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Byron Hurt, creator and director of Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes, made a new short documentary called Barack & Curtis: Manhood, Power, & Respect. You can watch it here: It is about the contrasting images of black masculinity that Barack Obama and rapper 50 Cent portray as major popular figures in our society. I would love to hear what others on the site think about this video, but I wanted to bring it up more to generate a discussion about the interplay between violence, masculinity, and race in the United States. His full-length documentary Beyond Beats and Rhymes goes into far more depth into how our society's hyper-masculine and hyper-violent culture forces a system in which violence or at least the threat of it is a part of achieving success.

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Masculinity in Jail

Let me first thank Shara for posting this discussion, and I am only saddened by the fact that no one else has yet responded.

I would like to share my personal response to the "Barack & Curtis" video in light of the fact that I will be beginning my jail sentence for my part in a nonviolent civil disobedience campaign. My jailing is for my participating in the “occupation” of the office of Senator Mark Udall as part of the national “Occupation Project” in March of 2007. For the past two years my pro-bono lawyer, Ingrid DeFranco, has been appealing the original sentence in an attempt to allow me to have a jury trial. After the Colorado District Court blocked yet another appeal, the sentence of 28 days (with deferred time and time serverd) in Adams County Jail was handed down on this morning, February 2, 2009.

Seventeen Colorado activists were arrested in March of 2007 as part of the nationwide Occupation Project, which used nonviolent civil disobedience in an effort to convince congressional members to stop voting for war-funding for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Over 500 American citizens were arrested as part of this campaign.

After watching "Barack and Curtis," I was struck by how my daily presentation of self is much more in line with the Barack-style. I am a 28 year old graduate student at Naropa University in Boulder, CO, (I even have a great pair of nerd/studying glasses!) and generally speaking I attempt to to dress cleanly and treat others with respect and dignity. In the social sphere I work to listen to others and to present my point of view in an articulate manner. I would explain my masculinity as a "quite masculinity" that is self-assured and free from the overt shows of strength or the subjugation of women.

Yet, in 36 hours I will be checking the Adams County Jail. In watching "Barack and Curtis," I remembered the time that I spent in jail after my original arrest for civil disobedience. The standard presentation of the prisoners to one an other is more of a 50-Cent-style. In the penal social system there is a high emphasis put on being a 50-Cent-style man, as the vibe for a newly entering prisoner is to "show" ones manliness. I remember very clearly how I underwent a change in the way I carried myself the second I was given my jail uniform and sent to my cell block. There was an silent but pressing urge to stand up as straight as possible in order to present myself as a strong "man." This is not to say that I reduced my respect for others or communicated in any base manner, but nevertheless I felt the need to play by the local rules--to front my "man."

In contemplating how I will go about presenting myself in this go around at jail I am reminded of the quote from the film that "there is a little bit of Barack and 50 in every man." It made me think that this time around I hope to present myself in such a way that I can present myself as one who is worthy of respect but not fall into the trap of adding to the latent aggression of such a place.

Ultimately I don't believe that jails have a tough feel because of the people (as Hollywood would encourage one to believe), but because the jail system itself is a structure that promotes fear and aggression as a method of maintaining control. For those of us who are committed to nonviolence, the challenge in the unique situation of being in jail seems to be to have the courage to not add to the fear and domination paradigm, but to provide an example of respect in even the toughest of circumstances.

Senator Mark Udall has continued to vote for every war-funding package since that time. At numerous Colorado town hall meetings since the Occupation Project, Senator Udall noted that he would not change his stance on war funding until there was a Democratic President. Since the inauguration of President Obama, Senator Udall has continued to maintain his support for the funding of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Wow, thank you for your post. I completely agree with your point about systems, in particular jail systems/power structures, causing people to act in certain ways or portray a certain sense of masculinity over another rather than these being expressions solely of personality. It made me think of the Stanford Prison Experiment, which demonstrated how being placed in certain roles or functions can change how one acts, behaves, and how one conceives of oneself. I hope that your prison sentence is not long and I hope that you will post new observations about masculinity and violence in jail, it is truly fascinating to read your account.
As someone who works in the field of domestic and sexual violence, I feel this film is very relevant. I like what was said at the end about standing up to white patriarchy. I see the connection between the narrow "boxes" we put people in, and the roles they are forced to take, and how that contributes to violent behavior in our society. I believe that what our society does to young men is horrible. Ask any young man who doesn't fit into the "man mold" what it feels like to be humiliated and harrassed for not fitting in. We do the same thing to young women. "Acting like a lady" means to stay quiet, put up with abuse, take care of everyone else, and not have an opinion.
When race is factored in, the waters become even murkier. It takes dignity and courage to stand up for being a peaceable non-violent person in our society. At the end of the day, we're all just people, and we're more alike that most of us think.
Thanks you for sharing this important work.



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