The NYT Magazine publishes a thoughtful and well researched analysis of our cultural fear of BBC.
It was both surprising and exciting to wake up today to the NYT app directing me almost immediately to an article by Wesley Morris entitled Why Pop Culture Just Can’t Deal With Black Male Sexuality. There’s a lot of words in that title that raised my antennae. That the entire piece focuses, unabashedly on the penis and what the penis represents was almost more than one could hope for. But that’s exactly what it does.
Mr. Morris not only sets up historical context for society’s inability to embrace the realities of black male sexuality, citing horrific examples of race-driven violence and even castration, but also sets the stage for the subject to be understood as a deeply personal and modern one. He intertwines his own personal experience and pop cultural references designed to remove the idea from the realm of lofty philosophical twaddle, and resituate it as one that touches lots of men directly, daily, and right in the dick.
My relationship with this work comes in the shape of more fully understanding a phenomenon I’ve been running up against for many years: the idea that I’m “into black guys.” I’m not sure when I first became completely aware of it, but I started to get really bothered by it more a few years ago when I would meet dudes in the sauna at New York Sports Clubs across the city, and they would all say this phrase in the same way to me, as though they had suddenly understood or were making sure what my ‘deal’ was. “Oh, you’re into black guys?” And I would sit there in the sauna or steam room, with my dick hard as stone and only marginally concealed by the thin, over-washed towels NYSC hands out, sort of squinting and unsure how to answer. “Yes?” it usually came out with the question mark attached, as though I wasn’t sure that was what they wanted to hear.
I was into black guys. I’m into most guys. Making friends with a dude who wants to masturbate with me in the sauna after working out was never about looking for a particular thing (least of all a race-based thing) in someone, but maybe that’s because I’m strange. For me, those connections were about body language and energy and camaraderie. Guys who came in and looked physically insecure or dismissive or even sometimes offended by the way I was sitting or what I was doing rarely became playmates. But men who were comfortable naked and would sit and converse about sex or how objectively silly the game men play in saunas really was, became guys I’ve stayed friends with for years. Maybe the rest of the dudes in there were on the hunt for something specific and would have enthusiastically responded to that question with an “oh YEAH!” while they stared at the object of their quest.
The point here is, I’m not into black guys the way that question implies. That question is so loaded and disturbing that I can’t help but sigh and look away when someone asks it now. The similar delivery of that line “you’re into black guys?” from all of these different men at different times belied something I wasn’t picking up on at the time, and something I still don’t know if I can fully wrap my mind around even now: that black men (and specifically black penis) are fetishized and objectified in a way that labels their humanness, and indeed their three-dimensionality as people, completely irrelevant. The question that was being asked wasn’t really if I was turned on by black men. It was “are you looking at me as an object?” And, on a more distressing, subtextual plane, “am I acceptable?”
I wasn’t clever enough to tell them I wasn’t looking at them as objects. So I said “yes,” instead.
I suspect I’m able to relate – however marginally – to the idea of being objectified. There’s an element of my success as a companion and general internet person that is driven by the way my body looks and by my flaunting of my sexuality online. To some of the people who follow me and meet me, I am simply an object to crave. And that doesn’t trouble me especially. I’m turned on by it in small doses. But if that were the primary way that I were received by prospective and current sexual partners, I think it would become tiresome very quickly. And I can’t imagine having it be so commonplace that I could ask people casually if that’s (meaning me) what they were ‘into.’
If you are someone who has sex with men, this is worth your read, so I’m including a portion of it here. I think it is also extremely relevant to our culture’s view that the penis (any penis) is something to be intimidated by and feared (especially if you happen to be a white woman), and I think the only way we’re gonna start working around that, is by having lots more smart commentary like this. Works that marry the notions of ‘cultural phenomenon’ and ‘literal, individual experiences’ in this real and erudite way:
Why Pop Culture Just Can’t Deal With Black Male Sexuality
BY Wesley Morris OCT. 27, 2016
These are banner times for penises onscreen. In the last 18 months or so, I’ve seen casually naked men on “The Affair” and on “Girls,” plus casually naked robots on “Westworld.” Penises have appeared on “Game of Thrones” (where one was once violently disappeared) and been simulated by a killer drill on “American Horror Story: Hotel.” They were in movies like “Get Hard” and “Unfinished Business”; one was there-ish on John Cena in “Trainwreck”; they showed up in stunt form on a meek Adam Scott in “The Overnight” and through the boxer briefs of a smugly sunny Chris Hemsworth in “Vacation.” Ralph Fiennes spent some of this spring’s “A Bigger Splash” having a glorious time wearing nothing. And then there was “Weiner,” a hit documentary about the scandal started by the disseminated bulge in a politician’s underwear. Once upon a time, just seeing a man’s rear on television might cause a scandal; now you don’t have to go too far out of your way to encounter his front. Our cultural standards have relaxed just enough to show a man in full.
And why not? Women have long been asked to take off their clothes, out of both artistic necessity and rank gratuitousness. Isn’t it men’s turn? Even when the nudity veers into homophobia (and boy, can it), there is an “at last” quality to all of this bareness: It’s so matter-of-fact, so casual. (We’re not, to be clear, talking about erections; there’s still a line between a flaccid, out-of-focus penis attached to what’s probably a stunt double on “The Affair” and, say, a European troublemaker like Gaspar Noé filming aroused, ejaculating ones.) We’ve gotten more gender-neutral, more feminist, more comfortable with our various bodies, more used to seeing dudes in gym locker rooms, better at Instagram and Snapchat and Tumblr — and so, too, have we gotten more O.K. with penises.
Some penises, anyway.
A vast majority of these penises are funny, casual, unserious. Their unceremonious appearance — as naturalism, comedy, symbolism, provocation — is new, and maybe progressive. But that progress is exclusive, because these penises almost always belong to white men. As commonplace as it has recently become to see black men on television and at the heart of films, and as normal as it’s becoming to see male nudity in general, it has been a lot more difficult to see those two changes expressed in the same body. A black penis, even the idea of one, is still too disturbingly bound up in how America sees — or refuses to see — itself. I enjoyed HBO’s summer crime thriller, “The Night Of,” but it offered some odd food for thought: The most lovingly photographed black penis I’ve ever seen on TV belonged to a corpse in the show’s morgue. Meanwhile, the series’s most sexual black character was a rapist inmate.
The black penis is imagined more than it’s seen, which isn’t surprising. This newly relaxed standard for showing penises feels like a triumph of juvenile phallocentrism — it’s dudes peeking over a urinal divider and, as often as not, giggling at what they see. Not all of that peeking is harmless; some of those dudes are scared of what they’ve seen. And knowing that — knowing even a whiff of the American history of white men’s perception of the black penis — leaves you vulnerable to attack, even when all you think you’re doing is going to see, I don’t know, “Ted 2.”
Officially, there are no penises in “Ted 2,” the comedy written by, directed by and starring Seth MacFarlane that was a hit last summer. And yet they’re everywhere — scary black ones. Mark Wahlberg plays a New England knucklehead named John, who swears that you can’t use the internet without running into one. When a mishap at a fertility clinic leaves him covered in semen, a staff member tells him not to worry; it’s just the sperm of men with sickle-cell anemia, a disease that, in the United States, overwhelmingly afflicts African-Americans. John’s best friend, Ted — a nasty animated teddy bear — gets a huge kick out of this: “You hear that? You’re covered in rejected black-guy sperm,” it says. “You look like a Kardashian!”
The sperm bank is the pair’s Plan B. Plan A entails Wahlberg and the bear breaking into Tom Brady’s house and stealing some of his spunk as he sleeps. When they lift the sheets, staring at his crotch, they’re bathed in the golden light of video-game treasure. In another movie, this might be a clever conceit. Here it feels like paranoid propaganda, a deluxe version of what entertainment and politics have been doing for more than 200 years: inventing new ways to assert black inferiority. Now a teddy bear has a greater claim to humanity than the black people it mocks.
This is what’s been playing out in our culture all along: a curiosity about black sexuality, tempered by both guilt over its demonization and a conscious wish to see it degraded. It’s as old as America, and as old as our movies.
The national terror of black sexuality is a central pillar of the American blockbuster. In 1915, D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” envisioned a post-Civil War country run by feckless white abolitionists, nearly ruined by haughty blacks and then saved by the Ku Klux Klan — a mob whose energies are largely focused on rescuing a white woman from a half-black, half-white lieutenant governor’s attempt to force her into marriage. That’s just the plot; Griffith’s genius was at its most flagrant in the feverish surrounding details. The country isn’t even done being rebuilt in “The Birth of a Nation,” and here comes the K.K.K., already determined to make America great again. The movie crackles with sensationalist moral profanity. Many of the black characters, for starters, are played by white actors, all having a grand time making randy savages out of their roles.
This was American cinema’s first feature-length masterpiece. A full century later, it has lost none of its hypnotic toxicity. Even now, to see this movie is to consider cheering for the Klan, to surmise that every black man is a lusty darkie unworthy of elected office, his libido, his life. Its biases are explicit and electric. Griffith established a permanent template with this movie, not just for filmed action but for American popular and political culture — a fantasia of white supremacy, black inhumanity and the tremendous racial anger that’s still with us today.
Read the rest of Why Pop Culture Just Can’t Deal With Black Male Sexuality here. Seriously. You need to read it.
I wanna close with a thing I still think about sometimes (I know this is really long already). One of the only times I’ve ever asked someone what they meant by “are you into black guys?” happened between me and this dude alone in the 125th street NYSC sauna. He had a massive cock that he was obviously proud of, and seeing it protrude from the bottom edge of his towel was beyond enticing to me, and so I looked. And he played it cool for a bit, but eventually turned to me and asked “you into black dudes?” and before I could stop my mouth from doing it, the words “wait. What the fuck does that mean? Why are you asking me that?” came out and ruined the mood.
He looked at me and tried to explain it using the words he had already said: “you know. Are you into black guys? You like black dick?”
“Yeah. I’m into pretty much all dick. Are you asking me if I’m into you? Or just taking a survey about who’s into black guys?”
I was so relieved that he laughed because I know how fragile guys get in a setting where they’re turned on, naked, exposed, and trying to suss out if the men around them want what they’re selling. And because I genuinely didn’t mean to ask it like “who the fuck are you?” It’s a minefield for any ego, even one attached to a big confidence-enhancing dick.
“Nah. I’m just asking if you like black guys.”
“I don’t wanna answer that. Either way it sounds like a trap, you know? I like you so far. And I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this or not, but that’s a really cool fuckin dick. And I’m sorry for staring at it like that. That was rude.”
He laughed again and hoisted himself up to the upper bench to sit next to me in the small dark room. He introduced himself and we sat alone, naked, and talked about shit like real people for nearly an hour, with occasional breaks for showers and water. He was a musician, played keyboards and wrote songs. Had a tattoo of a musical staff and the first bar of a song he said was “personal,” without telling me what it was.
I still think of him sometimes. I really liked kissing him. Part of me wanted to apologize for all the guys who look like me who answered his first question with “oh YEAH!” instead of seeing that question for what it was.
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A great post and article. It not only makes you really think about what it says but forces you to look at yourself too and examine yourself.
I agree. I’m glad you were able to take that away from it. Morris presents his case so clearly and thoughtfully it would be difficult (I hope) to read that and take nothing away.
the last two lines seem to be the essence of your spirit: “i just saw a penis. and it was beautiful.” that is wonderful and refreshing.
D’awwww. Wow. <3