The mama’s boys and mothering men in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s work find Dunbar participating alongside his European sexologist contemporaries to study race and masculinity at the turn of the twentieth century. In his novel The Fanatics, as well as his short stories “The White Counterpane” and “Little Billy,” Dunbar both emulates and parodies the scrutinizing tone of objectivity found in scientific discourses like sexology and, through this double-voiced mode, clarifies that Western science is primarily invested in the reproduction and management of white supremacy. Dunbar’s writing takes issue in particular with the ways in which turn-of-the-century Western science’s broader and at times relatively affirming assessments of non-normative masculinities are broadened for white men only, as black men’s negotiations with masculine norms continue to be used to justify racism. Still, while critiquing the point of view used to assess race and masculinity in his era’s scientific sexological discourse, Dunbar nevertheless leaves relatively unspoken the complex realities and diversity of black gender and sexuality that he criticizes Western science for overlooking. As such, Dunbar’s work defers the expression of self-identified and self-styled black queerness to an unknown future.


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pp. 311-342
Launched on MUSE
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