In this manuscript, we engage the topic of racialized masculinities through collective autoethnography—a methodological approach that values how life narratives organically reflect both interpersonal and intercultural dimensions. More specifically, we embrace a layered account whereas our individual and collective points of self-reflexivity inform, and are informed by, cultural contracts theory. Our goal here is not to document racialized and gendered insights for the purposes of generalization; rather, we present a collage of moments that hopefully will resonate with others who strive to negotiate similarly conflicted socially constructed identities productively.
This research project builds upon, and simultaneously extends critical-cultural autoethnography as articulated by Robin M. Boylorn and Mark P. Orbe in Critical Autoethnography.2 In particular, we engage the topic of racialized masculinities through collective autoethnography—a methodological approach that values how life narratives organically reflect both interpersonal and intercultural dimensions. Consistent with Boylorn and Orbe,3 we advocate for scholarly inquiry that values intersectionality, self-reflexivity, and examinations of individual and collective communicative experiences that resist the pressure to prioritize one's intellect, emotion, intuition, or logic over the synergistic power of all of these elements collectively.4 Through our efforts, we extend current work on community-autoethnography5 and establish it as an innovative means to engage the similarities and differences in how masculinities are manifested in the lives of a racially diverse group of men. In doing so, we break from Western cultural norms that “value a silent, stoic masculinity that avoids self-disclosure.”6 Our goal is to produce critical qualitative research that is aesthetically pleasing, emotionally provoking, and full of scholarly insight.
Autoethnography involves the “turning of the ethnographic gaze inward on the self (auto), while maintaining the outward gaze of ethnography, looking at the larger context wherein self experiences occur.”7 Such an approach hinges on the potential power of utilizing self-generated narratives as data, and when done within a diverse research team, can provide multiple opportunities to engage self- and other-generated perceptions of lived experience.8 Autoethnography has been the method of choice for a number of communication inquiries, including those exploring interpersonal and intercultural relationships across a variety of contexts. In particular, we draw from existing research that featured the synergistic energies of collective autoethnographies.9 Consulting these pieces, given our interest in examining the interactions of race and gender, we found collective autoethnography was especially fitting.
Our scholarly process of (self-)discovery began innocently enough after the 2007 National Communication Association (NCA) annual convention in Chicago, IL. After spending the vast majority of NCA with a small group of closely-bonded men—the self-acclaimed Brothers of the Collective (BOTC)—Orbe sent a group email that inadvertently triggered a series of messages that lasted several months and engaged a plethora of topics. This project focuses on content related to negotiations of race, gender, and communication. Within this article, we embrace a layered account for our collective autoethnography, in which we weave our reflective memories through recognitions of how they engage past and current conceptualizations of masculinity research.10 In addition, we explore how our individual and collective points of self-reflexivity inform, and are informed by, cultural contracts theory.11 We couple autoethnography with performance as a natural union to highlight marginalized voices as a micro-reflection of macro-cultural structural systems.12 Portions of this piece were presented as an autoethongraphic performance at the 2014 National Communication Association annual convention.13 Our goal here is not to document racialized and gendered insights for the purposes of generalization; rather, we present a “collage of moments”14 that hopefully will resonate with others who strive to negotiate similarly conflicted socially constructed identities productively.
UNSPOKEN BOND: BROTHERS OF THE COLLECTIVE
On 19 November 2007, 9:04 a.m., Orbe wrote the following in an email:
To my brothers Rex, Hopson, Chris, and Tim:
As I rode the train from Chicago to Kzoo yesterday, I couldn't help but reflect on how good NCA was this year—and just about all of my reflections centered around my interactions with you all. I'm sitting in my office on an emotional high, and wanted to let you all know how much you all mean to me (collectively for what we've grown to mean to one another, and individually for the similarities and differences that define each of our personal relationships). I'm struggling with how to articulate what I'm feeling, but I need to express how much love I have for each of you. It's tough for me to wrap my mind around the blessings that you all represent in my life… . All that to say… I love, admire, and respect you all… I've concluded that that's why my heart is so full right now: NCA has become a time each year when I get to hang out with most of the men in my life who mean the most to me. Orbe
I needed the time and the energy for real. Some funny stuff happened over these past few days. Some intellectually stimulating, brothers bonding and building, funny off-the-meter-type stuff. Today I took that same good energy into my black communication and identity class, and watched it resonate among the students. Holidays are here, enjoy, be blessed, Hopson
Like all of you, words could never describe how important our relationships are to me at this point in my life. I sat in amazement at NCA this year just thinking about how blessed we are to have each other as soul brothers. At least two people commented to me about our “club” all haters of course but it is obvious to most that we have something special that others both admire and envy. Thank you all for being so supportive of my family situation this year, I was worried about how I would manage it but with your support it was a wonderful experience for us all. I so appreciate the fact that none of you made it difficult for me to manage both worlds. My boyz at home are always trying to make me feel bad or abnormal for demonstrating an unwavering commitment to my family first. With all of you, you get it. In fact you are my role models for true manliness and fatherhood. Grace and Peace, Rex
Cultural contracts theory is based on one idea: “that intercultural relationships may or may not be coordinated, depending upon the dynamics involved (such as power, boundaries, cultural loyalty, group identification, maturity, etc.).”15 In its most basic sense, the theory facilitates an understanding of how diverse individuals negotiate their identities through everyday discourse.16
Cultural contracts theory has three premises: (1) identities require affirmation—something gained through verbal and nonverbal communication; (2) identities are constantly being exchanged—this reflects a dynamic, ongoing process of negotiation; and (3) identities are contractual.17 A cultural contract is “an agreement between two or more interactants who have different interpretations of culture and have decided whether to coordinate their relationship with one another so that the relationship is deemed valuable to both.”18 According to the theory, most people fail to recognize and understand the cultural contracts in which they are unknowingly participating; they also do not recognize all of the implications of having “signed” them.19 So, given this, what cultural contracts regarding masculinity guide the interactions of the Brothers of the Collective—a racially diverse group of men?
RACIALIZED MASCULINITIES AT NCA
I apologize for the delayed response to all your sincere and heart-filled comments. I've been processing inwardly—as is usually the case… I walked away from NCA inspired, invigorated, and ready to get home and “do the work.” “The work” being the intensely personal, political, cultural, and spiritual undertakings that each of us engage in daily. The themes I kept coming back to were “courage” and “vulnerability.” It takes a mountain of a man to speak back to the forces that attempt to restrict our masculinity and our racial identities. Because the work is SO personal and SO political there are times when we must permit ourselves to be vulnerable. This is one of those times.
I wish I could say that when I'm hangin' at NCA with you all “difference” ceases to “matter,” but we all know that isn't the case. While I/We are blessed to have those moments of transcendence, “power” has a way of F-in' with things. A comment connecting me with the GOP on Saturday—though made in fun (I hope) among us—reminded me of this. No matter where we go or who we're with, power relations [are] always playing games on us—some are fun, some interesting, and some painful. But I do know this one thing for sure—the only “place” I feel at “home” at those conferences is with y'all. My work prohibits me from “fitting neatly” into anyone's small “box” (and I don't want to fit in one anyway). My politics coupled with my skin tone makes white folks nervous and (some) black folks suspicious. I live “in-between” these worlds most of the time, and I know you all know what that feels like in a distinctly different way.
So as this day of Thanks grows closer, know that I am thankful for each of you. I'm thankful for the men you are, the work you do, and the sons and daughters you are passing your wisdom onto. I'm thankful that there are four friendly faces every year to help lift my soul and inspire me to keep doing “the work.” I'm thankful that there are strong men who cry like I cry, who will throw down when I throw down… and who believe like I believe—that there is a “better way” and who accept me for being the paradox that I am. But most of all I'm thankful for the brotherhood (which is one of the few things) that brings me back to NCA each year. Peace, Love, & Dumela! Chris
As a graduate student I took a class with Orbe—who suggested that I submit an essay to NCA. The essay was my response to Brenda J. Allen's essay on black feminist standpoint theory… I have always journaled, so the thoughts and ideas were already there. Plus, my work situation was craaaazy at that time (talk about the frustrations of a black man feeling misunderstood). Until then, I rarely saw representations of myself, or my experiences, within the communication classroom… . Even within this short reflection I notice, again, how the two remain intertwined for me. I am a man of course, but I am always a black man.
So what does that mean? To me? To people around me? The answers, much like the questions, constantly shift and slide, and change and rearrange themselves… What are the layers of sacrifice here? Once, at NCA, I was “mistaken” for the bellman. Seriously. A couple approached me, arm in arm, and asked me to let them into their room. As a newly minted PhD, I was quickly reminded of the rhetorical question posed by Malcolm X: “You know what they call a black man with a PhD, don't you?” Answer: “N*****”
Another time, while attending the NCA President's Reception, a colleague-in-the-discipline, from out of the blue, slapped me on the back so hard that I almost dropped my drink. He quickly apologized with a case of mistaken identity, “You look just like someone else I know.”… . [S]ince my initial introduction, NCA has taken on several new meanings for me. The organization is very political in nature and in structure. I realize now more than ever before just how much conversations like ours are marginalized and overlooked. Hopson
I appreciate Hopson's articulation about his experiences being mistaken for a “bellboy” (Rex has told me a similar story about being mistaken as a “hired moving man” when moving into his university office). While my cultural upbringing has never allowed me to feel comfortable at NCA, I've never had that type of experience because I can count on the white-/light-ness of my skin to shield me. However, my racialized experiences have taken a different type of tension… . After 16 years at NCA, I feel most comfortable in a small arena of NCA convention-activities—all of which revolve around the BC/AACCD [Black Caucus and African American Culture and Communication Division, two interest groups in NCA]. Yet, even in this space, my racialized in-betweeness is consistently brought into the forefront. For instance…[a] few years back, I had a conversation with the AACCD president and we talked about my involvement in the group. During the conversation, I asserted my bi-racial identity… his response was, “Well you can describe yourself any way you want to, but I'm always going see you as a white man.” I remained silent after his statement; what I wanted to say was, “The way that you see me is not necessarily the way that I see… ”
So, Chris, I don't ever want our BOTC to transcend the very differences that make it so valuable (we learn the most from folks who are most different)… . While I can never understand black masculinities in an experiential sense, I can—and do—understand it as a social/cultural/political phenomena. I understand it when TimmyT asks me if I'm wearing my nametag to the various receptions (you know that I don't do nametags)… and he makes a conscious choice to do so anyway because, as he put it, “I look too much like a Chicago brother not to.” I understand it when Hopson also consistently asks about how the rest of us are dressing at different events. Countless examples exist. The reality is that black masculinities are negotiated differently at NCA than white (and white-appearing) masculinities… and an important part of our bond is situated within that acknowledgment. Orbe
Three specific types of cultural contracts exist: Ready-to-sign, quasi-completed, and co-created. Ready-to-sign cultural contracts are prenegotiated agreements designed to promote assimilation and maintain the status quo.20 From the perspective of the person in power, this type of contract suggests that “I am not going to change who I am, so if you want this relationship to work, you must act like me.”21,Quasi-completed cultural contracts are partly prenegotiated, and partly open for negotiation—they attempt to “straddle the fence” in terms of maintaining the status quo and asserting one's identity within existing structures.22 Consequently, commitment to quasi-completed cultural contracts involves active negotiations of power in terms of individual and social change.23,Co-created cultural contracts are agreements that are “fully negotiable, with the only limits being personal preferences or requirements.”24 This type of cultural contract is different than others in that individuals acknowledge and validate the cultural differences of all parties; as such, co-created cultural contracts are motivated by mutual satisfaction and respect—and not obligation.25
It appears that the BOTC have moved beyond ready-to-sign cultural contracts that are grounded in rigidly defined gendered and racialized roles. However, our reflections powerfully demonstrate how our masculinities are informed by macro-level structures that reinforce white male privilege. Within the context of our brotherhood, though, we have crafted quasi-completed and co-created cultural contracts that allow us to acknowledge, negotiate, and ultimately challenge, existing norms communicating masculinity within racially diverse groups. This is evident in Groscurth's and Orbe's reflections on their co-cultural positionality in black spaces within NCA. As demonstrated next, a crucial aspect of our abilities to negotiate new norms of interaction involve a critical examination of our own socialization processes.
THE PERVASIVE POWER OF SOCIALIZATION
Every year, NCA prompts me to do much self-reflection… . this is probably because I have some alone time (traveling), and am able to connect with people from my past, present, and future. The love I feel from my close circle of NCA friends/family is always there, but what we mean to one another oftentimes goes unspoken. I can understand this tendency as part of how I “do my masculine self”—but this year I needed to articulate my appreciation for you all (and it was pretty amazing to have you all respond in kind). For many, this would be a violation of our unspoken bond—and might have been unwelcomed.
Our recent exchange brings me back to how my father raised me: Be tough, show no weakness, do things for yourself, don't count on anyone for anything, don't be a punk. Lots of memories exist, like when my father whipped me good because I got beat up in the seventh grade and didn't fight back… I quickly learned to fight back like a crazy man (picking up a big stick and beating the next bully down). Word got around quick: Don't mess with him, he's crazy. Being soft, showing emotion, and relying on others was not the way to be a “real man.” Expressing my love for others… implicitly signals vulnerability and weakness. I can't help but wonder how these things—growing up in the environment that I did—contributed to my socialization as a man. So, how we do transcend traditional [problematic] conceptualizations of masculinity; and maximize our adult relationships with other men by redefining what it means to be a man? Orbe
As I read Orbe's thoughts, I'm instantly puzzled as to who defined this quasi-manhood we hold so sacred? As a new father, new CEO, new scholar, new conventionist (NCAer), I have been floored by how weak I am. Being a man who attempts to walk what he talks is in itself the most humbling, authentic process anyone could undergo. I know there has been a separation of church and academy; however, I believe that if we were created in God's image, and HE ordained men to be leaders, then we should go back to the basics to find our redefinition of masculinity. People love to quote “the joy of the Lord is my strength.” That statement brings encouragement to most, humbles those who understand it fully. God gets joy when we get strong, and our strength is only recognized through our weakest points.
So it is those NCA moments, when we become vulnerable and release the masks of strength, that we find our collective dynamite, and make God, our families, and our work… happy. Tim
All of us have heard messages similar to “suck it up,” “you better not cry,” “stop crying,” or “stop acting like a girl.” According to Ronald L. Jackson II and Mark C. Hopson, “these messages gradually introduce us to what is otherwise understood as masculinity—largely implicit social meanings that come to be accepted as truths about how males are supposed to think, behave, or function.”26 Without any critical interrogation, we committed to these gendered ready-to-sign contracts. For instance, Jackson and Hopson argue that men learn to follow a masculine script that requires males not express pain openly. Females are also indirectly aware of these messages, and oftentimes can regard men who acknowledge and articulate their pain differently. While these early lessons typically focus on physical pain, they also relate to psychological pain—something that makes vulnerability a dangerous state for men operating with ready-to-sign cultural contracts. Autoethnography provides an opportunity to focus on cultural performances of identity in particular contexts,27 something that requires a conscious “reflecting back on our lived experience.”28 The power of cultural contracts is real; yet, as Ronald J. Pelias reminds us, we do not have to choose between hypermasculinity and femininity. Instead, we “can escape the cultural scripts [we] have been given, reverse the expectancies of masculinity's dictates. [We] can rebel against power's violent authority and find pleasure in an ethic of caring. [We] can be better m[e]n.”29
I just got done teaching my morning class that focuses on the construction of cultural identities. We talked about this issue of “vulnerability” in relation to professional identities… . I struggle with the tensions around emotionality in relation to my performance of my professional (white-masculine) identity. I'm not sure what all these tensions are, but hopefully I will learn through our writing process. While we'd like to think that emotionality is welcomed in the type of work we do and lives we live—I question how seemingly “real” this is. What I mean is, when we can't rationalize how we “do” our masculinities (at work, in our communities, in our scholarship, etc.), it seems that we refrain (perhaps out of fear) from “doing” them in ways that position us as vulnerable, weak, and/or fragile. In doing masculinity in this way, we perpetuate or recreate the same old limited discourses about what it means to be a “strong man” (and I'm sure this varies culturally, as well as when you have children, a wife, etc.). So I'm thinking: Maybe being “strong” really means allowing yourself to be “vulnerable” (weak)?
I know that this pulls at my insides all the time, but I often don't express it to others. You can't talk about it with “your boyz” (i.e., those who don't “get it”) because they'll knock you over the head with it—if not now, then later. You hate to “go there” with family—because really what do they know about who you're becoming? And, I even struggle talking about the emotional baggage of masculinity with my partner of seven years; Sarah is very emotionally responsive, but sometimes I just don't want to be vulnerable in that way—even in my own romantic and most intimate relationship!
As much as I try to re-frame it, challenge it, and/or unlearn it, I know that my resistance to vulnerability is tied to upbringing, media, and all the other cultural sources we draw from every day! Orbe's previous post about learning how to “do manliness” to avoid being a “punk,” a “sissy,” or a “bitch” reminds me of some of my own experiences when I was growing up. I can still hear the voices saying, “Oh, don't cry… Come on bud, be a big boy… You think you can whup my ass, let's see it then… Don't be such a pansy…” Damn those voices!!! So where do we find the strength and space to unlearn these cultural teachings? God? Other men? Other women? Inside? With others? At work? Where and to whom can we turn to cope with our struggles to be vulnerable? Peace, Chris
Brothers, Chris ended his last comments with a key question for all of us… . “Where and to whom can we turn to cope with our struggles to be vulnerable?”… . I say… go old school on 'em! Y'all know my heart beats to an old-school soundtrack. Brother Donny Hathaway sang (not to be confused with sung) “He ain't heavy, he's my brother”… . This brother sang about our strength being found through carrying each other. This road of discovery, and rediscovery, is covered with milestones of failures and faults, misconceptions and mishaps, triumph and tragedy, yet when you are in a brotherhood, you ain't heavy, you're someone's brother. Your faults, weaknesses, missteps do not encumber your brother.
The most difficult thing for me at times (as Chris stated), it's hard to trust enough… no it's hard to forget enough (of our socialization) to be vulnerable enough to be strong. The tension of trust–mistrust displays itself with our colleagues continuously… . In a world of brothers in it for themselves to win it, with no understanding of agape and phileo love, how can we be accustomed to a brotherhood? Tim
I wanted to let you know that I got a text from Rex this morning letting me know that he's in the hospital. At first they thought it was pneumonia—but it's not… something to do with his respiratory system. He says that he'll be fine and will keep me posted. Getting a return text with this information produced a huge lump in my throat.
This leads me to what is at the crux of this dialogue. I assume (maybe incorrectly) that you all know Rex is a cancer survivor. While in his late twenties he fought courageously against the disease; and had lots of complications—the doctors gave him little chance to survive. He dealt with this life-challenging scenario without letting most of his close friends know until he was on his way to recovery. Why? I'm not sure… but (ironically) I am sure that I would have done the same exact thing. Again, I ask Why? Chris talks about his self-identified pattern to “process inwardly.” Why? I'm asking these questions to you—but obviously to myself as well. Why? If we know that we are strong in our weakness/vulnerability, then why don't we allow ourselves to be loved, cared for, taken care of, etc.? Why do we always have to be in control? Why don't we want anyone to see us weak? Vulnerable? Is this part of our “inherent” masculinity? Shit, no wonder men die earlier than women… we are killing ourselves!
At the end of his post, Chris asks the question about who we should look to help us transcend the problematic nature of our masculinities. God? Yes, definitely God—or whatever name one uses to signify The Creator. Other men? Yes, other men (you all specifically)… but not just anybody. Women? I'm not too sure… don't know why, but I'm probably even more hesitant to be vulnerable around women. Inward? Yes, but haven't we already been doing too much of that???? Clearly, we need all of these sources collectively. My hunch is that we spend most of our time trying to find the answers inwardly… and that's what exacerbates the problem/tension.
So, I'll end by referencing Donny Hathaway's song: Tim—you ain't heavy, you're my brother. And, so aren't the rest of you… if you like it or not. I am my brother's keeper. Orbe
Another kind of pain emerges for Black males in the United States. That pain is steady and constant and seems to never fully subside. It is racial pain, complicated by the rules of being male…. We have pushed the boundaries of performance in virtually every field of endeavor. Yet, the force of racial misery in the United States often works to batter our dreams and blunt our imaginations.30
What new quasi-completed and co-created cultural contracts emerge as African American men, and by extension men of color, attempt to negotiate this racial pain in new ways? In similar fashion, how do European Americans create new cultural contracts that acknowledge their white privilege and commit to confronting issues of race, racial discrimination, and racism?
Peace and blessings go out to Rex and family!! I learned at an early age that when the road gets rough, and the burden gets heavy, give it to God. I have no problem with that. (S)He can have it.
However, as you mention Orbe, I may not be willing to lean on another person. I think some of us buy into the myth of masculinity as being dominant and in control. I know I have at times. But I dare say that those around us buy into the myth as well, right? For example, my boys expect me to be strong. My wife has expectations for her husband. Even my children expect Daddy to handle his business. I don't often feel much space to step outside these guidelines. And I am one of the most sensitive men I know! Society does not reward the baring of the soul. In working with youth and young adults I have seen how young men can become trapped in this paradox of what it means to be a man—by denying what it means to be human. Hopson
FATHERS AND SONS: SEX ROLE CONFLICTS
Brothers of the collective (BOTC),
If you note it is 3:19 a.m. and I am doing something that I have probably never done before, sharing with a group of men the things I would usually designate as “for my eyes only” via my personal journal. As Orbe shared, I was released from the hospital yesterday after having been rushed to the emergency room with respiratory problems. They began last week, but in traditional hypermasculinity style, I tried first to ignore the signs and then to resist assistance. The difference this time is that I am married and have a child… . It has not been my practice to share my experiences with anyone, including my family, with whom I am very close, until I gain a sense of what I am dealing with and probably most interestingly, until I have a plan or some type of resolution in mind. Consistent with masculine behaviors, I resist the urge to ask for help. Being married has helped me through this—in a healthy relationship with a loving spouse, you cannot hide the truth as easily, and I am now learning that I do not have to. Check that out, I am 43 damned years old and I am just learning this life lesson.
Learning to lean… . While it seems like an easy concept, it is, for me, one of the most difficult masculine strongholds I face. I know it is rooted deeply in the gender roles I inherited from my family, and as a child of an alcoholic, I know it is consistent with psychological and emotional coping mechanisms of such victors. I know I just opened a can of worms, but I wonder how many of us have that in common—alcoholism. My father was a domineering father, whose masculine-ideal was rooted in emotionless discipline. Actually, it was his way of not having to “raise” his son. Being cold and distant gave him room to live his life outside of his family. I hated this approach all my life and even explicating it now makes me nervous, because my father and I are in such a different place now. He called me tonight from Alabama to see how I was doing. Prior to my bout with cancer I could count on one hand, fuck that, let me just say it, my dad never called me. The first time I heard his voice on the opposite end of a receiver I was well into my thirties. I was so surprised I did not know what to say. I could tell he was just as uncomfortable and the silence was golden. I imagined him dialing my number and hanging up two or three times before he actually made the call and I know he was praying for the answering machine. It was not until my bout with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and its associated bone marrow transplant that I ever heard my father utter the words “I love you,” at least that I can remember. So that is the model for masculinity and fatherhood that acts as my baseline for manhood. Quite dysfunctional… . I will stop here. Much love my brothers, Rex
What a desperate, deprived place we have arrived… when gendered performances supersede humanity. I too have struggled with baring the soul. And as I've said before, “the reasons for my tears, if I'm honest with myself; are because I'm being honest with myself.” So maybe it's not gender expectations that hold us in emotional and relational bondage. Maybe it's our fear of being honest. Both with ourselves and others. True honesty bares all. You mean a brother like me, with all of my faults, failures, and behind-closed-doors-happenings has to show and tell? I don't think that fear-laden reality is tied to my manhood, but my realization that I am in fact human, and to admit that honestly to anyone is terrifying. Tim
Research on male sex role conflicts provides powerful insight about psychological implications that are the result of traditionally rigid sex role socialization. Within his large body of work, Jim M. O'Neil outlines several values associated with masculinity: fear of femininity, fear of emasculation, fear of being vulnerable, fear of failure—all of which result in restricted communication patterns, especially those affiliated with emotionality, affection, immediacy, and intimacy.31 Intersections of gender and socioeconomic status invoke intense forms of working-class masculinity.32 As such, manual labor is equated with “true” masculinity, a highly valued trait for men that is juxtaposed against the social inferiority of femininity and “feminine” work.33
[L]like Rex, my father–son relationship was distant (at best). And, like Rex, I chose (and continue to choose) self-reliance as my coping strategy. I moved out of my house when I turned 16—sounds like an independent, rebellious teenager, but the truth was that my parents had instituted a “countdown,” literally numbering the days before they kicked me out. The only time my father and I communicated was when we fought (both verbally and physically). I remember going to school as a sophomore and having to explain to my gym teacher why I had huge bruises across my back… . My father passed away two years ago, and he never, ever initiated any sort of communication/relationship with me. I've never heard his voice on the telephone… because, of course, since he never called me, I never called him. He hugged me once—at my high school graduation (I was the first in my extended family to graduate from high school). I've never seen him cry; I saw tears in his eyes once—at my mother's funeral. He was the epitome of masculine strength. His reputation as being a badass growing up was legendary across our city. As an adult, his issues with alcohol, drugs, gambling, and infidelity were recognized and accepted, but never discussed. [He was a badass as an adult too.]
Unlike you, Rex, my own over-emphasis on self-reliance never allowed me to develop any meaningful relationship with my father. I remember how pitiful it was when we tried—as adults—to communicate. We would both ask the same tired questions (e.g., How's work?), and then it would be silent… . I remember once, as a teen, my father did share deeply with me about his upbringing… how he “left” his house and joined the Army (lying about his age). This isolated self-disclosure (my father was drunk), and subsequent reflection, has forced me to recognize that I am a lot like my father—much more than I care to admit. And, truth be told, it is one of my biggest fears—something that I negotiate with my wife and children every day. My father was my masculinity role model… and his presence growing up has been more influential than the media, other family and friends, and God all together. Of course, I never shed a tear at his funeral. And, I'm ashamed to add, never really felt sad at “the loss.” Orbe
BOTC, Wow. Orbe and Rex have me reflecting on my father and how his masculinity affected my choices concerning my performances. My pop is the most consistent, caring, steady, spiritual, Christian example of a “good man” I know… He and I fought tooth and nail… literally, over his moral compass and my own. My father was strict, and unwavering in his pursuit of having a “Godly home.” So much so that he would burn any music that was not Christian or gospel. I've never heard my father use profanity, he's never raised his voice at my mother. She probably has opened only two doors in her life while in his presence. He was model in his chivalry. I hated my father! He wouldn't let me have any fun. So what did I do? Rebel. I became a hip-hop head, and a pimp to boot! Disrespect and attitude was all I had for my father for a long time.
Why? Why the hell would I treat a man so good, so bad? I realize now, that I couldn't be him. My own insecurities as a man told me that I could never be that consistent, that faithful, that holy. So instead of striving for excellence, I retreated. I retreated to what looked fun and easy… women, alcohol, and parties.
I had the unique opportunity to have this conversation with my dad, after I was married, and I told him (with tears in my eyes, go figure, I was being honest with myself) that he had set the bar too damned high, and my goal was to be just a part of what he was as a father, and I'd be one of the best. So… even on the opposite side of the fatherhood continuum, my manhood and masculinity took on a destructive performance, even with a “good father” in the house. Tim
BOTC: Unlike Rex and Orbe, it wasn't my father who liked to get drunk and raise hell: it is my mom. My first memory is her throwing me into a beat-up Ford LTD and taking me away from my dad. I've never forgiven either of them for their selfishness, and I don't often discuss it… . I still saw him once or twice a month… . Granted, things could have been worse: a lot worse. But it doesn't change the fact that this “breakdown” had a significant impact on my views of personal responsibility to your family—which I have yet to start with my girlfriend of over seven years—but more importantly (or perhaps intimately related to) my perceptions of what it means to be a (white) man.
As a result of their divorce and my father's pursuit of other interests, I learned how to be a man from anyone and everyone other than my own father. I learned how to drink “like a man” from my mom, and—oh yeah—her boyfriend's (later husband's) mother—God rest her Soul—who could kick back a half-gallon of Seagram's 7 on her own over the course of a couple of sessions. I guess that catches up with you as she recently died of pancreatic/liver cancer. I miss her, despite the fact that she enabled my mother's drinking, which led to verbal and sometimes physical abuse within our household. Like Mom, I've struggled with my relationship with alcohol—particularly as it relates to the “man” alcohol brings out in me. I don't like this guy too much.
In addition to Mom, I also had my stepfather to model masculinity for me. While I have a tremendous amount of respect for how he managed “the situation” he stepped into, I am still recovering from the lessons communicated to me (explicitly and implicitly) by him, his family, and his friends regarding (white) masculinity. Through these relationships I learned how to be a “white man”: blue collar, individualistic, and flat-out racist. Through him—and his friends—I heard the n-word for the first time, learned racist jokes, learned to not see but all the while be hyperconscious of my racial/political standpoint, constructed stereotypical lenses for viewing the world, adopted a “pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps” mentality, and learned to simultaneously loathe and fear racial difference. To this day, at various times and in various places, I still struggle to unlearn this form of masculinity.
To put it bluntly—it's this kind of shit that fucks up a “little man” and contributes to the mess I (we all) have to clean up… . The emotions that have accompanied this process are too interrelated and complex to unpack here, but they include: anger, frustration, resentment, guilt, fear of becoming something foreign to myself (and my family), feelings of alienation, loneliness, but also hope, compassion, motivation, spiritual awakening, empathy, inspiration, and—most importantly—love. Chris
As a society, we must move away from stereotypical conceptualizations of racialized masculinities that are one-dimensional, stereotypical, and limiting; instead we have to prioritize representations that are multifaceted, complex, and reflective of the similarities and differences between various groups.34 We must also claim our individual and collective agency as we resist larger forces that seek to define our racialized and gendered identities. In this regard, we must embrace an intercultural dialectical framework that resists false binaries and essentialist conceptualizations.35 This type of paradigm shift allows us to understand how we can be simultaneously vulnerable and strong, close and distant, and reserved and expressive with our emotions. It also means we see ourselves as simultaneously similar and different, privileged and disadvantaged, and individuals and members of larger cultural groups.
Fuck… just got a text from Rex saying that he's back in the hospital. I can't deal with this—I feel helpless and outta the loop. Orbe
Orbe may have shared with you all that I was hospitalized again over the weekend… I was released on Saturday night and spent the evening holding and embracing my son Xavier, I think he slept on my chest most of the night. Peace, Rex
Theorizing African American male identity is faced with a number of challenges, including a pervasive pathology of black male lived experiences, the diversity within this heterogeneous group, and existing problematic dichotomies between black/white men and black men/women.36 African American fathers are largely signified as absent, noncustodial, unavailable, irresponsible, and immature. Not surprisingly, existing research on the role of black males in a fathering role is limited.37 Where is the research on fathers who play nurturing and permanent roles in the lives of their children? What might we learn from research that examines how men transcend socialized gendered roles and cultivate intimate, meaningful, and long-lasting relationships with their children and other men? Crawley argues that autoethnography can serve as a productive method to explore these questions.38 In the case of this particular project, it appears that our willingness to engage in an ongoing exercise in transparency, vulnerability, and mutual sharing—cleverly designed as a scholarly collective autoethnography—solidified the co-created cultural contracts that were taking shape among the BOTC.
Brothers, after speaking with Rex, I reflect on this endeavor, this collective journey. With the commitment to being real with each other—as we have done here—life takes on new meaning. At one point Rex said he had to go because a nurse was waiting for him. In that moment I felt like I was there with him, ready to go through the experience. It was that real to me. But of course I am here, at home, on a Saturday morning, working, spending time with family, and doing some of the things this brother would want to do. I do not use the term brother loosely. I use it here in sincerity. You all matter in ways that go beyond being cool dudes. This is a journey. With any journey change occurs, directions change, faces change, and, as travelers, we change. Mortality. The notion of it is my weakness. Some of us go through serious head trips about life and the thought of losing it. Peace, love, and blessings, Hopson
We dedicate this collective autoethnography to the living memory of Rex L. Crawley, who after a long, courageous battle with cancer, passed away on 25 November 2013.