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Masculinity in the Black Imagination: Politics of Communicating Race and Manhood (review)
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The plight of Black men in America is an issue of growing concern in various fields of study. Masculinity in the Black Imagination, edited by Ronald L. Jackson and Mark C. Hopson, uses an interdisciplinary approach to understand Black masculinity. The authors provide readers with alternative frameworks to view the performance, understanding, and interpretation of Black masculinity while taking into account the effects of racism in the United States. Jackson and Hopson propose that only by expanding our imagination can we break free of the racist and confining discourse on Black masculinity.

The book is introduced with a brief assessment of how Black masculinity has been defined by the White dominant culture. Black men are reduced to being violent, angry, unintelligent, and oversexed. Previous works by Ron Jackson, Patricia Hill Collins, and bell hooks have addressed how dominant White ideology imposed on Black communities oppresses Black men. Building from this perspective, the chapters in this book offer counter-stories to the negative stereotypes and popular depictions of Black men. This work contributes to the literature on Black masculinity by giving voice to other experiences and ways of being for Black men and how they express their masculinity.

With focuses in history, sociology, communications, psychology, and ethnography, the authors provide a diversity of perspectives on Black masculinity. One of the main concepts organizing this book is how to shift from a singular and racist idea of “Black masculinity” to a liberated understanding of the plurality of Black masculinities. In order to move beyond a pathologized concept of Black masculinity, the editors and authors call us to reimagine what Black masculinity means.

In chapter 1, Robert Staples presents a historical analysis of racism in Australia in comparison to racism in the United States. Although an interesting perspective, Staples’s analysis of race relations in the United States seems too simplistic. He argues that racism cannot be the only cause of disparities in achievement for Black men since Black women have seen positive gains in education, employment, and income. This fails to critically analyze the ways in which Black men and women continue to be disadvantaged by the dominant culture. Additionally, Staples appears to place blame on Black males for their current social condition. This chapter is in sharp contrast to the rest of the book; while presenting the negative issues that Black men encounter due to perceptions of their masculinity, the other authors offer ways to counter negative stereotypes and perceptions and provide ways that we can think critically about Black masculinity.

The book continues with an analysis of Black Greek Letter Fraternities (BGLF) and their role in challenging the existing examinations of Black masculinity and moving beyond the dichotomous paradigm—a focus on either emasculation or hyper-masculinity of Black men. The authors call for moving beyond one-dimensional images of Blackness as either good or bad—a mindset that only serves to privilege White normative frameworks. Hughey and Parks further explain that BGLFs can work to reconstruct Blackness as something non-fixed, instead of constantly being defined by and in opposition to Whites.

Kimberly Chandler interviews Black men to see how they perform gender and masculinity in chapter 3. A common theme from Chandler’s work is the need of some Black men to act in a way that counters common stereotypes about Blacks. Chandler notes that these men perform masculinity in opposition to stereotypes, but that this behavior ignores and fails to critically examine the institutional and philosophical effects of racism on Black men.

Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7 focus on Black masculinity in different forms of media. These chapters provide ways of thinking critically about the images and messages of Black masculinity that are present in daily life. By offering and demanding other options to the polemic on Black masculinity, these authors move beyond the negative and crude representation of Black men. Mika’Il Abdullah Petin suggests that despite growing options in entertainment, particularly television, the visibility of varied male expressions of Blackness continues to diminish. In light of the impact media has on society’s impressions and understanding of race and gender, the analysis provided in these chapters offers different frameworks for scholars and the general...