Friday, May 12, 2006

Lebron James and the Cult of Black Masculinity

What follows is a recent email exchange that took place on the listserv for Princeton's Black Men's Awareness Group, of which I am a member.

From: "Brother Benjamin"
Sent: Saturday, May 6, 2006 12:13 pm
To: blackmen@PRINCETON.EDU
Subject: Reeeal Suspect pic of Lebron

From: Larry D Lyons (ldlyons@Princeton.EDU)"
To: blackmen@PRINCETON.EDU
Subject: Re: Reeeal Suspect pic of Lebron

yay! a continuation of our community's homophobic witch hunts!
I'll alert Bishop Eddie Long. He loves these, too!

From: “Brother Jeremy”
Sent: Monday, May 8, 2006 8:33 pm
To: blackmen@PRINCETON.EDU
Subject: Re: Reeeal Suspect pic of Lebron

lol, great pic Ben, that shit is hella funny.......who's Bishop Eddie Long?

From: “Brother David”
Sent: Monday, May 8, 2006 11:14 pm
Subject: Re: Reeeal Suspect pic of Lebron

Eddie Long is a black minister from Atlanta who has been seen as a type of black poster child for Bush's faith-based initiatives...also one of the most vocal opponents of the gay rights struggle, whether it be adoption rights or the right to marry. When I first got the email, I felt the photo was just a continuation of our tongue and cheek banter about the playoffs (which was definitely Ben's thinking I'm sure), but after hearing the seniors speak about being true to yourself at departing words, it makes me feel wrong to ignore the fact that some may have been offended.

From: Larry D Lyons (ldlyons@Princeton.EDU)"
Sent: Tuesday, May 9, 2006 12:57 pm
To: blackmen@PRINCETON.EDU
Subject: Re: Reeeal Suspect pic of Lebron

Thanks David. To be sure, Eddie Long's intolerance of gays doesn't end with the right to adopt or marry. He's a key player in the black church's ongoing mockery and demonization of its non-heterosexual congregants (see also: Bishop Alfred E. Owens
recent tirade against "sissies"). I interject their names here to draw a comparison between the implications Brother Benjamin's (surely lighthearted) email and the grave and unsettling homophobia that propels the sermons of Long and Owens. Unfortunately, linking the two is not such a stretch.

We know what "suspect" means. Suspicious. This picture makes us "reeeal" suspicious of something. That something is Lebron's masculinity. Men don't embrace. Men don't exhibit affection for other men. Not reeeal men. Reeeal men conform to the accepted strictures of gender. Any departure from these strictures render them "suspect" -- of questionable masculinity and/or sexuality.

Although we know that Lebron's gaze is this picture is the furthest thing from lustful or romantic, we still circulate the photo under the label of "suspect". Why? To fulfill our important role in endorsing and perpetuating a certain [stereo]type of [Black] masculinity.

These kinds of emails are a valued weapon in the fight against effeminacy, which is invariably (and problematically) linked with homosexuality. We do not want our men to be women. We do not want our men to be gay. These things are deplorable. So, regularly (and often under the guise of lighthearted derision) we send out these little reminders with a subtext that reads: "There are important social penalties for transgressing the established standards of masculinity" --or, more simply -- "Don't be a fag".

So, Brother Benjamin's email does some important work for our community. It exalts a standard of masculinity that stigmatizes a wide range of expression including camaraderie, platonic affection and jubilation by coding each as feminine. Simultaneously, it reminds "feminine" and non-heterosexual males that they are not men, perhaps not even human and certainly not welcome. This message is enveloped in a defense that reads: "I didn't mean it that way" -or- "It was just a joke", and the work is done. The cult of black masculinity is reified and its minion is protected by the ostensible jest of his intentions.

Bishops Long and Owens do it on the pulpit and we replicate it in our emails. Wittingly or unwittingly, the game remains the same, and our silence is all that is required to ensure that the homophobic witch hunt continue, unchecked.

in love,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, watching this go back and forth on the listserv was really interesting. But what I found more interesting was the e-mails asking us to take our conversation from e-mail to the message board. Then a few days later, e-mails about football are bandied back and forth with no problem. Why is it that a football conversation is one of interest, but one investigating the way we, as Black men, treat Black SGL men should be pushed to the messageboard where it can be more easily ignored? That speaks volumes.

11:35 AM  
Blogger dugla said...

indeed... there are "minions" everywhere including the one working in the Tech department of your establishment moderating emails.

6:28 PM  
Anonymous kristen said...

damn what's going on at princeton?

i love larry,as usual, your laying the intellectual smackdown on ignorance:)

but really how many times do i have to see men smacking each other on the ass at basket-, foot- and baseball games? everyone always says it's for 'moral support' but no one has ever smacked me on my ass for moral support...

6:42 PM  
Blogger Hollambeeee said...

thanks for challenging the folks's necessary...

7:38 PM  
Blogger Clay said...

keep on pushing those buttons ... i know it can be tough at times.

1:02 AM  
Blogger Sangroncito said...

Very interesting.

Personally I can't fathom how any of us who have historically been on the the receiving end of discrimination--black, gay, latino, women, etc--can scapegoat anyone else or belittle another's struggle. I just don't get it.

2:18 AM  
Blogger Professor Kim said...

Thanks for this, Larry. It's a perfect example of something I've been thinking about for a while -- how heterosexism leads to a limiting and policing all forms of contact and expression -- stunting communications and perverting our understanding of ourselves and each other. It seems to me to be an important, but not well-articulated factor in so much of the violence we see in our community. How many of our people are dead because their killers were afraid that someone might perceive them as feminine? Too, too many -- and what far too many people outside of the glbt struggle don't realize is that a lot of those dead people are their straight black and brown sons and daughters. I wonder how we can make that point more clearly.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Larry D. Lyons II said...

"As anthropologists and students of popular culture have long known, "typing" is part of the larger process by which human beings assert, parcel out, and deny power to members of their communities.
Typing is often initiated by those who would be at the apex of the society, but it also undertaken by beings in middling situations and at the bottom of societies. People variously distinguish those around them by class, gender, age, intelligence, and manners and set up targets for satire or condescension that satisfy their need for superiority...
In virtually every instance, it seems, is carried out as a harmless, natural activity. That is, persons doing the typing usually do not recognize the interests behind their contructions and at other times pointedly deny them and see the typing as perfectly natural."

-Elizabeth Johns in the introduction of her book
Amercian Genre Painting: The Politics of Everyday Life

10:58 AM  

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