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Slow Motion pp 140–170Cite as

Palgrave Macmillan

Competing Masculinities (III) : Black Masculinity and the White Man’s Black Man

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Abstract

‘Ugly’, indeed, unbelievably ugly, were all the fruits of white men’s four centuries of contact with Africa. Marlow’s depiction of the people of Africa in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was, in many ways, more sophisticated than that of his contemporaries and predecessors. He thought he could detect a kinship with the ‘black beast’ of Africa created by the European imagination; others could not. One way of delving deeper into the fractured features of modern masculinity in the West is to explore the social construction of another subordinated masculinity — Black masculinity. What we will find is more evidence of the conflict and chaos at the heart of the dominant ideal of masculinity: heterosexual, white and — to the Victorian mind — English. The first ‘fact’ about the ‘black man’ which the white man knew was that he was not really a man at all — a child rather than an adult, a body not a mind. White men created the image of Black men as yet another contrast necessary for their own self-image. ‘Travellers with closed minds’, African writer and literary scholar Chinua Achebe comments on white men’s and women’s reportage of Africa, ‘can tell us little except about themselves.’3 What they reveal of themselves, however, is well worth pondering.

Keywords

  • Black Woman
  • Black Masculinity
  • Black Community
  • Black People
  • Black Family

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

If you’re a Negro … you’re the target for everybody’s fantasies. If … you’re a black woman … you know how to do dirty things! … And if you’re a black boy you wouldn’t be-lieve the holocaust that opens over your head — with all these despicable — males — looking for somebody to act out their fantasies on. And it happens in this case — if you’re sixteen years old — to be you!

James Baldwin1

We were wanderers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking possession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of a profound anguish and of excessive toil. But suddenly we struggled round a bend, here would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage … We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse … It was unearthly, and the men were — No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it — this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but, what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity — like yours — the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly.

Joseph Conrad2

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Notes

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© 2007 Lynne Segal

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Segal, L. (2007). Competing Masculinities (III) : Black Masculinity and the White Man’s Black Man. In: Slow Motion. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230582521_7

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