Byron Hurt’s Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, shows that representations of masculine standards of hardness create issues in popular culture, so it is important to make sense of the desire to “be hard.” In Urban America, being hard is an expression of black masculinity and an active mechanism in black men’s lives. It means performing gender identity as truculent, but in a ritualized form. It is a complex part of oneself composed of pride, strength, and control. One may make sense of the desire to “be hard” by analyzing some of the reasons behind this desire civilization, gender identities, and scripts in popular culture.
Looking at civilization throughout history, we see that we only know ourselves as who we are not. Historical ideological processes in civilization construct the black community, so black manhood gets fixed in collaboration with white supremacy. White supremacy is part of systemic forces and institutions, which create constructions that haunt black masculinity for representation of gender identity. Belief systems are grounded in institutions. James Baldwin challenges the relationship between these institutions and the construct of the hard black man with his essay, “My Dungeon Shook.” He makes sense of being hard as the fault of civilization because it is “spelled out … you were a worthless human being” (Baldwin 7). Limitations within society create feelings of alienation. This is one reason for being hard. Ideologies and racism in civilization trigger black men to “sound truculent because you want no one to think you are soft” (Baldwin 4). America positions black men for this gender representation because day-to-day acts create this mechanism as an understanding of what black men are. In Urban America, these acts privilege white supremacy and create stereotypes. Thus, a hard representation is learned and repeated. In Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Byron Hurt demonstrates this with examples of the policing of masculinity in hip-hop. Civilization and systemic structure set the standard and teach men how to perform. They are based on heteronormativity, so men cannot seem deficient in this cycle of dominant patriarchal society. Men are hard to protect their family and community. Gail Bederman demonstrates this by examining Ida B. Wells, who carefully studied power sources and structure to reveal that the dominant culture decides how masculinity is defined (Bederman 47). As a result, being hard, a representation of black masculinity can be understood as the response to civilization.
In addition, one may make sense of the desire to “be hard” by examining how it is caused in part by gender identities. In Urban American, women see masculinities performed by men. Masculinity is connected to black power and civil rights. This construct is also present in Black female life. Some women see being hard as a rough exterior and “the ultimate badge of dominance, and if men can do it, then why not women?” (Jackson 114). The masculine construct on the black female body redefines the body’s representation. It can be seen as strong, powerful, and not objectified or forgotten. Invisible Families by Mignon R. Moore reveals that physical representations of gender “structure women’s expectations for and within relationships” (Moore 66). For black lesbian communities, this means that portrayals of gender are not arbitrary. The film, The Aggressivesreinforces this idea by looking at women who dress and act as men. Kisha, who is interviewed in the film, presents herself as “wearing the pants in the relationship [because] being aggressive basically is who wears the pants” (Batista). Being hard is her way of showing dominance. The masculine gender representation of being hard can be understood in black female life.
Scripts in popular culture are important to look at for making sense of being hard. In addition to Baldwin’s assertion that being hard comes from a desire not to be understood as soft as a response to ideologies in civilization, Hurt contributed that popular culture is an influential mechanism behind hardness in Urban America (Hurt). Representations in the media are not a reflection of all black men. They can hold back the understanding of black masculinity. These representations are limited to stereotypical images of athletes, gangsters, or rappers. This makes it virtually impossible for the race to steer away from generalized perceptions. The black male body comes into the world already scripted. Sometimes people are rewarded when they follow scripts and/or punished when they do not fulfill them. Stereotypes are perpetuated by myths as truth instead of challenging them. Accordingly, popular culture offers few images of black masculinities. There is a “gender phobic” anxiety around non-normative performances of gender, so the media perpetuates the script of the hard black man. “Scripting the Black Masculine Athlete” by Timothy Brown expands this concept. Brown analyzes how the black athlete, Donovan McNabb said, “There not that many African American Quarterbacks, so we have to do a little bit extra” (Brown 158). The media expects black quarterbacks to be hard. This creates a stereotype for those like McNabb, so when he has intellectual ideas or opinions, he is trapped within the boundaries of the stereotype.
Overall, the films and texts create a conversation around the discourse of being hard. Baldwin sees hardness as a mechanism of coping with systemic racism. However, he frames it as problematic because industry is taking over and forcing black individuals to perform hardness. In addition, Bederman’s article reinforces that black masculinities are in response to the white other. However, the film Hip Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes adds to the public discourse that it is also problematic due to surveillance. Brown gives another example of how popular culture limits representations of who black people are. Being hard is a normative gender performance for black males, but the construct is also present in black female life. Jackson, Moore, and the film The Aggressives work together provide how the construct affects females as well. In essence, being hard cannot be understood simply because it is complex, problematic, and extensive. However, masculinities are not restricted to one view and can be seen in different ways.