Theorizing America’s Killing of Black Men and Boys: A Black Male Studies Paradigm

This week in North Philly Notes, Tommy Curry, author of The Man-Notaddresses issues of racism and the seemingly unending deaths of Black males in American society. 

Over the last several years, there has been a much needed focus on police violence and incarceration in the Black community. Drawing much of its impetus from the increased visibility of police shootings of young Black men, the criticisms of the police has shown that the death of Black males is inextricably wed America’s desire for law and order. The external violence we witness through our seeing of the gore, the bloodied concrete surrounding the corpse of the Black male is but a small part of the death and dying of Black men within the United States. Death haunts Black males in America. Since the dawn of the 20th century, homicide has been the number one killer of Black males ages 15-34 in this country. Black men have the shortest life expectancy of all race/sex groups in the United States, and are more likely to be killed by a spouse or intimate than any other group of men. In this sense, far too many Black males are confined by death and existentially defined as death bound.

Our current intersectional theories of Black masculinity reside in a tenuous contradiction of sorts that interpret Black males as a privileged disadvantaged group. This assertion is primarily analytic. By this I mean that the concept of a privileged disadvantaged group emerges abstractly as a combination of a disadvantaged racial category like Blackness and the allegedly privileged gender category of maleness rather than an empirical account of the actual disparities found between Black men and Black women comparatively.  Inspired by conceptualizing discrimination as applying to the multiple identities possessed by specific bodies, the levels of lethal violence and economic disadvantage historically directed at Black males are often overshadowed by the presumed privilege Black men inherit as males within patriarchal societies.

Man-Not_smThe Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood engages in a radically different paradigm of analysis which draws from social dominance theory, genocide studies, and various social science literatures. Imagine if you will that racism is in fact a technology of death. It is an ideology that creates and sustain low-level warfare against a specific outgroup in a given society. In Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression, Jim Sidanius and Felicia Pratto offer an account of Western capitalist and patriarchal societies that see outgroup males as threats to the dominant group’s endogamy. Said differently in patriarchal societies in-group males and females see outgroup males as cultural and biological threats to their group. These subordinate males then become targets of the most extreme forms of lethal violence and discrimination because their oppression is linked to extermination rather than merely coercion or control. Sidanius and Pratto named this dynamic the subordinate male target hypothesis, or the idea that arbitrary set discrimination (those categories in a society that are socially constructed by the dominant group) are marked by extraordinary levels of lethal violence targeting subordinate males, not subordinate females as traditionally theorized by intersectionality.

The findings of Sidanius and Pratto are actually quite similar to the well-established observation found in the works of genocide studies concerning males of targeted groups. For example, Adam Jones’s “Gendercide and Genocide” argues that it is a well-established fact that “the gender-selective mass killing and ‘disappearance’ of males, especially ‘battle-age’ males, remains a pervasive feature of contemporary conflict.” If racism is in fact a genocidal logic, then it should be possible to analyze racist violence as the propensities and targets of the violence found in actual genocides. These studies overwhelmingly show that the while the dehumanization of racism is applied to all within the subordinate group, the primary and initial targets of genocidal violence are the out-group males, so one could theorize that the precarious position of Black men in America can be accounted for as a consequence of the tendency for racial or ethnic regimes to target non-combatant battle aged males in the United States as well.

The Man-Not attempts to apply what has already been demonstrated in various empirical fields like psychology, sociology, and history to what has been primarily isolated to theorization dealing with race and gender fields in liberal arts. It seems incontrovertible that Black males are constructed as terrors in white patriarchal societies, and that these stereotypes (such as the rapist, deviant, and criminal) are used rationalize their deaths amongst white individuals and manufacture consensus about the levels of violence imposed upon them by the larger white society. The idea of Black men as rapists dissuades white women from desiring to reproduce with Black men because they are socialized to see Black males as dangerous, while white men are able to justify the death of Black men to protect white women. Said differently, the death of Black men and boys serves an endogamic function. This peculiar negating of Black males in the United States is part of a larger historically established practice of racially repressive patriarchal regimes the world over.

Throughout various genocides we find the construction of racialized males as being outside the boundaries of humanity. The men and women of these dominant racial or ethnic groups have historically endorsed the use of lethal violence against these racialized male groups because they are believed to threaten the endogamy of the dominant racial group. Despite the construction of racialized males as rapists, we find throughout various genocidal contexts like the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, and American slavery and Jim Crow, the practice of rape and other sexual assaults against outgroup males. This confirms that within racialized patriarchal societies we find an erotics of subjugation that peculiarly targets outgroup males. The Man-Not argues that once interrogated with an eye to the sexual and lethal violence directed against racialized males historically, Black men emerge as one of the greatest victims of white patriarchy not its benefactor.

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