For black men, Prince set the stage for a different kind of acceptable identity.
In the wake of the Purple One’s (Prince) death, I am left wondering about how courageous it is to be the man you want to be. We are pervaded by singular caricatures of Black masculinity, stoic, violent, womanizing. And yes, many of us prescribe to one or all of these characteristics at some point in our lives. Yet, the notion that Black men lack diversity in their masculinities is somewhat archaic. Prince’s death reiterates the idea, or well, the antithetical argument that to be Black and masculine means that you had to run fervently from the feminine. For some reason, as I think back to my whimsical adolescence, I never questioned why this diminutive figure wore bikinis, go-go boots, scarves, and pastels. I admired his ability to draw out my own adolescent sexuality.
Like many teens growing up in the eighties, where sex and sexual exploration had been overtaken by conservative ideologies, the religious right, and Reagan’s diplomacy, Prince’s music excited me. When my parents weren’t around, I would sing loudly the words to “Darling Nikki,” “Erotic City,” and “Little Red Corvette.” My mother was a bible-thumper, and those words and gyrations were forbidden in my household. Yet, at no point did Prince’s mysterious and anti-prescribed masculinity turn me off; it only served as to propagate my propensity for adolescent promiscuity. In essence, it turned me on! I “Adore”d him. His music, along with MJ’s, was – as my fraternity brother and great friend, Todd Taylor, notes – the soundtrack of my adolescence.
I remember whaling the lyrics of “When Doves Cry” as a stringy ninth grader while I prepared for my track meets. I remember playing the air guitar rifts to “Purple Rain” in front of the mirror outside my room as an impressionable young Black boy. However, at no point during those perennial years of searching for my secure Black masculinity did I come to loath the salaciousness nature of Prince’s masculinity. It was as if he was a god, and those that dared to oppose his reign were merely cast aside, proverbially shown the door.
It is also interesting that Prince rose alongside the rise of hip-hop’s superstars LL Cool J, Run DMC, Kool G Rap, and Cool Herc and their heightened levels of hypermasculinity and misogyny. However, his ascension, unlike the greats of the latter genre, transcended race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Although LL was known to flaunt his statuesque physique, at no point would he have dared to don a pastel G-string and boots and perform love ballads that motivated the fairer sex to litter stages with their own undergarments. Prince was the alternative we needed.
Throughout history, Black masculinity has been challenged, under-minded, and emasculated, thus resigning us to look for masculinities that feel secure and protective. Too often the end of this search mirrors the stereotypes that grip us like primates as we deal with the ramifications/consequences of internalized racism, discrimination, and oppression. What we saw in Prince for the last 40 years was a man who had the courage to define his own masculinity and sexuality in the midst of a population of men who have mostly fell in locked step to the cultural and societal prescriptions of masculinity. He was a “Revolution” as well as “Revolutionary,” as he used his self-described masculinity to overthrow powerful corporations, and to stand up for albums, and books, and Black lives, because they “matter.”
The take away from the Prince’s death is that more of us need the courage to be the Black men we want and need to be. We need to stop worrying about how our actions may be perceived in opposition to the Black masculinity box that holds us so tightly. We need to stop shaming our brothers who chose to express themselves contrary to our rigid mindsets and celebrate the diversity that exists in regard to Black Masculinity. If we learn anything from the “Purple One,” it is that being revolutionary means you can change the world and bring it together all at one time if you can find the courage to be who you want to be each second, each minute, each hour of each day.