55 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2007
I contend that popular representations of heterosexual black men are bipolar. Those images alternate between a Bad Black Man who is crime-prone and hypersexual and a Good Black Man who distances himself from blackness and associates with white norms. The threat of the Bad Black Man label provides heterosexual black men with an assimilationist incentive to perform our identities consistent with the Good Black Man image.
The reason for bipolar black masculinity is that it helps resolve the white mainstream's post-civil rights anxiety. That anxiety results from the conflict between the nation's relatively recent determination that some black men merit inclusion into the mainstream and its longer-standing and ongoing belief that most black men should be excluded. Bipolar black masculinity addresses that anxiety by clearly demarcating which black men merit inclusion - only those who fit the assimilationist ideal. Bipolar depictions justify the status quo of the exclusion of most black men into jail or the lower-classes and the inclusion of only a token few white-acting black men into the mainstream.
I draw my conclusions by utilizing Critical Race Feminism's intersectionality theory - analysis of the interplay between race and gender narratives. Intersectionality theory is usually applied to the multiply subordinated, such as women of color, rather than the singly subordinated, such as middle-class heterosexual black men. Extending intersectionality theory to heterosexual black men is justifiable when we consider the shared interests of the multiply and singly subordinated in defeating the Western epistemological system of the scaling of bodies. The scaling of bodies is the assumption that we must rank identity characteristics against a norm and organize society according to those hierarchies. Bipolar black masculinity seeks to seduce heterosexual black men into accepting the right to subordinate others as compensation for our own subordination. If heterosexual black men are to disrupt bipolar black masculinity, we must refuse to accept the right to subordinate others and construct an antihierarchical black masculinity.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Cooper, Frank Rudy, Against Bipolar Black Masculinity: Intersectionality, Assimilation, Identity Performance, and Hierarchy. UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 39, p. 853, 2006. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1003000