Dr. Mark Anthony Neal: America must expand its view of Black masculinity

Dr. Mark Anthony Neal: America must expand its view of Black masculinity

March 4, 2020

McKinney closed out its celebration of Black History Month on a high note with a visit from Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, James B. Duke Distinguished Professor, author, and Chair of the Department of African & African American Studies at Duke.

The focus of Dr. Neal’s lecture was the “illegibility” of black men; that is, the inability to see black men outside of the stereotypical roles that are placed on them by society. Dr. Neal cited examples from popular culture to explain the concept of illegibility. From LeBron James appearing in commercials that don’t reference basketball at all, making LeBron illegible to people who associate him with the sport to such an extent that they have a hard time accepting him outside of that context, to the character Stringer Bell from HBO’s “The Wire,” whose illegibility springs from a depiction against type: a drug dealer who owns a business and takes classes on macroeconomics.

And he pointed out how such a narrow view of black masculinity can have grave consequences for black men. One example Dr. Neal used was of a black cellist getting stopped by police and accused of stealing his own cello. “If we saw a black guy walk in here with a basketball, we wouldn’t think twice about it. But if we saw that same guy walk in here with a cello, that’s when we would start asking questions,” Dr. Neal said.

“Dr. Neal’s presentation to McKinney was enthralling and enlightening,” said Art Director Kendra Little, who moderated the Q&A session that followed the presentation. “He made powerful connections between the past and the present in a way that was striking yet digestible, and the dialogue we had as an agency was so enriching.”