Tag Archives: race

How to be a Man: If Beale Street Could Talk brings a new generation to James Baldwin

“We were all men, all fragile and broken in some way, in need of love and grace and the salve of a mother or father or estranged lover. We were all Baldwin’s children. The fact of this lineage and the generosity of our father confirmed that we, his readers, were worthy of love.”

—Barry Jenkins, Esquire, December 2018

Barry Jenkins, director of 2016’s Academy Award-winning Moonlight, admits a feeling of kinship with James Baldwin’s readers, but also his characters: the exuberant Giovanni, the tortured David. Baldwin, the father, offers an emotional tutelage, guides boys into manhood, so that they too can offer a path forward for a new generation. And so: Jenkins’ new film, based on Baldwin’s novel, If Beale Street Could Talk.

Fittingly, Jenkins’ talk of fragile men and Baldwin-the-Father is written for Esquire, a magazine with a long relationship to Baldwin. It was in Esquire that Baldwin published some of his most famous essays, such as “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy” and “Fifth Avenue, Uptown.” While tackling what was then called “the Negro Problem,” the always shrewd Baldwin tied his writing on race to issues of masculinity, seeking a common understanding with the presumably white, middle- or upper-class readers of a magazine subtitle “The Magazine for Men.” So it is that in “Black Boy,” Baldwin writes:

I think that I know something about American masculinity which most men of my generation do not know because they have not been menaced by it in the way that I have been. It is still true, alas, that to be an American Negro male is also to be a kind of walking phallic symbol: which means that one pays, in one’s own personality, for the sexual insecurity of others. The relationship, therefore, of a black boy to a white boy is a very complex thing.

The lengthiest and most compelling of Baldwin’s Esquire pieces is a 1968 interview, published shortly after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., in which Baldwin addresses social unrest, Stokely Carmichael, and the ideas of whiteness and Blackness. Central to the interview is Baldwin’s appeal that white men acknowledge and confront their history.

Esquire may give Baldwin space to make his appeal, but the magazine does much to undermine it. For example, the cover of the magazine reads “James Baldwin tells us how to cool it this summer.” The image is of seven stylishly dressed, cool Black men lounging on ice blocks. “Cool it” is immediately associated with its demotic or vernacular use—perhaps Baldwin is going to tell readers about his favourite nightclubs or albums. Within the magazine, however, the interviewer uses some version of the phrase “cool it” six times. In the context of the interview, “cooling it” refers to relaxing racial tensions; the cover, and the rest of the magazine, diminishes the seriousness of this situation. One need only flip a few pages to discover a feature offering “Advice for Summer Drinkers: Cool It!” Here, the idea of “cooling it” is not about riots, but a suggestion for how to prepare drinks. Altogether, this single issue offers Baldwin’s compelling critique of masculinity and whiteness to the exact audience who needs to hear it … and then seemingly takes steps to dismantle that critique. The magazine offers contemporary readers a glimpse into the push-and-pull of the cultural politics of race, class, and manhood.

And now, 50 years later, Esquire offers up space to Jenkins to promote his own film, based on Baldwin’s work, and to discuss the author’s influence on his own life and career. In so doing, Jenkins is able to reach out to a similar audience (not identical, but similar enough) to the one Baldwin addressed decades ago, and offer them his own take on the intersection of race and masculinity, his own take on how to be a man.



Brad Congdon received his PhD from Dalhousie University, where he is an Instructor in Gender & Women’s Studies and English. He is the author of Leading with the Chin: Writing American Masculinities in Esquire, 1960-1989.



Social Theory: Issues of Race and Ethnicity in a Post-Colonial World

Two weeks ago, we posted an excerpt from our forthcoming reader, Social Theory: Continuity and Confrontation, highlighting the “legacy readings” that define the “Classical Theory” section of the book. Last week, we posted an excerpt from the “Transitions and Changes” section of the book, introducing the concept of “transitional giants”—theorists such as Foucault and Bourdieu who built bridges between earlier theories and the theories of the present.

Social Theory 3eThis week, we’d like to feature an excerpt from a chapter that is entirely new to the third edition of this popular social theory reader. “Chapter 13: Issues of Race and Ethnicity in a Post-Colonial World” represents a significant addition to this thoroughly revised book.

Readings in the new chapter include:

13.1 Frantz Fanon (1925–1961)
Fanon and the Racial and Colonial Divides
Reading 13.1: Excerpts from Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

13.2 Edward Saïd (1935–2003)
Edward Saïd: Orientalism and the Other
Reading 13.2: Excerpts from Saïd’s Orientalism (1978)

13.3 Michael Omi and Howard Winant
New Ways of Theorizing Race: Omi and Winant’s Racial Formation in the United States (1986)
Reading 13.3: Excerpts from Omi and Winant’s Racial Formation in the United States (1986)

13.4 David Roediger (1952–)
David Roediger’s The Wages of Whiteness (1991)
Reading 13.4: Roediger’s The Wages of Whiteness (1991)

In the reader, the new chapter on race and ethnicity is followed by a substantially updated chapter on gender and sexuality, which is in turn followed by a brand new chapter on culture. The final two chapters in the book focus on media and globalization, rounding out an amazing section (“Dispersion and Difference”) that should keep students engaged and help remind them of the contemporary relevance of social theory.

Download the introduction to Chapter 13: Issues of Race and Ethnicity in a Post-Colonial World.

To find out more about the third edition of the reader, click here.

Stuart Hall, 1932-2014

Stuart Hall, a sociologist better known as the Godfather of Cultural Studies, has died at the age of 82. Hall’s influence over academic, political, cultural, and social debates spanned over six decades, making him a “Transitional Giant” in the world of social theory. Hall not only tapped into the zeitgeist of the times, he confronted issues of racial domination and multiculturalism, and problematized the role of popular culture to offer points of resistance in the struggle over identity and representation. As a result, Stuart Hall changed the way we think about the role of social theory and its relation to social change.

Hall broke with orthodox boundaries and worked across disciplines, combining and synthesizing ideas from literary criticism to philosophy to forge new approaches to the socio-political changes occurring in contemporary society. Hall rejected the binaries, essentialism, and monolithic camps of existing theories. He deliberately blurred boundaries that had seemed clear such as the difference between interaction and structure, power and resistance, self and society. He re-read classical theories in new ways and recombined strands from these theories to gain new insights. In particular, Hall brought together Marx, Gramsci, race theory, and frameworks from communications and media studies, forcing us to rethink the notions of “identity” previously taken for granted. Stuart Hall’s influence can be considered a “paradigm shift,” changing not only directions in theory, but the ways we theorize, and the ways that theory matters in everyday practical contexts of negotiating the world around us.

Click here to read the excerpted introduction to our chapter on Stuart Hall from the forthcoming new edition of Social Theory: Continuity and Confrontation, A Reader. (Please note that these are uncorrected advance proofs and any typos will most certainly be fixed before the book goes to press!)

With the passing of an intellectual giant, we must remember not only the intellectual tools he provided, but the courage he had to use these tools himself. As an outspoken intellectual, who questioned authority and the status quo at every turn, we must keep Hall’s intellectual spirit alive by refusing to fall into the pitfalls of complacency or to ever accept that the struggle over meaning and representation is an abstract pursuit. Instead, now, more than ever, we must take Stuart Hall at his word when he forced us to consider our own role in relation not just to theory, but to the ways that we live out our lives in the world. With the passing of Stuart Hall, his own words should leave us with a reminder, a reminder that Hall put to us the difficult questions of our time. One in particular looms ahead in North America, as we continue to confront and debate the meaning and significance of immigration. As Stuart Hall remarked:

“The one thing we are not is guaranteed in the truth of what we do. Indeed, I believe that without that kind of guarantee we would need to begin again, begin again in another space, begin again from a different set of presuppositions to try to ask ourselves what might it be in human identification, in human practice, in the building of human alliances, which without the guarantee, without the certainty of religion or science or anthropology or genetics or biology or the appearance of your eyes, without any guarantees at all, might enable us to conduct an ethically responsible human discourse and practice about race in our society. What might it be like to conduct that, without having at our backs just a touch of a certainty that even if we look as if we were wrong if we only had access to the code something would have told us in the beginning what we should do.”

Black Hawk Hancock
Department of Sociology, DePaul University