Black male corporeity and the crisis of affection: The necessity of the re-signification of the black male body

Photo: Adenor Gondim - Castro Alves Theater Stage - October 1990 - Dancers Augusto Omolú and Alice Becker
Photo: Adenor Gondim – Castro Alves Theater Stage – October 1990 – Dancers Augusto Omolú and Alice Becker

Note from BW of Brazil: As the focus and title of this blog is black women of Brazil, I spend a lot of time giving space to black Brazilian women partly to make up for their vast invisibility in so many areas of Brazilian society, but also so that our readers can get to know a little more about the experiences of these women than the few stereotypes that are broadcast around the world generally around the time of Carnaval. I present thoughts and images of these black women so that people can know that Brazil has a wide range of black women that are involved in various endeavors, occupations and careers. But in many ways it is only possible to understand the existence of these women by also analyzing the experience of race, racism and racial identity as well as the partner to which she will forever be connected: the black man. For as many stereotypes that exist about the black Brazilian women, we can find perhaps just as many if not more about the black man. One aspect of such images that will forever be connected to the black man is that of sexuality but one that is perhaps less discussed is his affective experience. That part of his life in which he shares his emotions and intimacies with another person. The experience of being recognized as simply free manpower in a country in which human bondage lasted for nearly four centuries continues to effect black men and women to this day and these scars inevitably come into play in their relationships. Juliana Gonçalves fleshes this out a bit more in the piece below. 

Black male corporeity and the crisis of affection

By Juliana Gonçalves

Ser negro é ser o corpo negro” (To be black is to be the black body) (Osmundo Pinho)


Four black women present themselves in speeches drenched in pain, despair, and revolt. Life stories that denounce the racism practiced by whites in positions of power. Women marked by stereotypes that fall on the different shades of black skin that soon recall slavery and the past, not so distant, of deprivations. This is the way singer Nina Simone presents her song “Four Women”. Rough and tantalizing, the song doesn’t explicitly tell the story of a lonely woman, but rather brings her own loneliness into the background. This abandonment, undoubtedly, has a social and affective load being often carried out by a black man.

Understanding this black man and how he also suffers from the effects of racism and machismo seems to be necessary to deepen this question. In Brazil, racism occurs, among others, markedly by the tone of the skin, so the vision of the male body and the notions of corporeity – the way in which the brain recognizes and uses the body as a relational instrument with the world – can give clues about the social and affective processes experienced by the black man.

After all, how is the black man’s body seen by society? The images that are available from the time of enslavement always reveal exposed bodies in day-to-day mundane tasks or bodies mutilated and violated with the lashes in the public square. The ultra-exposure of the black body begins at this point. For Alex Ratts – Professor at the Federal University of Goiânia and Ph.D of Anthropology who studies masculinities -, black bodies are generally racialized and subdivided. “Racialized bodies are everywhere, in books, in texts and illustrations, in music, in everything,” he says, pointing out that this racialization embodies a dehumanization, the idea of a body adrift to be dominated. Women well know how devastating the permissiveness with which this body, seen as public, is treated. With men it is no different. The physical and symbolic violence suffered by the black body has solid foundations in the relations of gender positions, in racism, in class structure, among other forms of oppression. Not infrequently gender bias is identified by the high number of black youths killed by urban violence in large capitals. This black body more easily incarcerated and dead has its subjectivity (and process of identity construction) constantly bombarded.

Anthropologist Osmundo Pinho, PhD in Social Sciences, in his text “Qual é a identidade do homem negro?” (What is the identity of the black man?) states: “The male black body is fundamentally corpo-para-o-trabalho e corpo sexuado (body-for-work and sexed body). It is fragmented into parts: the skin; the bodily marks of the race (hair, features, odors); muscles, or physical strength; sex, dimorphically genitalized like the penis, a phallocratic symbol of the plus of sensuality that the negro would represent and which, ironically, means his return to the realm of fetishes animated by the white gaze.” The fetish launched on the male black body would influence the interpersonal and affective relations. For the actor and researcher of black affectivity and gender issues, Sidney Santiago this fragmentation of the black body entails in the attempt to annul the subjectivities and refusal of the affective process. “From the perspective of the other, the black man shapes molds himself socially to give pleasure and has a process of identity construction that goes through the hyper-sexualization of his image,” he says.

It is worth mentioning that in this view the homo-affective relations are included. On this, Santiago points out: “Black men have no historical possibility of thinking about their affectivity, without being cut off from hetero-normativity.” The black man is thus conditioned to be stronger (psychically and physically) and more virile than the others. Santiago considers that the affective relations of the black man, especially the interracial ones, are loaded from the cultivated to the exoticism. “It is the desire, the fetish for the black body and, of course, the idealization of the penis that prevails,” he says.

Paixão peniana (penile passion)

“Identifying the penis always and only as a force, as an instrument of power, a weapon first and foremost, is to participate in the reverence and perpetuation of patriarchy. It is the celebration of male domination. “The African American writer and feminist theorist, bell hooks, in her text entitled “Penis Passion”, talks about how the vision of the phallus as a tool of force is flawed and conservative, and above all else, imprisons men and women. “The bold text of bell hooks shows the issues of power and subordination tied to the symbolism of the male organ and when we speak of a black body the reference of hyper-sexualization always happens by focusing on the phallus,” comments Alex Ratts. In the text bell suggests the penile re-signification as a form of liberation of men and women. “Changing the way we talk about the penis is a powerful intervention that can question patriarchal thinking. Many sexist men fear that their bodies will lose their meaning if we evaluate the penis more for the sacredness of its existence than for its performative capacity,” she indicates.

O que homens negros podem aprender com as mulheres negras  (What Black Men Can Learn From Black Women)

In the 1990s, a great black feminist militant talked about the political, social, and affective aspects of the solidão da mulher negra (solitude of the black woman) who was already passed over even by the black man.

Beatriz Nascimento wrote an article emphasizing how much the sexual and affective attraction is impregnated with racial models. The choice of the black woman for the man went through the “belief that she is more erotic or more sexually ardent than the others, beliefs related to the characteristics of her physique, often exuberant,” she said. For many years the black woman has suffered from the stereotyping of her body. However, the history of struggle of black women, has been working in the re-signification of this body.

About this, Osmundo Pinho wrote: “They have developed, with a greater degree of critical awareness, a relationship with the body itself, to protect it, to reinvent it, to dignify it, to appropriate it, to deny stereotyped meanings…” This accumulation of black women is being accessed by some black men, but very timidly. Men are also formed within the logic of patriarchy governed by the relationship of superiority and domination. “A few times in a man’s life he is led to question his personal subjectivity that is tied to the collective, economic and cultural. This needs to change,” Ratts concludes.

bell hooks has her name written in lowercase letters, says this about it: “The most important thing in my books is substance and not who I am.”


Ratts, Alex. Corpos negros educados: notas acerca do Movimento Negro de base acadêmica. Nguzu, Londrina – PR, Ano 1, n. 1, março/julho de 2011. Revista do Núcleo de Estudos Afro-Asiáticos (NEAA) da Universidade Estadual de Londrina (UEL).

Pinho, Osmundo, “Qual é a identidade do homem negro?” Democracia Viva, nº22, junho/julho de 2004. Revista do Instituto Brasileiro de Análises Sociais e Econômicas (Ibase).

hooks, bell.  Penis Passion.

Nascimento, Beatriz. “A mulher negra e o amor”. Jornal Maioria Falante. Rio de Janeiro. Março de 1990.

Source: CEERT

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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