Black Men on Race, Gender, and Sexuality

Black Men on Race, Gender, and Sexuality: A Critical Reader

Foreword by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 480
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    Black Men on Race, Gender, and Sexuality
    Book Description:

    In late 1995, the Million Man March drew hundreds of thousands of black men to Washington, DC, and seemed even to skeptics a powerful sign not only of black male solidarity, but also of black racial solidarity. Yet while generating a sense of community and common purpose, the Million Man March, with its deliberate exclusion of women and implicit rejection of black gay men, also highlighted one of the central faultlines in African American politics: the role of gender and sexuality in antiracist agenda. In this groundbreaking anthology, a companion to the highly successful Critical Race Feminism, Devon Carbado changes the terms of the debate over racism, gender, and sexuality in black America. The essays cover such topics as the legal construction of black male identity, domestic abuse in the black community, the enduring power of black machismo, the politics of black male/white female relationships, racial essentialism, the role of black men in black women's quest for racial equality, and the heterosexist nature of black political engagement. Featuring work by Cornel West, Huey Newton, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., Houston Baker, Marlon T. Riggs, Dwight McBride, Michael Awkward, Ishmael Reed, Derrick Bell, and many others, Devon Carbado's anthology stakes out new territory in the American racial landscape.--Critical America, A series edited by Richard Delgado and Jean Stephancic.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9042-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. ii-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Foreword: Why We Can’t Wait: Integrating Gender and Sexuality into Antiracist Politics
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw

    I am rummaging through a box of mementos, looking for my dog-eared copy of Martin Luther King’s “Why We Can’t Wait.” I want to draw from it for the challenging task of introducing a series of essays written by Black men on gender and sexuality. A button catches my eye, “Integrate Now!” it demands. I warm to the memory of just how this simple demand has captured in its anachronism the very critique of a post-segregation liberal institution. As Harvard Law students in 1981, we proudly wore these buttons, recognizing that the sting of the message lay in the recovery...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Where and When Black Men Enter
    (pp. 1-18)

    What does it mean to be Black? What is the nature of “the Black experience”? What political ideology holds the greatest emancipatory possibility for Blacks in America? These questions have long been debated in Black political discourse. But, in the 1960s, they began to take an explicitlyen-genderedform;² more and more Black women began to ask gender-specific questions about race—how does gender shape Black women’s racial experiences?—and gender-specific questions about Black racial politics—why do certain Black political engagements reflect and reproduce gender hierarchy within the Black community?

    By the 1970s, these inquiries had produced asustained...

  6. I The Million Man March:: Racial Solidarity or Division?
    • [I Introduction]
      (pp. 19-21)

      Focusing on the Million Man March, Part I represents an attempt to articulate the importance of the March as a sociopolitical Black community event. The essays in this part raise two interrelated questions: (1) Did the March transcend Minister Louis Farrakhan and his political ideology? and (2) Did the politics of the March legitimize rather than challenge the notion that the cumulative racial experiences of Black men are deserving of more Black political solicitude than the cumulative racial experiences of Black women?

      Part I begins with two op-eds, one by A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., the other by Cornel West. Higginbotham...

    • 1 To March or Not to March: Two Op-eds
      (pp. 22-27)
      A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. and Cornel West

      Thirty-two years ago, with pride and without hesitation, I participated in the inspiring 1963 March on Washington, holding the hands of my two children, Stephen and Karen, then aged 11 and 8. I was exhilarated by the occasion, proud to be a participant, and admired all of the organizers of that March.

      Yet I could not participate in the Million Man March. This was an anguishing decision for me to make. My problem was my inability to separate the message of hope for all African Americans from some of the dialogue of the predominant messenger, Mr. Farrakhan.

      The March promoted...

    • 2 “Claiming” and “Speaking” Who We Are: Black Gays and Lesbians, Racial Politics, and the Million Man March
      (pp. 28-45)
      Darren Lenard Hutchinson

      In recent years, there has been a proliferation of literature by gay and lesbian people of color exploring the relationship between racism and heterosexist oppression. This literature is part of a broader artistic, political, and scholarly movement that documents the existence and the varied experiences of gay and lesbian people of color. Jewelle Gomez’s work falls squarely within this movement.

      In the essayBecause Silence Is Costly,⁴ Gomez, a black lesbian, critically analyzes selections by black gay and lesbian writers that contain explicit themes of “black gay” culture.⁵ Gomez focuses her discussion on literary works that portray “coming out” stories...

    • 3 Buck Passing: The Media, Black Men, O. J., and the Million Man March
      (pp. 46-53)
      Ishmael Reed

      Black men have become the sacrificial lambs for all male evil. Men from other ethnic groups whose treatment of women is, in some cases, worse than that accorded black women by black men join the attack on black men as a way of covering their own record of abuse against women; they pass the buck to black men. With respect to rape, for example, and as the white feminist Andrea Dworkin has observed, white men often employ and invoke the image of the black male rapist to obscure, deny, or excuse their own participation in this crime.

      The white male...

    • 4 My Two Mothers, America, and the Million Man March
      (pp. 54-67)
      Luke Charles Harris

      The ways in which race, class, and gender intersect to confound and restrict Black women’s lives are so severe that no single political agenda is adequate to address this “intricate complex.”¹ On a very personal level, I was sensitized to the workings of that “intricate complex” through the life experiences of the two women who are most responsible for my existence.

      Eva B. Cox was a loving great-aunt and surrogate mother. She rescued my younger brother Larry and me from life in an orphanage and then raised us on welfare in Camden, New Jersey, while working off the books as...

    • 5 Sadomasochism and the Colorline: Reflections on the Million Man March
      (pp. 68-84)
      Anthony Paul Farley

      Addiction is the watchword of our age. We are addicted to images of ourselves. We gaze upon the spectacle of our assigned identities, and we are transfixed by the images we have been ordered to become. These orders, like our aching hunger to fulfill them, seem to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. Power’s mechanism hides itself in our oppression sickness. The colorline is the object of our most desperate desires. As we gaze upon the colorline, we encounter ourselves, black and white together, as racialized beings. The spectacle of the colorline fills us with itself, and we become...

    • 6 “Marchin’ On”: Toward a Politics for the Twenty-First Century
      (pp. 85-98)
      Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

      The “legacy” of the Million Man March is ambiguous. A few years have passed, and we are not quite sure what was accomplished. Some claim that the decrease in violent crime, particularly black-onblack crime, in most of our major cities is a result of the March, while others see the swell in local activity among African American men as an effect of the gathering. But we are not sure if either of those trends can be attributed to the March. We are certain of only two things: that a large number, be it four hundred thousand or one million black...

    • 7 Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man
      (pp. 99-116)
      Henry Louis Gates Jr.

      “Every day, in every way, we are getting meta and meta,” the philosopher John Wisdom used to say, venturing a cultural counterpart to Émile Coue’s famous mantra of self-improvement. So it makes sense that, in the aftermath of the Simpson trial, the focus of attention has been swiftly displaced from the verdict to the reaction to the verdict, and then to the reaction to the reaction to the verdict, and, finally, to the reaction to the reaction to the reaction to the verdict— which is to say, black indignation at white anger at black jubilation at Simpson’s acquittal. It’s a...

  7. II Engendering Black Racial Victimhood
    • [II Introduction]
      (pp. 117-119)

      Beginning with Harlon Dalton, the authors in Part II explore the antiracist construction of Black racial victimhood. Dalton suggests that the Black community’s prioritization of race over gender or sexual identity is disturbing because it asks individuals to forsake important parts of their identity and suffer injustices in silence in order to remain authentically Black. He criticizes the view that, because Black men are an “endangered species,” their experiences should be privileged over other Black experiences, and he urges antiracist proponents to think about Black community membership inclusively. Dalton argues that Black women and Black gay men have as much...

    • 8 Pull Together as the Community
      (pp. 120-127)
      Harlon L. Dalton

      Black people should be honest about the fact that we are not all in the same boat when it comes to dealing with racial abuse. Some of us are shielded from it most of the time; others face it on a daily basis. Most of us live somewhere between those extremes. Even in situations where we do occupy the same boat, we differ greatly in our capacity to protect ourselves if and when it begins to take on water. Some of us are outfitted with life preservers, flares, and maybe even an inflatable raft, whereas others have no choice but...

    • 9 “You’re Turning Me On”: The Boxer, the Beauty Queen, and the Rituals of Gender
      (pp. 128-146)
      Michael Awkward

      Thenew york timessports columnist Robert Lipsyte predicted two days after Mike Tyson’s conviction for raping the 1991 Miss Black America pageant contestant Desirée Washington that the former heavyweight boxing champion would become “a symbolic character in various morality plays, a villain-victim of the Gender War, the Race War, the Class War and the Backlash against Celebrity Excess.”³ Lipsyte’s analysis was indeed prophetic, as “warrior” respondents expressed strong feelings about the relationship of the Tyson event to these individual “wars.” Elements of the trial testimony—particularly recollections by defense and prosecution witnesses alike of Tyson’s own words and actions...

    • 10 The Social Construction of a Rape Victim: Stories of African-American Males about the Rape of Desirée Washington
      (pp. 147-158)
      Kevin Brown

      Becoming an individual in American society, or any other society, is not done in a vacuum. What passes as our individual consciousness is developed under the guidance of cultural patterns and historically created systems of meanings. We are not free agents bound only by our own understanding of what we perceive as reality. Rather, our consciousness is influenced and conditioned within the context of the systems of ideas and thought that we draw upon in order to process the complex information that we receive.¹ These cultural patterns and systems of meanings precede our interpretation of reality, and we often draw...

    • 11 The Construction of O. J. Simpson as a Racial Victim
      (pp. 159-193)
      Devon W. Carbado

      Subsequent to the announcement of the not-guilty verdict in the O. J. Simpson criminal case, a considerable amount of legal and nonlegal commentary focused on the extent to which the Black community’s response to the verdict differed from the white community’s response. The explanations for this difference varied, though most were based on the idea that the difference reflected a racial divide in American society. In this essay, I offer another way of thinking about the Black community’s response to this case—that it reflects the subordination of gender issues, including domestic abuse, in antiracist discourse. The arguments I advance...

    • 12 Missing in Action: Race, Gender, and Black Students’ Educational Opportunities
      (pp. 194-211)
      Walter R. Allen

      Du bois’s quote provides a useful point of departure to consider the status of African American men. Distressing statistics reveal that Black men are disproportionate victims of premature death by homicide, disease, or fatal accidents. Black males are also overrepresented in the nation’s prisons, foster care homes, and asylums. Black men have higher rates of unemployment, lower incomes, less prestigious jobs, and dimmer economic futures than do white men. In short, by most indicators of life quality, African American males suffer extreme disadvantages. We are, without doubt, a problem-ridden group.

      This is not to say, of course, that Black males...

    • 13 The Message of the Verdict: A Three-Act Morality Play Starring Clarence Thomas, Willie Smith, and Mike Tyson
      (pp. 212-236)
      Charles R. Lawrence III

      This is an essay about racism, sexism, and black sexuality. It is a part of my own effort to understand how the American mythology of black sexuality is related to the mutually reinforcing ideologies and systems of white supremacy and patriarchy. The roles assigned to black women and men in the black sexuality myth define and limit our humanity. They turn us against one another. They inhibit our creative definition of ourselves.

      I want to explore the ways in which we are creatures of and captives to these roles. I want to understand how we internalize the myth even as...

    • 14 The Sexual Diversion: The Black Man/Black Woman Debate in Context
      (pp. 237-248)
      Derrick Bell

      Rayford logan, the great black historian, called the period at the turn of the last century the nadir for black people. Hundreds of blacks were lynched, thousands were victims of racist violence and intimidation, and literally millions were exploited on farms and at mostly menial labor where their pay failed to cover the food and other necessities they were often required to purchase from their employers.

      For Dr. Logan, the nadir meant the bottom, a status that arguably was only a small step up from slavery itself. It is a measure of the fragility of our current condition that a...

  8. III Antiracist Discourse Outed
    • [III Introduction]
      (pp. 249-252)

      Part III focuses specifically on the question of race and sexual orientation—that is, the extent to which antiracist discourse excludes or nominally includes the experiences of Black lesbians and gays. Dwight McBride argues that certain antiracist proponents essentialize Blackness in order to legitimize and authenticate their (straight male) voice as representative of “the race.” He argues that this essentialization and the politics of Black racial authenticity result in the exclusion of “other” Black voices—in particular, Black lesbian and gay voices, because such voices do not comport with hetero-centered notions of what it means to be Black. McBride urges...

    • 15 Can the Queen Speak? Racial Essentialism, Sexuality, and the Problem of Authority
      (pp. 253-275)
      Dwight A. McBride

      The fundamental question driving this essay is, who speaks for “the race,” and on what authority? In partial answer to this query, I have argued elsewhere³ that African American intellectuals participate, even if out of political necessity, in forms of racial essentialism to authorize and legitimate their positions in speaking for or representing “the race.” This essay is in some ways the culmination of a tripartite discussion of that argument. Of course, the arguments made here and in those earlier essays need not be limited solely to the field of African American intellectuals. Indeed, the discursive practices described in these...

    • 16 Signifying on the Black Church
      (pp. 276-282)
      Charles I. Nero

      Historically, religion has served as a liberating force in the African American community. According to Albert Raboteau, Black slaves as early as 1774 publicly and politically declared that Christianity and the institution of slavery were incompatible. “In that year,” Raboteau notes, “the governor of Massachusetts received ‘The Petition of a Grate [sic] Number of Blacks of this Province who by divine permission are held in a state of slavery within the bowels of a free and Christian Country.’”¹ In the petition, slaves argued for their freedom by combining the political rhetoric of the Revolution with an appeal to the claims...

    • 17 Black Rights, Gay Rights, Civil Rights: The Deployment of Race/Sexual Orientation Analogies in the Debates about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy
      (pp. 283-302)
      Devon W. Carbado

      In the context of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” controversy, gay rights proponents argued that the military’shistoricaldiscriminatory policies against Blacks is like the military’scurrentdiscriminatory policy against gays and lesbians; that the rhetoric the military employed to justify and legitimize the politics of segregation in the armed forces is the same as the rhetoric the military employs today to legitimize and justify the politics of “the closet” in the armed forces.

      Several Black anti-racist proponents who intervened in the public debates about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy challenged the Black/gay analogies the gay rights proponents advanced....

    • 18 My Gay Problem, Your Black Problem
      (pp. 303-305)
      Earl Ofari Hutchinson

      Have black attitudes toward gays undergone much change today? Hardly. Rappers such as Ice Cube still rap that “Real niggers ain’t faggots.” Leading Afrocentrists have sworn that “homosexuality is a deviation from Afrocentricity.” Bushels of Black ministers, with generous support from their white Christian fundamentalist brethren, still brand homosexuality “a sin before God.” And some Blacks have escalated their low-intensity warfare against gays to an all-out “take-no-prisoners” battle.

      Notwithstanding this antigay sentiment in the Black community, Black gay men continue to participate in Black political events. Consider, for example, the Million Man March. Despite the fact that one of the...

    • 19 Black Macho Revisited: Reflections of a SNAP! Queen
      (pp. 306-311)
      Marlon T. Riggs

      Negro faggotry is in fashion.


      Turn on your television and camp queens greet you in living color.


      Turn to cable and watch America’s most bankable modern minstrel expound on getting “fucked in the ass” or his fear of faggots.


      Turn off the TV, turn on the radio: Rotund rapper Heavy D, the self-styled “overweight lover MC,” expounds on howhisrap will make you “happy like a faggot in jail.” Perhaps to preempt questions about how he would know—you might wonder what kind of “lover” he truly is—Heavy D reassures us that he’s just “extremely...

    • 20 On Eldridge Cleaver: He Is No James Baldwin
      (pp. 312-316)
      Huey P. Newton

      Eldridge cleaver’s prison masterpiece,Soul on Ice,¹ was a manifesto of its time. The book is riddled with powerful insights and contradictions typical of the transitional period of the 1960s; it is a link in that long chain of prison literature brought to its zenith in the 1970s by George Jackson. George Jackson was Eldridge Cleaver’s dream come true; since his release from prison, Cleaver has been acting out his own nightmares. The essay on James Baldwin inSoul on Iceis an angle of refraction into the springs of that nightmare.

      The essay to which I refer, “Notes on...

    • 21 Baraka’s Dilemma: To Be or Not to Be?
      (pp. 317-323)
      Ron Simmons

      Too often the homophobia and heterosexism within the African American community force men to be the “hardest hard.” They must nullify any feelings and emotions others may consider unmanly. To prove their manhood, they will often attack that which they fear in themselves. Amiri Baraka (born Everett LeRoy Jones) constantly denounces homosexuality in his writings. He despises “faggots” and believes being called one is the worst insult a man can suffer. In “A Poem for Black Hearts,” Baraka praises the late Malcolm X as a “black god” whose death black men must avenge or be called “faggots till the end...

    • 22 AIDS in Blackface
      (pp. 324-337)
      Harlon L. Dalton

      My ambition in the pages that follow is to account for why we African-Americans have been reluctant to “own” the AIDS epidemic, to acknowledge the devastating toll it is taking on our communities,¹ and to take responsibility for altering its course. By the end, I hope to convince you that what may appear to the uninitiated to be a crazy, self-defeating refusal to stand up and be counted is in fact sane, sensible, and determinedly self-protective. The black community’s impulse to distance itself from the epidemic is less a response to AIDS, the medical phenomenon, than a reaction to the...

    • 23 Fixing the Faggot: Black Subjectivity as “Autocartography” in the Work of Lyle Ashton Harris
      (pp. 338-346)
      B. E. Myers

      At a recent conference entitled “Finding Fanon,” a nationalist-minded friend of mine asked me, “Don’t you find some conflict between being black and your identity as a ‘gay’ man?” Despite the fact that his question was unoriginal, his inquiry did leave the residue of a real conceptual impasse:how does one admit to and then account for the fact that the various identities we claim are always contingent, never stable, and usually disabling if trusted too heartily?Later in the conference, a conversation ensued which helped frame my friend’s assertion that being black conflicted with being gay. Panelists and conference...

    • 24 The Elixir of Dennis Rodman: Race, Sexual Orientation, and Anti-Essentialism
      (pp. 347-358)
      Jerome McCristal Culp

      The moon was still in the dark evening sky over the conference center near the University of Colorado Law School. Ducks, who mate for life, were dancing among the water and the reeds of the brook near the conference center. I was thinking of those complete matings as I thought of how gender, sexual orientation, and race work together. It was the early summer and I was attending my first Critical Race Theory Conference, and my somewhat arrogant paper, “The Michael Jackson Pill,” had been presented along with a number of other papers by members of the conference to an...

  9. IV Black Male Feminism, Sexism, or Paternalism?
    • [IV Introduction]
      (pp. 359-361)

      Each of the essays in this part responds—directly or indirectly—to hooks’s call. Michael Awkward’s and Luke Harris’s essay explicitly address the question of how Black men might engage in feminism. Awkward suggests that Black male feminist acts must begin by interrogating what it means to be a Black man in a gendered and racialized social context. That is, Black men should be self-referential, examining and being critical of the ways in which they benefit from androcentric norms. Awkward explains that, while gender complicates Black male feminism, it is possible for Black men to provide useful insights into the...

    • 25 A Black Man’s Place in Black Feminist Criticism
      (pp. 362-382)
      Michael Awkward

      Many essays by male and female scholars devoted to exploring the subject of male critics’ place in feminism generally agree about the uses and usefulness of the autobiographical male “I.” Such essays suggest that citing the male critical self reflects a response to (apparent) self-difference, an exploration of the disparities between the masculine’s antagonistic position in feminist discourse on the one hand and, on the other, the desire of the individual male critic to represent his difference with and from the traditional androcentric perspectives of his gender and culture. Put another way, in male feminist acts, to identify the writing...

    • 26 The Challenge and Possibility for Black Males to Embrace Feminism
      (pp. 383-386)
      Luke Charles Harris

      Much of the idea that Black politics should center on men seems driven by the notion that a Black male–centered political agenda best promotes Black unity and empowerment. The costs of this misguided logic are enormous. For pseudo-nationalistic male-centered visions of politics lead us to support figures, like Justice Clarence Thomas, whose political agendas we would otherwise condemn. Moreover, they teach our young at least the following two powerful and disturbing lessons: (1) to support undeserving Black men for the sake of the “race” and (2) to trivialize the concerns of Black women, and the Black feminist movement writ...

    • 27 The Women’s Liberation and the Gay Liberation Movements
      (pp. 387-389)
      Huey P. Newton

      Whatever your personal opinions and your insecurities about homosexuality and the various liberation movements among homosexuals and women (and I speak of homosexuals and women as oppressed groups), we should try to unite with them in a revolutionary fashion. I say “whatever your insecurities are” because as we very well know, sometimes our first instinct is to want to hit a homosexual in the mouth, and want a woman to be quiet. We want to hit a homosexual in the mouth because we are afraid we might be homosexual, and we want to hit the woman or shut her up...

    • 28 Some African American Males’ Perspectives on the Black Woman
      (pp. 390-407)
      Rufus Burrow Jr.

      The purpose of this essay is twofold: (1) to present how Black women are represented in the political philosophies of four popular African American men: Fredrick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, and James Hal Cone; and (2) to discuss the role(s) African American men should play in eradicating sexism in the Black church and the Black community.

      While the charge is often made that Black men are (and historically have been) sexist in their treatment of Black women, there has been little attempt to explore the relationship between the nature of Black male sexism, on the one...

    • 29 Silent Acquiescence: The Too-High Price of Prestige
      (pp. 408-413)
      Derrick Bell

      It is not pleasant to consider that one’s protest action can cause more consternation to those you consider to be on your side than it does to those you know are in your way. As Camus warned, we must often go forward “with weapons in our hands and a lump in our throats.”¹ We must face the difficult dilemma of choosing between two evils: injuring others as the price of serving our cause, which Camus labels expediency, or “ineffectual purity.” If we do nothing, we not only sacrifice the cause to which we are committed but do so knowing that...

    • 30 “You Cain’t Trus’ It”: Expert Witnessing in the Case of Rap
      (pp. 414-416)
      Houston A. Baker Jr.

      I want to say a few things about an essay I read in theBoston Review(December 1991) entitled “Beyond Racism and Misogyny: Black Feminism and 2 Live Crew” by Kimberlé Crenshaw. I came upon the essay with an open mind and read it, as well as the enthusiastic response to Crenshaw by Henry Louis Gates in a single sitting. When I had finished the essays, my mind was decidedly closed against what seemed to be a drearily conventional mode of response by adult scholars to popular cultural forms.

      The conventional response is what I call a “start in the...

  10. Epilogue: Straight Out of the Closet: Men, Feminism, and Male Heterosexual Privilege
    (pp. 417-448)

    The essays in this collection reveal how Black men prioritize and negotiate gender and sexuality in their antiracist politics. The collection does not, however, constitute a Black male feminist text. For one thing, not all the essays reflect feminist ideological commitments. For another, not all the contributors would identify as feminists or profeminists. A Black male feminist collection remains to be published.

    However, several of the contributors to this volume, most notably Michael Awkward and Luke Harris, have begun the project of theorizing about the possibilities for a contemporary (Black) male feminist criticism. This epilogue is my contribution to this...

  11. Contributors
    (pp. 449-458)
  12. Permissions
    (pp. 459-460)
  13. Index
    (pp. 461-464)