The boogie man is real. He is not a monster with long fangs, sharp claws, red eyes, and a tail who lives in your closet and comes out when the bedroom light is off. He is, in fact, a man of different ages, height, weight, and skin complexion. He is the Black man. Throughout our time in America, the Black man has been demonized as this being who is a destructive, carnivorous, raping, and murderous beast who is a danger to every human on this planet. This belief has been the motivation for many acts of violence towards the Black man: beatings, stabbings, lynching, as well as legislation such as the Black Codes and the 1994 Crime Bill. The thought of the African-American man being an out-of-control criminal and sexual predator has marred him in society by white men, white women, and even his own community. Dr. Tommy J. Curry, professor of philosophy at Texas A&M University, hopes to fight the perception of the Black boogie man with his new book, The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemma of Black Manhood.
The Man-Not was written to show the Black man as something other than a caricature of violence: as a full-bodied person. Can people who have been studied and labeled as irredeemable and misogynist by white and Black feminist groups be viewed as men who are capable of vulnerability? Can a being that has not only historically been the target of violent racist attacks by white men and women be victims of sexual violence from said people as well?
I became aware of Dr. Curry by listening to an interview he gave on the podcast, “The Context of White Supremacy”, a show dedicated to discussing racism with other non-white people. What struck me was not how well researched Curry’s theories on white supremacy were. Although his thoughts were grounded in facts, I was taken aback by how fearless he was in addressing racism, not only to the academia or “academy” as he likes to call it, but in everyday life. Dr. Curry’s explanation of how white people cannot be ignorant about racism was mind altering. Instead of blaming it on no contact or lack of socialization, Curry pushes back and lays the responsibility on white culture itself, “We know that white people have done the same type of behaviors. They have discriminated against Black people; they’ve called Black people niggers and God knows what other names. They always vitiated, secluded, and segregated Blackness. To repeat those things doesn’t seem to be the work of ignorance, in fact, it seems to be the repetition of historical knowledge of about how to treat Black folk. So when we see the same thing, ignorance seems to be the unrealistic apologetic.” To this day it is the most valuable theory on race that I have heard in the past five years.
The main part of The Man-Not is broken down into five chapters. In “On Mimesis and Men”, Dr. Curry reveals the justification of enslaving and controlling the Black man and the origin of the “Black Beast” narrative. In “Lost In a Kiss?”, Dr. Curry discusses Eldridge Cleaver’s lost manuscript The Book of Lives, Cleaver’s thoughts on the sexualization of Black men in prison, and how the mere existence of Black life provokes an attack by white racists. “The Political Economy of Niggerdom” is a look into the negative perception of Black men held by many in the academy and other PWI’s (Predominately White Institutions). Dr. Curry highlights that many of the current theories being taught in colleges about African-American males are inaccurate and based on racist thought. “Eschatological Dilemmas” talks about the often victimized Black male through sexualized violence, and why they are not afforded the ability to be seen as victims. Finally, “In the Fiat of Dreams” illustrates how not only the death of Black men and boys is de-centered, but it is thought of as deserving.
Each chapter in The Man-Not presents a case of the African-American men and boys being in constant danger for existing. On the state of the Black man, Dr. Curry comments, “To be a Black male is to live in constant fear of being accused of some offense against another.
Black men live in a world where any accusation against them is thought to be evidence of their guilt. Imagine a world in which any individual who can be thought of as a victim of a Black male has the power to define him as a criminal. This is the world many Black males find themselves imprisoned within, too often defined by the accusations of others against them rather than their actual character.” This is a part of the everyday existence of being Black. Your word means very little. If someone accuses you of a crime, the thought is that you are guilty of said crime. If you look like a criminal, chances are you are one. I thought about Michael Bennett, the Seattle Seahawks football player who was held at gunpoint by police for “looking like a suspect.” The benefit of the doubt is never given to us.
I was very interested in reading “Lost In a Kiss?”, the section of the book that highlights Cleaver’s lost manuscript, The Book of Lives. I had read Cleaver’s raw Soul on Ice when I was young and had been fascinated by his view on white supremacy. It wasn’t the bourgeois look into racism that many of his contemporaries had, but a gritty, gutter, street-level take on racist whites and the system they preside over. The Book of Lives, an unpublished writing of Cleaver’s, spoke about homosexuality in prison and how, in Dr. Curry’s words, “prisons are hedonistic warehouses.” This ties into the theme of The Man-Not: the specific societal and historic vulnerability of Black men and the white supremacist order, making the Black male disposable.
“Lost in a Kiss?” also talks about the irrational fear that whites possess towards Black people and the violence that Blackness attracts. Dr. Curry quotes Frantz Fanon, author of the classic book The Wretched of The Earth on this issue: “The Negro is phobogenic, meaning that the Negro triggers a pre-rational fear in the mind of the white. This fear objectifies the Negro, over-determining his being as the phantasm of the white mind. The objectified Black is endowed with evil intentions and with all the attributes of a malefic power.” After I read this, I thought of the unarmed Black men that were gunned down by police – from the adult Mike Brown, Walter Scott, down to the young Tamir Rice. Black men of all ages and sizes inspire fear.
The most impactful chapter of The Man-Not is “Eschatological Dilemmas: Anti-Black Male Death, Rape, and the Inability to Perceive Black Males Sexual Vulnerability”. Dr. Curry perfectly illustrates that throughout his time in America, the Negro has never been seen as a victim of sexual violence. Through his raging appetite to rape women and elongated member, the Black man cannot be raped. “The hyper-masculine stereotypes of Black males make it almost unfathomable for many onlookers to see Black men and boys as victims of women’s violence or rage,” Dr. Curry says. Chapter 4 also analyzes the sexualized pressure that led to many Black men being killed in the late 1800’s. Because he was a Black man and could rape, the white woman was in potential danger and these men had to be lynched. “He has to be controlled. He has to be locked away…” This way of thinking has not only been used throughout the years to falsely convict Black men of raping and sexually assaulting white women, but has forever stamped the Black man as hypersexual in his own community.
While The Man-Not spends much of its time combating the negative stereotypes that reduce the Black man to a caricature, it also muses about life as a Black child seeing the violence that is directed at him because he is male. Dr. Curry writes, “Imagine what it means to see this life from the eyes of a Black boy, anxious and afraid of a youthful death – doubtful that he could live long enough to be a Black man?” This is something that every Black man living in America realizes: that he could be a victim of police terrorism, state-sanctioned murder, or even killed at the hands of a white vigilante who believes his or her life is in danger. I have written about this extensively, knowing that our life is perilous.
In the land rife with anti-Black male sentiment, The Man-Not presents the case for why Black men have not only been historically a target of every type of violent attack and stereotype, but that because of their Black maleness, this eliminates any supposed privilege they would share with white men. Dr. Curry describes a world where even though Black men have the lowest employment, the lowest life expectancy, and the highest percentage of people who are incarcerated in the United States in numbers that far exceed those at the height of South African Apartheid, there is a supposed inherent advantage to being Black and male. African-American men constitute the lowest numbers of being students and instructors in college. They are also killed by police at a larger percentage than any other living group. With all this being said, they are to have male privilege and are subjects of discourse taught in universities that African-American men are pathologically oppressive and violent. This special type of vitriol is called “Black Misandry” a term Dr. Curry and his colleagues have popularized when discussing the anti-Black male thought. The Man-Not destroys this train of thought with facts and that is what makes it such a powerful book.
The Man-Not is an important work that is essential in the day and age of disposable blog entries that ride on incorrect tropes about Black men. This is factual work backed up by data that can be proven, and that is what is missing in conversations about race. The Man-Not is a very dense book. There is a lot to digest here, but a book about racism and white supremacy should not be a quick read. This is a triumph in Black studies and about how the African-American man and boy is written. I felt pride and satisfaction reading this book. A Black man writing a book to humanize Black men and boys: it couldn’t have come at a better time for me and everyone else.
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