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Black Power = Male Power?

[18:31 to 30:51]

In his earlier film, Ethnic Notions, Riggs traced how black stereotypes flowed from white fears and attitudes towards African Americans. Earlier images of black men as harmless, "playful eunuchs" which justified slavery were eventually replaced by threatening, highly sexualized images that limited black men's expression of the full range of their humanity. In the film, Angela Davis, bell hooks, and Barbara Smith suggest that the Black Power movement focused on redeeming black men often at the expense of black women.

  1. In Black Is... Cornel West says that the highly sexualized images of black men make it difficult for black men to get in touch with their humanity. Do you agree with him? What images of black men are common in the media today?
  2. This section of the film opens and closes with two poems by Essex Hemphill. He begins:
    If there were seven blind men
    One of them unable to speak
    Unable to hear
    Would be my father.
    Do you think it is difficult for men in general, and black men in particular, to acknowledge their hurt and discuss their fears? Why? Have you ever found it hard to reach out for help?
  3. Essex Hemphill's closing poem states:

    Silence is
    Our deadliest weapon
    We both use it.

    What is this "silence" that Hemphill refers to? Silence between whom? Do you agree that silence between men can hurt them, that communicating feelings of hurt, fear or shame can be healing?

  4. Some women in the Black Consciousness movements in the 1960s and '70s claim that women were not treated as co-workers in the struggle but as appendages to men. bell hooks goes so far as to assert that "black power" became a "dick thing" as a male reaction against America's attempts to emasculate them. What do you think she means by this? Do you agree or disagree? How has racism historically disempowered black men? Do you think people often attempt to compensate for lack of power and control over their own lives by asserting power over others?
  5. Which male behaviors are held in high regard among your peers and which are not? Bill T. Jones says that as a boy he "couldn't be sensitive, couldn't cry, couldn't be afraid because of these notions I had about what it meant to be a black man." How prevalent are these pressures today? As a man, have you felt similar pressures? For both men and women: what feelings would you like to be more free to express?
  6. Critics like Michele Wallace and bell hooks are accused of disloyalty and "airing our dirty linen" in public when they speak out about black male sexism. What is the cost to black communities of speaking publicly about sexism and what is the cost of keeping quiet? Have there ever been times when you were reluctant to bring up an issue in public?

Discussion Questions
Black Is . . . Black Ain't

Introduction: Fighting Words|Black Power = Male Power?|Black Music / Black History / Afrocentrism|Sexism, Patriarchy and Homophobia|Family|Acting White / Not Black Enough?|Multiple Identities and New Forms of Community

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