The American Black Male: A Benchmark for Gender Studies

Article excerpt

The American Black Male: A Benchmark for Gender Studies.

by Kerry Lee Riley

The field of gender studies has long been understood as the articulation of oppression as experienced by women. Via penetrating analyses of oppressive patriarchal hegemonies, women have defined and redefined their evolving identities in the midst of ambiguous gender shifts and psycho-political negotiations. In the 1970s, a movement emerged from these gender interactions known as "feminism." Unfortunately, this movement tended to exclude African-American women who sought empowerment for the overthrow of both sexism and racism and they established their own movement of "womanism." Nevertheless, a critical error has occurred in the field of gender studies, as "gender" has come to be equated with "female," thereby establishing it as oppositional to maleness. However, a major attempt to reverse this epistemological fallacy has come from the recently published book, "The American Black Male: His Present Status and His Future."

Edited by Richard G. Majors and Jacob U. Gordon, "The American Black Male" represents the most comprehensive and non-stereotypical scholarship on African-American men in the history of social science. Compiling articles authored by the likes of Manning Marable, Clyde W. Franklin II, Jewelle Taylor Gibbs, John and Julia McAdoo and others, the editors present a variety of penetrating psychosocio analyses which probe the depths of a community struggling for survival. In the last 10 years, murder, AIDS, suicide and substance abuse have decimated the African-American male population to the point that many refer to this population as "an endangered species." Majors and Gordon reject the "deviance" and "deficit" models and rhetoric of previous social scientists, and they have assembled an anthology of research which seeks a healthy resolution to this genocidal epidemic.

"The American Black Male" is segmented into five parts: 1) Historical Perspective, 2) Present Status, 3) Search for Empowerment, 4) Psychosocial Development and Coping and 5) The Future. Section one commences with an analysis of "Men's Studies, the Men's Movement, and the Study of Black Masculinities" by Clyde W. Franklin II. It is a fitting beginning, as Franklin attempts to locate the place of scholarship regarding African-American men on the historical continuum of American masculinity and the burgeoning "Men's Movement." Franklin astutely articulates the crucial distinctiveness of racism as it affects the African-American male's construction of masculinity. Also included in this first section is the historic role of vigilante repression, i.e., the Ku Klux Klan, neo-conservative attacks on Black families and males, Black males in American literature, and Marable's "search beyond stereotypes" regarding imagery of African-American men. All of these distinctive articles offer much insight and intellectual stimulation regarding historical portraitures of African-American men.

Section two examines the present status of African-American males with a wide variety of themes and perspectives. Addressing such problems as criminality, the NCAA's Proposition 48, homelessness, AIDS and sexuality and the anger of young Black males, these articles address pertinent social issues sans apologetic victimology and excessive pessimism. Of particular importance is Gary A. Sailes' piece regarding the NCAA Proposition 48 as it addresses the "athletic aesthetic" of African-American males. Enacted in 1983, this proposition sought "to tighten admissions standards for incoming freshmen student athletes." This was accomplished by raising the minimum entrance requirements to higher levels for grade point average and standardized tests, thus excluding many African Americans and lower-class applicants from an education. Sailes brilliantly examines the unethical discrimination which it upholds, and he systematically exposes the superficial rationales of those who support the enforcement of the proposition. …