Race Men (W.E.B. Du Bois Lectures)

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9780674745582: Race Men (W.E.B. Du Bois Lectures)

Who are the "race men" standing for black America? It is a question Hazel Carby rejects, along with its long-standing assumption: that a particular type of black male can represent the race. A searing critique of definitions of black masculinity at work in American culture, Race Men shows how these defining images play out socially, culturally, and politically for black and white society--and how they exclude women altogether.

Carby begins by looking at images of black masculinity in the work of W. E. B. Du Bois. Her analysis of The Souls of Black Folk reveals the narrow and rigid code of masculinity that Du Bois applied to racial achievement and advancement--a code that remains implicitly but firmly in place today in the work of celebrated African American male intellectuals. The career of Paul Robeson, the music of Huddie Ledbetter, and the writings of C. L. R. James on cricket and on the Haitian revolutionary, Toussaint L'Ouverture, offer further evidence of the social and political uses of representations of black masculinity.

In the music of Miles Davis and the novels of Samuel R. Delany, Carby finds two separate but related challenges to conventions of black masculinity. Examining Hollywood films, she traces through the career of Danny Glover the development of a cultural narrative that promises to resolve racial contradictions by pairing black and white men--still leaving women out of the picture.

A powerful statement by a major voice among black feminists, Race Men holds out the hope that by understanding how society has relied upon affirmations of masculinity to resolve social and political crises, we can learn to transcend them.

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Review:

Race men is a term of endearment used by blacks to signify those high-achieving African American men who "represent the race," disproving bigoted notions of black inferiority. In this engaging study, Yale African American Studies Professor Hazel V. Carby seeks to ask "questions about various black masculinities at different historical moments and in different media: literature, photography, film, music, and song." She does so by discussing the lives and works of myriad types of race men. Frederick Douglass's uncompromising fight against slavery, W.E.B. Du Bois's masterful The Souls of Black Folk, Martin Luther King's nonviolent struggles, and Malcolm X's fiery rhetoric articulate the intellectual-political prisms of black activism, for example, while actor Danny Glover represents the dilemma of the black/white sidekick and the fight for a more multidimensional Afro-American image.

Carby compares Toussaint L'Ouverture, the ex-slave who liberated Haiti from the French in the 19th century, to Trinidadian writer C.L.R. James, whose Marxist interpretation of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins, unveiled the complexities of colonialism, class, and the sexist aspects of radical black leadership. She discusses jazz icon Miles Davis's quest for freedom and his misogynistic persona articulated in his autobiography, then praises science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany's Motion of Light in Water as "an effective counterpoint to Miles ... a magnificent attempt to reject the socially created obstacles separating desire from its material achievement, and in the process demolishing and transcending the limitations of heterosexual norms." Indeed, for Carby the major flaw of race men is that their upholding of "the race" does not prominently address the concerns of African American women as well. --Eugene Holley Jr.

From the Back Cover:

Who are the "race men" standing for black America? It is a question Hazel Carby rejects, along with its long-standing assumption: that a particular type of black male can represent the race. A searing critique of definitions of black masculinity at work in American culture, Race Men shows how these defining images play out socially, culturally, and politically for black and white society -- and how they exclude women altogether. A powerful statement by a major voice among black feminists, Race Men holds out the hope that by understanding how society has relied upon affirmations of masculinity to resolve social and political crises, we can learn to transcend them.

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Carby, Hazel V.
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