Monday, May 25, 2009

Black Masculinity Stripped Butt-naked: A Follow-up to "Where is D'Angelo"

This above all:  to thine ownself be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

 -- William Shakespeare, Hamlet


First, a question for the fellows before we begin.  

What defines your manhood?  Is it the amount of money you make?  Is it your incredible physique?  Your sexual prowess? Or is it the relationship you share with your wife, your partner, your kids?  Take a second and think about it as we proceed.

In a previous post, I entered into a discussion of musician D’Angelo and his incredible decline since his last and, to date, final CD.  Black Women, Blow the Trumpet! (BWBT!) made the very cogent and discerning observation of the deeply flawed notion and detriment of defining masculinity through physicality which D'Angelo essentially did beginning with the marketing campaign of his second CD, Voodoo. 

After reading her observation, I recognized the complicity implied by my basically eliding the subject altogether, especially since D’Angelo’s video in which he is featured naked is such a watershed moment in his career.  The video worked to fix a certain image of masculinity in the public imagination.  

At the time I wrote the post, I did recognize the connection between D’Angelo’s masculinity and his physicality, but since it was outside the scope of the post, I decided to just ignore it.  However, at the tacit urging of BWBT!, I will discuss it here.

The D’Angelo featured in that video is not the real D’Angelo;  it is but a figment of his record company’s promotional department’s imagination and was meant simply to sell records.

Those who knew D’Angelo from the very beginning invariably describe him as a introverted, pudgy, doughy church boy with tremendous musical talent who wanted most of all to create music.  His first CD, Brown Sugar, did well, however, not as well as the record company would have liked, so enter the promotional department.

The promotional departement thought it was best to remake and remarket D'Angelo.  As he recorded his second CD, he also worked out with a personal trainer which resulted in the incredible physique we see in the video.  The idea behind the video was to reintroduce him and open up new markets for his music, namely women.  In other words, sex sells.  Let's try it.  

At this point D'Angelo's masculinity is literally constructed.  Who he was or was to be was dictated to him by the record company.  He is no longer himself, but a gross caricature of the original.

D’Angelo expressed a high-level of discomfort about doing the video from the very beginning, but nevertheless, he capitulated.  And the video did what it was supposed to do.  D’Angelo managed to sell millions of CD’s, making him a very wealthy man, and began to play sold-out concerts around the world.  But in the process, he lost himself.

To promote his new CD, D’Angelo embarked on an eight month tour.  His shows during that tour are described as nothing less than three hour musical extravaganzas.  His performances received rave reviews from everyone except his new fans who came to know him through that video;  they only wanted to see the naked video D’Angelo.  It’s stated that as soon as the concert started, these new fans began to shower the stage with panties, bras, hotel keys and other unmentionables and screaming for him to take something off.

The further he got into his set, the deeper he got into his groove, the more his new fans were displeased.  It was no longer about the music, and this upset him to no end, the effect of which could not truly be known at that time.  ?uestlove, drummer for the hip-hop group The Roots, goes on record as stating, “He would get angry and start breaking shit.  The audience thinking, ‘Fuck your art, I wanna see your ass!’ made him angry.”   

Sometime during or after the tour, the downward spiral began.  The alcohol and drug abuse increased as did the alienation from his family, friends, and the mothers of his children.  Somewhere in the whole scheme of things, he managed to loose himself as well as his art.

Now, let’s return to our earlier question:  Through what do you define your manhood, your masculinity?  If you stripped away all the layers, if we took away the money, the cars, the sexuality, the physique, the looks—all those things you define your manhood by—what would you find?

When the externals are all stripped away, when you stand butt ass naked with your masculinity fully exposed, what will the world see?  What is the real you?  

Too often we as men and especially we as African American men add unneeded pressure and stress to an already hectic life because we look outside ourselves to define our manhood, our masculinity, instead of just looking within.  We allow others to decide how we should look and behave.  And in the process of pursuing this dream, this ideal, we manage to loose ourselves.  All the while the real person remains lost inside, naked, cold, and shivering.

Source

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Ive been mulling this question for the balance of the day. Ive come to this conclusion, I cant tell you what manhood is, especially as a black man. Our manhood as black men is too dynamic and complicated due to our experience in the diaspora for it to be defined clearly. Getting back on track, I cant tell you what manhood is, but I can certainly tell you what it is not. Including but not limited to:

-Not keeping your word
-Lack of ambition
-Failing to assume and honor your responsibilities
-Lack of discretion and self-restraint
-Does not value education for its purest and most simple application
-Lack empathy and sympathy for others

There are a constellation of different things Ive observed in my 30 years, but that list represents basis of manhood.

Max Reddick said...

Now you've got me thinking. I'm not certain if I can define manhood, much less black manhood, myself. Perhaps I'll allow the readers to decide.

Issa Rae said...

I always think about manhood in relationship to family. Whether black or not, manhood matters the most to me through the definition of family. You learn from men and you set an example for the men that come after you.

But then again, I'm a woman, so I'll only understand men through my relationship with them, or lack thereof.

blackwomenblowthetrumpet.blogspot.com said...

Hi there!

Thank you for the shout-out for my blog forum! *blushes*

I hope you don't mind that I mention two very relevant discussions on this topic from my forum...

Last month, I wrote a post, "Who Qualifies As A Man?" and many readers could not answer the question!

Last year, I wrote a post about "Black Masculinity and Its Impact on Black Women" and many black women didn't really examine just how the construction of black masculinity and its primary emphasis on reinforcing phallocentricity has impacted the engagement of black women with black men.

From this acceptance of phallocentricity springs this validation of black men as subhuman:
Black men are Mandingos.
Black men are sex providers.
Black men are one dimensional beings.
You can't gain respect form a person who is viewed as a "thing". Therein lies the problem when men define themselves to women by their physicality or sexual prowess.

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!
Lisa

Lesli D.Corbin said...

As a black woman, I definitly have no intention (or even right?) to try to define manhood, however, I can tell you that as the mother of a young girl and mentor to many, black men are not the only ones struggling with definition. I can only add that as we sisters seek to define our womanhood, we discover that it should and is often forced, even, to be complimentary to how men define themselves. If you define your manhood by the level of finacial, spiritual, emotional support and responsibility you provide your family, then our roles as women will be in direct correlation. For example, single mothers forced to be bread winner, head of household, nurturer & role model to sons with absentee fathers. It is not always the best solution--because again--we are not the ideal definers of manhood for our sons. So fellas??

blackwomenblowthetrumpet.blogspot.com said...

Hi there!

Thank you for the shout-out for my blog forum! *blushes*

I hope you don't mind that I mention two very relevant discussions on this topic from my forum...

Last month, I wrote a post, "Who Qualifies As A Man?" and many readers could not answer the question!

Last year, I wrote a post about "Black Masculinity and Its Impact on Black Women" and many black women didn't really examine just how the construction of black masculinity and its primary emphasis on reinforcing phallocentricity has impacted the engagement of black women with black men.

From this acceptance of phallocentricity springs this societal acceptance of viewing black men as sub-human:
Black men are Mandingos.
Black men are sex providers.
Black men are narrow, one dimensional beings.
Black women don't respect a person who is defined as a "object".

D'Angelo found that no one could relate to his artistry if he had first defined himself to him as a "thing".

Therein lies the problem when men define themselves to women by their physicality or sexual prowess.

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!
Lisa

Max Reddick said...

But you have a point there. I always have defined my manhood through my relationship with my family, as a son, as a grandson, as a nephew, as a brother, as a father. And that relationship was based not on what I could give them materially, but how well I could fulfill their emotional needs whatever the role I acted in.

Shadow And Act said...

I'd say that trying to define masculinity is like trying to define blackness.

Obviously, there's the physical embodiment of man - those physical attributes that distinguish us from women.

But, once one gets beneath the surface, which I think is what you're aiming for with this post, it's nearly impossible to define - like I said, it's like trying to define what blackness is.

No one has a monopoly on what masculinity is; however, we live in a society that has collectively defined what it is for everyone, even though the model doesn't fit every single one of us. And so, we're left with human beings trying to define themselves based on some specific list of criteria created by others. And that's where some problems are rooted, as I see it.

There's a quote by E.E. Cummings I like which goes something like: “To be nobody but yourself in a world that's continuously doing its best to make you like somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight.”

We live in a world that discourages individuality in self-expression. The herd-mentality is prevalent. God-forbid you try to move away from the pack. You'll be labeled a pariah.

In general, I loathe labels anyway. They're divisive. It makes conquering us easier for the conquerors.

Max Reddick said...

Very good response S&A. And that was part of the point I was trying to make. Each person must define masculinity or any other identity for themselves. To buy into or claim some identity pre-fabbed for your convenience is to loose your self.

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