Notes: I remember being at a conference once some 10 years ago. An older white male colleague of mine introduced me to his partner, who was some 30 years his junior, so nearer to my age, I guess. I was polite to her, making small talk and chatting, and she was actually quite nice to me. At some point though as we were talking, I could feel the energy change, and the older colleague stiffened and then felt the need to put his arm around his partner whilst staring me dead in the eye. A look, or a feeling passed between us as if I was to understand my place. Strange thing was, I wasn’t interested in any kind of competition, even if he was. I was just there for the conference.
From the basketball courts of the United States to the football stadiums of the United Kingdom, men of colour routinely dominate and compete for the pleasure of crowds of mainly white men and their mainly white paymasters. Like the gladiators of old, who fought for their very lives against one another whilst tanned and oiled, the homoerotic aspect of these types of competitions should not be underestimated. For example, we underestimate the almost orgasmic release experienced by tens of thousands of men, mainly white, as they watched their favourite football team score a 78th minute winner to finally seal the English Premier League Title in early May of this year. Just as in the same way we ignore the many Petit Mortes which will be experienced by men in mosh pits slam dancing at some of the summertime festivals. It is strange that given male sexuality is such an important part of these experiences that this should be so regularly ignored.
That this is so rarely discussed within white male circles, also makes the projected presumption of black male sexuality all the more odd, yet also interesting. For myself, this fascination and the fear of black male sexuality is as much related to some kind of presumed sexual power and prowess and was there in the interaction between myself and the older colleague at the beginning of this piece. This racialised positioning of the black penis is a common facet of life for black men by whiteness, be it from the numerous jokes and innuendos about appendage size and girth by men to the women who only want to try a black man to see if it is true.
In a brotherly vein to the feminist narrative of the male gaze out of feminist literature, where the objectification of women involves men seeing them through their own myopic and overtly sexualised lens, the white male gaze is something to be considered here (Beauvoir, 2010). This white male gaze can take many forms. From sports to music and the arts, black men who fall under this lens are seen as either potent or a threat, valued through their attractiveness (like say Idris Elba) or their edginess (like say Stormzy). The sexual tension in both these is propagated as much by men, in fact moreso by men, than by women. Yet, this erotic air is a rarely discussed phenomenon within the discourses around race and racism and needs careful consideration as to its homoerotic depths.
An old friend, a man of colour, once told me a story where he was invited by white middle-class couple to join them for dinner one evening. Once there, the drink flowed, and they all had a good evening chatting about anything and everything. At some point the conversation turned to sex. Then it turned to what this couple liked to do. This is when the wife revealed the idea that she liked to cuckold her husband by making him watch her with black men, berating him for his lack of sexual prowess whilst performing in front of him. She then asked him if he would like to join them for an evening sometime. The friend declined and left not long afterwards, feeling a mixture of shame and sadness as he had not realised that this was how they saw him.
That black male sexuality was harness as a resource during the slave trade, is an obvious place to start this next section (Akbar, 1984). The black man being put out to stud, like a stallion or a bull, is a narrative known to many. That this title ‘the bull’ is still applied to black men, such as those in the section above who unlike my friend might choose to engage in the cuckolding suggested by said couple, is a less known but still relevant phenomenon.
In the book Black Orpheus, Sartre (Sartre & MacCombie, 1964) recognised this powerplay around race, if not around sexuality directly. His separate writings around race and sexuality, I believe, recognised that these parallel forces at times crossed over in the minds of the white male subject. He saw that the need to contain blackness was as much about a need to have power over the racialised other as it was about bending them to their will.
The idea of power over another also resides well within the world of psychotherapy. Proctor (2010) also pointed out this type of power in her work, with power-over being one of three types of power emergent from her ideas. Broadening this out, when we consider things systemically, then the intersections of patriarchy and white supremacy are as much about the need to have and maintain that power over the other. So the banning of anything with a remotely sexual connotation is actually a facet of the intersections of patriarchy and white supremacy. From the horror that is conversion therapy, and the failure to ban such a barbaric process, to the move in the USA to take away power from women over their own bodies, this male fear of the erotic and the sexual, or the attempt to make it purely procreative is as much about power as it is about fear (Nichols, 2016; Various, 2017, 2022). From another angle, the INCEL movement, a movement which advocates for the superiority of white men over white women, and harkens back to some kind of idealised future history ala The Handmaid’s Tale, also takes some cues out of the superiority of white male sexuality over the racialised other (Casciani & De Simone, 2021). The purity of races, that Aryan ideal, also involved the patriarchally driven idea that male minorities were a threat to the purity and therefore the superiority of their race.
Within this racial zone though, the annihilation of the sexuality of white men, with the simultaneous projection of sexuality upon blackness, and black men means that this gaze which falls upon black men is actually one of a type of homoerotic projection. What this means is the white male gaze involves an internalised battle for some white men between the desire for and the destruction of the black male penis, between Eros and Thanatos, the love and hate, the feelings of shame and rage. For these types of men, all sexuality needs to be controlled. White men in power need to have power over, not a relationship with, not just black men, but what they represent, and in this case this includes their sexuality.
Notes: I notice time and again how some white men need to compete with me. Once, I decided to run some workshops with a white male colleague because we had the same experience around a particular area. Yet, when working together I felt often put down, I ended up doing much of the organisational work, and during the actual workshops he often needed to be seen as the person in charge by the other participants. I knew that should I leave that these workshops would not continue. When I departed, that is exactly what happened.
That these ideas are presumed to be only emergent out of far-right ideologies means some people reading this may therefore assume that they are not infected by the impact of them upon their racialised identity. Yet, as my writings have often proposed, given that race is a binary socially manufactured construct, we are all forced into taking up positions upon one side of the divide. This therefore means that even the most left-wing, the most transpersonal, and apparently well-meaning male may still act out their shadow racialised and patriarchal superiority through the need to dominate. A domination which will always include the need to psychologically emasculate the black man.
Crenshaw (n.d.) in some of her work has highlighted that an intersectional approach to the study of police violence begins to recognise that this is not just about black men being harassed or killed, as it is usually framed, but it is also about black women. She is right in this powerful assertion, but for this blog it is also worth diving deeper into the homoerotic nature of the oppression of black masculinity (often through the black teen male by the way) by often older white men in uniform. As stated in the first section, and borrowing an idea from Bern, the homoerotic though may present itself through the desire for the black male other. For white men, this may be through wish to look like, to be as hench as, to walk like, to act like, to speak like, the black men they so detest yet also admire (Bem, 1996). Conversely, the destruction of black masculinity is driven by a rage by that which is seen as threatening to the fragility of one’s own sexual identity, where white men rescue themselves from the shadow ambiguity around their own sexuality by destroying that which threatens this unhealthy psychological status quo (Brewis & Jack, 2010). The perfect modern day example of this is emergent out of the Stop and Search stats which as always emphasise that the majority of those stopped by the police are of colour, but also are male (Various, 2021).
Finally, decolonising oneself from the repressive internalisations of living under the White Male Gaze is part of the unconscious decolonisation process black men must undertake in order to be free. It involves the re-owning of our sexuality, and the rediscovery and re-respecting of what it is to be a black man in relation not just to ourselves as black men, but as hetero, gay, bisexual, and trans men of colour. Re-awakening to our own black sexuality reopens a doorway out of the cuckolded binary notions of our colonised sexual psyche, and sets us on the road towards decolonial sexual liberation.
Notes: I know how to assert myself sexually, how to flirt, how to play, how to take charge. But I haven’t been myself lately, so I haven’t felt as potent. I think what can happen is I will put myself into a box, my sexuality included, in order to appear less powerful, and less threatening to others around me. I have done that a lot lately, and I feel is has cost me in other ways (although strangely it wasn’t the same when I was racing about in my car earlier). I need to stop self-othering myself from my own sexuality. It is an integral part of why I create and why I fight. It is who I am.
Akbar, N. (1984). Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery. New Mind.
Beauvoir, S. de. (2010). The Second Sex. Alfred A. Knopf.
Bem, D. J. (1996). Exotic becomes erotic: A developmental theory of sexual orientation. Psychological Review, 103(2), 320–335. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.103.2.320
Brewis, J., & Jack, G. (2010). Consuming Chavs: The Ambiguous Politics of Gay Chavinism. Sociology, 44(2), 251–268. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038038509357201
Casciani, D., & De Simone, D. (2021). Incels: A new terror threat to the UK? BBC News Online. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-58207064
Crenshaw, K. (n.d.). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics Recommended Citation Crenshaw, Kimberle () “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989(1).
Nichols, J. M. (2016, November). A Survivor of Gay Conversion Therapy Shares His Chilling Story. Hufifngton Post US, 1. https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/realities-of-conversion-therapy_us_582b6cf2e4b01d8a014aea66?guccounter=1
Proctor, G. (2010). Boundaries or mutuality in therapy: is mutuality really possible or is therapy doomed from the start? Psychotherapy and Politics International, 8(1), 44–58. https://doi.org/10.1002/ppi
Sartre, J.-P., & MacCombie, J. (1964). Jean-Paul Sartre Black Orpheus. The Massachusetts Review, Inc, 6(1), 13–52. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25087216 .
Various. (2017). Leading UK psychological professions and Stonewall unite against conversion therapy. BACP. https://www.bacp.co.uk/news/2017/16-october-2017-leading-uk-psychological-professions-and-stonewall-unite-against-conversion-therapy/
Various. (2021). Ethnicity Facts and Figures: Stop and Search Statistics. GOV.UK. https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/crime-justice-and-the-law/policing/stop-and-search/latest#by-ethnicity
Various. (2022). Roe v Wade: What is US Supreme Court ruling on abortion? BBC News Online. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-54513499