Black Masculinity and the U.S. South: From Uncle Tom to Gangsta

Black Masculinity and the U.S. South: From Uncle Tom to Gangsta

Black Masculinity and the U.S. South: From Uncle Tom to Gangsta

Black Masculinity and the U.S. South: From Uncle Tom to Gangsta

Synopsis

This pathbreaking study of region, race, and gender reveals how we underestimate the South's influence on the formation of black masculinity at the national level. Many negative stereotypes of black men--often contradictory ones--have emerged from the ongoing historical traumas initiated by slavery. Are black men emasculated and submissive or hypersexed and violent? Nostalgic representations of black men have arisen as well: think of the philosophical, hardworking sharecropper or the abiding, upright preacher. To complicate matters, says Riché Richardson, blacks themselves appropriate these images for purposes never intended by their (mostly) white progenitors.


Starting with such well-known caricatures as the Uncle Tom and the black rapist, Richardson investigates a range of pathologies of black masculinity that derive ideological force from their associations with the South. Military policy, black-liberation discourse, and contemporary rap, she argues, are just some of the instruments by which egregious pathologies of black masculinity in southern history have been sustained. Richardson's sources are eclectic and provocative, including Ralph Ellison's fiction, Charles Fuller's plays, Spike Lee's films, Huey Newton's and Malcolm X's political rhetoric, the O. J. Simpson discourse, and the music production of Master P, the Cash Money Millionaires, and other Dirty South rappers.


Filled with new insights into the region's role in producing hierarchies of race and gender in and beyond their African American contexts, this new study points the way toward more epistemological frameworks for southern literature, southern studies, and gender studies.

Excerpt

Sutton Griggs’s first novel, Imperium in Imperio: a Study of the Negro Race Problem (1899), grapples with the contradictory models of leadership offered by the self-serving Bernard Belgrade and the progressive Belton Piedmont. in examining their conflicting strategies of racial uplift and the question of who is the better and truer “race man,” the novel also points to distinctions and hierarchies that exist among African Americans on the basis of geography through a curious man simply referred to as “the Mississippian.” Griggs’s narrator informs us that

There was a student in Stowe University who was noted for his immense
height and for the size and scent of his feet. His feet perspired freely, sum
mer and winter, and the smell was exceedingly offensive. On this account,
he roomed to himself. Whenever other students called to see him he had
a very effective way of getting rid of them, when he judged that they had
stayed long enough. He would complain of a corn and forthwith pull off
a shoe. If his room was crowded, this act invariably caused it to be empty.
The fame of these feet spread to the teachers and young ladies, and, in fact,
to the city. and the huge Mississippian seemed to relish the distinction.
(69–70)

Belton, nearing the end of his days at the fictive Stowe University, has been named valedictorian and is preparing to give the speech of his life, as it were. When practicing before his roommate, Belton has become unusually emotional. Anticipating that such will be the case at the ceremony, he purchases an expensive silk handkerchief and places it in the tail pocket of his Prince Albert suit the night before. Unbeknownst to him, his roommate, who furtively witnesses his movements, is “insanely jealous” (69). After Belton goes to bed, the roommate steals the Mississippian’s pungent socks and places them in Belton’s suit pocket. the next day before the cheering audience, “Belton’s head continued bowed in sadness, as he spoke parting words to his classmates, and lifted his supposed handkerchief to his eyes to wipe away the tears that were now coming freely. the socks had thus come close to Belton’s nose and he stopped of a sudden and held them at arm’s length to gaze at that terrible, terrible scent producer” (75). Attempting . . .

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