"We, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are.."
-- James Baldwin
OK, here's the experiment. I'm going to ask the question to an answer I presume to know. I presume that the answer is, "in the end, nothing". The question is, 'what is the difference between white masculinity and black masculinity?'
I do presume, however, that somewhere in academia there are theories about the 'lived' difference. And I also presume that difference, however slight, is to be studied with rigor. But I do wonder from what perspective it really matters and if Americans themselves take these roles to be anything more serious than stereotypes and archetypes.
Here's my own small background. Last weekend I smiled at a woman who smiled back. The woman was a middle aged black woman. I was walking alone towards the parking structure a the mall. She was walking hand in hand with a middle aged white man. I was happy, she was happy and I was happy that she was happy and she acknowledged my recognition of her happiness by returning my smile. That's the way I took it.
So I asked myself the question, as if it were posed to me by somebody else, would I mind if - do I expect that, my daughter marry a white man? And I immediately answered in terms of black men. I said, well that depends on what kind of white man he is. If he's a white man like Denzel, well of course I wouldn't mind. But if he were a white man like Dennis Rodman, I would mind a great deal. And so it went for another fraction of a second or two as I listed a few out in my mind, whereupon my mind rested upon the consideration - as it often does - that there is no kind of character I cannot imagine in black men, to the point at which race doesn't matter at all, except to the extent that it traps a mind into thinking that it does.
I haven't met every kind of man, surely. But I know whom I like by type, temperament and character. And I consider my self of the worldly sort, prepared to deal with any man, within the ambit of my powers. By that qualification I mean to say I do live by Cobb's Rule Number 7 which is - never trust anyone whose shoes cost more than your whole day's pay. I should amend that rule to read 'beware of' instead of 'never trust'. As it happens, I am meeting a man today whose wealth lies in Extremistan, although he wears common shoes. But I think Rudyard Kipling's "If" is a suitable enough framework.
I suspect that if anyone answers with differences, the differences would be circumstantial rather than principled. And I think it would be sad to think that men should be defined by their circumstances or that they are judged more according to circumstance than to standard. Of course there is the difference between achievements, of course the distance traveled matters, but should we not all head towards the same virtues? I believe we should and so it is by compass trajectory that I tend to judge.
The difference between white and black men via circumstance is rather easy to see in Baldwin's letter to his nephew. Both are saddled with a peculiar history of mistrust, offense and crime here in America, and both must learn to accept each other as they should be, whether or not they are. To the extent that they are more race then men, they are not men.
By the way, there are two men I am in film. Two men I presume to be those who capture who I presume to be in spirit. Whom I presume to be in mind brings no one in film to mind. But those two are Washington and Willis.