Barack and Curtis (Originally Published 10/6/10)

So my brilliant friend Hannah passed along this very interesting video about Black masculinity.

So, watch it. It’s ten minutes long. Clear some time, and use some headphones if you’re at work (or wait until you get home).Here you go.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Questions of class, questions of tolerance. Feel free to jump on whatever you like.

I think what I take away from it, first and foremost, is that, when folks are stereotyped, they are robbed of their nuance. To people who know nothing of black men, we can’t have, as the commentator says in the video, “every human emotion.” To put any group in a box is to reduce them to less than what they deserve to be.

I could choose not to focus on this, but it would be foolish not to. Fact is, when I go into an interview or sidle up to a woman, one would hope they’re not thinking “Barack or Curtis?” in their head, but at some level, to those whose only experience with black males is through the president and popular culture, the thought occurs. And remember, to many, being pigeonholed as one or the other would be terrible to different segments of the population. Yes, within “educated” circles, most would prefer to come off as Barack, but even though Curtis makes braindead music, he’s actually a savvy businessman, and makes most of his money from non-music ventures, including Vitamin Water.

As the end of the video says, a re-definition is necessary. But it’s easy for me to say that with my Ivy League degree and my nice apartment. The folks who live in the housing projects up the block from me aren’t sitting around blogging about this issue in the abstract. In writing this at all, I’m sort of lumping myself into the “Harvard/Impotent” side of the discussion. Much as I still chuckle at “The Fresh Prince,” they certainly weren’t setting Carlton up as being masculine for really wanting to go to Princeton.

So how to redefine, then? And perhaps many of you won’t feel you’re in a position to comment, and if so, I apologize for sort of freezing you out.

But for those of you who choose to participate: how do we move away from the dichotomy of Barack and Curtis? How do we do this while keeping in mind that it’s really easy to tell underprivileged folk to “stop acting like that,” but a lot more difficult for them to find themselves in a position where they don’t feel the pressure to posture as a violent thug just to gain the respect of their peers? (What a long question that was.)

Those of us with dark skin know that, in East Asia, we’re “Obama!!!” before we’re anything else. And, at home, to certain segments of the population, they fear we’re all Curtis. So how do we get to be seen as full human beings?

Peace and love, and lots of food for thought,

Justin PBG


Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality