The Sexualisation of Black Men

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“So, is it true… what they say about black guys?”

We’ve all heard it: the stereotypes and expectations that society has of black men. There are plenty that we’re all used to… but how does that contribute to the oppression of black men, and black people as a whole?

Firstly, what is sexualisation? Sexualisation is to make a character, quality or feature sexual in nature. This then feeds into the fetishisation of black men. Racial fetishisation (as the name suggests) involves severely sexualising a race.

This builds part of the foundation for black people’s oppression. We live in a white supremacist society and we can see it clearly manifesting in culture. The way black men are so heavily fetishised massively contributes to the way that black voices are silenced. White supremacy functions by restricting the autonomy and access of black people.

When black men fit these stereotypes, they’re then only valued because they fit those stereotypes. They’re only valued for their body or for their sexual contributions. When they don’t fit those stereotypes, they’re largely ignored. B

However, it’s important to note that black men are still a privileged group. Black men are men, which means they have male privilege. This has a massive impact on the difference between their oppression and the oppression of black women. Acknowledging their male privilege is key in a conversation about sexualisation and sexual oppression. Black men have an agent that allows them to secure their own superiority. They do this by contributing to the oppression of women, which elevates their own social status. We’ll look into this later on…

White supremacy is allowed to function by those that support it but also by those that ignore it. Those that call out this form of racism are usually subject to racial gaslighting or anti-black attacks. This is because the marginalisation of black people that happens through sexualisation is part of what keeps white supremacy alive. It maintains the anti-black/pro-white balance in society.

Black Lives Matter Protests

Not too long ago, we saw the important and pivotal impact of the death of George Floyd – an innocent man who died at the hands of police brutality. His death led to the Black Lives Matter protests that rallied against systemic racism all over the globe. During these protests, we saw the truth of how different people view the value of black lives and their attitude towards racism.

The key features of any protest are the signs, T-shirts and merchandise people wear and carry. These give other people an insight into what the movement stands for. When it came time for white people to stand by black people as we all fight against racism, many did show up. There are more white people now than ever, standing by the black community in our struggle against racism. But their methods are highly questionable.

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Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

During the protests, it wasn’t at all uncommon to see signs that read “Stop killing black men! I want mixed babies!” or “I love big black dick!”. One that I saw several times had written: “Don’t take away our BBC”. This sign, in particular, actually went viral and got a lot of laughs and celebration on social media. These signs were often waved by white women and occasionally by white gay men – our “allies”.

These signs and behaviours show us exactly where white society sees value in black men. This is the image that people put at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter protests. The signs that people wave and the chants that people yell are what communicate the meaning of a protest. Why are people protesting? Why are they angry? What do they want? According to white women, we just want our “BBC”. These signs undermined the meaning of the Black Lives Matter movement – a movement that developed because we want liberation from white supremacy!

Arguably, one of the most significant issues with white people using these signs is that it shows that even those who paint themselves as ‘allies’ don’t actually understand the issues black people face. Micki Mcelya describes an ‘ally’ as “someone who does not suffer the same oppression, but who supports your struggle for rights and freedom”.

So, an ally is someone who acknowledges systemic oppression but actually lacks action. While it may seem as though white people have acted by attending the protests, the action they lack is education – the understanding of the movement and the issues. In doing so, the people carrying these signs have only harmed the movement by undermining its meaning.

“An ally is someone who does not suffer the same oppression, but who supports your struggle for rights and freedom”

Micki Mcelya

Pornography

Race Fetishisation

Pornography commodifies the sexual abuse and exploitation of marginalised groups. The porn industry has consistently been the centre of discussions about social oppression and discrimination.

The well-known acronym ‘BBC’ [big black cock] is one that always gets a laugh and a giggle. This acronym paints a picture of black men as sex-crazed animals that are always seeking sex. Because of images like this, sexuality is a key social feature of the black male identity. Other contributions or qualities go unnoticed.

Racial fetishisation in the porn industry perpetuates false images of black people. When a person watches porn, they’re met with a variety of categories they can choose from. These categories may include ‘Ebony’, ‘BBC’ and ‘Interracial’. Clearly, there’s a theme. Race fetishes are so popular that there are entire websites dedicated exclusively to certain races.

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Photo by Warm Orange on Unsplash

Stereotyping In Pornography

Black men are often depicted as some random aggressive stereotype: a criminal, a robber, a house invader or a thug. This encourages others to sexually indulge in the dehumanisation of black people. This all contributes to the economic, social and political oppression of black people. We carry these stereotypes around with us, especially if it’s something we’re exposed to on a regular basis.

Mickey Mod (an African-American porn actor) has said “I don’t know a performer who [hasn’t gotten to set] and then finds out, oh, OK I’m playing a drug dealer today – or oh, OK, I’m this really inappropriate stereotype”. It’s important to notice the fact that black men are always appearing in aggressive and dominant roles.

“I don’t know a performer who [hasn’t gotten to set] and then finds out, oh, OK I’m playing a drug dealer today – or oh, OK, I’m this really inappropriate stereotype”.

Mickey Mod

More often than not, the image is of a black man sexually dominating a white woman. White women are depicted as idealistically pure and virginal. They have always contributed to black men’s oppression by weaponising their femininity. The contrast between animalistic violence and virginity amplifies their aggressive image.

This perception then manifests in all aspects of life. This leaves sexual violence and sexual gratification as black men’s only (or at least default) place of value in white society.

Slavery and Black Men

The Role of White Women

During slavery, there was something called the “black peril”. The black peril describes white colonisers’ fear that black men would have sexual relations with white women. At the time it was widely considered that white women were the property of white men. White men developed the need to control black men’s sexuality and to do this they used physical violence. Rape was used as a fear tactic to emasculate black men and terrorise them into complying with slavery.

The depiction of black men as animals dominating white women dates back to slavery. It was a common theme that has since developed into its own modern media adaptations, such as pornography. White women notoriously weaponise their femininity against black men. Regular false accusations against black men for rape and sexual assault maintained their harmful image. This justified the oppression of black men because they were “less than human”.

They also made thorough use of policy and legislation to subjugate black men. In 1926, British New Guinea introduced the White Women’s Protection Ordinance. This introduced the death penalty for the rape/attempted rape of a European female (white woman) by a native (black man). This also criminalised interracial relationships, which were seen as rape regardless of whether consent was given.

The Commodification of Black Bodies

Black men have always been subject to sexual oppression. During the 19th century, a eugenicist named Francis Galton made pseudo-scientific claims that black men were “savages” with “anatomical differences”. These included their penis and pelvis size. The anatomical differences between black people and white people have long been used to justify the subjugation of black people. One of the clearest examples is the treatment of Saartjie Baartman, an enslaved South African woman. She was forced to endure experimentation, sexual assault and abuse because of her large buttocks.

Slaves (male and female) were bought and sold based purely on their physical features and breeding abilities. Slave owners used to promote the strength, agility and breeding ability of their male slaves in order to increase their value. The Black Brute (Mandingo) was used to describe the enslaved that possessed all of these qualities in full. The term describes an animalistic, savage and brutish black man with no self-control.

The over-sexualisation of black men is intended for the white male gaze. Structurally, black people are reduced to fetishised identities that white men can exploit for power and superiority. Their sexualisation encouraged objectification, which reduced black men and black people to just objects.

This justified the murder and torture of black men by white mobs who were assigned to “protect the public”. This is essentially the exact same as it is today. We saw this with George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and more. In all of these cases, the media paints these innocent men to look like aggressive and crime-filled animals to justify their murder. In these scenarios and so many more, black men are still killed by the same people that are supposed to “protect the public”. And we’re still trying to convince the white men running the world that Black Lives Matter.

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Photo by Mattia Faloretti on Unsplash

Initially, physical strength and ability were the desired features when it came to potential slaves. However, after emancipation former slave owners feared that the men they enslaved would exact sexual revenge on their wives and daughters. This sentiment is made painfully clear in the 1915 silent drama film The Birth of a Nation. The film is famously hailed as “the most racist film ever”. It features consistent blackface and scenes that show a man in blackface hunting a white woman.

Historically, ‘woman’ was seen as pure, virginal and virtuous… but this did not apply to black women. Black women were perceived as sexual temptresses and lustful beings. White men felt entitled to sexual activity with black women because of their image. Black women were abused and assaulted to fulfil white men’s sexual desires. White men favoured single black women but would occasionally rape married women.

Black men had no say in this matter and no power to object to the rape of their families. This meant white men (who enslaved others) had all control over both spouses. Consequently, black men had no ability for control in the relationship. The white patriarchy declared that men lead their families and have dominance. So black men were emasculated by this system and had little to no control in the private or public spheres of their lives.

Black Men Are Complicit in Their Oppression

So… why isn’t there more discussion about the sexualisation of black men and its severe contributions to black people’s oppression?

Black men are complicit in their oppression. Many – not all – many black men are consciously complicit in their own sexual degradation and dehumanisation.

But why? For some black men, the need for validation from their oppressors distracts them from the fact that their oppressors… are still oppressors.

A lot of black men are actually in denial of their blackness. They see themselves as men (the superior sex) but not as black (the inferior race). This doesn’t mean that they think they’re white or that they’d be shocked if someone said they’re black. It means that they overcompensate for the inferiority of their blackness by hyper-masculinising themselves. Black men will engage in patriarchal rituals that are dominated by white men whilst blind to their own objectification by white men and women.

An example of this is The Chocolate Men. Exclusively “hot black male Adonis dancers” tour the country offering lap dances and branding themselves as “chocolate”. The tour was denounced by black feminists but there were many other black women that attended. The ‘chocolate’ theme is especially degrading as it plays into the consumption of the black body. This reduces black people to a product – something to be bought and used, just as the enslaved were.

As men, the attention of women is something that is desired. A man’s masculinity may be measured in the amount of attention he gets from women. So, when a black male is sexualised, he may take it as a compliment and an ‘ego boost’ because of the fact that he is sexually desired by women. This is especially true with white women because their social status is theoretically superior to black men. Associating with white women may “elevate” their social status.

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Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

However, for black gay men, the experience holds similarities to that of black women. European imperialism and white Christianity introduced African cultures to anti-homosexuality. Because of this, black gay men are largely shunned from the black community. They face a lot of discrimination and hate from within the community. Black gay men are faced with direct sexualisation but from white gay men. Similarly to black women, black gay men are isolated by their community which promotes social awareness of their multi-layered oppression.

However, black gay men are still moderately protected by their male privilege. They can still “fit in”. Their sexual orientation isn’t as visible as a black woman’s womanhood.

Role of Black Women

As a result of colonialism, black people were forced to operate under Western concepts. This included white patriarchy. This institutionalised black men’s superiority over black women. However, within this structure, white people still had superiority over black men. Black men have since fought for validation from their white oppressors to secure some form of superiority that this structure has denied them.

We see this clearly in colourism, misogynoir, and black men’s violence towards black women. These concepts strengthen the weight of oppression that black women face. Black men use this to validate their superiority.

The oppression of black women is double. Black women suffer under white supremacy and patriarchy. These two systems of oppression are not mutually exclusive. Often black women are subject to misogynoir and colourism, which is the overlap of their oppression. It’s not uncommon for this to come from black men. Those who say they “could never date a black girl”. Or “black girls are too loud”. “I could date a light-skin but not a dark-skin”. “They’re just kinda ghetto”.

Dark-skin women are forced to endure racism from their own community on a consistent basis. This puts black women in a state of awareness that most black men don’t have. Black women are aware of their oppression. Black men are provided with male privilege, which means they have superiority over another class and some sense of (restricted) power within society.

For this reason, black women often find themselves having to argue the position of black men because black men refuse to acknowledge their oppression. Or, at the very least, the extent of their oppression.

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Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

Womanhood is sexualised. For most women, this sexualisation extends into objectification, which is where a woman’s only value is sexual in nature. This means that women’s voices are highly ignored; their experiences are invalidated and their personal autonomy is denied. Considering the overlap of the marginalisation of black voices and the marginalisation of female voices, it’s very difficult for black women to create change on their own.

When it comes to black women’s oppression, black men are more than just complicit. They are involved. They contribute and support it because it (theoretically) upholds their own superiority. The unity of black men and white men in their anti-femininity is what provides black men with a sense of power. They maintain this power by exploiting anti-blackness in white men, which they project onto black women.

What Impact Does This Have on Black Men?

The harmful stereotypes that black men face pre-define their identities. Young black men aren’t allowed to venture outside society’s expectations. They aren’t allowed to explore their own identities and personalities for fear of being reprimanded by their own community.

There is added pressure on black men to ‘fit in’, which reduces their ability for self-expression and exploration. They aren’t allowed to explore their own sexual orientation, gender identity, or even individual sexual desires.

Those that don’t fit the stereotypes – that don’t have a massive penis and is a “beast” in bed – are almost invisible. Male privilege still provides them with some position but this position is dispensable if a black man does’t comply with society’s expectations.

This is true of black gay men also. Within the gay community, there are still expectations of black men to be dominant and aggressive. There is also the expectation that they’ll be well-versed in sexual activity. Black gay men are expected to be more sexual by nature but black youth’s education is neglected when it comes to all forms of sex, especially homosexual.

This makes young black people vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse. But also medical issues, such as STIs. If young black men aren’t being properly educated on sex but they’re being told that they should do it, they are extremely vulnerable to serious health complications. They could also cause unwanted pregnancies, which obviously have a massive impact on a young person’s life.

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