Black Masculinity in the US in the 19th, 20th, and 21st Centuries

Subject: History
Pages: 3
Words: 876
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: College

The new gender agenda significantly changes the view of self-determination, masculinity, and femininity. Even though stereotypes break, they still have a significant influence and can limit individual’s freedom. Moreover, some groups are pressured simultaneously due to several factors. For example, the perception of masculinity of African American men is influenced not only by their gender but also by race. The history of slavery and discrimination supported by media and culture creates an aggressive image and additional difficulties in everyday life for black men.

Masculinity is a series of features, characteristics, and patterns of behavior that are associated with men. Understanding masculinity may vary depending on country of residence, class, education, age, and many other factors. Jackson and Elmore (2017) distinguish several types of masculinity – dominant (also called hegemonic), complicit, subordinate, and marginalized. The latter type is suitable for black men, as they determine their masculinity not only through gender but also adapt it to their race. This feature helps to understand better the difficulties faced by African-American men. Black masculinity can be defined through the relationship of a man with his environment and community. In the United States, this relationship is seriously and negatively affected by the historical past. It created conditions for the undeserved unequal position in society. Racism, discrimination, and injustice pressured men to take a defensive stance. As a result, black masculinity is associated with aggressive, assertive, but not intellectual men’s image.

Stereotypes and racism are integral to slavery, which flourished at the beginning of US history. Faith in unreasonable, aggressive, but strong savages helped justify the enslavement of one race. As a result, ideas of white supremacy appeared, because of which slaves were dehumanized and remained only tools, in particular men – for rough physical work. To prevent possible resistance, slaves were deprived of their own beliefs, learning opportunities and were under control in all imaginable ways (Taylor et al., 2019). The influence of these actions for a long time determined the masculinity of African-American men.

With the prohibition of slavery, discrimination and an entrenched image have not disappeared. Between 1890 and 1964, an African-American’s fate and attitude towards them were determined by the Jim Crow segregation laws (Taylor et al., 2019). They guaranteed that blacks would not receive the same rights as whites, and as a result, oppressed people had fewer opportunities for education, employment, and housing. The negative image was fueled by culture – for example, the first long film, The birth of a nation, exposed African-Americans as ignorant and rude (Griffith, 1915). Limited opportunities for blacks forced them to live in disadvantaged areas, take on low-paid jobs, which further contributed to the existing image of masculinity. Thus, the heritage of slavery and Jim Crow contributed to systemic racism manifested in the 20th-21st centuries.

In the modern world, the view of black masculinity is still strong. Its image is manifested in culture, media and is sometimes supported by black men themselves. Music and films contributed to creating a unique culture associated with the life of African Americans (Sexton, 2017). It often contains elements such as drug or arms trafficking, particular patterns of behavior, and even clothing style. For example, the image source is hip-hop music, whose representatives are mainly African-American men (Máthé, 2019). Films such as Snitch, directed by Waugh (2013), support stereotypes by inviting black actors to drug-dealers’ roles. A significant number of black successful in sports supports the stereotype of special physical abilities. As a result, the image of black masculinity has become valuable for advertising, making race a commodity again (Matlon, 2019). These manifestations of culture had a special force at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The world, nevertheless, develops trying to hear oppressed groups and to achieve equality and justice. The image of black masculinity is also modified, in particular in culture. For example, according to Máthé (2019), the new generation of hip-hop performers use a more intellectual approach to the personal image. Cinema, in turn, is also noted by several changes and deviations from the invitation of the African Americans to typical roles of criminals. For example, the director Jenkins’s (2016) movie Moonlight represents the main character from the emotional side. It shows how the pressure from society and the aspiration to correspond to the idea of black masculinity brings negative consequences. Indeed, research by Griffith et al. (2012) proves that similar desire “to correspond” can negatively affect not only the mental but also the physical health of men. Considering current trends in openness, and justice there is a chance that the existing image of toxic black masculinity will be reconceptualized.

In conclusion, the vision of black masculinity is composed of not only gender but also race. Historically, in America, black men were seen as chattel necessary for physical work. Discriminatory laws have long also restricted access to education and other privileges. Men were forced to protect themselves and their families, live in disadvantaged areas and take up any work. As a result, the image of aggressive, strong physically, but not intellectually men arose, which affects black masculinity. Such toxic masculinity is also supported by culture and can have adverse effects. However, in current conditions, it is possible to rethink the existing image of black masculinity, and changes are already manifested in culture.


Griffith, D. M., Gunter, K., & Watkins, D. C. (2012). Measuring masculinity in research on men of color: Findings and future directions. American journal of public health, 102(S2), S187-S194. Web.

Griffith, D. W. (1915). The birth of a nation [Film]. Epoch Producing Co.

Jackson, R. L., & Elmore, B. (2017). Black masculinity. In K. Y. Yun (Ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Intercultural Communication (pp. 1-5). John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Web.

Jenkins, B. (2016). Moonlight [Film]. A24.

Máthé, N. (2019). Representations of black masculinity in the 2010s Hip-Hop. Studia Universitatis Babes-Bolyai-Philologia, 64(1), 65-80.

Matlon, J. (2019). Black masculinity under racial capitalism. Boston Review. Web.

Sexton, J. (2017). Black masculinity and the cinema of policing. Palgrave Macmillan.

Taylor, E., Guy-Walls, P., Wilkerson, P., & Addae, R. (2019). The historical perspectives of stereotypes on African American males. Journal of Human Rights and Social Work, 4(3), 213-225. Web.

Waugh, R. R. (2013). Snitch [Film]. Summit Entertainment.