According to Michael Hatt and his research on black men in mid-ninetieth-century American culture, masculinity was based on control.  He articulated this on page 192 saying, “If one word serves to define a norm of masculinity in mid-nineteenth-century America, it is probably ‘control.'”  If the definition of masculinity fell heavily under the definition of control, then black men of the mid-nineteenth-century were not masculine.  In slavery, one had no control over his life.  There was no action one could permit at his will under a slave master.  Since slavery held such a tight bondage on its victims, men in slavery had no control over their lives or others and therefore possessed no cultural masculinity.  This was exploited heavily through art, writing, and American culture of the time.  “Whites, particularly in the slaveholding South, were able to characterize slaves as both sub-human savages who needed to be kept in bondage for everyone’s safety, as docile, lazy good-for-nothings who required care, since they were incapable of looking after themselves on account of their mental and physical inertness,” (Hatt, p 192).  The view of black men was not only humiliating on a humanitarian level.  It also stripped black men of any masculine social competency relevant in mid-ninetieth-century American culture, pushing them, once again, into the margins of mockery.

What intrigued me greatly was the comparison of war to sports, and how that effected the view of black men’s masculinity in society.  Blacks were seen as uncontrolled and undisciplined; the opposite of a “real man.”  This was exploited in leisure sports, such as baseball.  Thomas Worth produced an engraving called A Base Hit! in 1882.  The image showed uncoordinated blacks scattered on a baseball field, unable to perform the basic elements of the sports such as running, pitching, and teamwork.  The depiction of blacks in baseball was again humiliating, and it echoed back to their so-viewed lack of control and discipline over themselves.  People of power were hesitant to place blacks in war with the same logic.  Blacks were not seen as having the masculine traits required for such a task.  “The goals of physical and moral health, of homosocial cohesion, and of victory, were those that had previously been established in the discipline of war” (Hatt, p 209).  These previously established disciplines excluded blacks and continued to do so after the war and into the simplicity of a leisure baseball game.

All of the above sightings of racism leaves me with the same question Hatt had at the end of his essay.  “Spotting racism is not enough; the question is, why is it so difficult to dismantle?”


Michaela Stock, Hope College 2020.

Image: preview16.jpg


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