Black man designation, what does it means to be your self? Sounds like an easy thing to do, but in reality it’s a lot harder than it sound. It’s a continuous struggle, to be yourselves. Being one self is the reason I admire the “Pride” community. That’s an unimaginable hill of acceptance to climb socially and personally. To join “Pride” you have to overcome a superego, which is what everybody you know and care about thinks. The struggle is not coming to term with your sexuality, but overcoming the beliefs of love ones.
In reading Michele Wallace’s: “Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman.” The notion of being your self is revealed in this fascinating book. I have to admit I did not know who Michele Wallace was. I knew who Faith Ringgold is, the brilliant Afro-American visual artist. I first saw her superb work: Flag for the Moon: “Die Ni… r ” in a slide lecture at the Maryland Institute College of Art siting in Dr. Leslie King Hammond’s cool class: Africans In the New World. I love that class. It was a revelation seeing myself reflected in art, a subject that I’m innately passionate about. It’s something the larger culture would not understand, I’m guessing. White folks are reflective in art… objectively speaking they’re the art, as we know it. Also artist Faith Ringgold is Michele Wallace’s mother as well of the dedication of this brilliant book.
And the book is dazzling and straightforward in so many ways, a true piece of art. Michelle Wallace explains what is was like to live at that time of the Civil Rights Movement, of black revolution, feminism black and white, and of becoming a young middleclass black woman, with the gnawing guilt of not taking the punishment that poor black where taking in her stead, of falling for the simplemindedness of ghetto life, of avoiding the purgatory of being middle class or not black enough.
Of growing up around black men – not an easy thing, for a group with out an establish culture. But rather a group that is looking to identify with a culture or reinvent a culture based on its differences with the dominant European culture. So everything had to be African or what ever that means. And with Africa, women’s roles are not chief, they’re likely but not necessarily subordinate to their men. Not much different from European culture but perhaps a few centuries behind. After all it was Europeans who first revolted against their kings to establishing a republic moving equality a little bit forward.
However, chilling and accurately Michele explains how she fell for the popular definition of ghetto life: “it was erotic, wild, free, intense, and liberating in its poverty and in the violence of its extremes.” And having myself worshiped at the temple of the king of punk funk Rick James, dancehall reggae and rap music I concur, ironically finding one self in a group.
Michele Wallace shed light on American stalwarts like Norman Mailer’s “The White Negro” and his assertion of the black man as a sexual outlaw its influence on the culture at the time, even now. Rap videos are the personification of the “black buck” every rapper wants to be the Black Macho with their video homage to Al Pacino’s 1985 “Scarface” that little paradigm to manhood. And as Michele points out, Euro-Americans “by controlling the black man’s notion of what a black man was suppose to be, it would successfully control the very goal of his struggle for “freedom.”
And by far it was the brutal buck who was the threat to the white man’s family his legacy and of course his wealth. Toni Morison makes lots of sense when she states: “Racism was always a cone game… ” however, Toni Morrison for as brilliant as she is, is ignored, because as Michele observes for black folks the pursuit of manhood is what stirred the collective imagination then and now, “in fact, that the black man risked everything – all the traditional goals of revolution: money, security, the overthrow of the government- in pursuit of an immediate sense of his own power.” – wow! What an amazing observation. Its no wonder we never heard of Michele Wallace.
Michele, to drive her perspective invokes the great James Baldwin who in his essay “Many Thousands Gone,” Notes of natives Son by Richard Wright: “recording his days of anger he has also nevertheless recorded, as no Negro before him had ever done, that fantasy Americans hold in their minds when they speak of the Negro: That fantastic and fearful image which we have lived with since the first slave fell beneath the lash… that admits the possibility of his being subhuman… “
James Baldwin too was a great observer and unquestionable artist. But questioned he was by the transformed father of black poetry Amiri Baraka who transformed Mailer’s sexual outlaw into the role model for the black revolution: the black man as a sexual outlaw by raping white vagina (Baraka was not PC), not groveling for it, Baldwin was questioned also by professional rapist Eldridge Cleaver, real black man (that was sarcasm). Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in his essay From the Stacks: “The Fire Last Time” in New Republic makes the statement about how Amiri and Clever felt about James Baldwin. “Baldwin was thus engaged in “a despicable underground guerrilla war, waged on paper, against black masculinity.” Young militants referred to Baldwin, unsmilingly, as Martin Luther Queen. James Baldwin did not fit the definition of black man’s 1960’s masculinity then and now but to be fair not many can, although they are many whom succeeded. And many more who benefited from the intoxicating swag it produces.
And if you define yourself as a black man, you will have to confront yourself by what historically has been the oppressor’s fear, the legendary mythological black penis, which will rape and take their white women their property and wealth. It’s a bit of a conundrum, one that finds black men as collaborator with their historical oppressors.
his black d… k is so big
when it stands up erect
the sound of his voice.
it obscures his view
of the territory, his history,
the cosmology of his identity
is rendered invisible.
When his big black d… k
is not erect
it drags behind him,
a heavy, obtuse thing,
his balls and chains
so much noise
I cannot hear him
even if I want to listen.
essex hemphill, black machismo.
Michel Wallace in pinpointing the differences that these men shared makes a great point in representing their similarities, that of the exclusion of black women. The black men like all men when they fail move on to the next chapter. For most of those failed revolutionaries of the 60’s it was another conundrum, socialism that proved to be the next political grab for power.
And power is the objective, power for the black man. Recounting and experience at the Harlem Schomburg Collection where a black male librarian confronted Susan Brownmiller when she was doing her book Against Our Will… She asked to see information about black women and rape. He said… “Then you need to ask about the lynching of black men.”… ‘I’m sorry, young lady. If you are serious about your subject you need to start with the historic injustice to black men. That must be your approach.” Michelle Wallace notes that in the obsession of the black man there is no room for black women.
And that white Feminist like Gerda Lener’s make a mockery when she say that black women have a higher status in their community compared with white women for Michele’s reality begs to differ.
And it is here where I think Michele Wallace makes an even greater contribution. She tells the awful truth. “Any black woman who’s got any sense treads lightly in Harlem.”… Black women, if she’s elegant or highbrow or intellectual, she’s pronounced funny looking, uptight and in need of a good brutal f..k. Why this hostility? Because the black women historical role as the matriarch was seen then as the emasculator of the black man, it was the black women who were use by the oppressor against the black man. Today that ideology has not changed as rap music continues to celebrate derogatory names for women as the go to antagonist.
It was the black slave superwoman who defines manhood. Fannie who ratter smash her babies brains out on a rock, ratter that letting her live as a slave. (Ophelia S. Egypt, J. Masouka, and Charles Johnson, “Unwritten History of Slavery: Autobiographical Accounts of Ex-Slaves,” Black Women In White America, ed. Gerda Lerner) Sethe from Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved refused to raise her child into slavery but rather cut her throat and kill her first. It’s this super woman who was forge in the crucible of America’s slavery.
Slavery was not germane to America; it was around long before the discovery of America. But America did forge a political kind of slavery where indenture slaves had to establish a beneficial demarcation. Institute by the minority of slave owning white men for their protection. These white men wanted a queen to showoff their wealth, thus the hard working white women was transformed into a helpless delicate forbidden flower one that was the complete contrast to the black women who had to works as hard as the men and supply the babies for the work force.
Under these circumstances an for her survival, the black women had to find allies, even if it was in the bed of a white man, for which many black men has never forgiven her. And her mental power and strength only served to reminded black men of their lack of power. The black women found ways of reinventing herself to move ahead adopting and imitating standards of white women. But hard as she tried the black women entered the Black Liberation Movement of the 60’s as an unwanted participant unless of course if she look white.
In 1969 Michele Wallace writes of the surprise many black women had, that black men where coming to their defense. Nonetheless the black women had to know her place; misogyny was an integral part of the Black Macho, a slave morality its philosophy of victimhood declared the black man were more oppressed than the black woman that the black man with is sexual superiority, because the black man did agree with Mailer’s assertions of sexual outlaw, was entitle. However heading into this revolution the black woman believe that it was her time to be rescued. That finally someone will do the fighting for her. She was not aware of the contradictions of the time that her designated responsibility for the revolution was to have babies.
It wasn’t a revolution for black people after all, but a grab for power for the black man. Justified by and entitle with the injustice against black people. It’s what humans do; now the victims, the black men are exploiting the people who help their revolution. The women.
But not all women took that laying down. Many were ambitious and understood how the game is played. Enter Angela Davis and Nicki Giovanni, Like Huey Newton Angela Davis and Nikki Giovanni are every bit the revolutionaries. And will use any and everybody to achieve their goals like the men who fornicated their way true the black revolution. Remember defining manhood is the goal. Admittedly like a great performer they had to become what their audience expected them to be strong black leaders. And Angela Davis and Nikki Giovanni are just that to this day.
For me Michele Wallace made a revelation in telling Angela’s story regarding her relationship with George Jackson Soledad Brother, “a man who had made it eminently clear that he consider black women enslaving.” Michel quotes. I got to be hones here. I never understood the infatuation of intellectual young black women with incarcerated inmates, the jailed brudders. All the sistas love them; people wonder why boy’s copy pants-down prison look. Well Michelle gave me a genesis, Angela Davis. Why did she fall in love with this man? Granted the ideology, but what the hey. Every black person was a socialist at the time. She could easily find a black man who shared her ideology that was not incarcerated.
But then I return to The Pride movement, Angela Davis did not have Pride, 60’s black power did not include Pride although Audre Lorde was around. But Just look at the treatment James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin got. What’s closet gay a girl to do? Fake it. And fake it Angela Davis did. Just like all closeted homosexuals you go to extremes to hide your individuality. By doing so Angela Davis to this day has set the standard for black women, thank goodness not all of them. But Michele Wallace is right! Angela Davis, for all her achievements, she was seen as the epitome of the selfless. Sacrificing “good Woman”- the only kind of black woman the Movement would accept. She did it for her man, they said. A woman in a woman’s place, the so-called political issues were irrelevant.” A slave morality! So much sow that some women in jail take pride and solace, because they did it for their man.
Ad to the list of gay women fitting, while staying in the closet is Nikki Giovanni. I got to admit, I love her work, she definitely has talent so des Amiri Baraka and Eldridge Cleaver though. But ideology is different. And Michel Wallace points out the damage her ideology cost at the time for her support for the movement, by asking the women to have babies so they could have “something to Love,” a self reflecting stamen for sure. By the time she advice them to wait until you can afford a baby, Michele said it was to late for a lot of women were on welfare. Can’t blame Nikki Giovanni for that, it was all part of the atmosphere of the time if you wanted to fit in, to be black.
Michele Wallace’s book is insightful I’m glad I read it. Her perspective was one I did not see. Then and now the lives of the black women are ignored as long as the black man is still a victim, systematically under attack by the pedagogy of white supremacy. We will not hear her voice unless under the subtext of the struggle of the black man. I drank the Kool-Aid like many people who wanted to believe that there is a just and social order that will take care of me, I mean this is the lie, fight for the black man is a fight for you, but the reality is a grab for power by a small minority, however in the land of opportunity it’s up to you to get up and get it. Michele Wallace and Faith Ringgold did just that.
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Manuel A Palacio