Politics & Race
We Need To Talk About: Masculinity


By Michael Hariot

Every Thursday NegusWhoRead’s “We Need To Talk About…” column will explore a different issue.

When a group of people believe in something detrimental so wholeheartedly, it is sometimes referred to as “drinking the Kool Aid.” It stems from the Jonestown massacre when the “prophet” Jim Jones convinced his followers to commit mass suicide by drinking cups of poisoned punch. Most people hear that story and think that it would be impossible for anyone to convince them to drink poison–even if they were victims of groupthink and adherents to a destructive belief system.

The idea of masculinity has always been complex for me.

Like the development of most of my ideas, my personal concept of masculinity have always been amorphic and untainted. I was raised by women and can’t name a significant male influence on my life. I can count on one finger the number of friends in my neighborhood whose fathers were even marginally in their lives. I don’t have memories of sitting on the porch with a grandfather who gave me life lessons on manhood. My perspective on fatherhood, how a man should treat a woman and what a “real man” does all come from the same place: I’m making this shit up as I go along.

Which is why–when I look at how many of us frame Black masculinity– the concepts of Black masculinity are not just foreign to me, but curiously self-destructive.

I believe the way we think about masculinity and manhood come from a complex amalgam of societal influence and biology. Neo-liberal thinkers would have us believe that all our preconceived notions of manhood are based on historical social patriarchy, while conservative non-progressive traditionalists advance the notion that some things just are–because of biology, Jesus or “that’s how things are supposed to be.” My mother was wildly progressive about ideas, expression and thought, so I’ve never had the restrictions of gender norms instilled into my psyche, but I’ve always existed in a Black world that I always believed never valued masculinity. We value the perception of masculinity.

We could have a long, introspective debate about the reasons for and the effects of the rarity of nuclear black families, and absent Black fathers but one of its byproducts is that the linear passing of masculine values from father to son has manifested itself in a puzzling form: We have mistaken masculinity for maleness. In the absence of transferring the intrinsic generational values of self-sacrifice, reverence for black woman and family-over-everything, manhood morphed into crotch-grabbing, hypersexual, fist-clenched, unsmiling Black braggadocio.

It has separated itself into two categories: Real Niggas and Pussies. Note the connotation of “pussy.” Pussy is feminine. Pussy niggas have feelings. Pussy niggas emote. Pussies won’t bust guns when its time to ride out. Real niggas will. Real niggas don’t buy bitches drinks at the bar. Real niggas don’t love these hoes. Pussy niggas do. Pussy niggas “wife” these hoes. Real niggas know it’s “money over bitches.”

If a player–no matter how talented–learned basketball by watching the NBA and playing on pickup courts, they would believe the key to the sport was slam dunks, cross-over dribbling and launching three-pointers. That person would be a better, more well-rounded player if he learned the fundamentals of defensive spacing, ballhandling, shooting form and the intricacy of the bounce pass, but those skills require hours of dedicated coaching. Black masculinity has become a dunk contest because we don’t teach the art of the midrange jump shot. We take contested threes instead of making a bounce pass. We shoot guns because we never learned to fistfight.  Shooting free throws doesn’t look pretty enough. Walking away from fights is immasculine.

We equate this fake masculinity with strength, so,  conversely, femininity and anything that doesn’t fit into this paradigm must be weakness. It is not masculinity that we value, but a hollow maleness. In this world, we do not make room for anything outside this dumbed-down, hollow definition. A gay black man should be ostracized because he is not really a man under this fabricated falsehood, but our cousin with four kids and three baby-mamas is embraced. Under the rules of Black masculinity, “Pimp” is a compliment. “I take care of my kids” is so rare we think it deserves applause.

Our views of manhood are likely remnants of the dysfunction of slavery and years of Jim Crow, but even after we consumed that Kool-Aid, we kept making more cups to sip on. We know they are poison but we like them anyway. These hoes ain’t loyal. (Gulp).

I just took some molly, what else? Got some bitch from Follies with us She gonna fuck the squad, what else? I’mma fuck her broads, what else?

Those are the lyrics to the number one song in the country (Sip). A “real man” will…(sip). Future is a “real nigga” but Russell Wilson is a simp (sip.) Girls should wear longer skirts because men will be men (sip).

Manhood is simply one thing: Responsibility. It is sobering and unexciting. It is seldom applauded. It manifests itself in stability and strength. It is not poison. We don’t talk about it. We don’t embrace it. We don’t even seem to value it.

We just keep drinking the Kool-Aid.




About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot

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