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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Remembering the late TUP author Tom Regan

This week in North Philly Notes, we honor the late Tom Regan, who was the author or editor of several Temple University Press titles, including: Animal Sacrifices, Health Care Ethics, The Early Essays, The Thee Generation, and Elements of Ethics, among other titles.  

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Regan’s obituary (below) appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer on February 17.

Tom Regan, the author of a noted book on animal rights and a professor emeritus of philosophy at NC State University, has died. Marion Cox Bolz, a spokesperson for the family, said Regan died Friday after a bout of pneumonia at his North Carolina home. Regan was 78.

Regan is known for “The Case for Animal Rights,” which is described on the web page http://www.tomregan.info as stating non-human animals bear moral rights. He wrote that a crucial attribute that all humans have in common, he argues, is not rationality, but the fact that each of us has a life that matters to us.

Regan is survived by his wife Nancy, son Bryan and daughter Karen and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.

 

Temple University Press is having a Back-to-School SALE!

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Dear White America

This week in North Philly Notes, we re-post Look, a White! author George Yancy’s provocative New York Times Opinionator blog from December 24, 2015 entitled, “Dear White America.”

Look a Whitesm

In 2015, I conducted a series of 19 interviews with philosophers and public intellectuals on the issue of race. My aim was to engage, in this very public space, with the often unnamed elephant in the room.

These discussions helped me, and I hope many of our readers, to better understand how race continues to function in painful ways within our country. That was one part of a gift that I wanted to give to readers of The Stone, the larger philosophical community, and the world.

The interviewees themselves — bell hooks, Cornel West, Judith Butler, Peter Singer, David H. Kim, Molefi Kete Asante among them — came from a variety of racial backgrounds, and their concerns and positions were even more diverse. But on the whole I came to see these interviews as linked by a common thread: They were messages to white America — because they often directly expressed the experience of those who live and have lived as people of color in a white-run world, and that is something no white person could ever truly know firsthand.

That is how I want to deliver my own message now.

Dear White America,

I have a weighty request. As you read this letter, I want you to listen with love, a sort of love that demands that you look at parts of yourself that might cause pain and terror, as James Baldwin would say. Did you hear that? You may have missed it. I repeat: I want you to listen with love. Well, at least try.

We don’t talk much about the urgency of love these days, especially within the public sphere. Much of our discourse these days is about revenge, name calling, hate, and divisiveness. I have yet to hear it from our presidential hopefuls, or our political pundits. I don’t mean the Hollywood type of love, but the scary kind, the kind that risks not being reciprocated, the kind that refuses to flee in the face of danger. To make it a bit easier for you, I’ve decided to model, as best as I can, what I’m asking of you. Let me demonstrate the vulnerability that I wish you to show. As a child of Socrates, James Baldwin and Audre Lorde, let me speak the truth, refuse to err on the side of caution.

This letter is a gift for you. Bear in mind, though, that some gifts can be heavy to bear. You don’t have to accept it; there is no obligation. I give it freely, believing that many of you will throw the gift back in my face, saying that I wrongly accuse you, that I am too sensitive, that I’m a race hustler, and that I blame white people (you) for everything.

I have read many of your comments. I have even received some hate mail. In this letter, I ask you to look deep, to look into your souls with silence, to quiet that voice that will speak to you of your white “innocence.” So, as you read this letter, take a deep breath. Make a space for my voice in the deepest part of your psyche. Try to listen, to practice being silent. There are times when you must quiet your own voice to hear from or about those who suffer in ways that you do not.

What if I told you that I’m sexist? Well, I am. Yes. I said it and I mean just that. I have watched my male students squirm in their seats when I’ve asked them to identify and talk about their sexism. There are few men, I suspect, who would say that they are sexists, and even fewer would admit that their sexism actually oppresses women. Certainly not publicly, as I’ve just done. No taking it back now.

To make things worse, I’m an academic, a philosopher. I’m supposed to be one of the “enlightened” ones. Surely, we are beyond being sexists. Some, who may genuinely care about my career, will say that I’m being too risky, that I am jeopardizing my academic livelihood. Some might even say that as a black male, who has already been stereotyped as a “crotch-grabbing, sexual fiend,” that I’m at risk of reinforcing that stereotype. (Let’s be real, that racist stereotype has been around for centuries; it is already part of white America’s imaginary landscape.)

Yet, I refuse to remain a prisoner of the lies that we men like to tell ourselves — that we are beyond the messiness of sexism and male patriarchy, that we don’t oppress women. Let me clarify. This doesn’t mean that I intentionally hate women or that I desire to oppress them. It means that despite my best intentions, I perpetuate sexism every day of my life. Please don’t take this as a confession for which I’m seeking forgiveness. Confessions can be easy, especially when we know that forgiveness is immediately forthcoming.

As a sexist, I have failed women. I have failed to speak out when I should have. I have failed to engage critically and extensively their pain and suffering in my writing. I have failed to transcend the rigidity of gender roles in my own life. I have failed to challenge those poisonous assumptions that women are “inferior” to men or to speak out loudly in the company of male philosophers who believe that feminist philosophy is just a nonphilosophical fad. I have been complicit with, and have allowed myself to be seduced by, a country that makes billions of dollars from sexually objectifying women, from pornography, commercials, video games, to Hollywood movies. I am not innocent.

I have been fed a poisonous diet of images that fragment women into mere body parts. I have also been complicit with a dominant male narrative that says that women enjoy being treated like sexual toys. In our collective male imagination, women are “things” to be used for our visual and physical titillation. And even as I know how poisonous and false these sexist assumptions are, I am often ambushed by my own hidden sexism. I continue to see women through the male gaze that belies my best intentions not to sexually objectify them. Our collective male erotic feelings and fantasies are complicit in the degradation of women. And we must be mindful that not all women endure sexual degradation in the same way.

I recognize how my being a sexist has a differential impact on black women and women of color who are not only victims of racism, but also sexism, my sexism. For example, black women and women of color not only suffer from sexual objectification, but the ways in which they are objectified is linked to how they are racially depicted, some as “exotic” and others as “hyper-sexual.” You see, the complicity, the responsibility, the pain that I cause runs deep. And, get this. I refuse to seek shelter; I refuse to live a lie. So, every day of my life I fight against the dominant male narrative, choosing to see women as subjects, not objects. But even as I fight, there are moments of failure. Just because I fight against sexism does not give me clean hands, as it were, at the end of the day; I continue to falter, and I continue to oppress. And even though the ways in which I oppress women is unintentional, this does not free me of being responsible.

If you are white, and you are reading this letter, I ask that you don’t run to seek shelter from your own racism. Don’t hide from your responsibility. Rather, begin, right now, to practice being vulnerable. Being neither a “good” white person nor a liberal white person will get you off the proverbial hook. I consider myself to be a decent human being. Yet, I’m sexist. Take another deep breath. I ask that you try to be “un-sutured.” If that term brings to mind a state of pain, open flesh, it is meant to do so. After all, it is painful to let go of your “white innocence,” to use this letter as a mirror, one that refuses to show you what you want to see, one that demands that you look at the lies that you tell yourself so that you don’t feel the weight of responsibility for those who live under the yoke of whiteness, your whiteness.

I can see your anger. I can see that this letter is being misunderstood. This letter is not asking you to feel bad about yourself, to wallow in guilt. That is too easy. I’m asking for you to tarry, to linger, with the ways in which you perpetuate a racist society, the ways in which you are racist. I’m now daring you to face a racist history which, paraphrasing Baldwin, has placed you where you are and that has formed your own racism. Again, in the spirit of Baldwin, I am asking you to enter into battle with your white self. I’m asking that you open yourself up; to speak to, to admit to, the racist poison that is inside of you.

Again, take a deep breath. Don’t tell me about how many black friends you have. Don’t tell me that you are married to someone of color. Don’t tell me that you voted for Obama. Don’t tell me that I’mthe racist. Don’t tell me that you don’t see color. Don’t tell me that I’m blaming whites for everything. To do so is to hide yet again. You may have never used the N-word in your life, you may hate the K.K.K., but that does not mean that you don’t harbor racism and benefit from racism. After all, you are part of a system that allows you to walk into stores where you are not followed, where you get to go for a bank loan and your skin does not count against you, where you don’t need to engage in “the talk” that black people and people of color must tell their children when they are confronted by white police officers.

As you reap comfort from being white, we suffer for being black and people of color. But your comfort is linked to our pain and suffering. Just as my comfort in being male is linked to the suffering of women, which makes me sexist, so, too, you are racist. That is the gift that I want you to accept, to embrace. It is a form of knowledge that is taboo. Imagine the impact that the acceptance of this gift might have on you and the world.

Take another deep breath. I know that there are those who will write to me in the comment section with boiling anger, sarcasm, disbelief, denial. There are those who will say, “Yancy is just an angry black man.” There are others who will say, “Why isn’t Yancy telling black people to be honest about the violence in their own black neighborhoods?” Or, “How can Yancy say that all white people are racists?” If you are saying these things, then you’ve already failed to listen. I come with a gift. You’re already rejecting the gift that I have to offer. This letter is about you. Don’t change the conversation. I assure you that so many black people suffering from poverty and joblessness, which is linked to high levels of crime, are painfully aware of the existential toll that they have had to face because they are black and, as Baldwin adds, “for no other reason.”

Some of your white brothers and sisters have made this leap. The legal scholar Stephanie M. Wildman, has written, “I simply believe that no matter how hard I work at not being racist, I still am. Because part of racism is systemic, I benefit from the privilege that I am struggling to see.” And the journalism professor Robert Jensen: “I like to think I have changed, even though I routinely trip over the lingering effects of that internalized racism and the institutional racism around me. Every time I walk into a store at the same time as a black man and the security guard follows him and leaves me alone to shop, I am benefiting from white privilege.”

What I’m asking is that you first accept the racism within yourself, accept all of the truth about what it means for you to be white in a society that was created for you. I’m asking for you to trace the binds that tie you to forms of domination that you would rather not see. When you walk into the world, you can walk with assurance; you have already signed a contract, so to speak, that guarantees you a certain form of social safety.

Baldwin argues for a form of love that is “a state of being, or state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.” Most of my days, I’m engaged in a personal and societal battle against sexism. So many times, I fail. And so many times, I’m complicit. But I refuse to hide behind that mirror that lies to me about my “non-sexist nobility.” Baldwin says, “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” In my heart, I’m done with the mask of sexism, though I’m tempted every day to wear it. And, there are times when it still gets the better of me.

White America, are you prepared to be at war with yourself, your white identity, your white power, your white privilege? Are you prepared to show me a white self that love has unmasked? I’m asking for love in return for a gift; in fact, I’m hoping that this gift might help you to see yourself in ways that you have not seen before. Of course, the history of white supremacy in America belies this gesture of black gift-giving, this gesture of non-sentimental love. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered even as he loved.

Perhaps the language of this letter will encourage a split — not a split between black and white, but a fissure in your understanding, a space for loving a Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Jones, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald and others. I’m suggesting a form of love that enables you to see the role that you play (even despite your anti-racist actions) in a system that continues to value black lives on the cheap.

Take one more deep breath. I have another gift.

If you have young children, before you fall off to sleep tonight, I want you to hold your child. Touch your child’s face. Smell your child’s hair. Count the fingers on your child’s hand. See the miracle that is your child. And then, with as much vision as you can muster, I want you to imagine that your child is black.

In peace,

George Yancy

George Yancy is a professor of philosophy at Emory University. He has written, edited and co-edited numerous books, including “Black Bodies, White Gazes,” “Look, a White!” and “Pursuing Trayvon Martin,” co-edited with Janine Jones.

TUP Authors on the outcry over Cecil the Lion

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost portions of a recent article by Alison Nastasi from HopesandFears.com about the outcry over Cecil the Lion, including quotes from Temple University Press authors Leslie Irvine, author of If You Tame Me, and Clint Sanders, author of Understanding Dogs.

Cecil—the 13-year-old male Southwest African lion named after Cecil Rhodes, founder of Rhodesia (known as Zimbabwe since 1980)—was a fixture at Hwange National Park, the country’s largest game reserve and the park’s biggest tourist attraction. He was accustomed to having his picture taken and reportedly trusting of humans. Scientists at Oxford University studied Cecil for an ongoing project about conservation. Last month, Cecil was shot with an arrow and, it is believed, lured out of the protected zone of the sanctuary.

Forty hours later, he was killed with a rifle, skinned, and decapitated. His headless body was missing the GPS tracking collar that he had been fitted with by Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU). Walter Palmer, an American dentist and big-game hunter, paid over $50,000 to stalk and kill Cecil. The despised Minnesotan has since closed down his practice after becoming the target of widespread backlash from celebrities, activists and the public (trending on Twitter under #CecilTheLion).

But there’s another kind of backlash taking place over the killing, namely, expressing the troubling nature of such outspoken support over the death of a single animal, when mounting incidents of unarmed black men and women being brutalized and killed by police in the US, largely, with little to no recourse, don’t seem to inspire the same outpouring of mainstream attention and anger.

Hoping to gain some insights from sociological, behavioral, and ethical perspectives, we reached out to several experts whose professional focus included issues of human-animal relations, race, politics, and gender. We wanted to find out if people respond differently to images of animal versus human suffering—and, given the aforementioned cases and claims, why some people seem more moved by accounts of animal abuse and murder than those endured by fellow human beings.

Leslie Irvine, PhD

Professor, Gender, Qualitative and Interpretive Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of Colorado, Boulder

If You Tame Me compThe short answer is that it depends on which animals and which people. The sympathy people feel depends on their perceived innocence of the victim. In a paper forthcoming in the journal Society & Animals, Arnold Arluke, Jack Levin, and I examine the assumption that people are more concerned about the suffering of animals than of people. Arnie and Jack conducted research on this at Northeastern University. They had 240 students read one of four hypothetical stories, allegedly from the Boston Globe. The accounts were the same, but the victims were either a puppy, an adult dog, a human infant, or a human adult. After reading the fictitious article, students rated the degree of sympathy they felt on a 15-point scale. They were most upset by the stories about the infant, followed by the puppy, then the adult dog, and, finally, the adult human.

Clinton R. Sanders, PhD

Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, University of Connecticut

understanding dogsIt’s likely that dependence is the predominant issue surrounding the difference in people’s emotional response to animal pain and death as opposed to that of humans. Nonhuman animals typically are defined in western culture as far less “able” than humans. Of course, there’s a considerable continuum here since we routinely kill animals for food, sport, or convenience (overpopulations, danger, etc.). To the extent we see animals as “minded” or as viable social partners (i.e., “pets”), they are seen as worthy of intense emotional connection (Cecil was, in many ways, afforded this designation).

The difference between the typical emotional response to news of a child’s abuse or murder as opposed to violence committed against an adult is another example of the importance of dependence to people’s socially generated feelings of relative distress. When doing the interviews with “everyday” dog caretakers that formed part of the basis for Understanding Dogs, a number of those I talked to spoke of feeling more acute sorrow when their canine companions died than when close family members passed on.

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