Constructing the Black Masculine

Identity and Ideality in African American Men’s Literature and Culture, 1775–1995

Constructing the Black Masculine

a John Hope Franklin Center Book

More about this series

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 17 b&w photos Published: June 2002

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Gender and Sexuality

In seven representative episodes of black masculine literary and cultural history—from the founding of the first African American Masonic lodge in 1775 to the 1990s choreographies of modern dance genius Bill T. Jones—Constructing the Black Masculine maps black men’s historical efforts to negotiate the frequently discordant relationship between blackness and maleness in the cultural logic of American identity. Maurice O. Wallace draws on an impressive variety of material to investigate the survivalist strategies employed by black men who have had to endure the disjunction between race and masculinity in American culture.
Highlighting their chronic objectification under the gaze of white eyes, Wallace argues that black men suffer a social and representational crisis in being at once seen and unseen, fetish and phantasm, spectacle and shadow in the American racial imagination. Invisible and disregarded on one hand, black men, perceived as potential threats to society, simultaneously face the reality of hypervisibility and perpetual surveillance. Paying significant attention to the sociotechnologies of vision and image production over two centuries, Wallace shows how African American men—as soldiers, Freemasons, and romantic heroes—have sought both to realize the ideal image of the American masculine subject and to deconstruct it in expressive mediums like modern dance, photography, and theatre. Throughout, he draws on the experiences and theories of such notable figures as Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and James Baldwin.


Constructing the Black Masculine is a provocative excursion into the shifting character of black masculinity . . . . Maurice Wallace offers many revealing glimpses of black manhood as constructed against a persistent white, objectifying gaze, a gaze constructed largely through the camera’s eye. . . . [A] rewarding blend of theory, criticism and cultural history . . . .” — Nathan Grant , Washington Post Book World

"[A]n impressive interrogation into the problems of the Black masculine identity as developed over a 200-year span." — D. Kevin McNeir , BlackLines

"[An] intriguing and highly satisfying study. . . . Wallace is highly original in his interrogation of the complexities of the black masculine ideal as it has materialized in the West over the last two hundred years-and his study could not be more timely." — Carol E. Henderson , Modern Fiction Studies

"[I]mpressive. . . . [C]ompelling." — Cynthia Young , Signs

"Maurice Wallace is a rigorous and wide ranging scholar with an innovative intellectual agenda. . . . Constructing the Black Masculine . . . establishes Wallace among the vanguard of black masculinity studies, black queer studies, and new directions in African American studies more generally. . . . [It] is a fine example of what is possible when an agile intellect committed to cultural studies in a meaningful way commits to the genre of the scholarly monograph. . . . The book serves not only as a clarion call to deepen our understandings of African American culture, African American studies and American masculinity, but it also brings credit to the monograph as a genre. Constructing the Black Masculine is a welcome and refreshing contribution." — Dwight A. McBride, American Literature

"Wallace's work is an important and useful contribution to black men's studies, literary and cultural theory, and cultural history." — Zachery Williams, Journal of African American History

“A most impressive interrogation into the problematic of black masculine identity as it has manifested in the U.S. context from the late eighteenth century through the present day. Readers from across a range of disciplines will be uniformly impressed by the scope and dexterity of Wallace’s critical intelligence. This is an overwhelmingly admirable achievement and a very important book.” — Phillip Brian Harper, author of Are We Not Men? Masculine Anxiety and the Problem of African-American Identity

“Highly original and deeply probing in its analyses into the intricacies of its topic, Constructing the Black Masculine is a timely and rewarding addition to the study of African American literature, American studies, and race and sexuality. Maurice O. Wallace has a lot to teach.” — Nellie McKay, coeditor of The Norton Anthology of African American Literature


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Maurice O. Wallace is Assistant Professor of English and African and African American Studies at Duke University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations



Part One: Spectagraphia

1. On Dangers Seen and Unseen: Identity Politics and the Burden of Black Male Specularity

Part Two: No Hiding Place

2. “Are We Men?”: Prince Hall, Martin Delany, and the Black Masculine Ideal in Black Freemasonry, 1775-1865

3. Constructing the Black Masculine: Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and the Sublimits of African American Autobiography

4. A Man’s Place: Architecture, Identity, and Black Masculine Being

Part Three: Looking B(l)ack

5. “I’m Not Entirely What I Look Like”: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and the Hegemony of Vision; or Jimmy’s FBEye Blues

6. What Juba Knew: Dance and Desire in Melvin Dixon’s Vanishing Room

Afterword: “What Ails you Polyphemus?”: Toward a New Ontology of Vision in Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks



Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, MLA William Sanders Scarborough Prize

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2869-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2854-4
Publicity material