What is the intention of Tyler Perry in his portrayal of Madea in his highly successful movies series? Equally, what are movie producers and executives attempting to illustrate to audiences about black men dressed as women? Of greater importance, what is James McBride trying to convey to readers about black men, their masculinity, and their identity in the context of their role in modern society. Black masculinity seems to be an important theme in many artistic and literary works to date. This fact dates back to colonial obsession with everything black especially skin pigmentation and sexuality. The black body stands today as a fascinating model of physical prowess and sexual promiscuity. However, it appears that black masculinity is suppressed in most literary and artistic works. It is suppressed primarily through the presentation of black men as women or with feminine qualities. It is almost as if the only way whites will accept black men in society is if they dress like women and/ or possess unmistakable feminine characteristics.
In the context of James McBride’s Good Lord Bird this theme operates in Henry’s escape from slavery. In the larger context of society, it operates in many of the successful acting careers of several black male actors.
It appears so that James McBride shares in the fear of black masculinity as do his white counterparts. Europeans have always been both fearful of black masculinity, but also fascinated with it. The fear, specifically, is what prompts whites to consider the success of black men only in the condition that they act less masculine and less aggressive. This demonstrates to whites that they have nothing to fear. The history of America reveals that whites fear aggressive black men. Of the most important examples include the death of Malcolm X and the deconstruction of the Black Panther Party. Both Malcolm X and members of the Black Panthers exercised aggressive means in proving their points. This obviously did not conclude well for either party. On the contrary, black men who act less aggressively and less masculine have a considerably easier time.
Henry’s disguise as a girl in McBride’s Good Lord Bird stands as one of the many notable literary examples of suppression of black masculinity. McBride could indeed be suggesting a number of things by presenting henry disguised as a woman, but based on the plot and context of the story it is yet another...