A Brittle Manhood

A couple years ago, while I was a graduate student at the University of South Florida, I started receiving (and to this day I do not know why) a magazine that appealed to an urban hip-hop scene, filled with pictures of attractive models, hip-hop singers, coming from some fellow named Mark Ecko. Included in many of the issues of this particular magazine was a full-page spread about some rap battle showing the rapper Omarion defeated before a victorious rapper. As a student of culture, even rap culture (since I have spent a fair amount of my life in the inner city, even though I’m not a particularly hip person by nature), I have noticed that rappers are always having feuds with each other. I have long puzzled over why this is the case, and what it has to do with the larger context of the black experience.

But in my studies of manhood, I have found another famously prickly group of men–the Southern male, especially in antebellum times (though even today this view holds true, depending on how old fashioned a fellow we are talking about). There are many striking similarities between the insecure manhood of rap stars engaged in gang wars and feuds and the feuds of hillbillies and prickly honor-bound Southern men fighting duels with anyone who will question even the slightest bit of their honor. The insecurity of both antebellum Southern men and of the type of man who becomes a rapper leads to a sense of hypermasculinity, where any slight to manhood or honor becomes a mortal attack, with a fierce and violent response.

I’m not really sure why this is so. It is clear that such a response springs from weakness and not strength. The South was outnumbered by by the north, dependent on it for its trading (for the South did not sail ships) and for its manufacturing. Moreover, the South’s elite was highly outnumbered by its own slaves and restive poor whites who did not profit, and appeared particularly insecure financially, borrowing more than they could reliably make, having to sell off their own mulatto children and slave mistresses to pay the bills at times. This had to cut at their sense of being the best gentleman that America had to offer.

Likewise, the black man is under a great deal of assault in this society, even more then men in general. Generations of dependency and extremely high rates of imprisonment have led to black families often being led by women. Sons grow up in the inner city without their fathers (I have seen it often), and try to prove their manhood and fight against the oppression they see around them not by succeeding and escaping the ghetto culture and the dependent mindset of Section 8 and welfare, but by joining gangs, selling drugs, and getting arrested, making it difficult to find any way out of the cycle of defeat and despair. Those blacks who grow up outside of the inner city are often college educated and are often, in my experience, without this same over-prickly sense of manhood, so in one sense the immediate culture and upbringing has a great deal to do with the mindset.

And what is the mindset? It would seem that a paranoid, “me against the world” mentality tends to lead to very brittle and prickly behavior, regardless of the particular race and gender or what other factors of the person itself. Paranoid hostility tends to lead to an aggressively defensive self-image in response to that perceived hostility from others, even where it is not present, to such a degree that it often makes hostility a self-fulfilling prophecy. So what can be done about it?

For one, it must be recognized that those who have the problem are those with the paranoid worldview. People must take responsibility for their own mindsets and not think that the world is out to get them, whether they are blacks or Southern whites or catatonic aliens from the planet K-Pax. Some people in the world are predisposed to be friendly, some unfriendly, and a great deal indifferent and only focused on their own affairs. That’s the way the world works–unless you’re obedient to God’s ways and laws is a significant portion of the world going to hate you–and then they will hate you for a reason.

And it’s not only men who have this sort of defensive and over-exaggerated brittle manhood, but the same is true for women. Those women who think the world is against them also tend to respond with the same defensive hostility. No one wants to cuddle with a porcupine, and so the hostility is a self-fulfilling prophecy as well. If we want friends, we must be friendly. If we want love, we must be lovable. None of that is necessarily easy for us.

Nonetheless, it is true that a great deal of popular culture is hostile to men. It is hard to watch a commercial without men being seen as foolish, indulgently treated by the supposedly wise women and children who know it all. I am personally offended by such garbage, so rather than feel paranoid I just cease to watch television shows that have anti-male advertising. If you want my support you respect me. If you don’t respect me, I want nothing to do with you. It’s not worth being eaten alive by poisonous resentment. Success is the best revenge. That is forgotten by those who boil over at the slightest resentment and fail to appreciate that what we ought to desire is not revenge but happiness. And that requires we be less brittle, and less paranoid, and more open to seeing the world as it really is.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A Brittle Manhood

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