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.

Exploring the nuances of race and racialization in the United States

This week in North Philly Notes, Diana Pan, author of Incidental Racialization writes about race, inequality, and professional socialization of Asian Americans and Latinos in law school.

Mention “race” in a conversation, and two things often come to mind: the history and current social experiences of black Americans, and the image of poor, urban communities. With regard to the first imagery, common topics might include the black Civil Rights Movement (there were in fact, other race-based civil rights movements as well), residential segregation, Black Lives Matter, and a host of topics perhaps learned in high school classrooms, or gleaned from mainstream media. Rarely do we consider how race matters for nonwhite racialized groups whose histories are not represented in standard curricula, and who are rendered invisible in conversations about race in America. Further, many Americans assume that if nonwhite individuals enter mainstream professions and interact with more white Americans, race would no longer be a heightened concern. The experiences of nonwhite Americans, across the socioeconomic spectrum, do not support this assumption.

Incidental Racialization engages the nuances of race and racialization in the United States. The purpose of this book is to:

  • explore how race matters in professional socialization
  • give voice to those racialized groups – Asian Americans and Latinos – who are often underrepresented in discourse on racial inequality
  • complicate understandings of inequalities that are sustained among elites.

I contend that we, as a society, cannot truly understand inequalities if we do not interrogate how they differ within and between social strata. Studying “up” (i.e. elites) then provides an opportunity to disrupt the “one size fits all” trope of economic success diminishing racial inequality. It also permits a lens to understand the various ways that racialization happens alongside professional socialization.

Incidental Racialization_smPerhaps not surprising, but certainly revealing, law school rank appears to influence how students talk about their racialized experiences. While students at the two law schools studied shared stories of race-based discrimination, or race-based interactions, the rhetoric used was different. For example, students from the lower-ranked law school frequently recount particular discrete treatment that made them feel like second class citizens or racial “others.” Yet, these lower-tier law students provide excuses for this same treatment. In a way, they appeared to rationalize race-based experiences in law school. This differed from the narrative provided by students at the elite law school. They were more affirmative about race-based discrimination, and recounted their experiences in the context of institutionalized cultures and norms. Privilege, in the relative prestige of the law school attended, seems to equip nonwhite law students with stratified language to convey and navigate their own racialization.

Studying social inequalities can take many forms, and Incidental Racialization demonstrates just one axis of intersection. The next step is to understand how racialization translates into the world of work. In other words, how does race matter for lawyers? In what ways is racialization sustained? And, what are the implications? Perhaps of note are the findings in a recently released report, A Portrait of Asian Americans in the Law, that while Asian Americans are the largest nonwhite group in major law firms, they have the highest attrition rates, and attain partnership at the lowest rate. There is a clear leak in the pipeline, and the question begs: how might racialization be a part of the problem?

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