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Looking for Leroy

Illegible Black Masculinities

Mark Anthony Neal

Publication Year: 2013

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, R&B 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 Neal is Professor of African & African American Studies at Duke University. He is the author of several books including New Black Man and Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic and the host of the weekly webcast Left of Black. 

Published by: NYU Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface: Waiting for Leroy

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pp. ix-x

The germ of the idea that became Looking for Leroy goes back nearly a decade. As initially conceived, many of the interventions that I attempt in this book were intended for a volume that also included many of the interventions I made in New Black Man (2005). Somewhere in late 2003...


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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. 1-12

I can’t remember exactly when I first saw Leroy. It was likely sometime during that first season of the television series Fame, where the actor and dancer Gene Anthony Ray reprised the role of Leroy that he introduced in the original film version of...

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1. A Foot Deep in the Culture: The Thug Knowledge(s) of A Man Called Hawk

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pp. 13-34

In the fall of 1985 the television series Spenser for Hire debuted on based on a character featured in a series of novels authored by in the late 1970s series Vegas. At the height of the popularity of Parker’s Spenser novels in the late 1980s, much was made of how much Parker’s identity informed that of Spenser. As one writer ...

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2. “My Passport Says Shawn”: Toward a Hip-Hop Cosmopolitanism

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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...

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3. The Block Is Hot: Legibility and Loci in The Wire

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pp. 87-116

Thirteen years after the thirteen episodes of A Man Called Hawk aired on ABC, The Wire debuted 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...

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

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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...

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5. Fear of a Queer Soul Man: The Legacy of Luther Vandross

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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...

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Postscript: Looking for Denzel, Finding Barack

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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...


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pp. 181-196


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pp. 197-206

About the Author

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pp. 207-222

E-ISBN-13: 9780814789407
E-ISBN-10: 0814758355
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814758359
Print-ISBN-10: 0814758355

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Men -- Identity.
  • Masculinity.
  • African American men in popular culture.
  • African American men.
  • African American gay men.
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