On the concept of Man and Manhood
Zachary M.C. Harris
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Note: this is a work in progress and probably has more to it, but I welcome any and all comments.
I think that in restarting this endeavor [the book et al], one of the first things to be discussed is the issue of manhood as it is oft misapplied and misused to the point where the intended target can be worse off than before the issue was raised in the first place.
So many times we hear something that speaks to what a man should be or do, using and building upon not only stereotypical gender roles but also romanticized visions of what makes a man, if not a man prized by society. In America, that concept is already swayed by just the history of this country within the confines of colonialism, slavery, westward expansion and manifest destiny. To use the archetype of the conqueror is also to be totally disrespectful of all the victims that lie in their wake. For those that were the losing recipients of these actions, had the males acted in the stylized and praised behaviors of what some people say being a man is all about, then there probably would be no African Americans nor any Native Americans and we wouldn’t have the railroads and the wine industry to cite a few things. We can easily see where certain Native American peoples [such as the Arawak] in the Caribbean and other islands were totally wiped out when their men demonstrated these behaviors and attributes. Hell, the destruction to the societies of North and South America can be traced to European explorers coming for gold and other treasures. And the same thing has happened in Asia throughout time with the subjugation of China by the Japanese and the Manchus as an example, and let’s not forgets the Mughals, the Mongols and Alexander the Great. In Africa we have also the colonization of both southern and western Africa as well as the Islamic advances across North Africa. And please, don’t even let me get onto the issues of missionaries as well as England turning Australia into a penal colony and decimating the aboriginies.
These actions – really transgressions – were done by men; proud men, strong men, even at times religious men. Men who in the long run viewed others as beneath them. Men who didn’t respect the “man” in the word humanity.
There is not one particular point, or nexus within the growth of a male, when he officially becomes a man. Let me restate that to say that there is no universally agreed upon point of that. In certain cultures, once you go through puberty, you are a man while in some others it might be a ritual like going on the hunt and slaying a certain animal. Isn’t it funny that something else has to suffer for us to be given a title?
In the history of mankind on this planet – I don’t know if homo sapiens inhabit other planets but I am a fan of all of the Stargate television series, and I loved the concept shown in the movie Prometheus —numerous rituals which claim ascension to manhood have involved the subjugation of others if not the destruction of life. The irony is that the evolved man should care more about his place in the environment and in society, as well as the balance of other things within it.
The concept of what it is to be a man is a joke in most cases, because it is limiting in the development of the individual and depending upon the particular socio-economic class, it differs greatly. What some people think of as good breeding actually breeds some of the weakest individuals whom if it were not for wealth and the way that societies have been set up [coupled with greed] would not make it at all in the real world. And the concept of the real world changes from person to person, because while reality is absolute, what someone experiences in life is mitigated by their circumstances and their desire to change them.
In biblical times, and in some cultures today, a man is measured by the amount of sons and/or the amount of women that he has. Neither one of those really measures the quality of the life he lives, nor the quality of those that he either sires or beds.
In a number of subcultures, some of the respect for what a man is really is nothing more than the glorification of the concept of a person who is not only a menace to the community, but to the themselves as well. When a rite of passage is committing a crime and/or doing jail time, or having sex with a woman while sharing her with other men at the same time, something is so very wrong. Right now, we are witnessing an abject disregard for common sense, wisdom and a look at the future of the individual by those that following along as both sheep and lemmings, emulating trends and fads on the hopes that by doing these things, they will be well regarded amongst their peers. The problem is that fools respecting fools is no measure of achievement.
Then there is the aspect of the man as the person who can fix everything, e.g. the handyman. If we look at it, someone still employs the handyman, and maybe the person at the top of the food chain should be the one to be respected most. I remember once when a young boy (20s) asked me what I did for a living, because he never saw me dirty or wearing “work” clothes. I asked what work clothes should look like. The conversation went to the point of doing manual labor to which I asked him to ponder would he rather be the guy doing the labor, or the one sitting behind the desk making much more money and not beating his body up. The funny thing is that he missed the reality of it all and some two years later is still the same Neanderthal not looking at the layer cake for what it is.
The concept of what a man is all a matter of perspective and is applicable to the idiosyncrasies of who is making the judgment, and at the same time, why wait for someone else to judge you. The concept of manhood has devolved into not focusing on the individual being more than a one-sided myopic concept lauded by some and laughed at by those above. Everyone loves a junkyard dog every now and then, but that doesn’t mean that they want to live with them.
Now, women are always making statements on the issue of wanting a grown man and not a boy, but again the issue is that there are all types of men, which includes stupid and irresponsible to tyrannical and despotic. While women may lust for certain types of men, the smart women are wise enough to find someone that they can build a future with. You know, the guy who will be more responsible than not, not stray, raise the kids, keep a roof over their heads and everyone fed and clothed, and not go to jail doing something stupid to prove his manhood.
Men have not changed, as we are human. Some men learn to not make certain mistakes at an earlier age than others, and some men don’t know when to stop doing certain things. Unfortunately, there are not enough women out there to be unified and stop accepting certain behaviors, because at that point we would start to change en mass (see Lysistrata).
And as we get down to the issue of the African American man, our legacy of manhood is moth-eaten and tattered, having lost our connection with our heritage in the motherland, having endured the Middle Passage and American slavery, and transitioned through the abolishment of slavery only to emerge in society where we have been systematically, emotionally, spiritually and academically castrated but are still expected to rise up even while we are constantly and continually being held down by others and by ourselves. We have no bootstraps of our own, but many people don’t get that. Now this is not to make the age-old excuse, but to state the actual facts.
In American Society, the Black man has stereotypically been represented as: the penultimate athlete or lover; rarely ever the scholar; the religious adherent who prays for his salvation; the hustler if not outright criminal; the person with few chances; the risk averse; and the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, too many of us that fall in none of those categories are quick to imitate being part of one to bring out a situation to our satisfaction.
The issue is that instead of being the trendsetters that we are inherently, many of us are quick to not accept someone for being the individual that they are, even if we are going to appreciate them down the line. Remember that Jimi Hendrix set the stage for what the electric guitar could do, and he also played with the Isley Brothers. And while that might be human nature in general, we allow it to be more pervasive and dominant within our ranks. As a point, I am remembering all of the controversy – if we can call it that – when Andre 3000 of the group Outkast chose to do his own style, and people started to question if not make opinions about his sexuality. It’s hilarious when you know the existence of the homothug; those guys that you swear are some of the toughest men on the block and breaking women’s backs in the bedroom, but are living homosexual lives in t he shadows.
One major thing holding many Black men back is not only emulating destructive and non-productive behaviors, but also refusing to venture into arenas that traditionally had no visible examples of Black participation. Now, I first say destructive and non-productive, as each are different things but still don’t result in any forward movement or advancement of the individual. There are lots of things that this encompasses, but it’s not important to argue certain things because we are all not the same, and some people will vehemently argue that something is actually not non-productive because they are only looking at the here and now and not the next and later. On the second, I mention visible Black participation because in this society, and depending upon where you live, you might not be exposed to see people that look like you participating in certain things outside of the occasional person in a new story or a magazine. As African Americans, we are delighted and emboldened when we see a gymnast, an ice skater, a luge racer or a bobsled team in the Olympics that look like us. The first time I heard Living Colour’s Cult of Personality, I was like “damn those white boys can play” and I was shocked when a white co-worker told me that they were Black.
The more examples that we see, then the more we can imagine ourselves doing things. The main gap is that the most examples we see are in the worlds of sports and entertainment, which is pretty redundant because professional sports is nothing more than entertainment. We also occasionally see people in the worlds of business and industry, but as far as people who are at the table or in senior positions, we see more examples of that in films, television and music videos [as well as sometimes in print] then we do in real life. And the underlying factor in all of that is education, something that many people have eschewed in favor of looking, or being thought of, as cool. Knowledge is the greatest equalizer out there, yet it is the one thing that is not focused on as a whole. There are too many amongst us who will give credence to someone who can shuck in jive, and by this I mean sing, dance, play an instrument, or do great on a ballfield, rather than putting pressure on someone to do well academically. And then what that person’s life falls apart because of financial mismanagement and that their fifteen minutes of fame are over, we will be the first people talking about how they didn’t get an education or didn’t use their brains. Hold on, weren’t you the first people applauding this person only doing what was entertaining to you? And then the lightbulb should go off right then and there.
And we are quick to embrace the psychological warfare being perpetuated against us daily in the entertainment world, making excuses and defenses for people who are getting a dollar. Little do you realize that that’s all that many of them are making anyway. Radio stations and television stations are a conundrum in that one minute the programming is some of the worst that a child could absorb – note that as an FCC rule certain types of content aren’t supposed to be played over the airwaves between the hours of 8AM and 8PM – and at the next minute they are talking about the bad crimes and situations out there. You don’t think that you’re facilitating it? Case in point: there is a young minister in Philadelphia who is railing against certain rappers and really got upset with the song “Amen” by Meek Mill and Drake. He was offended at the concept of referencing church with some of the things being talked about in the song, and so, a local radio station put those two on the air. Now, while he might have had a good argument against the artist [as if the artist really went too far with this song, but that the other ones were equally socially damaging], but he chose the forum that plays the music all of the time. How could he be so stupid on that one? But then again, lack of great education does that to people. Or should I say a lack of logic, which is one of the core parts of the curriculum that is being taught to elementary school students in other countries. Hey, maybe we should start some logic classes in the community!
Aristotle said something akin that man learns more so that he can become greater at war. Well, life is war, but for the most part we have chosen to learn the wrong things. That in itself points out to a failure of the best concept of manhood.
I think that in retrospect we need to really understand the both the concepts of manhood and man in general and then ask ourselves where along the curve of evolution we want to be. Arguing with a brick wall is pointless, so essentially, letting others try to move us at times by disparaging remarks, and then retorting against them is ridiculous. While I don’t have all of the answers and there is no master plan, the best that we can do is to not only be genuine, and in that true to ourselves, but to also strive to be better and be good.
What are your thoughts?