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Looking for Leroy

Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities

Mark Anthony Neal
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Looking for Leroy
    Book Description:

    Mark Anthony Neal's Looking for Leroy is an engaging and provocative analysis of the complex ways in which black masculinity has been read and misread through contemporary American popular culture. Neal argues that black men and boys are bound, in profound ways, to and by their legibility. The most legible black male bodies are often rendered as criminal, bodies in need of policing and containment. Ironically, Neal argues, this sort of legibility brings welcome relief to white America, providing easily identifiable images of black men in an era defined by shifts in racial, sexual, and gendered identities. Neal highlights the radical potential of rendering legible black male bodies - those bodies that are all too real for us - as illegible, while simultaneously rendering illegible black male bodies - those versions of black masculinity that we can't believe are real - as legible. In examining figures such as hip-hop entrepreneur and artist Jay-Z, RandB Svengali R. Kelly, the late vocalist Luther Vandross, and characters from the hit HBO series The Wire, among others, Neal demonstrates how distinct representations of black masculinity can break the links in the public imagination that create antagonism toward black men. Looking for Leroy features close readings of contemporary black masculinity and popular culture, highlighting both the complexity and accessibility of black men and boys through visual and sonic cues within American culture, media, and public policy. By rendering legible the illegible, Neal maps the range of identifications and anxieties that have marked the performance and reception of post-Civil Rights era African American masculinity.Mark Anthony Nealis Professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University. He is the author of several books including New Black Man andSoul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aestheticand the host of the weekly webcast Left of Black.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8940-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: Waiting for Leroy
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    I can’t remember exactly when I first saw Leroy. It was likely sometime during that first season of the television seriesFame,where the actor and dancer Gene Anthony Ray reprised the role of Leroy that he introduced in the original film version ofFame(1980). As a teenager growing up in the Bronx, I had few available examples of masculinity that didn’t play to basic heteronormative assumptions, though there was the transgendered man who lived in the house next to my tenement building, who always elicited hushed tones among my peers and their parents. But indeed by the age...

  6. 1 A Foot Deep in the Culture: The Thug Knowledge(s) of A Man Called Hawk
    (pp. 13-34)

    In the fall of 1985 the television seriesSpenser for Hiredebuted on the ABC network. The main character of the hour-long drama, an urbane Boston-based private detective named Spenser, was based on a character featured in a series of novels authored by Robert Parker. Spenser was portrayed by the actor Robert Urich as an upscale version of Dan Tanna, a character Urich played in the late 1970s seriesVegas. At the height of the popularity of Parker’sSpensernovels in the late 1980s, much was made of how much Parker’s identity informed that of Spenser. As one writer described...

  7. 2 “My Passport Says Shawn”: Toward a Hip-Hop Cosmopolitanism
    (pp. 35-86)

    Can a nigga be cosmopolitan? Such a question might have been unthinkable two decades ago, even as hip-hop itself—the cultural phenomenon largely responsible for circulating the idea of the “nigga” as a trope of contemporary transnational blackness— was largely premised on the innovations and contributions of a wide range of diasporic bodies. Manthia Diawara made such an observation in his essay “Homeboy Cosmopolitan,” in which he constructs a cosmopolitanism for hip-hop that is an

    “expression of poor people’s desire for the good life,” noting that the “search for the good life is not only in keeping with the nationalist...

  8. 3 The Block Is Hot: Legibility and Loci in The Wire
    (pp. 87-116)

    Thirteen years after the thirteen episodes ofA Man Called Hawkaired on ABC,The Wiredebuted on the cable television network HBO. By then, HBO had established itself as the premier cable network, largely on the strength of groundbreaking hour-long dramas like the cerebral Mafioso seriesThe Sopranos; Six Feet Under, which focused on a family-owned funeral home in Los Angeles; and the prison dramaOz.Arguably HBO helped redefine the possibilities of the hour-long drama format, in the process carving out a small niche for original African American programming. Exploiting the failure of network television to develop quality...

  9. 4 R. Kelly’s Closet: Shame, Desire, and the Confessions of a (Postmodern) Soul Man
    (pp. 117-142)

    In 2008 the R& B singer Robert Sylvester Kelly was acquitted of over a dozen charges of child pornography. The case centered on a widely circulated and bootlegged video that purported to show Kelly performing sex acts with an underage black female. Kelly’s case elicited much discussion about child pornography and rape in black communities, and conversations as well on the role of parenting—or the lack of it—when children become prey to adult sex offenders. According to jurors in the case, they didn’t find Kelly’s accuser believable as a victim. Such a reading of Kelly’s accuser falls in...

  10. 5 Fear of a Queer Soul Man: The Legacy of Luther Vandross
    (pp. 143-168)

    Their names ring out like a chorus of singer’s singers—Johnny Mathis, Jimmy Scott, Eddie Kendricks, Al Green, Ronnie Dyson, Rahsaan Patterson, the fabulous Sylvester, and, perhaps most spectacularly, Luther Vandross. These men, whose wildly emotive voices summoned both spirits and gods, have also inspired rumor and innuendo among those who would believe that their voices—soft, expressive, and feminine—betrayed the strength and vigor of black masculinity. Luther Vandross, a child of the post–World War II period, who came of age during the height of the Black Power movement, was more than aware of the soul men–turned...

  11. Postscript: Looking for Denzel, Finding Barack
    (pp. 169-180)

    Throughout his career, Denzel Washington has been a paragon of a well-mannered, good-intentioned, and deftly committed “race man,” a term from the beginning of the twentieth century that describes black men of stature and integrity who represented the best that African Americans had to offer in the face of Jim Crow segregation. The term has lost some of its resonance in a post–civil rights, post-race, post-blackness world, but it remains an unspoken measure of commitment to uplifting the race. Race men inspire pride; their work, their actions, and their speech represent excellence instead of evoking shame and embarrassment. Thus...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 181-196)
  13. Index
    (pp. 197-206)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 207-207)