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Boys to men: how perceptions of manhood influence the romantic partnerships of black men.


When you begin to define yourself, that's a declaration of manhood.

--Akbar (1991, p. 31)

Since the introduction of slavery, Black men have inherited personal and collective conceptualizations of manhood that are generally at odds with values of the dominant culture. In addition to the pressure to create a Europeanized version of manhood within a society that generally renders these efforts non-existent, the majority of media images have portrayed African and Black * men in a negative light. For example, the characterizations of Black manhood in Alice Walker's (1982) Pulitzer-prize winning novel, The Color Purple, the 1986 CBS Special The Vanishing Black Family, and the 1987 South African-produced mini-series Shaka Zulu (Hill, 1992) provided a pseudo-realistic and grossly-biased version of Black manhood that was synonymous with immaturity, lack of responsibility for self and family, disinterest in being a sound provider, and lacking self-awareness. In spite of the proliferation of negative media images that assault them, Black men have created/are creating a socially-functional and culturally-relevant version of manhood that allows them to establish romantic partnerships and navigate within a racist society (Billingsley, 1968; Hare & Hare, 1985; Hine & Jenkins, 2001; hooks, 2004; Hunter & Davis, 1994; Majors & Billson, 1993; Majors & Gordon, 1994).

The Administration for Children and Families' (ACF)/Healthy Marriage Initiative (HMI) advocates marriage and greater father involvement, yet very little is known about how Black men define manhood, as well as how they demonstrate this construct within the ecological context of individual, couple, family, and community. While recent popular media suggests that Black relationships are problematic because Black men and women do not appreciate, trust, nor respect one another, as well as the domineering nature of Black women, and the increased numbers of Black men and women who are dating outside of their race (Craig-Henderson, 2006; Hill, 2005), this is not an accurate reflection of many Black partnerships. Since a man's romantic partner can become the micro-communal template by which he demonstrates his ability to lead the larger community, Black men's perceptions regarding manhood is key.

Review of Literature

The demonstration of manhood is one of the core values of society. Over twenty years ago, Robert Connell (1987) discussed the process by which 'being a man' is supported and maintained by 'hegemonic masculinity.' For Connell (1987), "hegemonic masculinity" occurs when "men's identity strategies are constituted through their complicit or resistant stance to prescribed dominant masculine styles" (Wetherell & Edley, 1999, p. 337). Although men have the freedom to embrace or resist certain masculine attitudes, for the most part, they embrace those characteristics that are most prized by the dominant culture. In addition to its static position in the lives of men, hegemony works to 'preserve, legitimize, and naturalize' the interests of the most powerful members in society (Wetherell & Edley, 1999). Through their interactions with others, including but not limited to the women in their lives, men learn the meaning of manhood.

Past scholars have highlighted several advantages to utilizing Connell's theory of hegemonic masculinity when attempting to understand the experiences of men. For one, the diversity component of this theory acknowledges that race determines the various experiences of men (Bedermen, 1995; Wetherell & Edley, 1999). Also, this theory recognizes the power differential between men and women (Wetherell & Edley, 1999). Since men generally have greater educations, earn more money and have higher job status than women, discrepancies in the general place of men and women in society is considered (Demo, Allen, & Fine, 2000; Ferguson, 2007). Last, Connell (1987) recognizes the intricate nature of same and opposite sex relationships (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005). Since how men relate to one another is directly linked to their place in society, where men find themselves may determine the type of relationships that they establish and maintain with men and women.

Given its strengths, however, Connell's (1987) theory of 'hegemonic masculinity' disregards the inherent power hierarchy that exists between Black and White men. Since White men, in general, have greater education, higher incomes, and more stable family units than Black men (Demo, Allen, & Fine, 2000; England & Farkas, 1986; Ferguson, 2007; McAdoo, 1997; Smock & Gupta, 2002; Taylor, Jackson, & Chatters, 1997; Tolliver, 1998), one could reasonably argue that it is impossible to examine the experiences of Black men solely from a 'hegemonic masculinity' model because this perspective ignores the marginalized place of Black men in America, juxtaposed to White men. Furthermore, the historical oppression of Black men makes it harder for them to demonstrate manhood in ways that are comparable to those shown by White men, which is in turn, a socialization process that is especially challenging for Black homosexual men. In her qualitative study of the characteristics of successful Black gay men, Wise (2001) revealed that homosexual Black men are completely overlooked in dialogues regarding manhood because the word "success" implies "prosperity, wealth and position" (p. 4) and heterosexuality. Essentially, the findings of this study make clear that Black gay men experience a unique version of manhood that both supports and contradicts the one that is generally esteemed by straight Black men. Simply put, when it comes to the ways that men demonstrate manhood, the experiences of all men, are not equal.

Although Connell's (1987) hegemonic masculinity theory incorporates diversity, Critical Race Theory posits Black perceptions and experiences are rooted in race, racism, and power, which is held and sustained by members of the dominant culture (Reese, 2001; 2004). Since Black men do not share the same social standing as White men in terms of education and income, it could be reasonably argued that race, racism, and power work together to influence how Black men construct their social and familial worlds. In respects to the ways that Black men form attitudes and expectations regarding manhood, I assert the desire of many Blacks to enter into stable partnerships is also influenced by their perceptions of manhood, which, in turn, are influenced by the educational and economic standing of Black men, and the increased independence of Black women (Darity & Myers, 1995). Through their social standing as well as their assessment of the characteristics that are associated with manhood, Black men create a modified version of manhood that allows them to develop expectations for themselves and their romantic partners. In particular, this assessment may directly influence Black men's decision to enter into, establish, and maintain their own families, through marriage and/or cohabitation.


There are three reasons why an examination of the definition and demonstration of manhood among Black men is important. First, and foremost, an examination of the words that Black men use to define and describe "manhood" makes it possible to identify the different experiences of Black men. Second, understanding "manhood" within the context of familial relationships makes it possible to explore where Black men see themselves in society. Third, understanding Black men's perceptions of manhood are important for understanding contemporary Black male-female intimate relationships and relationships, broadly, within the Black community.

Since Erikson's (1968) classic work on gender and identity development first advanced the notion of men placing a higher regard with career commitments and women with marriage and childrearing, later studies have examined the relationship between gender identity and relationship intimacy (Rogers, 1987). Although earlier studies have highlighted how men navigate and make sense of their social worlds (Anderson, 1999; Bush, 1998; Graham, 2003; Hamer, 2001; Jones, 2004; Nandi, 2002; Oliver, 1984; Staples, 1978; Wideman, 1994), for the most part, the ways Black men define and demonstrate "manhood" have been virtually ignored in the scholarly literature. The fundamental deficit of the majority of the aforementioned studies is that they fail to recognize what it means to be a man, from the perspectives of Black men.

The Current Study

This qualitative study has two major goals. First, it aims to identify the definitions of manhood provided by Black men. Second, this study seeks to identify the demonstrations of manhood provided by these men. This study's focus on Black men is deliberate. Past research has consistently shown there is a prevailing stereotype among members of the lay and academic communities that Black men, as a group, are generally poor, excessively masculine, financially irresponsible, and have little or no interest in being involved fathers (Hamer, 2001; Marsiglio, 1995; Moynihan, 1965). Since this prevailing view ignores the perspectives and varied experiences of Black men, it is critical to understand how these men see themselves in relation to their privatized and social worlds of relationship, family, and community.

The two questions that guided this research are as follows: (1) In your opinion, what is "manhood?" (2) In your opinion, how is "manhood" demonstrated (shown)? There are two major limitations with the aforementioned research. First, and foremost, Connell's (1987) theory of "hegemonic masculinity" suggests that Black men can only embrace or resist dominant styles of manhood that are generally exhibited by White men. Unfortunately, this view fails to recognize the ability of Black men to create legitimate versions of manhood that are similar and distinctly different from those of the dominant culture. In addition, this view makes it difficult to provide within-group comparisons from Black men who represent various levels of education, marital and parental statuses. Second, with few exceptions (Hamer, 2001; Nandi, 2001; Staples, 1978; Wise, 2001), much of the research on Black manhood has relied on demographic trends to explain the motivations, values, and realities of Black men. This study will fill this gap in the research by qualitatively analyzing Black men's written narratives regarding the definition and demonstration of "manhood."


Sample. Twenty-four (24) Black men from the states of Louisiana, Illinois and Tennessee self-selected for participation in the study. The men were recruited through a public announcement made during the first Health and Human Services (HHS) Fatherhood Initiative Conference, which was held in 2003. The Department of HHS has a total of 10 regions in the nation, and since this conference was held in the state of Louisiana (Region 6), most of the individuals who attended this conference and who participated in this study, were residents of the state. This conference was attended by researchers, clergy, practitioners, political activists, and community members who were interested in stronger marriages and greater father involvement, particularly among low-income Black men, could be created and sustained in Black communities. The participants were advised that the researcher was interested in how Black men define the term "manhood" as this could shed light on how these men could have stronger romantic and parent-child relationships. The participants completed the open-ended survey individually in a secluded area and their identity was protected through pseudonyms. This methodology was chosen because it was a time efficient way for the researcher to solicit the varied perspectives of the men and women who attended this conference, and allowed anyone who chose to participate to pen their opinions, values, and experiences in a non-threatening, private, and safe environment.

As shown in Table 1, the Participantsage of participants ranged from 18-51 years of age. The mean age was 29 years (SD = 3.15). The average amount of education was 12.03 years (SD = 1.30) and six (6) of the men were college students. In addition, the men in Louisiana, on average, had slightly more education than the men in Illinois and Tennessee. Eighteen men (75%) were single/never married; two men (.08%) were divorced; two men (.08%) were cohabiting with the mother of their child/children; and two men (.08%) were married. Although 17 men did not have children (71%), seven (29%) had at least one child between the ages of 2-18 years of age.

As shown in Table 2, the participants had a median income that fell in the $10,000-$15,999 range. Specifically, 33% of the men had an annual income that was less than $10,000, 42% had an annual income that was between $10,000--$29,999, and 25% of the men had an annual income that was over $30,000.

Research Design. To identify the themes that emerged from the written interviews, all narrative responses were content analyzed using grounded theory and an open-coding process (Holsti, 1969; Strauss & Corbin, 1990; Taylor & Bogdan, 1998). In keeping with open-coding techniques, no a priori categories were imposed on the narrative data. Instead, themes were identified from the narratives. In order to clearly abstract themes from the written responses, words and phrases were the units of analysis. Approximately 4-5 phrases constituted a particular theme. So, if when describing "manhood," the participants used the words "maturity," "responsibility," or "self," these words were regarded as anchors indicating manhood represents responsibility for self, and is demonstrated through maturity. Specifically, coding involved examining all responses, keeping track of emerging themes, assigning words and symbols to each coding category, and examining how the themes presented are specifically related to manhood. To control for the "length and stylistic complexity" of written and verbal responses, raters only coded for the "presence or absence of endorsement" of particular categories (Mattis, 2000).

To assess the reliability of the coding system, a list of all codes and their definitions along with a transcript was given to two outsiders who then coded the transcripts based on this pre-determined list of codes. The outside coder was selected due to their extensive experience with coding and analyzing narrative data. This strategy allowed for a qualitative version of inter-rater reliability in that only core themes/concepts that: (a) were identified by both coders, (b) occurred in the majority of the participants' interviews, and (c) were salient, are included in this paper. After a 98% coding reliability rate was established between the researcher and the outside coder, it was determined that a working coding system had been established. In order to sufficiently control for reliability, a second outside coder was selected to code and analyze the narrative data after the initial coding reliability had been established. The mean inter-rater agreement for the second coder was 95%. I am confident that this approach promotes overall rigor, reliability, and validity of the qualitative findings that are highlighted in this study as well as greatly minimizes the likelihood that the researcher's biases heavily influenced the reported outcomes in this study.


In the subsequent paragraphs of this paper, the four primary themes that emerged from the written narratives will be highlighted. The definition and demonstration of manhood was related to: (1) Maturity and Responsibility for Self; (2) Responsibility for Family; (3) The Provider Role; and (4) Self-Awareness. While spatial constraints did not allow much depth, I selected narratives that best supported the primary questions of interest.

The Definition of Manhood

Theme 1: Maturity and Responsibility for Self For 63% of the respondents, the word manhood was associated with being responsible for oneself and one's life. Most notably, maturity and responsibility for self was associated with a particular chronological age, acting responsibly and understanding self. For example, even though acting responsibly meant "being a model and teacher" for Jacob, a 25-year old single, self-employed, contractor, for Dallas, a 23-year old single welder, with no children, manhood comes at a particular chronological age. He expressed:
   I believe manhood comes around the time of 18 years of age

To add further clarification regarding what "maturity" means in respects to manhood, Marcus, a 30-year old, single construction worker, who has an 8-year old son and 6-year old daughter, wrote the following:
   Manhood is when you start taking on responsibilities, and making
   new steps in life.

For other men, manhood necessitates that a man be responsible for his own actions. This view was articulated by Dwight, a 19-year old single biology sophomore with no children when he shared:
   Manhood is a certain point in a man's life when responsibilities
   become very important which is necessary to survive in the real

In support of Dwight's comment, Neil, a 21-year old single accounting junior with no children shared valuable insight regarding the specific 'responsibilities that become very important' when he penned the following:
   Manhood is when a man gets a job or goes to school and tries to do
   something with his life.

The need to stand on one's own was an indicator of manhood that was also confirmed by Louis, a 36-year old Health Technician, and single father of a 10-year old son. He expressed this comment:
   Manhood is being independent and being able to stand on your own,
   being decisive in making decisions, accomplish goals, being a
   provider ... being responsible.

In addition to Louis's mention of independence, another man paired independence with other behavioral attributes. Sam, a 47-year old, welder, who has been married for 10 years and has two children, 11-year old and 8-year old sons wrote:
   Manhood means conduct, sex, work temperance, obligation, providing

For other men, self-understanding was an important component of manhood. This view was expressed by Fred, a 36-year old, printer repairman who has been divorced for five years and has two daughters, ages 5 and 4, when he shared:
   Manhood is understanding who you are inside and out and not letting
   anyone change that.

Manhood as the realization of personal responsibility was a response that was mirrored by other men in the study. Carl, a 22-year old single engineering college senior from Tennessee with no children provided the following testimony:
   Manhood is a point in a man's life. Manhood is something you grow
   into. The point of a man's life where he is responsible and takes
   care of his business.

Manhood as being responsible for one's "business" was echoed by Evan, a 32-year old single construction worker from Chicago who has an 8-year old son when he shared:
   Manhood is demonstrated by a man who handles his business ... a man
   who completes his daily duties and accomplishes his goals.

Manhood as maturity and responsibility for self speaks to the need for Black men to be self-sufficient, self-efficacious, and independent. Specifically, as voiced by 30-year old Marcus, to take responsibility for self means that a Black man is "making new steps in life." It is important to note that the phrase "making new steps in life" was more than an abstract notion as action indicators, such as securing a job, going to school, being independent, making decisions, and accomplishing goals were evidence of a male's responsibility for self. However, attention to self was not the only way that "manhood" was described by these men. Interestingly, other men defined "manhood" in terms of a collective acknowledgement and responsibly providing for their families.

Theme 2: Responsibility for Family

For 37% of the men, manhood encompassed a personal responsibility to assist his family. For example, Tony, a 35-year old chemical plant worker who has been married for 10 years and has three children, twin sons who are aged 9 and a 4-year old daughter, described manhood in the following way:
   Manhood means that it's not all about you and that you have a
   responsibility to help others in need. Even though your family
   comes first, real men do whatever they can to help others but
   especially their family.

The importance of being responsible for one's family was a theme voiced by other men in this study. Lyle, a 21-year old single cook with no children wrote:
   Manhood means you don't live off family, you take care of family.

Manhood as a responsibility to lend assistance to family was further articulated by other men in this study. Washington, a 35-year old chemical plant worker who has an 8-year old daughter and has been legally separated for the past year provided the following commentary on manhood:
   Boys have no problem living off of others, but real men realize
   that it is their job to help their own families and the families
   that they will have one day. Boys live off others but real men live
   for others by creating a better life for others.

Although the media portrays Black men as disinterested in their families, manhood as responsibility for family demonstrates family is extremely important to Black men. In contrast to "boys" who are supported by others, "real men" recognize that they have a responsibility to create a meaningful life for their current family as well as the family that they would like to establish in the future. Furthermore, Tony's view that "family" extends beyond one's family of origin was especially poignant. Specifically, even though a man's first obligation is to his family, he also has a responsibility to "help others in need" or assist those who are outside of his immediate family circle. Since manhood was discussed in terms of being responsible for himself and his family, an examination of the ways that these men defined manhood naturally leads to the second question of interest, or the ways that manhood is demonstrated, or shown.

Theme 3: The Provider Role

For 37% of the men, manhood involved providing for the financial, emotional, or spiritual care of others, specifically his partner, wife, children, or parents. Lyle, a 30-year old single laborer, who has two sons, ages 7 and 5, and has been cohabiting with his partner, and the mother of his children, for the past eight years described the demonstration of manhood in the following way:
   When a man is [being seen] as the head of the house and provider.

Family as a component of the "provider role" was reiterated by other participants. For example, when describing the demonstration of manhood, Micah, a 19-year old single unemployed male with no children wrote:
   By taking care of all your responsibilities by [making sure you
   provide for and protect your family].
   For other men, manhood was providing within the context
   of the marital relationship.

This view was shared by Raheim, an 18-year old college freshman with no children when he shared:
   Manhood is demonstrated by those who take care of their wives and
   also by those who take care of those responsibilities.

Other men also associated the provider role with caring for family. Paul, a 23-year old single welder, who is cohabiting with the mother of his 1-year old daughter, reiterated this view when he penned the following:
   Being able to care for home ... learning ... kids ... wife ...
   household ... being there for your family.

In support of Paul's view regarding the provider role as caring for family, Cleveland, a 37-year old single mechanic who has two children, a 16-year old son and 10-year old daughter, provided a clue regarding the motivation for why caring for family was important to him, and perhaps other men in this study. He wrote:
   Manhood is when you take care of the adults and children that are
   given to you by God.

The provider role narratives highlight the place of Black men in the family as well as those that benefit from the Black man's care and support. The position of the Black man in the family was evidenced by Lyle's comment that the man be "the head of the house." The phrase "the head of the house" and not "the husband of the house" suggests Black men can establish household leadership through marriage or cohabitation. Since Black men are less likely to marry and are more likely to establish families through cohabitation than White men (Ferguson, 2007; Taylor, Jackson, & Chatters, 1997), this narrative suggests the need for Black men to provide for their households and families, regardless of whether these are formed via cohabitation or marriage. On the other hand, the commentary provided by Raheim, Paul, and Cleveland, specify the legal relationship in that wives and children are the ones to whom men should provide care. In addition to their roles as providers, other Black men discussed manhood in terms of their internal capabilities and external presentation.

Theme 4: Self-Awareness

For 63% of the respondents, manhood was associated with a belief in oneself and one's abilities/capabilities as well as how he presents himself in the world, specifically in relation to his physical appearance. For example, Kevin, Louis, a 36-year old Health Technician, and single father of a 10-year old son wrote, "manhood is shown by action" and Michael, a 43-year old divorced factory worker from Chicago and father of two daughters, aged 22 and 19, provided the following view, "To live by exact." Interestingly, for other men, self awareness was exemplified in the demeanor with which men present themselves to the world. For Marcus, a 25-year old single cook who has a 3-month old son, manhood means "As they say, being hard or man-up."

For other men, self-awareness encompasses an intrinsic desire to stand up for the principles in which he believes. This view was stated by Ned, a 47-year old single, self-employed father of two children, a 26-year old son and a 24-year old daughter, when he wrote:
   When a man stands up for what is right and does things together
   with his family. He is being seen as the head of the house and

For Edward, a 32-year old single inspection coordinator, and father of a 5-year old son and 3-year old daughter, manhood as self-awareness facilitates stability in the lives of those with whom he interacts. To articulate this view, he wrote the following:
   By your ability to guide and give direction.... to maintain
   stability in unstable situations.

This view was furthered by Fred, a 36-year old, printer repairman who has been divorced for five years and has two daughters, ages 5 and 4, when he provided the following testimony:
   I think it is shown by believing in yourself and living by what you
   believe in.... right or wrong. You have to take a stand or have an
   opinion and stick to it.

On the other hand, for other men, being self-aware was synonymous with church involvement. For example, when describing manhood, Edward, a 39-year old single male sales clerk with a 15-year old son wrote, "It means going to work and church."

Interestingly, for one participant, being self-aware involves interest in one's physical appearance which determines how he presents himself to the world. This view was echoed by Daymond, a single, 20-year old college freshman with no children when he shared:
   A well dressed man, without the pants hanging off their butts. He
   is a professional, and carries himself well.

The most comprehensive narrative regarding the demonstration of manhood was provided by Lester, a 51-year old professional educator who has been married for 24 years and has four children, a 22-year and 20-year old son, and 18 and 15-year old daughters. When discussing "manhood" as a 'character descriptor,' he penned the following narrative:
   Manhood and womanhood are each character descriptors. Manhood, in
   essence, reflects being a man (a provider for the family and the
   community, a protector of the family and the community, able to
   accept constructive criticism and to use it to make the necessary
   adaptations, being a source of leadership and guidance for others,
   one who is supportive of others, someone who has goals and
   aspirations and works towards their realization, someone who
   perseveres in times of hardship, a well grounded and spiritual
   person, one whose pursuits are typically just and most often
   selfless). Behaviors evidenced include: motivated to secure and
   maintain employment, contributes to the financial needs of his
   family and his community (complies with the law, volunteers time to
   help others, involved in clubs or organizations that have social
   goals), models and encourages behaviors that are conducive to the
   well being of others, takes time for themselves so that they are
   rested and able to more effectively deal with daily challenges),
   and strives to improve their personal, spiritual, and professional
   development and that of others.

Manhood as self-awareness speaks to the need for Black men to be self-sufficient, self-efficacious, and economically independent. Given the role of religiosity and spirituality in the lives of many Blacks (Chaney, 2002; Ferguson, 2007; Harrell, 1999; Mattis, 2000; Taylor, Jackson, & Chatters, 1997; Tucker & Mitchell-Keman, 1995), Edward's mention of church involvement was particularly interesting. In addition to possessing a determination that makes it difficult for him to sway from what he knows to be right ("have to take a stand or have an opinion and stick to it"), much of the sufficiency, efficacy, and independence of Black men is directly linked to his socioeconomic standing. According to 47-year old Ned, Black men value being "seen as the head of the house and provider" which may in turn, help them to "maintain stability in unstable situations." In addition to acknowledging the desired position that Black men have for themselves, this further demonstrates the need for these men to be supported by their households. Since Black men are more likely to be in a romantic relationship with and father children with Black women (Hill, 2005), Black men may have certain expectations regarding how Black women should support them.


This paper asserted that, due to their marginalized position in society, Connell's (1987) hegemonic masculinity model is insufficient to examine how Black men define and describe the term "manhood." The four themes provided by these men reveal manhood is directly related to their educational, economic, relational and parental status. Results in the current study make a substantial contribution to the identity development and communication literature by identifying the most salient aspects of manhood among Black men.

However, before the findings are discussed, the limitations of this study should be noted. For one, since the sample size was small and was primarily drawn from one city, one cannot be certain that the findings presented here can be generalized to other cities within the same state or to other cities within the United States. Also, since most of the participants had low education and income levels, the current sample lacked socioeconomic diversity. Furthermore, since the overwhelming majority of the men in this study did not have children, one must also be cautious when extending the findings of this study to Black men with children. Moreover, as the men who self-selected for participation in the study attended a conference with a politically conservative agenda (e.g., increasing father involvement in the form of marriage), another possible limitation to the present findings is that a conference with a less conservative agenda (e.g., increasing father involvement without increasing marriage, per se) may have reaped different results. In other words, a conference with a more liberal agenda may have resulted in a greater number of Black men advocating for stronger non-marital co-parenting relationships between Black men and women, in lieu of marriage.

Interestingly, few previous studies have specifically targeted a group of men who attended a conference that specifically focused on strengthening Black marriages and increasing father-child involvement, so this represents a major strength of the current study. In other words, because this study represented the views of Black men who willingly attended a conference whose sole aim was to encourage greater father involvement and stronger marriages among Blacks, the author views this group, albeit small and non-representative, as unique. Although the overwhelming majority of the written narratives were not as comprehensive and expansive as the one provided by the 51-year old, married, professional educator who was the father of four children, this study respected and validated the "voice" of a diverse group of marginalized Black men regarding their assessment of manhood. In addition, as evidenced by their attendance, the sample represented a group of Black men who were interested in the possibility of one day becoming good husbands and responsible fathers, or maintaining their current status as such. Fundamentally, the commentary provided by these men provides a strong counterargument to the plethora of negative Black male stereotypes that are prevalent in the media. In spite of the aforementioned limitations, however, this study has unearthed a largely overlooked aspect of Black male identity. Specific attention will now be given to the four themes elicited from the written responses.

As evidenced by these narratives, Black men both confirm and challenge hegemonic notions of masculinity. Perhaps what is most revealing is the need for Black men to be self-sufficient, self-efficacious, and independent. The mere acknowledgement that Black and White men do not hold the same place in society is perhaps one of the biggest flaws of Connell's (1987) theory of masculinity because it fails to provide recommendations regarding how the current positions of these men can become more equitable, or at the very least, more elevated for Black men. Most important, these narratives suggest Black men may have a greater need for autonomy than men of other racial and ethnic groups. Since racism greatly minimizes the likelihood that Black men can educationally and economically 'be independent and stand on their own,' Black men may place a higher regard on their ability to first care for self, and then care for others. Given this reality, policy specifically geared to the unique needs of Black men must evaluate not only the long-term outcomes of these efforts but also whether these efforts increase or decrease the self-efficacy of Black men.

What is also clear from these narratives is the triangulation of self, family, and community among these Black men. In particular, manhood as responsibility for family parallels the African collectivist paradigm (e.g., the African traditional value of regarding the needs of the individual as the needs of the group) (Akbar, 1991; Hilliard, 1986). Although their greatest priority was taking care of their family, several of the men believed they had a "responsibility to help others in need," and that they should never shirk from this responsibility. The Black male demonstrates manhood when responsibility for his immediate family evolves to embrace his community. Specifically, manhood is demonstrated when responsibility for family includes responsibility for his romantic partner, the family that he and his partner create, as well as the communal family in which they are both a part. While policy initiatives such as African-American Healthy Marriage Initiative (AAHMI) emphasize the strength and stability of the dyad, more attention needs to be given to the interconnectedness of family and community among Black men.

A particularly unique finding was the demonstration of manhood in the form of caring for the financial, emotional, and spiritual care of others. Although previous studies have examined the instrumental (e.g., financial) and expressive (e.g., emotional) support (Hamer, 2001; Taylor, Jackson, & Chatters, 1997) provided by Black fathers, no studies to date have explored the spiritual care that Black men provide for others. What may be a particularly fertile area of study related to this theme is how Black men feel they are perceived by others. Specifically, 30-year old Lyle's comment that Black men be "seen as the head of the house and provider" suggests Black manhood may be based on how that man is viewed by others, as well as his perceived position of power to the one who is observing him. In addition, the need for Black men to protect his family is another sub-theme that is worthy of further exploration. This is yet another area in which Connell's theory of hegemonic masculinity falls short. Specifically, the diminished education and economic position of Black men in society may cause these men to experience both a heightened need to protect their families from harm, under the umbrella of legalized racist constraints (Reese, 2004; Reese, 2001).

In spite of the many challenges they face, it is important that Black men maintain a strong sense of self while caring for family. Interestingly, for one respondent, this involved "being able to provide for your family and to make your own choices." Although this narrative may seem, on the surface contradictory, it demonstrates the need for Black men to balance their desire to provide for their families, and maintain those characteristics that make them individual, separate, and distinct among men. In terms of policy, this theme acknowledges the identities of Black men are not homogenized, and recognizes that "one-size-fits-all" programs are insufficient to meet the needs of single (never married), dating, cohabiting, separated, married, and divorced men, with and without children.

Directions for Future Research

There are three ways that future studies can expound upon the findings that have been presented here. First, future research should examine the perspectives of a larger number of Black men who represent various stages of the life cycle. For example, based on their educationa and economic standing, values and life experiences, adolescents, young, middle-aged and older adults may define "manhood" in different ways. To better facilitate this, future research should implement longitudinal designs that would allow Black men to build and expand upon these meanings during various stages of life, such as the onset of dating, the engagement period, first marriage, first parenthood, separation, divorce, remarriage, or the death of a romantic partner or spouse. This would allow researchers to examine the extent to which perceptions regarding manhood remain fixed or are malleable over time. Second, future research should examine how Black men balance the need to be responsible for themselves and their families. Since unemployment, underemployment, and seasonal employment most affect a disproportionate number of Black men (Taylor, Jackson & Chatters, 1997), this knowledge may lead to a greater understanding of the factors that make Black romantic relationships more vulnerable to dissolution than those of other racial and ethnic groups. Third, future research should examine, in greater detail, the specific ways that Black men expect Black women to support them in an oppressive and racist society.

Fourth, given the few studies that have specifically addressed this, future studies must examine Black attitudes regarding the federal government's promotion of marriage and greater father involvement. Specifically, these studies might use the following questions as their focus: (1) What do you currently know about the African-American Healthy Marriage Initiative (AAHMI)? (2) What do you current know about the fatherhood component of the African-American Healthy Marriage Initiative (AAHMI)? (3) In what way, if any, has the African-American Healthy Marriage Initiative (AAHMI) changed your views regarding what it means to be a man? (4) In your opinion, what are the financial, economic, and social factors that limit marriage and father involvement in the African-American community? (5) In your opinion, in what way can the government help African-American couples have stronger marriages and families?


From the onset of this paper, I asserted that Connell's (1987) theory of hegemonic masculinity was insufficient to examine how Black men define and demonstrate manhood. As sons, fathers, husbands, brothers, and uncles, these men, young and old, categorically define manhood as maturity and responsibility for themselves, responsibility for their families, providing for their families and belief in their ability to care for their families. In spite of the abundance of media images that directly and indirectly assault the actions, motivations, and desires of Black men, the findings presented in this study are important because they provide strong evidence that refutes this view. Further, the findings of this study can greatly inform the goal of policy by situating individual, relational, family, and community outcomes within the nexus of Black manhood.

Fundamentally, the men in this study provide irrefutable proof that stronger relationships between Black men, women and children are possible. The achievements of Black men are marked by their desire to be responsible for themselves and their families, as financial, emotional, and spiritual providers for others, as well as their need to be capable as they successfully meet external and internal challenges. As sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, partners, employees, and students, Black men, individually and collectively, prevail in the face of a multitude of societal constraints. I would like to close by borrowing and applying the words of Sterling Brown in Hill's (1992) Coming of Age: African American Males Rites-of-Passage (p 17): "Strong men getting stronger is, in the vernacular, 'The Bottom Line." These stories infuse the Black community with hope because they are based on the desire of Black men to be strong in the face of societal constraints. In sum, it is through these stories that the "bottom line" is actualized: strong men becoming stronger for themselves, their families and their communities.


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* Throughout this text, I will use the term Black to refer to people of African Diaspora, and to such populations that reside within the United States. To some, African Americans are a subgroup within a larger Black community. Since our discussion purposely includes those who may be first-generation immigrants or who, for whatever reason, do not identify as African American, I employ the term "Black." Furthermore, I capitalize the term Black to distinguish this racial category and related identity from the color. Similarly , I capitalize the word White.


Cassandra Chaney, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the School of Human Ecology, Family, Child and Consumer Sciences Division at Louisiana State University.
Table 1
Demographic Characteristics of Participants (N=24)

                                 State Represented

                         Louisiana    Illinois   Tennessee

  * 18-28 Years              13
  * 29-40 Years               4          1
  * 41-51 Years               4          1

  * Mean Education         13.06       12.02       12.01
  * High School              14          2
  * College Student           5
  * College Degree            2

Relationship Status
  * Single (Never            16          1
  * Divorced                  2          1
  * Cohabiting                2
  * Married                   1

Parental Status
  * At Least One Child        6          1
  * No Children              15          1
Total                      21 **        2 **        l *

* Represents the demographic characteristics of the
Tennessee participant.

** Each cell represents demographic characteristics of the
men from each state.

Table 2
Annual Income as Reported by Participants (N=24)

                           State Represented

Income Categories   Louisiana   Illinois   Tennessee

Less than $10,000       7          0           1
$10,000-$29,999         9          1           0
More than $30,000       5          1           0
Total                  21          2           1
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Author:Chaney, Cassandra
Publication:The Western Journal of Black Studies
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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