Identity is a curious thing. More so now than ever, it is something that appears to be a in state of flux. Everything from John Gray books to marriage equality to increased visibility of the transgender movement leads us down a path of potential growth and enlightenment. Push back against such development is, oddly enough, coming from many people from the African-American community.
Go ahead and Google "emasculation of the black man." You'll find a plethora of articles and opinion pieces that attempt to deconstruct what is believed to be occurring to today's black man in America. I've heard rumblings of this issue for awhile now, and felt the urge to write about it after recently viewing a Dave Chappelle interview when he was on Oprah's show. In the clip, Chappelle discusses how Hollywood executives implored him to wear a dress in a scene for a movie he was shooting, for added comedic effect. Chappelle refused. "What is this - Brokeback Mountain?!" the comedian remarked.
Then there is a blog entry (one of many such writings) discussing how black men have not only been emasculated, but also feminized. The following passage is extremely unpleasant:
The feminization of the black man is most evident in and propagated by music, movies, and television. Look at television shows like Real Housewives of Atlanta, America's Next Top Model, etc. We are bombarded with images of flamboyant, homosexual black men who not only are gay but who walk, talk, dress, and act like women. And if they're not feminine gays, they're unstable thugs.
When influential rappers like Kanye West and A$AP Rocky don "oversized shirts" and "kilts," when they place an extreme attention on fashion and other feminine things, they manipulate millions of impressionable young black males to follow suit. The same goes for movies: when black actors dress up in drag, it normalizes such behavior and instead of viewing it as abhorrent, we view it as "funny."
White America loves to see these feminized black males because they are far less threatening to white society than strong, proud black men. Black men in dresses make white people laugh; black men in black clothes wearing black berets scare them. The feminized black man is better received by mainstream America.
The author also posits the notion that, once Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were killed, black American men lost their good role models. I'm not so sure. What of men like Sidney Poitier, Alex Haley, Thurgood Marshall, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Clarence Otis Jr., Will Smith, T.D. Jakes, Magic Johnson, etc.? And, strangely, I remember Bill Cosby being scorned by many black folks when he lectured young African-Americans on how to dress, yet seems to be embraced by many of the same people now that he is accused of raping dozens of women.
I guess this all just seems a little odd to me. Archaic, even. It feels out-of-step with the progress of the rest of the world. We hear how there are no positive black make role models, when there are and have been many. When a black man is identified as gay and does not exhibit stereotypical masculine traits, he is scorned and lumped-in as part of some problem. When Dave Chappelle is asked to wear a dress, he makes it into a racial issue (while also making condescending remarks regarding a movie about gay people), and ignores the scores of white men who have worn dresses for entertainment purposes (Milton Berle, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Monty Python, Dana Carvey, David Bowie, Tom Hanks, Tim Curry, Patrick Swayze, Robin Williams, to name but a few).
I'm not going to pretend that racism doesn't exist. It does. That is not up for debate. But I do think it possible to erroneously conflate two disparate subjects to try and make a flawed point. That's what I think is happening with the topic of black male emasculation. Look, the world is changing, as it always does. The definition of masculinity (or femininity for that matter) has moved beyond what sort of clothing is worn, or how one acts.
Please let us not cloak our insecurities, homophobia and misogyny in a pursuit of victimhood. It doesn't become us, and there is so much more to the human condition than such superficiality. The train of progress has already left the station. Time to get on it.