Black Men and The Intense Sexual Politics of Toxic, Racialized Masculinity

Over the past few years, and even more recently, the issue of toxic masculinity has dominated the public sphere. From the recent Gillette ad that provoked varied reactions from segments of men (and some women), across the political and cultural spectrum. To the upscale, smug acting private school boys of Covington Catholic High School. To the racist and homophobic attack on Empire actor Jussie Smollett by MAGA hat wearing White Trump supporters. In some quarters, the testosterone is intense and real

The truth is that toxic masculinity has always been a source of discussion in the Black community. In fact, in recent years, the topic has been one of intense and fierce debate. From barbershops to beauty shops, Black women’s book clubs. Black intellectual and academic panels. Black political and cultural organizations and in some cases, the Black church. In a number of cases, heavy levels of shade have been thrown. Fingers have been pointed in all directions. Direct and in some cases, scurrilous accusations have been levied toward specific individuals as well.

The fracas that occurred between comedian/actor D.L Hughley and actor /former athlete and public spokesperson Terry Crews is the latest in a seemingly ongoing battle as it relates to Black men, homophobic attitudes and toxic masculinity. Indeed, it seems that every few weeks, some Black man somewhere has made national or international headlines for espousing homophobic sentiments or embracing the retrograde vice of toxic masculinity. From Nick Cannon, Kevin Hart, Isaiah Washington, Tracey Morgan and a few others, there have been a number of prominent Black male celebrities who have embraced and espoused homophobic attitudes.

For the few people in America who are still unaware of the drama that unfolded last month between Mr. Hughley and Mr. Crews, Hughley took a personal swipe (unnecessarily I would argue) at Terry Crews for what he(Hughley) saw as an insufficient and weak reaction to the sexual assault that the Brooklyn Nine Nine actor endured at the hands of Hollywood talent agent Adam Venit.

Hughley , like many Black men (and some Black women) took to social media and the larger bloggersphere commenting on how a man with the strength and size of Terry Crews had no business letting any man sexually violate him without doing physical harm to the offending party. For many of Crew’s critics, the argument was that any man who was a REAL man would not have tolerated such disrespectful behavior. Thus, Crews forfeited his manhood card for failing to take physical and aggressive action.

Acting as the more mature party, the seemingly more rational Mr. Crews made it clear (as if he had to explain anything to anyone) that despite the brashness and bravado of many of his critics, the fact is that for men in very visible positions as he, there are potential, if not, significant consequences for behaving or reacting in a certain manner. This is even more so for Black men who are already under a unrelenting microscope in Hollywood as well as the larger society as hyper, angry, confrontational and filled with unabashed ATTITUDE!

There are often consequences for Black men who use their fists toward non-Black men , in particular powerful, upscale and wealthy White men. Unlike their more privileged, White male counterparts, even well-to-do Black men like Terry Crew are not afforded the luxury to display or exercise their anger in the public sphere.

Truth be told, it is amusing (at least to me) to see and hear certain men often talk about what they would have done or how they would have handled a certain situation. The “ I wish he would have done that to me” or the “if I had been the one who….” Yes indeed. These are the supposedly talk trash, take no shit from anybody type of men who would have no problem in kicking another man’s butt if the man in question disrespected him. To be honest, a few (very few) of these men probably could back up their comments, but the vast majority of others are more than often simply projecting. When push came to shove, they would cower lake a wilted flower in intense heat or cut tail and run

Virility and toughness aside, the fact is that society has historically categorized Black men as violent, aggressive, oversexed, dishonest and juvenile. Black men have largely been viewed as sexual in an immature manner, jive talking, living to embrace violence, routinely living outside the realm of legality, willing to fight at the drop of a dime and having a distaste for embracing any form of law and order. In short, in the mindset of those more unenlightened folk, Black men are as primitive as cavemen.

What is even more troubling about the reaction toward Crews by Hughley and segments (certainly not all) of the Black community is that perhaps without realizing it, many of these same critics who argue that Crews should have went medieval on Adam Venit are unwittingly subscribing to the same viral toxic masculinity mindset that some of them decry in others and are routinely ascribed to them. By embracing the belief that men should be brute, brash, vile, callous, devoid of feelings etc… is the height of sexist, misogynistic behavior etc… Such a retrograde attitude serves no one any good.

Toxic masculinity is a vice that too many men are eager to tolerate or ignore its often psychologically debilitating effects. This is something that much change. BRAVO to Terry Crews and others like him who have decided to unabashedly promote the message that such behavior is deeply, retrograde, problematic and are determined to dismantle such a regressive mindset that has been firmly etched in the mindset of a largely patriarchal society.

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a writer, author and public speaker. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America which will be published by the University of Chicago Press later this year.

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Historian, public speaker, social-cultural critic. Professor of African American and Gender Studies, Post-WWII U.S. History, at East Tennessee State University.

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