- Black Masculinity and Sexual Politics
In this book, Lemelle offers one of the most unique and critical examinations of Black masculinity and sexual politics in the United States in recent years. This book review will provide a brief summary of the book, detail the strengths and challenges associated with the understanding of Black masculinity, and offer an evaluation of the relevance of the book in higher education and society.
In Black Masculinity and Sexual Politics, Lemelle submits that sociopolitical forces throughout history have utilized feminization and hypermasculinized images of Black males in a process of subjugation in order to maintain Black males in an underclass status. Using empirical data, Lemelle maintains that the dominant group juxtaposes hegemonic masculinity with Black masculinity despite the differences. The unsuitable comparison of Black masculinity to White masculinity creates a cycle of inequity and inequality based on the power associated with the dominant class. This thoughtful approach to Black masculinity, among other things, provides readers with a more nuanced way of thinking about and understanding African American males in contemporary American society. More importantly, this framework enables readers to formulate solutions to challenges currently faced by this often misunderstood and much-maligned U.S. population.
The book begins with a discussion of gender and sex and how these factors strongly influence the understanding of Black masculinity. Lemelle introduces the idea of masculinity as a power relationship and discusses how these relationships, with varying actors, are critical to the ways in which groups actualize their masculinity. Substantial Dutiful Family Ideology is introduced as an important paradigm to understand masculinity, however, Lemelle argues this framework has little application to Black males. [End Page 202]
The book continues with a discussion of the historical relevance of masculinity and how whiteness has served as a measure for Black masculinity. This informs the stereotypes of Black masculinity and served as a norm-building guide, especially in relationship to the behavior of Black male youth. Understanding Black masculinity must happen through the lens of race hierarchy, domination, and cultural capital. These three factors along with other societal institutions serve as controlling powers and work to reproduce the symbolic representation of Black males as subaltern. Penetration is furthermore used as a lens to understand how society uses various devices of social control as a way to dominate Black males. Race and gender act as contributors to the limited ideologies and consciousness on which the system of Black masculinity has been built and the American power structure further perpetuates the misunderstanding of Black masculinity as a result of the hegemonic narrative.
The history of citizenship in the United States has had systemic exclusionary principles and, as suggested earlier, Black males occupy a subaltern political class characterized by marginalization in the classical patriarchy. The relational aspects of Black male homosexuality are explored in some detail and Lemelle uses the history of white supremacy to set a framework of Black male homosexuality. Black Nationalism becomes the focus as the oppression of Black homosexuality is discussed in the Civil War era. Lemelle further submits that homosexuality was not considered an Afrocentric value and highlights the presence of other issues within this dominant narrative.
Lemelle continues by exploring heterosexuality in the Black male community and how sexual stratification through labor, economics, family structure, and perceived sexual practices lead to the degradation of this group. He focuses on a study of the structural social status of Black males and one that examines sex codes and reproductive behaviors among poor inner-city youth to further explore the hypermasculinization and feminization deployments surrounding Black males. Lemelle’s interdisciplinary analysis offers a transformed understanding of the future of Black masculinity.
Lemelle is able to connect the work of sociologists to his own analysis from the outset. The works of Bourdieu, Dubois, Durkheim, Foucalt, and Myrdal serve as a foundation and are at times challenged. For these reasons, Lemelle does a fine job of incorporating both sociological and interdisciplinary viewpoints into the book’s framework. This not only strengthens his argument, but he...