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Inxeba: The enduring curiosity about black manhood

Yonela Diko is currently the Spokesperson of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape. Prior to assuming his role in the ANC, he worked in various companies in the private sector. Between 2007-2009 he worked for one of the Leading Retirement Fund Companies, NBC Holdings as an Employee Benefits Consultant. After that he joined the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development (CSID), an Economic Research Unit housed under the School of Economics at Wits University. He did his BCom degree at the University of Cape Town majoring in Economics.

Given our historical reality, how can a gay black man be accepted seamlessly in black communities without us as black people seeing it as a further desecration of black manhood which has been under assault through time memorial?

According to Wesley Morris, a New York Times critic, there is a great fantasy around black manhood. This fantasy renders black men desired on one hand and feared on the other. Morris argues that while most white male power is exaggerated in cultural depictions, black manhood is almost always reflected as disintegrating and reduced if not “reimagined”.

I found myself travelling this journey of thought as I checked the deeper recesses of my sense of why I am also uncomfortable with the movie Inxeba. As I read and reflected, I realised that as far back as slavery, black males have always been too physically big, too sexually intimidating for the master, creating a certain level of curiosity about his manhood, and a desire for the master to try to break this black manhood down, especially to protect curiosity insofar as it may lure the wives and daughters.

It always seemed that to mitigate the curiosity of the latter, it would be necessary to assault this manhood to enhance that of the master. Of course such brutality always had the reverse effect.

Juxtaposing my discomfort about the movie itself was the critical question of why the gay black man has struggled so much with acceptance in the black community (and the more conservative and traditional communities).

Given the history of the assault on black manhood, I began to suspect that there has never really been a restoration of the black male, particularly in mainstream culture, and in many ways the gay black man finds himself in this space of a black man having been historically disintegrated and whose manhood has always been broken down to soften him for the erstwhile master’s fears. So insofar as gay acceptance requires a process of reimagining the black male’s place and original masculinity, if feels as if we are forced to reimagine before restoration.

Dr Wesley Muhammad’s work Understanding the Assault on the Black Man shines light on various aspects of the hidden architecture in history’s global project of emasculating the black male and the spoiling of the black female.

The book moves from European pseudo-science to American science which went to work to make African peoples and the black American male “the Lady of the Races”. How Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Clinton all waged government-funded wars against black males. How the inner-city “thug” and the black “sissy” were both scientifically produced. The esoteric and theological background of white supremacy’s assault on the black man. The deeper truth behind the “autism conspiracy” against black boys. How the CIA manipulated marijuana and created crack cocaine in order to create black zombies in the inner cities.

By the time one watches movies like Moonlight and Inxeba, movies which apparently are trying to allow black manhood to exist beyond its toxic masculinity, one can already see this as an extension of this enduring project of trying to turn the black male into the female of the black home. Books like Redefining Black Masculinity and Manhood: Successful Black Gay Men Speak Out by Sheila J. Wise again leave one with a bitter taste as the project continues to assault a black man and turn him into something that cannot be feared.

Given our historical reality, how can a gay black man be accepted seamlessly in black communities without us as black people seeing it as a further desecration of black manhood which has been under assault through time memorial?

The question of the restoration of black manhood or black male, over and against what may seem to be a project of disintegrating him, through the creating of a more mellow and metrosexual man who is no threat to urbane senses, has been left to a few programmes that no man can escape, in this case, especially a Xhosa man, the process of going to Entabeni.

Irrespective of whether you are urban or rural, the process of transitioning from boyhood to manhood through going to (Entabeni) has seemed to be the last frontier from preserving what may seem an authentic process for any Xhosa man to claim himself as a man.

In its ideal sense, this process is supposed to teach a young man endurance, discipline, the ability to stand up for yourself among other man, squaring up with stick fights and, ultimately, how to transition into a better man for society. This custom has always been an exclusive preserve for men, creating an enduring curiosity for women and other cultures and subject to great criticism when accidents happen.

Ultimately, this custom has always been about preserving black males and teaching them how to carry themselves as proud black males in society. It may well not be a coincidence that most females and other cultures and races, at least from a loose scan from responses, defended the screening of Inxeba because it satisfied an enduring curiosity about this custom which has always been kept away from women and other cultures and races who don’t practise them. Inxeba therefore felt like yet another process of uprooting even the last line of black male defence.

The controversy of motion pictures like Moonlight and Inxeba, a depiction of strong black men mellowing into their gay sexuality, feels like a continuation of an enduring process of assaulting black males and weakening them for the everlasting and imaginary fears of others.

As Morris says, “A curiosity about black sexuality, tempered by both guilt over its demonisation and a conscious wish to see it degraded, is as old as America, and as old as our movies.”

Locally of course, one wonders if the film Inxeba was about white males, whether it would have conjured the same curiosity. Probably not. Morris is brutal in this sense when he says, “The white dick means nothing, while, whether out of revulsion or lust, the black dick means too much.”

The question then many black people ask, including Morris, is, “Why continue to frame black power as a genital threat?”

We may not be able to answer most of these questions but what is clear is that there is a great hunger for the restoration of the black male (and black female) as movies like Black Panther beautifully show. It may well be that when that is fully restored, the gay male will not be a threat to any tradition for he, too, shall have been fully restored. DM


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