Theorizing Progressive Black Masculinities in Progressive Black Masculinities


40 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2012 Last revised: 20 Jul 2012

See all articles by Athena Mutua

Athena Mutua

University at Buffalo Law School

Date Written: 2006


In this Chapter, I propose a definition of progressive black masculinities as the unique and innovative performances of the masculine self that, on the one hand, personally eschew and ethically and actively stand against social structures of domination. And. on the other hand, they validate and empower black humanity, in all its variety, as part of the diverse and multicultural humanity of others in the global family. I argue that this definition is grounded in the twin concepts of progressive blackness and progressive masculinities. I suggest that both of these are political projects committed to eradicating relations of domination that constrain and reduce human potential. However, each project is directed toward different but overlapping groups of people - black people and men – and focuses on the edification and empowerment of black people as part of a larger antiracist struggle and part of a still larger antidomination or antisubordination project. The project of progressive masculinities is similar but centers its efforts on reorienting men’s concepts and practices away from ideal masculinity, which, by definition, requires the domination of men over women, children, and, yes, other subordinate, or “weaker” men as Patricia Hill Collins examines.

Black men are the focal point of this project. I suggest two basic points in discussing these projects. First that black men’s embrace of ideal masculinity not only hurts black women, but also hurts black men and black communities as a whole. Second, I suggest that black men are not only oppressed by racism but their oppression is gendered. In other worlds, they are oppressed by gendered racism.

The first part of this chapter lays out my tentative definition of progressive black masculinities. It then explores the ethical component of the project of progressive blackness. The section on the American Masculine Ideal, seeks to explain in some detail what the masculine ideal is, how it operates as part of the sex-gender system, the way in which boys are socialized into it, and its relationship to the patriarchal order as a site of power. Here I argue that the central feature of masculinity is the domination and the oppression of others; namely women, children, and other subordinated men. The section draws on insights from feminist theory, masculinities studies, and gay and queer theory as a way of defining the project of progressive masculinities.

The second part of the chapter analyzes a number of theories that seek to answer the question of where black men stand in relationship to hegemonic masculinity given their subjugation by racial oppression. Are they privileged by gender or oppressed by gender? Here the case is made that they both benefit and are disadvantaged by gender. The focus is the gendered racial oppression of black men. Specifically, the section looks at three theories: 1), black nationalist insights that suggest that racism precludes male privileges to black men; 2), intersectionality theory, which initially seemed to posit that black men are privileged by gender and oppressed by race; and 3) multidimensionality theory, which recognizes that black men are not homogeneous but rather are diverse by class, sexuality, religion, and other systems of subordination, and are seen as a single multidimensional positionality.

The final parts of the chapter suggest reasons why black men should engage in a project of progressive black masculinities. It looks at the political and intellectual projects of various groups concerned with the welfare of black people, including black nationalism; Afrocentricity; black feminist thought; black gay and lesbian theory, critical race theory; and black transformationalist ideas, as well as, relying on the experiential knowledge and history of black people.

Suggested Citation

Mutua, Athena, Theorizing Progressive Black Masculinities in Progressive Black Masculinities (2006). PROGRESSIVE BLACK MASCULINITIES?, Mutua, A., ed., 2006. Available at SSRN:

Athena Mutua (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

528 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States

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