Amos’s Sermon: The Fetishization of Black Men Goes Global

BY AMOS JONES

A German friend calls it a new racism rampant in Northern Europe. “It” is the obsession with dating or being intimate with black men.

Its origins could lie in the images of black men coming out of America – the sports hero, the hard-core rapper, the super-macho street thug, which together have created a tough-man image that could easily be appealing to a significant share of women. Depending on the environment, having a person of a minority racial group might alone stand as a status symbol. Couple the blackness with achievement and you have a potent mix. Think Barack Obama. Or Tiger Woods, whose marriage to a white European remains in the news long after the “I dos” have been said.

The trend, if it can in fact be called that, seems to suggest the same problems of racism but based on a flip set of facts. This time, the blackness is the draw, even if for the wrong reasons.

Harvard Law Professor Randall Kennedy discovered alarming trends in racial attitudes several years ago when he undertook an unusual but informative analysis of published personals ads. Whites very often placed ads stating outright that they were open to responses from persons of any race except the black one.

After taking both of his Race Relations courses, attending a Fair Housing panel where the lawsuit brought against Craigslist for allowing racially restrictive real-estate postings was discussed, and contemplating the propriety of laws that restrict persons’ rights to advertise racial preferences in the marketplace, I began an analysis of my own. As I told a classmate in March, what I found on the Internet generally backed up the findings that Professor Kennedy exposed years ago. But I also have noticed a related but perhaps more disturbing phenomenon of whites preferring black men for very graphic reasons. These ads almost always animalized the black men as beasts to be engaged harshly for the pleasures of the white partner.

One white woman in August who described herself as in her early twenties posted on Washington D.C.’s Craigslist that she wanted to “be with” a black man, but only under certain terms. The black man, she wrote in her posting, would have to have sex with her as if he were raping her with the intention of having a mixed baby. After describing her ideal black man (tall, well-educated, muscular, and drug- and disease-free), she noted that she would pay for all of the medical tests to make sure he was clean enough for her to accept his acceptance of her offer. She conceded in the ad that hers was “probably” an unusual fantasy but nonetheless invited black men fitting the description to come and act out her fantasy with her. I e-mailed the woman at her site-generated address, identifying myself as a black man and asking why she had her fantasy. I received no reply.

There is nothing wrong with being attracted to people because of certain physical characteristics that one happens to admire. Some people prefer blonde hair. Some people prefer dark skin. Most black women I know date black men exclusively, in fact. I even would allow that special admiration of black men is somewhat understandable. Ellis Cose, the journalist and commentator who wrote the book “The Envy of the World: On Being a Black Man in America,” has suggested that the accomplishments of black men in the face of substantial odds – the shackles of slavery, the stings of Jim Crow, the assassinations of our leaders – should naturally attract anybody who loves men with drive and power.

But when the blackness is objectified and fetishized, that preference crosses the line into the unhealthy. Black men, after all, have been viewed as beasts of burden and objects of service to privileged whites for most of American history. In my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky, Henry Tucker received a criminal sentence of 12 months of slavery in 1881. In coverage of the auction, Tucker was described as “a fine specimen of the mere animal man, bullet headed, bull-necked, strong limbed, and deep-chested, six feet three inches tall, and about 35 years old,” and “could break 300 pounds of hemp a day.” He was purchased by the highest bidder for $112.50.

I have long hypothesized that if depraved slave masters were violating their female slaves – and we know they were, in part because of Thomas Jefferson’s black descendants from a 15-year-old girl – there also must have been plenty of cases of black men being brutalized as well. How tragic.

To be sure, my own survey of contemporary postings reveals that it is not only women objectifying black men as objects of their pernicious lusts. An Australian man who says he is 36 years old announces in a current Web personals ad that he is “bi” and seeking a man to give full-body massages to and also a particular sexual act too vulgar to print in this distinguished newspaper. He wrote that he preferred black and dark-skinned men for his activities. As before, I responded to the ad, but this time did so pseudonymously. I informed him that I was a black man and wanted to know why he singled out black men. He immediately provided his telephone number. I called him, told him what I do, and asked him why he felt it appropriate to be at once so graphic and so race-specific. He never answered the question.

When it comes to attraction and intimacy, logic and reason can fall out the window. Nevertheless, logic and reason can explain the likelihood that particular influences can serve as psychosocial underpinnings of people’s tastes and preferences. Unscientific surveys like Professor Kennedy’s and ad hoc investigations like mine are not enough. What we need are for researchers devoted to inquiry in psychology and social science to focus new scholarship on the historical and global fetishization of black men, its evolution, and its long-term consequences.

Amos Jones (’06) is from Lexington, Ky.

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