When errors thrive dangerously in the wilderness of discourse, it’s judicious to issue a writ of coram nobis. In his timely book The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2017), Dr. Tommy J. Curry, Professor of Philosophy and Africana Studies at Texas A & M University, issues such a writ and makes a sterling contribution to intellectual history.
One can't praise the excellence of his anatomy of dilemmas, however, without noting the bane of academic writing. For a writer to be deemed serious, worthy of attention, in academic territory, she or he must use jargon, the very language of the tribe that itself nurtures error.
Curry isn’t culpable, and is, to be sure, not complicit. He’s quite aware of what might be called the rhetorical traps of the academic writing and publishing. A small number of scholars have published scathing critiques of those traps, but their criticisms have yet to be digested by their colleagues, who hold fast to conservative definitions and standards of excellence; and by publishers who insist that civilization will be annihilated if the standards aren't preserved.
Curry provides an essential insight into the situation that metaphorically incarcerates his project in the concluding chapter:
“Black males are not thought of as sociological beings that have existential relevance for theory. Because theory is the abstraction from the empirical—the attempt to establish the idea as causally related to actual phenomena—there is the risk that theory will remain disconnected from the world and from the relations the selves in that world share. Sometimes the idea becomes self-justifying and thought of as determining the phenomena from which it was initially derived. This is the problem with Black masculinity. It is an idea that obscures how Black males actually live and die in the world.”
The situation is systemic, and it’s not a matter of historical accident. It’s a matter of Western intention, malice, and denial. It’s an act of courage for Curry to have written The Man-Not by using the tools of the system to demystify and deconstruct the system. Nevertheless, in the chaos of actuality and cognition, systems do not die; they merely change their costumes. There is no exit from existential absurdity, despite belief (usually religious) that a better world will arrive in time.
Curry’s research is impeccable but not immune to criticism from those who count how many demons dance on the head of a pin, who are determined to find methodological flaws in the exposition of his argument or who experience fear and trembling when a writer forces them to dive into a truth. Curry enlightens us well in his chapters on historiography; sexual victimization of the Black male; the political economy of misandry, class warfare, and disciplinary propagation of mythology; eschatological dilemmas; the delusion of hope and the necessity of coming to grips with what is anti-ethical.
In the epilogues, he’s appropriately forthright about his intentions: “This book not only endeavors to think differently about Black men and boys; it endeavors to establish a genuine theoretical orientation to their study and, thus, to escape—to reach beyond—the thinking and thinker of this time.”
His fulfillment of his intentions is commendable.
The Man-Not’s a theoretical orientation that ought to be transported into praxis, an effort that would empower parents (who harbor no academic pretentions and who try to be pragmatic) to share his ideas as terms of engagement with their daughters and sons, to use his ideas as weapons. That’s a dream too long deferred. Nevertheless, critics and teachers who have a genuine investment in social justice and human rights activism should dare to “translate” many of Curry’s ideas into accessible forms (genres) needed in the pedagogy of the oppressed. Such “translation” would be the highest tribute one might accord to the legacies of Langston Hughes, Mary McLeod Bethune, Fannie Lou Hamer, and W. E. B. DuBois.
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