In fact, masculinities, including black masculinities, are performed partially in response to the various external conditions present within the geographical spaces, like NYC, where they emerge. In other words, masculinities are shaped by skewed conceptions of gender, a sexist culture, and the range of structural conditions that impact black men quite negatively.
Consider, for instance, what type of black masculinity might emerge in response to a city funded teenage pregnancy prevention ad that pretty much tells black teen females that black boys ain’t shit in a city where police use tax-payer funded guns to shoot its residents? And how can we encourage black boys and men to resist the need to perform power (that hurts), toughness (that victimizes), and swag (that boasts chauvinistically) when, in fact, demonstrations of power, toughness, and swag might be performed by black boys and men to counter state violence? Thus, we should ask how we might re-create masculinities that do no harm and also consider the forces at work that tend to shape black male gender performances in destructive ways.
Black masculinities are created within heteropatriarchy and tend to be overdetermined by misogyny, sexism, violence, and rape culture. It is our responsibility as black cis and transgendered men to name and disengage caustic masculinities, but we should also consider why black men would fight so damn hard to perform the “strong black man” caricature in various spaces in the US, like NYC. Indeed, we black men must consider how our senses of self and the masculinities we perform are shaped by the conditions present within the spaces that we move through.
I wish to raise a Black man who will not be destroyed by, nor settle for, those corruptions called power by the white fathers who mean his destruction as surely as they mean mine. I wish to raise a Black man who will recognize that the legitimate objets of his hostility are not women, but the particulars of a structure that programs him to fear and despise women as well as his own black self.
For me, this task begins with teaching my son that I do not exist to do his feeling for him.
Yet Sugar Ray’s autobiography is much more than just a personal, singular story. His haunting revelations expose much about the racist society he lived in, and how little that society valued young black men like him in any other setting than the squared circle.
Why is it that so many young black men still search for safety, solace, and a sense of control in the sporting realm, whether in the ring, on the court, or on the field? The execution of Troy Davis in Georgia despite questionable evidence against him and the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman just for looking “suspicious” both shine a harsh spotlight on the continued precariousness of black life in the twenty-first century. A cursory look at recent movies from Streetballers (2009) to The Blind Side (2009) shows that society actively encourages young black men to escape their troubles and drown their sorrows in sports. And yet, that same society often castigates black youth for becoming “sports obsessed.”
Where else but in the sporting arena can young black men benefit from their reputation for being “dangerous”? Where else are they glorified for that “hard chip of ice” that many store in their fighting hearts? Where else can they have a good chance of receiving adulation and respect? And, where else is the violence they face at least controlled by rules and referees?
Rather than demonizing black youth, we need to have a serious conversation about how the dangerous and insecure conditions they face are driving many to seek solace in sports, violence, and drugs. Hypervigilant policing and mass incarceration alongside the ongoing divestment from social services and public education and the decline of jobs that provide both dignity and a living wage are all wreaking havoc on black youth across the United States.
To raise awareness about the #millionhoodies march and general online campaign I’ve posted the picture below on my social networks. This was the response on one of them.
[REDACTED]: Um no. This guy IS suspicious. I would totally purse clutch and traffic dodge to avoid and I’m not sure of the message here. March for hoodies?
[REDACTED]: I grasp the point racism is rasicm, no dress code needed. But we need to watch our PR and how our message is distributed. The above is not helping or helpful to disseminate the message. It’s an image of a thug in a hoodie. Treyon was not a thug, he was a child and this is the image that should be used. And the main goal is to make the “point” as EASY to grasp as possible. We can march and protest and leverage petitions, but if our attitude is, “read between the lines to get my point”, then we move no one. We also need to utilize the most powerful, personable images we have. This guy is not one of them.
Elon James White (me): Oh HI [REDACTED] I’m the image of the “Thug in a hoodie.” Do you know who I am? Do you know what I do? You said that THAT’s an image of a thug in a hoodie and TREYVON WASNT A THUG. Ma’am, I’m not a thug. I’m an engaged political commentator with a background in I.T. I throw dinner parties and build studios from scratch. But YOU saw a thug in a hoodie.
Do you understand the problem now?
[REDACTED]: I’m sure youve very accomplished, and my comments don’t take away from that. But I see a thug in a hoodie. You may not like it, and I dont know you, but I can ONLY see the photo. We disagree. I can stomach that.
Elon: Can you read your own words? The type of thought process you have right now is why Tayvon Martin was stalked and killed. He “looked like a thug” even though he wasn’t. To MANY people a Negro in a hoodie is a thug. That is not right. That is not okay. That is the POINT of the march today. That is the point of the online campaign to wear hoodies in solidarity.
Under no circumstances should I or ANYONE be looked at as a threat because they put a hoodie on.
And by the way? [REDACTED] is black.
By now my son has played long enough that most of the coaches know that when they bring “The Big O” on their team, they’re not getting a kid who will be making endless layups and three point shots. I’m OK with that. I smile ear to ear through every game and cheer my heart out for him and his teammates.
Real talk: I’m probably a little too happy that I have a black male child who so effortlessly goes against the stereotype of being a budding basketball star. I admit I’ve focused more on cultivating a nerd than an athlete. And, if I’m going to have a conversation with Mr. O about where he needs to put in work and step up his game, that conversation is going to focus on academics, not on sports.
So, what does all this have to do with Linsanity? Well, I live in a fairly diverse neighborhood and several times a week I get to see other kids who happen to be Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Filipino playing ball. Some are in the same boat ability-wise as Mr. O—but a few of them have some serious skills.
What’s sad is that because of racial stereotyping, if I take one of the Asian American kids who’s really good at basketball and stick them next to my son, the average person will make racist assumptions about both. Black boys aren’t born with two basketballs in their scrotum and Asian boys don’t come out reciting Pi to 10 digits—but you know as well as I do that this is how our racist culture portrays both groups. My son will be perceived as the future basketball player and the Asian kid will be seen as the future marine biologist.
Like so many other people out there, I hope Lin’s success helps more folks stop determining what people can do—or should be doing—because of their racial or ethnic background. It’s also nice to see how Lin’s become a positive example for all the Asian American kids I see hooping every week—so many kids and their parents were talking about him at Mr. O’s last game and their smiles and obvious pride were heartwarming. And, of course, it’s great for my sons—and all the other non-Asian kids—to see an adult Asian male doing something that is so opposite of the racial stereotype-based messages they get of what Asian men do.