Black masculinity is an amalgamation of both black and male identities. Both social categories of black, and male result in Black men having unique experience with masculinity. Over the past 400 years in North America and beyond Black masculinity has been shaped by historical perceptions of Black men. Black masculinity is influenced by a long history of slavery, racism, and oppression. Such a history has manifested racial attitudes towards Black masculinity in contemporary society. Furthermore, Black masculinity “is situated at the intersection of masculine entitlement and devalued blackness.”Common themes which pervade society’s lexicon emphasizes black male bodies “as inherently aggressive, hypersexual, and violent.” The current status of Black masculinity is communicated through popular culture which upholds structures of dominance and white supremacy in society. This has created a hierarchy of masculinities through forms of othering positioning White masculinity as ideal thus leaving Black masculinity subordinate.
The contemporary construction of Black masculinity is attributed to the legacy of slavery beginning in 1619. In the advent of the global economic market African men and women were commodified and traded as goods. These transactions are remembered as chattel slavery, which diminished slaves to profit making bodies, stripped of both their autonomy and dignity. The commodification was gender specific, as Black men and black women assumed different roles of objectification. Black men specifically performed physical activities requiring “brute strength” utilized in forms of inhumane manual labour. To justify the brutal working conditions, Black men were constructed as “big, strong, and stupid” as well as violent.
Since slavery constructions of Black masculinity have been influenced by capitalist structures of economic domination. Jordanna Malton says it best in the quotation: “Within the world capitalist system, black men were cast in three distinct but imbricated roles: as commodified bodies, as devalued labourers, and as fraught consumers.” Thus existing capitalist markets alter Black masculinity by excluding Black men from the life style and status of white working men. In a male breadwinner society, the perpetual devaluation of black men largely disallows achievement parallel levels of economic, social, and cultural dominance. This incentivizes Black men to “acquire the street life….as a means of survival” as many living in inner cities where isolated from alternative academic or employment opportunities. Furthermore in areas of socioeconomic misfortune the streets can “operate as a site for economic, social, and psychological grounding of masculinity.” bell hooks suggests this to be a “gangsta culture” in which black men participate in criminal activity which has become a trope in American society.
Popular culture often feeds upon displays forms of hyper-masculine Black men in literature, film, music, and sports entertainment. Popular culture can be considered to “glamorize brute patriarchal maleness” by constantly pushing a single narrative of Black masculinity.
Hip-Hop and Rap are a central tenants of Black masculinity in North America. Hip-Hop was created as a tool for expression of Black mens uniquely racialize lives in the inner cities of America during the latter half of the 20th century. The telling of stories in rap songs music since the 1980s have showcases the perpetual oppression felt by Black men living in the streets. While rap was created to defy white supremacy, it can also be used to affirm “white supremacist stereotypes” of Black masculinity as savage, sexually driven, and vacuous. This is because the subtext within rap lyrics are known to be misogynistic, homophobic, and violent. In addition, “public representations of blackness are strongly influenced by white demand.” Furthermore, black hyper-masculinity in rap can be self perpetuating as rappers have continue to try to fit the mould ascribed by society.
Following the 1960s when institutions of professional sports were “white only” Black men have risen to represent a large portion of professional athletes. Specifically, Black men in the NFL, and NBA are at the forefront of stereotypes sustaining the ‘brute’ strength of Black men. According to the 2015 Racial and Gender Report Card of the NBA, 74.4 percent of the players in the league are Black. In consequence, festering racial attitudes towards Black men have been showcased towards athletes existing in the public eye. Many stereotypes “elevate the physical prowess of the African American athlete, but attacked his intellectual capabilities” Generalizations of academic incompetence paired with stereotypes of inhumanly physical dominance have contributed to constructions of hegemonic masculinity which confine Black men to one dimensional identities.
For example the Vogue cover in 2008, was the first time a Black male graced the cover of the magazine. The covers resemblance to a famous image of King Kong, sparked conversations of how black professional athletes are understood in society, and portrayed by the media.