The Black male identity: Conflict and reconciliation

There has been a centuries long intentional effort to sexualize and create fear of the Black male body. This effort has been significantly influenced by popular cultures consistent portrayal of the average Black male as dumb, deviant, and dangerous. The consistent negative portrayal of the Black male image has been efficiently condensed into a limited number of archetypes such as Sambo, Uncle Tom, Mandingo, and the Magical Negro. Additionally, society’s expectations of Black masculinity performance have been shaped by a chronic narrative that describes Black males as hyperaggressive, hypersexual, stoic, and physically imposing.

Many Black males have bought into this narrative as their only perceived source of social power. Based on this phenomenon, society, with some complicity from Black males, has reduced the complex experience of navigating racialized masculinity (which would need volumes of text to appropriately capture) to a hand full of stock phrases such as “the angry Black male,” “the scary Black male,” “the absent Black male,” and “the dangerous Black male.”  As Black males have attempted to adhere to these rigid expectations of Black masculinity performance, in effort to claim popular culture sanctioned social power, they have encountered significant physical, psychological, and relational challenges. Furthermore, the challenges associated with these expectations are exacerbated by the experience of racism, race-related stress, and racial trauma. Lastly, Black males have been taught across the generations insufficient and ineffective coping strategies to manage the challenges associated with their intersecting racial and gender identities.

The combination of societal expectations, peer influences, chronic exposure to limited a narrative about the Black male experience, and the potential physical and psychological consequences of these challenges has added significant pressure for the development of a meaningful Black masculinity. Specifically, to reduce the negative social and health impact of racism and discrimination the Black male’s identity development must help him resolve the conflict of differing expectations of his racialized masculinity and reconcile his maleness and Blackness into a coherent sense of self. There are three paths towards identity reconciliation that the Black male can take: the development of a (1) ridged unintegrated Black masculinity, (2) an unstructured unintegrated Black masculinity or (3) an integrated Black masculinity.

A ridged unintegrated Black masculinity highlights the Black male’s attempt to cope with the negative expectations associated with a racialized masculinity by embracing the faulty images projected on to them. These Black males are negatively affected by social oppression (e.g., racism) and become conduits through which negative beliefs about the Black male experience are shared and reinforced. A rigid unintegrated Black masculinity represents an inflexible obedience to a loosely defined racialized masculinity. An unstructured unintegrated Black masculinity highlights Black males who develop masculine identities not rooted in a culturally influenced self-concept. These Black males believe the best coping strategy for racism is “denial” and racialized masculinity identity flexibility. Black males with an unstructured unintegrated Black masculinity are negatively impacted by social oppression and a shared “denial” of systemic racial issues in society.

An integrated Black masculinity highlights Black males who have learned to cope with the negative expectations associated with their racialized masculinity by developing their critical thinking skills regarding the consumption of media, adhere to a flexible expression and performance of masculinity, embrace an Afrocentric foundation to their understanding of their Blackness (e.g., collectivism vs individualism, cooperation vs competition, emotional expression vs stoicism), and utilize adaptive coping strategies for the experience of racism and race related stress.

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