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The Visual Decline of Black Male Masculinity
I’d argue that the redefinition of masculinity is ALREADY the problem. Over the last 100 years we’ve seen the blurring of the lines of traditional feminine traits and mannerisms into a once masculine community of men of color in the United States of America.
The chalk line once clearly separating the genders has been washed away in the rain of missing male role models for boys who look to Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and androgynous entertainers like Lady Gaga for guidance…Allegedly.
So to finally set the record straight, we’ve compiled this Visual History of the Decline of Black American Male Masculinity.
Eight Decade History of the Decline of Black American Male Masculinity
This was a time where Black American masculinity flourished. Jim Crow Laws were still in effect so men had to be tough to survive. Lynchings were on the decline but a history of widespread segregation and racism turned boys into men very quickly. This is also a time when Black American men like the 92nd Infantry Division and the Tuskegee Airmen proved their courage by fighting for our country in World War II. As you can see from the style of dress, class and distinction was even important to black men of very little means.
The end of the war and the beginning of the civil rights movement once again helps to illustrate the strong state of Black American masculinity. Men continue to face racially motivated opposition, which reinforces an already clear depiction of what it means to be a man. Role models like Muhammad Ali showed men how to be tough yet charismatic. Entertainers like Miles Davis and Sam Cooke showed men how to be smooth and fun at the same time.
The heart of the American civil rights movement. Black male masculinity was seeing the coming of a golden age. The rise of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. The Rise of Malcolm X. The rise of Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. These were men to look up to as examples of defiant masculinity against inequities. The “softest” Black American public figure back then was probably the outspoken James Baldwin, but even he comes off looking like Mike Tyson compared to “soft” black men today.
The 1970s. The Golden Age of Black American Masculinity. Here we saw brash, bold masculinity from men like Richard Roundtree as Shaft and Max Julien as The Mack. The Black Power craze swept the country, making men proud of both their manhood and their blackness. While brighter colors and slimmer cuts were a growing fashion trend, the wardrobe and style of the day still preserved traditional facets of masculinity. Who knew that it would all be downhill from here.
Thanks to the disco craze of the late 1970s, androgyny became increasingly popular. Blurring the lines of masculinity and femininity was considered the norm. Hairstyles like jheri curls, beaded braids and extensions made it hard to tell some men from women. Full tight fitting leather outfits worn by men like Eddie Murphy and Rick James would have raised all of the eyebrows of men from previous decades. Movies like Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo literally featured a cast of men and women wearing the same clothes. Fortunately several musicians created a New Jack Swing and managed to preserve a shred of masculinity so that we could make it to the 90s.
After the disastrous 1980s, masculinity fought its was back, in a major way. Black American rappers and singers alike brought masculinity to the forefront so much that they over did it. A new form of masculinity was created: Hyper-Masculinity. Black men took masculinity to the extreme. Not only did men have to be “men,” they had to be damn near frightening while doing so. We saw the official rise of the “Thug.” With the combination of increased crack-cocaine use/distribution and President George H. W. Bush’s aggressive War On Drugs targeting black communities in the late 1980s, drug dealers and prison culture became the primary source of role models for young black men in the 90s.
With an increasing amount of masculine men missing from the home, young black boys/men flirt with femininity and find that they like it. Traditional no-nos like wearing pink clothing, skin tight jeans and flamboyant behavior slowly becomes acceptable. There was a time when wearing earrings was off limits. But in this decade, not only does wearing ONE earring eventually become the norm, wearing TWO jewel encrusted earrings evolves to being commonplace and brag worthy for men. Then the sagging craze begins. Young black Men cement a vast contrast to their 1940s counterparts by shedding the last bits of class and distinction remaining in their style of dress. These men surpass women in showing off “bubble-butts” by revealing their underwear, to draw even more attention their “assets” (but supposedly this doesn’t make all of them gay, for some unknown reason).
Here we are, the current decade. Black men with leopard print pants, man-purses, designer scarves in the summer, women’s blouses, star/paw-print/belly-button tattoos, male tramp stamps and over-done hairstyles dominate our streets and popular culture. Men actually desire to be “pretty” by spending more hours in the gym and mall fitting rooms than in a book or classrooms. Not to mention an abnormal Diva worship that has created a disciple flock of soft feminine men causing one to wonder what the future holds. How much lower can it get from here?
In relation to homosexuality, even older gay men have noticed this rapid decline of black masculinity. We’ve heard stories where gay men describe a past clear and equal balance between masculine and feminine gay men back in the day. They say, by their observations, that nowadays there is a disproportionate imbalance in favor of femininity, even amongst heterosexual men.
Think about it, the only way a film like Brokeback Mountain about two masculine gay men could believably be made was to have it take place in the 1960s and 1970s! That film made by current standards in a modern time would be, well…Noah’s Arc: Jumping The Broom.
Based on this visual history, one would come to the conclusion that once Black Americans no longer had the overt burden of segregation and racism to deal with, they no longer had much of anything to fight for. No longer any need to be “strong, masculine men.”
This analysis is actually very plausible. Take the largest modern protest that Black American men have had to face, the Trayvon Martin movement. Young black men were seen wearing expensive designer hoodies in photos on Facebook and Twitter via their smartphones/Macbooks and claimed that they were a part of a “struggle” like the strong men in the civil rights movements of the past.
Get…The F@#*…Outta Here…
This question of the reason for the decline of masculinity is probably one to examine further at a later date, but this visual history makes it clear that there is in fact a question to be asked in the first place.