Marsha Ambrosius’ “Far Away” + Black Masculinity + Violence

There are three videos circulating that have me thinking about Black men and masculinity and violence.

The first is the new Marsha Ambrosius video, Far Away, we see a story where a young man, who interacts with Marsha, is gay (desires men sexually) or queer (operates outside of the heteronormative ideas of sexual desire). He is beaten by a group of Black men, presumptively, because he is gay and he subsequently commits suicide.

I am delighted that Marsha is leveraging  her major label power to tell a story that needs to be told. This video is powerful because it speaks to the psychological costs of being oppressed because of who you desire sexually, and being open with that desire.

Honestly, I can’t believe the men embrace and kiss in the video. Black men who are intimate with each other simply isn’t allowed in pop culture. I don’t know if Black men can BE intimate with anyone in pop culture for that matter. Yes, they may have sex, but to be intimate, not so much.

In fact, when I saw For Colored Girls in a movie theater filled with Black women in DC, there was a huge range of hissing sounds that came out of the mouths of the women when the Carl character revealed to his wife the Lady in Red (Janet Jackson), that he was bisexual. Yet, the women were quiet during the rape scene between the Lady in Yellow (Anika Rose) and the man she was dating Bill (Khalil Kain). The point that I am trying to get at is that this experience showed me how conservative Black people can be around issues of sexuality.

In a post “On (Black) Masculinity: It’s Fragile + Illusive” earlier this year I wrote about Black masculinity and masculinity in general.

Quoting Global Gender Issues in the New Millennium,

“…Heternormative masculinity is an extraordinarily fragile and unstable construct and identity that leaves men having to prove repeatedly that they have “it”. They are put in constant fear and anxiety that they will be dubbed less than real men and therefore, be demoted down the gender hierarchy and be subjected to greater violence by other, higher men.”

This has me thinking about how men are subjected to violence in way similar to how women are, but under difference circumstances. It all turns on “conform to the way its done” or get smashed. For women its gimmie your number, or imma call you a ______ and slap you. Act like a man or imma sock you in the face and call you a _____. You get my drift?

The second video is the Ted Talk by Tony Porter where he talks about black masculinity. The most relevant parts are:

1:12 – The man box and socialization of men

2:35 – On teaching a 5 year old how to be a man.

4:11 –  On how his father apologized to him for crying in front of him.

6:50 – On deciding whether or not to participate in a gang rape as a teenager.

The “man box” is a powerful way for describing how sexism works, it takes the focus off of individual men and places the focus on social forces (how people in schools, churches, families think about gender roles).

Again, Violence or the threat of violence is used to enforce gender, racial and sexual roles.

Keep this in mind while I talk about the next video.

In this video I just watched today a Black Uncle whoops his presumably 13 or 14 year old nephew with a belt for “Fake Thugging” on Facebook. He then forced the young man to put the video on Facebook. #triggerwarning.

I have long been reluctant to talk publicly about Black parents beating Black children, however, it needs to be done. Honestly, its one of the things that I have been scared to write about and I don’t scare easily.

bell hooks has said Black feminist’s lack of writing about how some Black parents, spank, whoop and beat their children is one of the ways in which Black Feminist have failed Black families.  We analyze domination between men and women and Black folks and White folks and even global violence but we don’t closely analyze how parents dominate children.

This is important.

For the most part globally and locally it is assumed that women will do the lion share of child rearing. Whether or not this assumption is legitimate is a WHOLE OTHER blog post. But because women do most of the child rearing,  disciplinary parental violence is something that I have been looking or a language to articulate.

For me, the violence done to the young man in the Marsha Ambrosius video is similar to the violence done by the uncle to the nephew, why? Violence or the threat of violence is used to get results from a human being, to force them to do something, to dominate them.

Is the violence connected for you?

Why or why not?

Do parents have a right to beat their children? #backtoBackBeatings

Does beating your children teach them that People Who Love You Have a Right to Beat You? If no, how?

Isn’t beating children as a much of a behavior deterrent as sending someone to prison?

White Men X Rap Music x Black Masculinity

Black men have a very particular history in this country. In popular imagination they are violent, hypersexualized monsters.

Think Birth of a Nation, Minstrel shows, lynching as a political tool.

In rap music, arguably since The Chronic, the main type of rap artist who shines is the thug who gets money, “ho’s” and clothes. In fact, this is the predominant Black male figure in mainstream rap music and elements of this kind of masculinity can be seen in underground regional and underground national music as well (underground meaning music that doesn’t get radio play but has a substantial and growing fan base.)

How am I connecting Black men in being violent in rap music to White mens masculinity?

David Ikard does it for me.

Ikard talks about Black masculinity using Walter Mosely’s books Always Outnumbered Always Outgunned in the essay “Like a Butterfly in a Hurricane: Reconceptualizing Black Gendered Resistance in Walter Mosely’s Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned Walkin’ the Dog” which is in the book Breaking the Silence.

In the following quote, Ikard is analyzing how a character, Munford Brazille, in Mosley’s book Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned,? has just gotten out of jail.? Brazille is trying to make sense of why he kept getting out of jail after continually committing? crimes. Ikard writes,

“I got in trouble again, and again they got me off. I kept on getting in trouble, and they kept getting me off. Didn’t wake up ’till I got to be nearly old as aI am now. Then I realized they kept getting me off because they [white me] needed a Munford Brazille. They need us.” Illuminating the link between black crime and white manhood Munford calls attention to how he was used, directly and indirectly by his white “benefactor” to secure the notion of white mens moral and masculine superiority over Black men.

Next Ikard connects Black men’s violence to White men’s masculinity when he writes,

By playing the role of? “bad nigger”- reckless killing other Black men- he unintentionally? reifies the man/boy, civilized/primitive binaries used to sustain white male superiority and to emasculate Black men.

Note: to reify something is to make it seem like its natural when it really isn’t.

For instance, Black men are NOT naturally violent (no one is) but if you look at media representations of them throughout history, you may be led to think that.

You ever wonder why it hurt Black men to be called “boy” by White men?

Because historically the assumption about Black people during slavery is that they were incompetent children who couldn’t take care of themselves so they needed to be enslaved and looked after. #absurd.

Language makes power visible.

Ikard explains the history of what it meant to White men’s masculinity for Black men to be called boy and for white men to be called “master”, “boss” and “mister.” Ikard writes,

Socially these binaries were visible (particularly during the Jim Crow era) in the ways that white men would refer to black men as “boys” and “children” while demanding by force and law that Black men refer to them with deferential titles such as “mister,” “master” and “boss”…reinforced the paternalistic notions that white men were the moral and physical guardians of Black people. Without White guardianship, the thinking went, blacks would perish in “civilized” society.

How does this relate to rap music?

I wonder to what extent is the thugged out cat allowed to be the MAIN cat in mainstream rap music because it reaffirms White men’s humanity and masculinity.

Ikard quotes Munford saying, he basically kept getting out of jail because “Then I realized they kept getting me off they need a Munford Brazille. They need me to prove they human.”

Are the Munford Brazille’s in the rap game proof of White men’s humanity?

Why or why not?

Did I completly lose ya’ll?

Let me know.

Black Male Privilege x Male Privilege

This piece is dedicated to Michele, T.Dot, John, and Pepe
Shout out to Bianca for the above image.

While on an awesome date last weekend, Pepe hesitated, then proceeded to challenge me on the idea of Black Male Privilege. He didn’t want to because he suspected that it would derail the date.

It didn’t.

In fact I appreciated the conversation because he forced me to think of things I had not conceived of.

The first thing was a question which was “What is the difference between Black Male Privilege and Male privileges period, name some Black male privileges.”

The first is that Black Men are born male in a society that is organized by and for men.

The second is that Black men (who read as heterosexual/straight) can go from point A to point B, from the train to the house without the risk of sexual verbal and physical violence. By sexual verbal violence I mean men yelling out at cars, men leaning into you as you walk down the street, hearing fifty eleven hey baby’s, or can I get a piece of that.

Yesterday I had two confrontations with Black men.

9 either honked or said something.

One on Rhode Island and 3rd, the other a block from my house. It was hot, my skirt was short. In both instances these Negros were surprised that I spoke back. By the time dude said something to me near my house I had had enough. HE claimed that he was BEHIND ME ON THE PHONE TAUMBOUT he wanted to take me to Red Lobster. What he really said was that he wanted to take me to bed. He lied to kick and said he ain’t say that, but you can’t sprinkle sugar on shit and call it ice cream. I heard him.

The psychological costs of being treated like a sex worker on the streets is lightweight unspeakable.

The truth of the matter is that they would NEVER talk to White women like this loud, open and in public because they would be in jail as sure as rice is white.

For many Black men in the street, an attractive Black woman is prey to get at, not a human being returning from running errands so she can go home to write for the evening.

The privilege here is that they know that if they say it to us, more than likely they can get away with it, and that shit is wack sauce. Not the kid.

If you think that I am putting ten on two and that negro men don’t really be fucking with us on the street see,

Black Woman Walking, by Tracey Rose

The college student who was shot in DC for not giving out her number

The Comments in this post

Hey Shorty, a Doc on Street Harassment by Girls for Gender Equity

Walking Home

Going back to Pepe’s question, means that by being born male, they will benefit from the social structure that says that MEN naturally have the right to public space.

The right to earn more than women doing the same job. (statistically Black men’s unemployment is hella high, but when they do work they work in jobs that, across the board, earn more than women, they often tend to be union jobs. See Paula Giddings When and Where I Enter for more on this.)

The right to dominate women and children and be violent towards them if they get out of line.

The right to beat another Negro mans ass if that negro man threatens his property which is his house, car or “his woman.”

The right to be visible leaders and to make directional choices about the future of the household, community and society.

I responded saying that Black male privilage is different from male privilege because Black masculinity is different from White masculinity which is different from Latino masculinity. Yes they have elements in common, however they read differently.

Black men have a different relationship to the police than white men. Oscar Grant, Sean Bell etc. Black men also have a different relationship to each other than white men do. Derrion Albert & Philly’s, Newark’s and Chicago’s homicide statistics. Black men have different relationships to trying to get and keep a job than white men.

They also read differently based on the persons class, their social standing, their income.

Different masculinities have different kind of privileges. This is how patriarchy works.

In addition one further thing that I have realized while writing this is that Black male privilege is different from “male” privilege in the same way that Black Feminism is different from Feminism (which is known as being organized by and for middle classed White women), further more there is Womanism to knowledge as well.

The second thing he said was that he thought the term Black male privilege may do more harm than good, in that it could alienate Black men, who may otherwise be allies.

My response was that first, that I find the words that I choose to be very important. Second, while it is true that using the term Black Male privilege may alienate some cats, so be it. When dealing with violence and oppression this is not the time to get coddled. He disagreed with me on this point and I am fine with that. I don’t want Black men to think I am attacking them, I am not, I am asserting ALL of our humanity and if they can’t that, that’s between them and they Jesus.

In reading Dumi’s post on Black male privilege I had an epiphany today. I realized that it is a challenge for many people to understand that victims can be perpetrators.

Dumi gets at both Black male privilage and the idea that victims can be perpetrators when he writes,

The hidden and overlooked nature is what is crucial for understanding privilege. It is the careful analysis of the social fabric of our world that will make privilege visible, even to Black men.


BMP is akin to White privilege in that it is often invisible to those who benefit from it the most! It is the accumulation of these unearned advantages that matter but are often dismissed as inconsequential. These advantages are often thought to be insignificant, unless of course you are on the receiving end of the oppression.

Meaning that Black men who are oppressed in a society dominated and controlled by Whites, turn around and try and dominate Black women, because thats what society says that men do.

There are many people who feel that because they had fucked up childhoods, or that they were oppressed as Black men or women, or for that matter as White men and women that they have the right to be rageful or abusive to others.

You don’t. No one does.

Just because my father was an addict for more than for nearly half my life, that that shit was fucked up and that drugs took him away from me and my mom and that our lives were profoundly impoverished after he left, doesn’t give ME the right to take that shit out on the people that I meet today. FULL STOP.

Conversely just because the White world treats Black men like shit doesn’t give THEM the right to be abusive and violent towards us.

The more I experience and read and write about this topic I believe that a street harassment awareness/education campaign may be awesome.

A whole new value system is needed. #ummhmm.

Here are some resources to start with:

Girls for Gender Equity does work around street harassment.

As does Men Can Stop Rape.

Read Kevin Powell’s Ending Violence Against Woman and Girls and take one of the recommended action steps.

Men having conversations amongst themselves around how they treat women in the street can be powerful too. #Ummhmm

You buying my Black Male vs. Male Privilege?

Is it all patriarchy?

Or does it read differently on differently bodies?

Someone sent me a video of a young Black woman on the streets of Brooklyn walking from home to the train, dealing with street harassment.? Please leave that link again! Thank you.

The Connection Between Protecting and Dominating Women

Within the comments section of my post “Black Women x The Streets x Harassment” , which Latoya has up on Racialicious, Gregory Butler explained the connection between being protected and being dominated in a straight forward and profound way. He writes,

It took me years to reach the point where I could defy the social pressure to ?Be a Real Man? ? and it was not an easy process to learn how to treat women like human beings rather than objects.

That?s a sad commentary on how masculinity and manhood are defined in our society ? but yet and still that is very very real.

And for the men of our race, devalued as we are in all other areas of life, it?s easy to cling to being a ?Real Man? and all the abusive sexist bullshit that goes along with that.

Incidentally, that whole ?protecting? women by walking on the outside when you walk down the street, holding doors ect is part of that same sexist idea about ?being a Real Man? ? so I wouldn?t be so quick to embrace that form of patriarchal masculinity either.

Just read the discussion thread on this article and you?ll see men defending that man walks on the outside custom basically because that position makes it easier for them to fight other men

Of course, when guys fight over a woman, it?s really not about ?protecting? her at all ? it?s about a man asserting and defending his property rights over that woman when those property rights are being infringed on by another man

Again, I apologize for misunderstanding your post ? but I stand by my opposition to chivalry, which is NOT the opposite of sexism, but merely a more polite form.

This hit home.

I once had an ex who said that if a dude said something to me on the street that he wouldn’t fight him.

I thought this was absurd.

I also come from a place where people get socked or even shot at for stepping on the wrong persons sneakers or giving the wrong person a mean mug or looking at the wrong persons lady friend.

Violence was always ready to pop off in East Oakland, California.

Lets hear this again,

when guys fight over a woman, it?s really not about ?protecting? her at all ? it?s about a man asserting and defending his property rights over that woman when those property rights are being infringed on by another man her at all”

This issue of ownership is what my ex was talking about at the time.

The basic assumption that he was challenging was that I was not a piece of property to be defended or fought over. This seemed like it made sense on one level, but on another level it was absurd, because it went against much of which I was socialized to accept.

However knowing what I know now, in 2010 about the legal history of women White women and Black women as property in this US society? (I just completed a class on Race and Conquest in Colonial America), I KNOW that there is connection between ideologically women being seen as property and women being legally treated as property,? which is rooted in English Common Law doctrine La Feme Covurt.

According to Wikipedia the? La Feme Covurt doctrine says that,

…husband and wife were one person as far as the law was concerned, and that person was the husband. A married woman could not own property, sign legal documents or enter into a contract, obtain an education against her husband’s wishes, or keep a salary for herself. If a wife was permitted to work, under the laws of coverture she was required to relinquish her wages to her husband. In certain cases, a woman did not have individual legal liability for her misdeeds, since it was legally assumed that she was acting under the orders of her husband, and generally a husband and wife were not allowed to testify either for or against each other.

Keeping the legal history in mind I am going to back to the streets and patriarchy.

Over Memorial day weekend, I was reminded of this notion of protection
and domination isn’t clear cut.

My intuition is cold, and so I try and follow it as often as a can.

On Memorial day, I was walking up 8th ave to 14th street to
get my favorite taco’s from the taco truck with my gentleman

I was scantily dressed. Tank top, poom poom shorts, flip flops.

It was about 90 degrees that day.

I saw a man walking towards us, kinda bent, at the spine at a 40 degree angle.? He was off his meds and on something else. Disheveled. Thin. But lightweight diesel. Kind of like a zombie with a moderate “pimp” walk.

He reminded me of that reoccurring junkie character in the Spike Lee movies.

I knew that if he was close enough to me, he would try to touch? or grab me.

I also knew that if he did that somebody was going to go to jail that day.

Within a split second, I told Pepe, “Blood move to my left side” and we switched places.

With the quickness (and I was glad b/c sometimes he can’t hear me and I would have hated to have had to repeat myself.)

I was closer the street. Pepe was between us. Pepe ain’t a little dude.

As the addict man walk by us he yelled out “Man you suppose walk on the outside her near the street.”

I was relieved.

I followed my intuition.

My rationale is that if he was willing to talk to a grown man like that then he would also be willing to try me.

I had a few questions in my head after this happened.

How was patriarchy working in this situation? Did I have to choose between the possibility of one person dominating me and being protected by another?? In some ways yes.

Do I feel like I did the right thing?? Yes. Under the circumstances.

I also think about how these issues are not clear cut.

When was the last time, maneuvering on the street that you followed or failed to follow your intuition? What happened?

What do you think of Gregory’s idea that “when guys fight over a woman, it?s really not about ?protecting? her at all ? it?s about a man asserting and defending his property rights over that woman when those property rights are being infringed on by another man”?

Any other thoughts?

On (Black) Masculinity: It’s Fragile + Illusive

Harry Brod’s essay “Studying Masculinities” has some straight ahead information on teaching and understanding masculinity.

I reread it last night and was reminded of how good it is.

I am going to post excerpts below, with some comments.

On How Privileges Work

[All]Men, as do whites [men and women], have a vested interest in not asking questions about sources of privileges. Any form of oppression maintains its power by masking how it operates, making its structure as invisible as possible. To shed light on masculinity is therefore at least potentially to threaten patriarchy.

Ahhh. This why my conversations with @beautynubian are so illuminating on Twitter. We stay talking about patriarchy, gender roles and what it means to have a gendered political identity and be? going out on dates. #somuchwin.

So much of masculinity and femininity rests in asking the why people do what they do? Is it natural, taught or a combination therein?

Or we look at what is being assumed when an action is taken, ie, walking on the outside when walking down the street with a woman. Who gets to walk on the outside when TWO women are walking down the street?? #ummhmm.

On Questioning Masculinity

Quoting Michael Kimmel “…for a man to admit that he has questions about masculinity is to admit that he has failed at masculinity.”

So eloquent. Yet so direct.

On the Uselessness of? Blaming Men for Sexism

For at least some men, moving away from being personally blamed for sexism facilitates moving toward taking personal responsibility for it.? It is difficult, if not impossible, to take effective steps towards positive personal and political change if one imagines oneself thereby to be taking steps in opposition to oneself.? But if I see that my target is not myself but rather social forces and what they have done to me, I find such steps become not only possible but desirable.

I found this to be really useful, in terms of ally building. It is ONE thing to read this stuff in books.

Its another thing to be at brunch and my gentleman friend feels like I called him a four letter word because I said that he did something that was patriarchal. What he doesn’t know is that there are SOME WOMEN that I don’t care to be around because THEY are hella patriarchal. The issue isn’t whats between your legs, but your politics, whats between your ears. How you think about stuff. #ummhmm.

I like this paragraph by Brod because it gets at getting men to see the social forces at work, and not simply blaming them for being sexist. What is the benefit of doing something like that? Where is the space being created for education or transformation. There is none with blame. That doesn’t mean I’m not gonna call a negro man or woman out if they are outta pocket. But it does mean that I will open up a discussion, if the person is willing. Or leave them alone if it is taking too much work.

On Men In Masculinity (Feminist) Studies Classes

Men who are willing to question masculinity to the extent of devoting a semester to examining it therefore pose? threat to their own and other men’s power.

The act of simply being willing to question masculinity and learn about it threatens how society is organized. #ummhmm. Peace to the men who are willing to learn.

Another quote that I found interesting is from Global Gender Issues in the New Millennium.

“…Heternormative masculinity is an extraordinarily fragile and unstable construct and identity that leaves men having to prove repeatedly that they have “it”. They are put in constant fear and anxiety that they will be dubbed less than real men and therefore, be demoted down the gender hierarchy and be subjected to greater violence by other, higher men.”

This has me thinking about how men are subjected to violence in similar to how? women are, but under difference circumstances. It all turns on “conform to the way its done”? or get smashed. Gimmie your number, or imma call you a ______ and slap you. Act like a man or imma sock you in the face and call you a _____. You get my drift?

How do men deal with this psychologically?

Especially Black men, constantly having to be on guard, performing.

Isn’t this shit a lot of work? Ya’ll get tired. How you deal with it? Do it ever drive you crazy?

Thoughts about the fragility of masculinity?