Progressive Paths to Masculinity for Young Black and Latino Men in an Urban Alternatives-to-Incarceration Program

By Ramaswamy, Megha | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

Progressive Paths to Masculinity for Young Black and Latino Men in an Urban Alternatives-to-Incarceration Program


Ramaswamy, Megha, The Western Journal of Black Studies


Introduction--Rethinking Masculinity

Black and Latino men in the United States face the triple burden of racism, gender discrimination--and many, such as the men in this study, disproportionately experience incarceration. Throughout this text, I will use the term Black to refer to people of African Diaspora, and to such populations that reside within the United States. To some, African Americans are a subgroup within the larger Black community. Since our discussion purposely includes those who may be first-generation immigrants or who, for whatever reason, do not identify as African American, we employ the term "Black." Furthermore, we capitalize it to distinguish the racial category and related identity from the color. Similarly, we capitalize the word White when referring to race. "Latino" refers to the ethnicity for men of Central American, South American, or Caribbean descent. We use this term because it is considered by some as more of a self-descriptor, compared to "Hispanic," which is widely regarded as a US government imposed identity. "Latino" refers to a region and a particular history of Latin-American and US relations, potentially giving more meaning as an ethnic category to the people it describes. Given the intersection of race, gender, and criminal justice involvement, this study explores whether young Black and Latino men with criminal histories can break away from pop culture and media stereotypes to have a more progressive experience of masculinity. A theory of "progressive Black masculinities" (Mutua, 2006) offers such a framework for rethinking masculinity among men of color in the United States.

The starting point for this study is bell hooks' (2004) call for understanding a more complex view of masculinity among men of color, particularly Black men. She argues against "the more mainstream writing about Black masculinity that continues to push the notion that all Black men need to do to survive is to become better patriarchs." Athena Mutua (2006) points out that "masculinity as domination" (or patriarchy) is indeed reinforced by several larger social structures--the economy, the government, the family, and the criminal justice system--that have oppressed men of color in America. Patricia Hill Collins (2006) charges that men of color should be able to reject social norms that celebrate traditional gender roles for men (i.e., playing the provider), given the difficulty achieving such an ideal in this economy and society.

So what makes masculinity progressive? Mutua, the editor of a recent book on progressive Black masculinities (2006), offers the following definition: "Progressive Black masculinities are unique and innovative practices of the masculine self actively engaged in struggles to transform social structures of domination." Hill Collins also argues for a distinction between dominance and strength in defining more progressive masculinities. To paraphrase Hill Collins (2006): How can men of color create a progressive masculinity that isn't based on dominance and exploitation of others? How can a progressive masculinity that isn't grounded in dominance help men develop fulfilling relationships with children, partners, family, and peers? What strategies can help men of color redefine conceptions of strength within progressive masculinities? This study seeks to address some of these questions by exploring a more complex view of manhood among young men involved in the criminal justice system in New York City through discussions about masculinity learned from women, changing (i.e. less patriarchal) attitudes about child rearing, and their discourse around love. Though the young Black and Latino men in this study don't endorse ideas about masculinity that fit exactly with theory on progressive masculinities outlined above, their narratives do potentially offer a more progressive path that could have implications for intervention development and in turn, improved outcomes for young people involved in the criminal justice system. …

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