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The Mask of Masculinity: Perceptions of Manhood and African American Youth

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Compared to various groups within education, African American male youth are clearly not performing at a satisfactory level to say the least. One of the explanations associated with this dilemma may be the ideas that African American male youth have in relation to the notion of manhood.

Origins of Manhood-Materialism and Aggression
The origins of male identity among African American males stem from a number of aspects. From the standpoint of race, masculinity is often based upon individual and contextual aspects, not necessarily the traditional White male perspective. Therefore, the black male perspective is often shaped by the oppressive (and resilient) history of race relations in the US. In terms of media depictions, it appears that ideas associated with black masculinity are consistently based upon ideas of materialism. This may explain the existence of trivial aspirations as well as the use of violence among African American males. In essence, the violence expressed is often justified in an attempt to gain respect; a respect that is unfortunately based upon one’s possessions instead of one’s character. Additional explanations associated with the use of violence in relation to identity stems from exposure to violence. This often leads to a mentality in which certain negative public behavior (i.e., getting arrested, engaging in physical assaults, etc.) is perceived as a means of gaining respect.

Evidence of Manhood-Bravado and Athleticism
In terms of expressing ideas of manhood, African American male youth may exhibit a bravado attitude, which is a coping mechanism that attempts to deal with a society that they perceived to be unfair and threatening. It is often revealed by individuals who exert toughness and engage in thrill-seeking behavior and physical violence. The attitude may also manifest itself in the manner of dress, speech, and behavior. In essence, the bravado demeanor is nothing more but a protective mask. It is simply an attempt to resist notions of insecurity and vulnerability. Inevitably, this disingenuous and pretentious behavior may explain the instances of anger, aggression and violent rages among African American male youth. Even studies reveal that African American male youth are more likely to experience instances of violence when compared to groups in the US.

In an obvious and yet seemingly innocent manner, many African American males are often encouraged to engage in violent activities (i.e., football, etc.) in public school settings. In a subtle and yet systemic manner, these activities are often viewed as acceptable forms of masculinity. In fact, research suggests that excelling in athletic events allows African American male youth to receive recognition and while simultaneously benefiting the economic and social status of public school athletic programs. From this standpoint, it can be argued that public school athletic programs exercise their expressed authority through the regulations of physical movement among African American male youth. Unfortunately, many African American male youth often go along with violent and aggressive views and activities associated with masculinity due to the perception that they are unable to resist or change such expectations. In essence, these individuals ultimately mask their true identity due to the influence and expectations of others.

Impact of Manhood-Miscued Modeling
Regardless of race and gender, the modeling impact of adults is clearly evident in the lives of adolescents. For those who participate and prioritize athletic activities, a coach’s promotion of athletic ability and disregard for academic achievement may have a bearing on the academic pursuits of African American males. Public school teachers and administrators, who obviously spend the greatest amount of time and interaction among youth, are clearly in a position to affect positive change. Unfortunately, many of these professionals either ignore or misinterpret the anti-social bravado attitude as a commitment to failure instead of a plea for help.

Interventions-Exposure and Education
In an effort to reverse these systemic and unfortunate trends, there are a number of measures that may be implemented to change the perceptions of masculinity among African American males. These measures include 1) a school curriculum that highlights the achievement of African Americans, 2) classroom discussions regarding what it means to be African American as well as the corresponding perceptions associated with such, 3) counseling sessions which explain both positive and negative responses to stress and their corresponding impact, and 4) extensive training among public school teachers/administrators regarding the existence of individual biases related to members of certain racial categories.

In an effort to uplift the consciousness and efforts of African American male youth, let’s take advantage of every opportunity to transplant the counterproductive (and yet popular) value system that is commonly depicted by the media. This will require the deliberate action of resisting the excuses of racial discrimination and the proverbial “legacy of slavery” by recognizing the cultural dynamics that currently undermine our progress as a race and a nation.

Be ye not conformed to this world…
Romans 12:2a



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