Let the Exhorter Speak: Black Masculinity and the Slave Narrative Tradition
Mack, Jeffery Dwayne
University of Kansas
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African American culture has often been seen as an ideological concept that emanates from the history of a people. It is an inclusive concept that represents, according to Houston A. Baker, "a whole way of life." In order to examine this culture, consideration must be given to the history of the people who comprise it. Specifically, we must examine how African Americans' sense of self is connected to their shared experiences and reflect their suffering as well as their advancements. For the male slave, his self-concept as well as his masculine identity is connected to his life in bondage. His masculine identity emanates from his perception of the needs of the slave community. In this dissertation, I argue that by examining what I term the Black Battlefield Codes (those culturally specific systems of knowing, understanding and interpreting the world that male slaves used to empower themselves despite an oppressive environment) we see the emergence of a masculine concept that reflects his view of himself and the world of which he is a part. By exploring the collective ethos that identifies the slave community's perceptions of sexuality, spirituality, and violence as demonstrated in the works of Henry Bibb, Reverend John Jea, and David Walker, we observe a system that black men of the era could use to express their masculine identities. Thus, this dissertation argues that the shared beliefs and moral attitudes of the slave community during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries provide the basis through which the male slave could not only begin to construct his own culturally-specific definition masculinity, but he could exact a definition of himself that would allow him to view his masculine identity separate from white men.
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