Pimping Caterpillars: Select Constructed and Conscious Performances of Black Masculinity from the 'Minstrel' to the 'Real Negus'

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I am no expert in black masculinity. As a white female from a small, predominantly white town, I cannot claim to understand what it is like to grow up as a black man in America. However, I believe that I, and many others, can come closer to understanding some of today's complex black masculine identities through the history of constructions and conscious (re)constructions of images of black masculinity. There are countless routes that could have been taken, and admittedly, so much more that could be said about countless images of black masculinity, including those I have represented. The few constructions that I have chosen I believe are representative of the most popularly white-consumed images of masculinity of the nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries. An entire book could be written on the representations of black masculinity, and it still may never be defined. But that is what makes it interesting - the ways in which it has transformed over time, sometimes in compliance with and sometimes in reaction to white perceptions of black men. In studying selected instances of restrictive, white-constructed representations of black masculinity such as the "Uncle Tom" and the "minstrel," the "Real Nigga" who rejects white society and retaliates by expressing his power and prowess can be more deeply understood. Looking at Staples's and Lamar's criticisms of gangsta rap reveals some of the downfalls of N.W.A's "Real Nigga" identity, which, although revolutionary, was in many ways a performance of minstrelsy that satiated the American fantasy of the young black "gangsta" as the brute. The more self-aware identities that Staples and Lamar represent provide an insight to the ways that black men are viewed by modern society. They demonstrate the ways in which their ever-shifting identities influence and are influenced by the communities in which they live and the outside world's perceptions of them.


English Language and Literature

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