On “An African Child Becomes a Black Canadian Feminist: Oscillating Identities in Black Diaspora”
Notisha Massaquoi’s “Oscillating identities in the Black diaspora” looks at the ways African identities are discursively produced based on geographical location. Specifically, Massaquoi is interested in the fluidity of gendered subjectivities that cross borders. She maps out the ways in which our names and bodies cannot be separated from Africa as home but also the ways in which we produce romanticized constructions of a forever shifting home. We negotiate our performances of African personhood based on our understandings of viable personhood inter-racially but also intra-racially “where it becomes more advantageous to identify with the homogenous group ‘Black people’” (Massaquo 1). As pre-narrated identities we produce communities based on our collective Othering. Personal testimony is central to Massaquoi’s work, as a first generation African woman her identity is taken up as negotiable and her Canadian citizenship is constantly questioned. Massaquoi interrogates Othering of African identity within the context of academia because she does not fit within the framework of a victimized “third world” gendered identity. This then places Africa in the essentailized rhetorical trappings of the “west vs. the rest” (Massaquo 5). Massaquoi is interested in feminist literature that frames African women as agentic textual subjectivities and locating/understanding her layered identity within that literature.
On We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity
bell hooks’ We Real Cool is about intervening in the larger American imagination that constructs Black men within tropes that script them as inherently violent super-predators. She interrogates Black masculinity by framing gendered masculine Blackness as a repressed form of personhood. She looks at the image of the “untamed, uncivilized, unthinking and unfeeling” Black man (xii). Culturally curated imaginative notions of Black males as animalistic in nature operate as a threat to the state, because at any given moment this angry uncivilized brute could potentially incite an actual revolution. What this then does is produce what hooks calls the ‘symbolic lynching’ of Black men on the public stage but also in the most private, intimate moments of their lives.
Hooks posits that what is truly suffocating Black men is the idea that their survival rests on patriarchal masculinity. The text is interested in shifting away from the neoliberal approach to “the problem with Black boys” to analyse the “crisis” in Black masculinity. Black boys are socially constructed as other through the language of “at risk” and their boyhood is always pathologized. The text moves away from this narrative of Black boy bodies as inherently bad and moves towards holding oppressive structures accountable. Hooks tells us that we exist in a “culture that does not love Black males, that they are not loved by white men, white women, black women or girls and boys. And that especially most Black men do not love themselves. How could they, how could they be expected to love surrounded by so much envy, desire, hate” (xi)? Let me just say that no one loves Black men more than Black women. No one has loved Black men more than Black women. Our racial allegiance has been so unconditional that we have literally given up parts of our identity and sometimes our lives. This is a reminder that Black women are dying not only at the hands of the state but at the hands of Black men, the hands of our brothers and that needs to be approached with intellectual seriousness. Moreover, hooks’ approach of “hurt people hurt people” and the claim that Black women do not love Black men positions Black men as the actual receivers of harm and Black women as in part producers of this collateral damage.
Within the context of Black radical politics Black men have been mapped out as exceptionally vulnerable bodies and Black women have been completely written out of that narrative. This is rooted in white women’s struggle for an electoral reform that was grounded in a racist politic but also a Black Power movement that could not understand racism as a gendered problem. Black radical tradition is in part couched in this belief that oppressive structures are dismantled from the top down, that the most vulnerable among us should be waiting for what Kimberlee Crenshaw describes as a “trickle down social justice” (Crenshaw). And hooks reminds us that “it has served the interests of all who are the enemies of black self-determination to keep black females and males vying for the position of most oppressed rather than working together to end our collective suffering” (hooks 147). It is absolutely not my intention to become an agent of division work and “I want to stay attuned to both the danger and the futility of placing Black youth in discursive predicaments where they must compete for space at the bottom” (Cox 6). However, I want to centralize the jeopardies of reading liberation work that takes up the vulnerability of Black girl and womanhood as doing the work of racial division for a white supremacist agenda or that this work is disruptive of a larger social justice project.
Finally, we can understand that hip hop, gangster culture, and American Cool pose are all heavily intertwined concepts. Further, hooks does the useful work of rooting violent hegemonic masculinity in whiteness but also charts Black dispossession as leading to a life that is rooted in a consistent yearning for successful assimilation. She makes the claim “[Black men] moved from brilliant critiques of white supremacy and capitalism into assimilating into whiteness and striving to get money by any means (selling dope, creating fashion, etc.)” (hooks 18). Human value is measured by the dollar in the same way that we understand valuable citizenship as capital producing citizenship. In the late sixties Black men were looking to make money by any means necessary, hooks understands this moment as the embrace of capitalism. In the nineties Black people started owning their own businesses to produce a dignity in labor. Cool pose is rooted in dignity and a form of re-drawing boundaries. I think practicing group economics is a dignity producing project that actually embraces neo-liberalism for collective survival. A dignity producing project that must be contained by the dominant culture. We can look at Black Wall Street as the epitome of containment, Americans will bomb their own country to contain the cool. I am interested in the unconscious political interventions that further situate already dispossessed bodies as “at risk”. I would like to locate these lived out moments of opposition as legitimate productions of theory that should be considered with scholarly urgency. Particularly, the ways in which the personal can become an unintentional site of political negotiation which constitutes a larger social justice project. The language of Cool pose is deployed out of context to valorize this unattainable white masculinity and frames Black boys as performers of a failed white boyhood. The naturalization of whiteness constructs the performance of blackness as a yearning for white acceptability. The cool is a performance in and for the margins, for their fictive kin. Black youth are not in a constant state of deliberate deviance to disrupt white hegemony. The assumption that they are, traps them in this binary state of being in between “not good enough” and whiteness. It constructs them as never resistant enough to attain normalcy. Traditionally, Black radical politics in part rely on an active refusal of engagement with oppressive social, political and economic institutions through public demonstrations that disrupt daily activity. I am interested in writing the bodies whose performances of race and gender are unconsciously theatrically disruptive to daily activity into the discursive spaces of revolutionary academic engagement. I am looking to explicitly locate performative cools that are understood as criminal or deviant as legitimate sites of theory making, “I’m referring here to evasive, day-to-day strategies: from the footdragging to sabotage, theft at the workplace to absenteeism, cursing to graffiti” (Kelley 7). Specifically, the resistance potential latent in the performance of a ‘cool pose’ that is inherently oppositional and therefore read as what Cathy Cohen calls “seemingly self-destructive” behavior. Let us try to situate cool within a framework that locates us as agentic intentional or accidental political actors instead of social problems to be solved. Hooks, fundamental claim is that gangster culture is inherently a yearning for whiteness and patriarchal hip hop “had for the most part no transformative power no ability to intervene on politics of domination and turn the real lives of Black men around” (hooks 150). I am wondering if patriarchal hip hop and “selling dope” can be understood as a politics from below, that can actually generate some form of social returns. That this behavior that has been scripted as self destructive in the discursive spaces of academia is actually in part fertile.
How do we understand theory and can we consider deviance through a performance of gangster and the production of a patriarchal hip hop culture as actual legitimate theory making? Further, is the theoretical work of hip hop useless because it dehumanizes Black women?
Cohen, Cathy. “Deviance as Resistance: A New Research Agenda for the Study of Black Politics.” Cambridge Journals, vol. 1, no. 1, 2004.
Cox, Aimee Meredith. Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship. United States, Duke University Press, 14 Aug. 2015.
hooks, bell. We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. New York, Routledge, 27 Nov. 2003.
Home. Kimberlé Crenshaw on “black girls matter” and Shifting Community and Policy Priorities. For Harriet | Celebrating the Fullness of Black Womanhood, 2 June 2015, http://www.forharriet.com/2015/02/kimberle-crenshaw-on-black-girls-matter.html#axzz4PZDPtQYD. Accessed 10 Nov. 2016.
Kelley, Robin D. G. D G, and George Lipsitz. Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class. New York, NY, Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 1 June 1996.
Massaquoi, Notisha. ““An African Child Becomes a Black Canadian Feminist: Oscillating Identities in Black Diaspora.”” Canadian Woman Studies, vol. 23, no. 2, 2013, pp. 140–144.