chapter  8
18 Pages

A theoretical model of masculinities in relation to black men’s desistance

West and Zimmerman (1987) argue that masculinity is not something that just ‘happens to men’ or is ‘done to men’, but masculinity is seen more as something that ‘men do’. Coleman (1990: 191) sees the acquisition of masculinity as a learned process of ‘masculine socialisation’ and suggests that masculinity is ‘performed’ or ‘acted out’ and occurs during social interactions between other men, and this display of masculinity should then be based on shared understanding between men. Messerschmidt feels that masculinity is an on-going process where he states: ‘Masculinity is never a static or finished product. They are influenced by the gender ideals that we have come to accept as proper’ (1993: 67). Connell further argues that ‘when conditions for the defence of patriarchy change, the basis for the dominance of a particular masculinity are eroded. New groups may challenge old solutions and construct a new hegemony’ (1995: 77). Connell’s perspective is echoed by Hill-Collins (2005) and hooks (2003b) who view hegemonic masculinity as the basis for the ‘subordination’ and ‘marginalisation’ of black men and their masculinities. Figure 8.1 presents a model of the different types of masculinity involved in the trajectory to desistance that emerged out of my research. Messerschmidt (1993) not only states that there are power relations that

exist between and among different types of men, but he sees this state of affairs as a product of masculine responses to crime when other resources are unavailable to accomplish socially acceptable masculine norms. Messerschmidt further says that when looking at the relationship between masculinity and crime, and why men commit crimes, it needs to be acknowledged that ‘subordinated’ masculinities in relation to crime will emerge. Hill-Collins (2005) likewise sees Messerschmidt’s position as providing the conduit by which a power dynamic between white and black men involved in criminal activity is the result of a racialised interplay in relation to how crime among different groups of men is generated. Connell (1987), like Hill-Collins (2000), clearly understands that not all

masculinities are seen equally. Both Hill-Collins (2005) and Alexander (2010) see black men as situated near the bottom of the masculine hierarchy, while white men predominately have the power. This creates both ‘subordinated and marginalised masculinities’ driven by notions of racialised masculine identities (hooks, 2003b). Brown (2002) similarly argues that criminology seldom if ever deals with notions of racialised identities among black men involved in criminal activity. This paucity of research information and data when theorising black masculinities not only weakens the discourse on masculinities as a whole, it also relegates black men to a category defined as ‘excluded masculinities’ (Glynn, 2005). Connell criticises those social scientists who fail to recognise race within masculinity and does concede that racialised identities within masculinity are under-theorised (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005). Baraka (1963) suggests that white theorists have little interest in represent-

ing black masculinities, based on a racist construct designed to maintain and sustain ‘white privilege’. Baraka states, ‘When black people got to this country, they were Africans, a foreign people. Their customs, desires, were shaped

by a different place and a radically different life’ (ibid.: 1). Baraka’s assertion places the production of ‘rebellious masculinity’ as a counter-masculine position to that of white masculine identity, placed within a socio-historic context. Sale (1997), like Baraka, explains that the creation of ‘marginalised’ and ‘subordinated’ masculinities for black men emerged from nineteenth-century slave ship revolts by slaves resisting attempts to be enslaved. Alexander (2010) also sees the socio-historical context to understanding black masculinity as operating a colour-blind approach (Delgado and Stefancic, 2000). Alexander (2010) sees this colour blindness as a way of understanding the marginalisation of black masculinity in relation to mass incarceration of black men as a whole. Alexander further states, ‘In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer

socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt’ (ibid.: 2). Alexander continues, ‘As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it’ (ibid.: 2). Du Bois (1938) further argues that Africans in America struggled with the inability to shake off a ‘dual masculine identity’ within the confines of the so-called ‘American Dream’, which excluded black men under the US Constitution. Du Bois referred to this state of being as ‘double consciousness’. Du Bois states it is a peculiar sensation, this ‘double consciousness’, this sense

of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others (ibid.: 8). Du Bois continues: ‘One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a negro, two souls, two thoughts, two un-reconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one body’ (ibid.: 8). To counter the impact of ‘double consciousness’, Du Bois emphasised the need to train black men as a way of creating a more grounded masculine identity. Fanon (1952) extends Du Bois’s position when explaining the plight of black men under colonialism. Fanon states, ‘The black man has two dimensions. One with his fellows, the other with the white man. Negro behaves differently with a white man and with another Negro’ (ibid.: 8). Fanon further argues that Du Bois’s ‘double donsciousness’ leads to what he referred to as ‘dual narcissism’. ‘Dual narcissism’, as Fanon sees i, is the entrenchment of ‘White men in theirWhiteness’ as having a knock-on effect by creating ‘black men locked into their blackness’ (ibid.: 7). The interplay between the two racialised masculine identities is designed to keep black and white men apart, and ultimately play a role in establishing ‘subordinate masculinities’ (Hill-Collins, 2005). Frazier (1957) argues that the way to counter the impact of a subordinate

masculine position for black men is through gaining and sustaining employment. However, Frazier claims poverty through chronic unemployment in the black community as the major causal factor that led to a rise in both rebellious black masculinity and black male criminality. Frazier also sees the so-called ‘American Dream’ as being beyond the reach of many black men, based on the devastating impact of slavery, combined with the failed attempts of America to include those black citizens it had historically and systematically excluded. Frazier further argues that crime becomes an oppositional masculine response

to white oppression. Liebow (1967) also sees the lack of employment opportunities not only as a factor that has destroyed black men’s self-esteem, leading to an erosion in the desire to find work, but also as responsible for black men engaging in criminality as a way of restoring their lost masculine pride. Clark criticises the professional training of social scientists involved in

researching black masculinities as inadequate, and argues that white researchers struggle to ‘understand, cope with or to change the normal status in ghetto communities’ (1965: xv). Pietila (2010) points out that it is researchers, who are ‘backroom wheelers and dealers’, who keep US cities segregated, through poor housing, lack of employment opportunities, and claims it is policy-makers who have pushed many black men to abandon conformity and law-abiding attitudes, in favour of ‘corner’ behaviour in defiance of oppressive white society. Pietila provides the backdrop against which we can see how Clark (1965) argues for an academic clarity about how black men are looked at, investigated, and understood, in a society that refuses to see who they really are (see Alexander, 2010). Like Pietila (2010), Majors feels that ‘rebellious masculinity’ is the result of black men rejecting society’s rules, due to the cumulative impact of racism, denied access, and marginalisation (Majors and Billson, 1992). Majors further states that cumulative oppressions placed on black men

create confusion about how unfair rules apply to black men, which in turn opens the door that leads to systematic deviance, much the same as what Agnew (2006) refers to as ‘general strain’. Majors sees black men adopting an alternative masculine coping strategy in the face of general strain which he refers to as ‘cool pose’. hooks (2003a) also feels black men develop a ‘cool masculinity’ as a way of not caving in under the pressure of being marginalised in a racist society. hooks also questions if black men develop these notions of a ‘cool masculinity’ as a way of reducing the propensity to be seen as deviant in society’s eyes, and falsely coming across as socially compliant. Grier and Cobb feel that black men struggle to acquire manhood ‘as [they]

must penetrate barriers and overcome opposition in order to maintain a masculine posture’ (1968: 50) and suggest that reconstructing a stronger sense of manhood is dependent on developing stronger social bonds. If those social bonds are weak as a consequence of racist oppression, then Grier and Cobb argue that the result is that some sections of the community turn into hypermasculine identities. Benyon (2002) highlights that social rejection as experienced by black men can lead to serious violent offending (Sampson and Wilson, 1995). Benyon further argues that the structural concerns of white society are internalised by many black men who may feel they are not equal stakeholders in society, and hence the emergence of positive masculinity is arrested. West (1993) argues that hyper-masculinity has become a significant feature in black subculture, located within popular culture such as hip-hop. Marriot (2000) also sees black hyper-masculine tendencies as being framed within a racist construct, not rooted in a position defined by black men themselves and therefore questions whether black men acquire hyper-masculinity, but sees it as being imposed upon them.