Intersectionality is something we hear thrown around quite a bit, whether on campus or in other spheres of life. It can be painted with a fairly wide brush onto concepts like ‘feminism’ and ‘identity,’ but there the conversation often stops. The importance of intersectionality—defined as the crossroads of and relationships between intertwining social and cultural identities—cannot be understated, and rightfully deserves to be on the forefront of campus dialogue. This past Tuesday, Boston College anti-racism group FACES kept this conversation going with their event, “No Homo Tho: A Discussion on Black Masculinity and Intimacy.”
Facilitated by FACES council members Titi Odedele, MCAS ‘18, and Samir Aslane, MCAS ‘19, the event took place in Fulton 423 at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night. With a room packed full, the duo began their presentation, pausing to show video clips, ask for responses, and generally open up the conversation to all those in attendance.
Black masculinity was defined in their presentation as “a sociopolitical gender identity… defined in relation to white masculinity, [the] invisible center around which other identities are constructed.” The so-called “neutral” ground of identity construction, white masculinity serves as the foundation from which other groups have historically had to build up. For black males growing up in America, this identity grew from the racism that was institutionalized by slavery.
From the time that slavery was permitted in America, black men were seen by their white counterparts as violent and hyper-sexual, a threat to white women, but more generally as a subhuman race. Black men were consistently denied access to “masculine” attributes such as authority and property ownership. These white narratives of masculinity were internalized as a part of the black American culture, especially in regard to perceptions of masculinity and intimacy with other black men.
The presentation went on to analyze and discuss the implications of different photos and videos of platonic touch between black males, whether it be an XXL Magazine cover featuring Birdman and Lil Wayne or a video of Odell Beckham Jr. dancing shirtless with his friend. From YouTube and Facebook comments to personal experiences, the conversation centered on how historical contexts have shaped this concept of black masculinity, and how their effects have normalized a culture that sets rigid standards for what can be deemed both black and masculine.
When tender platonic touch—even something as simple and casual as a hug—is excluded from the black masculinity narrative, where does this leave black men? More often than not, there is a social pressure to refrain from showing affection to other black men altogether, which can cause mental health side effects. The presentation cited studies that have shown that tender platonic touch is proven to “reduce stress, encourage self-esteem, and create community.” This is especially jarring in contrast to the light-hearted jesting that surrounds normalized, white male “bromance” culture.
The conversation went on to touch on the importance of being “cool” in black male culture, as a way for young black males to bring themselves up to this manhood that is societally expected of them. Also discussed were the repercussions of these social pressures on black females, often leading them to be depicted as more masculine than their white counterparts in the media.
Representation was a topic that persisted throughout the discussion; for instance, the representation of black male bodies as a potential threat has only been adapted over time to fit colorblind racism, a trend especially visible with mass incarceration. This is only reiterated in the sports world, where black males are ‘supposed to be’ beastly and dominant—an image that holds true in media representation. More generally, it was brought up that blackness is normalized so far as it’s entertaining, whether that representation is by actors and actresses, star athletes, or otherwise.
While the FACES presentation didn’t intend to provide an exhaustive briefing on the topics of black masculinity and intimacy, it certainly succeeded in giving a quick introduction and opening the floor for a wider, ongoing campus conversation. Odedele, who serves as the co-coordinator of Hall Talks for FACES, was able to sit down with The Gavel after the event to discuss why they chose the topic and what to expect coming from the anti-racism student organization in the remainder of the semester.
“We basically chose [the topic] because it’s Black History Month,” says Odedele. “We finally came to this consensus because black masculinity has such a particular history in this country. And it’s important to deconstruct, or at least challenge, this notion of gentle intimacy between black men as inherently sexual.”
The student group’s Facebook page states that they are “committed to educating the BC community on the issues of race, identity, and systems of power and privilege.” Throughout the year, events like this one are organized by members of the FACES Council who deliberate on the topics they feel need to be brought to campus conversation in a more direct way.
“This was actually very personal for me—my brother was a black man who was raised with these certain, internalized images of the tough, strong black man,” Odedele explains. “We definitely pushed that on him growing up, so doing an event in recognition of my own past faults was big for me.”
As far as events for the rest of the semester, FACES plans to hold “Embrace Week” in the first full week of April. While specific details are still undisclosed, the BC community can expect a series of events focused on the crucial topic of intersectionality, continuing the conversation from the “No Homo Tho” event.
“[With the “No Homo Tho” event,] we wanted to be intersectional,” Odedele says. “It’s never just about being black, or feminine, or masculine. They’re all just sort of interconnected.”