additionally, i enjoyed reading the part where you talk about black men feeling like they have had to earn their masculinity. I thought this was really well written and you provided adequate examples to prove what you meant. I Like the way you pointed out how the media uses speech that only reinforces racist stereotypes and the problem this poses when this information is being portrayed to a wide influential audience. What do you think can be done to end these racist stereotypes, if anything? Do you think it should start with the media or start with society changing their attitude in general towards black folks?
    Overall really great!

    Like

  2. Snowflake123,

    Very interesting argument! I feel like this topic could be developed into your fourth year thesis if you continue to be passionate about this subject. It makes perfect sense – but never would have crossed my mind – that black cis men see trans black women as emblematic of the emasculation their forefathers were subjected to during slavery and the Jim Crow era. I really enjoy the level of historical context you provided, and your ability to seamlessly blend that analysis with modern-day examples really improved the quality of your post. This issue seems like a very tough, and deeply embedded one in society, can you think of any ways to combat this either short or long term? Should it start with the media? Within either black or white social circles? Or perhaps in the education system, teaching children to be more accepting, so that they will not make the same mistakes as the generation before them? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Great blog!

    Like

  3. Snowflake123,

    You present a lot of information clearly and concisely in this blog post; well done! A lot of what you said about racism, homophobia and transphobia made me think about the reading we did last week on Transgender Citizenship. That article asked about alliances between marginalized groups in order to create global change- do you think that black folk need to combat issues within the black community before trying to create global change, or do you think that all of those issues can be addressed at the same time? In a similar vein, can racism against black folk end if white and black communities come together and work to create change, or is an alliance not quite possible given the white supremacist society we’re living in?

    Like

  4. Snowflake 123,
    You made interesting connections between this article and last weeks reading: transgendering citizenship. Your take on how black men see masculinity as something they have to achieve was cool to read. Where do you thinnk society is going in relation to racism and transmisogny? do you think we are moving forward, or about the same? How we would need to grow as a society to achieve equality?

    Like

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