This Week in Black Masculinity: Barack Obama, R. Kelly, and Usher

Black men were in the news this week–and only one of them involved a criminal trial. But all of them in some way or another deal with problematic around Black men/masculinties and black male sexuality.

On Sunday, Barack Obama spent Father’s Day in Chicago delivering a speech about the need for Black men to be more engaged in the lives of their children. He said:

It’s up to us – as fathers and parents – to instill this ethic of excellence in our children. It’s up to us to say to our daughters, don’t ever let images on TV tell you what you are worth, because I expect you to dream without limit and reach for those goals. It’s up to us to tell our sons, those songs on the radio may glorify violence, but in my house we live glory to achievement, self respect, and hard work. It’s up to us to set these high expectations. And that means meeting those expectations ourselves. That means setting examples of excellence in our own lives.

The second thing we need to do as fathers is pass along the value of empathy to our children. Not sympathy, but empathy – the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes; to look at the world through their eyes. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in “us,” that we forget about our obligations to one another. There’s a culture in our society that says remembering these obligations is somehow soft – that we can’t show weakness, and so therefore we can’t show kindness.

But our young boys and girls see that. They see when you are ignoring or mistreating your wife. They see when you are inconsiderate at home; or when you are distant; or when you are thinking only of yourself. And so it’s no surprise when we see that behavior in our schools or on our streets. That’s why we pass on the values of empathy and kindness to our children by living them. We need to show our kids that you’re not strong by putting other people down – you’re strong by lifting them up. That’s our responsibility as fathers.

Though his speech generally falls within the context of more “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,’ there are a couple things about this speech that I like.

  1. He doesn’t once talk about “unwed” mothers, or children “born out of wedlock.” I hate that logic. Its as if being born outside of a marriage or for women to be unmarried with children is the downfall of civilization. I like that he instead talks about the need for parents to be involved in their children’s lives, and does not confine that to the context of marriage and marriage alone.
  2. He acknowledges the hard work that single mothers are doing without blaming or pathologizing their condition. He’s instead saying, “they didn’t bring them into this world alone, step the fuck up.” Some people won’t like that. But I think that we have to address the ability of many men to abdicate any responsilbility for their children as a form of patriarchy, and not solely about racism deployed against black men that won’t allow them to be “providers” (i.e. proper patriarchs).

Read his policy vision regarding fatherhood and families further down in the above link.

Now that you’ve been potentially inspired, let’s talk about some bad news in Black masculinity: R. Kelly was acquitted on all counts on the statutory rape charges from the infamous video that dated back several years. But there’s some pushback: ATL-based underground funkstar Joi Gilliam posted on her Facebook page this message: “Joi Gilliam is disgusted with the r. kelly “not guilty” verdict and ready for proper vigilante justice to happen when the courts fail us.” LOL!!!

Also, a new statement/petition is circulating the internet called Black Men Against the Exploitation of Black Women, written in light of the R. Kelly verdict:

“We have proudly seen the community take to the streets in defense of Black men who have been the victims of police violence or racist attacks, but that righteous outrage only highlights the silence surrounding this verdict.

We believe that our judgment has been clouded by celebrity-worship; we believe that we are a community in crisis and that our addiction to sexism has reached such an extreme that many of us cannot even recognize child molestation when we see it.

We recognize the absolute necessity for Black men to speak in a single, unified voice and state something that should be absolutely obvious: that the women of our community are full human beings, that we cannot and will not tolerate the poisonous hatred of women that has already damaged our families, relationships and culture.

We believe that our daughters are precious and they deserve our protection. We believe that Black men must take responsibility for our contributions to this terrible state of affairs and make an effort to change our lives and our communities.”

Lastly, Usher told Vibe Magazine said that lesbianism is running rampant in the Black communities because of a lack of available Black men. “It can never be bad to have a foundation as a man—a black man—in a time when women are dying for men,” he says. “Women have started to become lovers of each other as a result of not having enough men. Are you not studying the stories? Wake up! Black love is a good thing.”

That is so much of a hot mess I don’t even know where to begin. Just sing for us Usher. And take off your shirt. This man who has become lovers of other men is so disappointed with the foolish things that men say I almost have no use for you to talk.

Call Tyrone!: Gambian Prez Orders Queers “Out”

I am growing interested in the way narratives, and means of conveying morality in political rhetoric crosses borders. I am no scholar in this field, but I am beginning to find similar lines of thought in political messaging both here in the US, and among other political leaders in the Third World. President Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia said last Thursday that homosexuals, thieves and drug dealers must leave the country in 24 hours. He went on to say that “Any hotel, lodge or motel that lodges this kind of individuals will be closed down, because this act is unlawful. We are in a Muslim dominated country and I will not and shall never accept such individuals in this country.”

According to Behind The Mask, homosexuality in Gambia is covered under a law that makes an offense of anyone who

(a) has carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature; or
(b) has carnal knowledge of an animal; or
(c) permits a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature;

and is punishable by 14 years in prison. In fact, according to Behind the Mask, in 1999 the Prez used the old there’s no queers in the animal kingdom logic by noting that “among my animals there are no lesbians, no gays or whatever. They do everything as nature ordered.”

What’s interesting about his telling the queers and the other undesirables to “call Tyrone” is that he seemed to be equating such acts of immorality with immigrants to Gambia, and blamed Gambian youth for not taking advantage of the opportunities the immigrants are, stating that “all stores belonging to Gambians and rented to foreigners would be seized. We are tired of investing for only foreigners to the benefits. Today, look at the NYSS [National Youth Service Scheme] as compared to when it was newly created; Gambians have ran away from it and we provide a number of young people people for skilled training. This means that Gambians are difficult to help.”

Jammeh was equating the loss of the moral compass in Gambia with immigrants (whom from what I can tell come from neighboring countries like Senegal and Sierra Leone), and that Gambian youth don’t take advantage of the opportunities they are given. Sound familiar? To me, this sounds like a cross between right wing anti-immigration rhetoric and neo-liberal racial uplift politics in America. Is this simply an accident, or is there some possible link between these narratives that are crossing borders?

Jammeh has lived and “studied” in the US. While the Prez is calling for the end of all this outside influence, looking at his resume from the Gambia’s official government website, he was trained right here in the good ole USofA. Under the category “Overseas Training,” the only listing is

September 1993 – January 1994

Attended Military Police Officers Basic Course (MPOBC) at Port McClellan, Alabama, USA.
Obtained a Diploma in Military Science (Military Operations).

Yes. He received additional military training by the US Military. Not that he was in any need of it. If you read the rest of his resume, other than being President, the man has done nothing else but serve in the military.

As a matter of fact, Reporters Without Borders has accused “President Yahya Jammeh’s police state” of using murder, arson, unlawful arrest and death threats against journalists.

Shock of The Week: Remy Ma Gets 8 Years

The hip-hop world had better get it together. Fame and celebrity will not protect your ass from the prison if you’re Black. Wesley Snipes just learned that lesson (OK so he’s not a hip-hop star, but he’s Black and he’s famous, so stay with me!), and Lil Kim and Foxy Brown have as well, and Snoop Dogg seems to get pulled over by the cops every time he leaves his driveway. The list could go on.

The latest hip-hop star to face prison time is Remy “I look too good to be fcukin’ you” Ma for shooting her homegirl in the gut over $3000 and fleeing the club in the meatpacking district of Manhattan where the incident took place. She was sentenced to 8 long years in prison. The details from E-Online:

In March, a jury convicted her on four counts, including assault, weapons possession and attempted coercion, for shooting Makeda Barnes-Joseph in the gut last July in a dispute over $3,000. She faced more than 25 years behind bars.

After State Supreme Court Justice Rena Uviller handed down the punishment, Ma’s fiancé, fellow hip-hopster Papoose, sparked a melee as he screamed invective at the victim, who took the stand earlier asking for a harsh sentence.

“Get the f–k off me. F–k y’all. F–k jail,” the performer [Papoose] yelled as the hearing ended and bailiffs escorted him out of the Manhattan court. “I don’t care. Lock me up. Lock me up. Take me to jail. Arrest me. It’s all about money.”

Papoose was caught by Rikers Island corrections officers last week allegedly trying to smuggle his betrothed a handcuff key as the two were about to tie the knot in a jailhouse wedding. He wasn’t charged, but the nuptials were nixed.

That key smuggling bit is so sad I can’t even laugh at it–obviously an act of desperation, if in fact it’s true. I do feel bad for her. I don’t think prison will solve anything–and I am not big on punishment as a form of social redress more generally. But can we just not shoot people?

Come on, people!

Just kidding.

But really. It’s been very clear that hip-hop stars are being widely surveilled (sp?) over the last several years, and the police, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are clearly sending the message that if you’re associated with hip-hop and do some shit out of the bounds of “law,” you’re going to prison. Besides that, I find myself in between a rock and a hard place. I know the systemic issues at play that creat accessibility to guns and the kinds of urban poverty (in the face of gluttonous and violent wealth accumulation) that drives the kinds of acts of violence that seem senseless. I am from the same kind of community. I get the fact that I only made it “out”(not that I, as a Black gay man, escape the scrutiny, disgust, and violence of the state) because of the push of family, friends and some teachers who decided I was the one worth giving a damn about.

But sometimes I am at a loss for defending or even trying to put to words this kind of foolishness. What is the language for critiquing institutional racism, sexism and capitalism while also critiquing the fact that these systems support and drive individuals to be alienated, disaffected, and violent? I want to see a way out of this mess, but I sometimes come up short.

The Politics of Racial Uplift: Friday at Temple University

I will be presenting at this symposium in Philly on Friday and I think it’ll be really interesting. If you’re in Philly or can get there, it should be hot!

Stand Up! The New Politics of Racial Uplift
A Public Philosophy Symposium

Temple University

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

9am to 5pm

Kiva Auditorium and Tuttleman Learning Center, Room 101

For information about participants, schedule, and work by participants and material relevant to symposium themes, go to our website:

Purpose of Symposium:

The Millions More Movement, Cosby’s ‘call-outs,’ and other recent trends renew an old approach to black political thought and practice. The racial uplift tradition tries to improve the conditions of black life by insisting on moral refinement and race-based organization. Uplift ideology and practice have a long and storied past, but critics of the tradition worry over its limitations. Some express concern that it is anti-democratic, intolerant, elitist, sexist, and heterosexist. Others think it focuses too much on personal morality and cultural pathology and not enough on social justice and political economy.

The participants in the ‘Stand Up!’ symposium will think through the risks and rewards of this new racial uplift politics. This interdisciplinary exercise in public philosophy will explore the implications of a social phenomenon with broad ethical significance. The new politics of racial uplift emerges from a widely shared conviction that something is deeply wrong in American society. Our public philosophy conference will take this judgment seriously, and subject this politics to searching and critical scrutiny.

Confirmed Participants:

Angela D. Dillard, Afroamerican and African Studies and Residential College, LSA, at the University of Michigan

Kenyon Farrow, essayist, organizer, media and communications specialist, and board co-chair for Queers for Economic Justice

Kevin Gaines, Afroamerican and African Studies and History at the University of Michigan

Kathryn T. Gines, African American and Diaspora Studies and Philosophy at Vanderbilt University

Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University and the Jamestown Project

Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Women’s Research and Resource Center and the Women’s Studies at Spelman College

Joy James, Humanities and Political Science at Williams College and Senior Research Fellow in the Center for African and African American Studies at the University of Texas-Austin

Adolph Reed, Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania

Jared Sexton, African American Studies and Film & Media Studies at the University of California, Irvine

Aishah Shahidah Simmons, AfroLez® Productions and award-winning African-American feminist lesbian documentary filmmaker, international lecturer, writer, activist, and producer, writer, and director of the internationally acclaimed documentary NO!

Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard University Law School and the Jamestown Project

Paul C. Taylor, Philosophy at Temple University and the Jamestown Project


Temple University Department of Philosophy, the Office of the Provost, the College of Liberal Arts, the Center for Humanities at Temple, the Ira Lawrence Family Fund, and the Jamestown Project

The symposium is free and open to the public.

For more information, contact Tamara K. Nopper, assistant organizer, at tnopper (at)