One Friday night a few years ago, a few friends threw a surprise party to mark our recent promotion as a coordinating producer at the network. It was a very cute soiree at Cafeteria on 17th Street, which at the time was fairly popular with models and gym boys. All the more reason to go, right? Later, we walked one avenue over to SBNY. After a few Evians, it was time to pay the water bill. The downstairs bathroom featured open, mosaic-inspired urinals so it was fairly easy to size up the guy standing next to you—if you were so inclined. So let's illustrate the truly Woody Allen moment: yours truly, 6’4, 200 and some change, pumped from the gym, looking quite regulation in our usual uniform at the time: Engineered Levis slung low, black D&G tank top and matching boxers, and a do-rag. (Brooklyn meets Chelsea. Just gay, right?) Despite there being several other free spaces, a short, balding white guy with over-sized glasses and a pocket protector walked up next to us and unzipped. Noticing the looks in his direction—or possibly the eye-rolling from yours truly—he quickly announced in the loudest, nelliest voice this side of Paul Lynde: “I know what you're all thinking. Big black man. Little white guy. BUT I WON'T LET HIM LOOK!"
Everyone laughed at the irony and shrill delivery, because it confirmed what we all were knew: he wanted to size up the big black man standing next to him. That's the premise in Scott Poulson-Bryant's fabulously well-written new treatise that dropped last week: Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America. "We are still at the center of this unspoken question that gets asked all the time," the author writes in his prologue, which is a letter to Emmett Till, the black teenager who lynched in 1950s Mississippi ostensibly for whistling at a white woman. "And often that question centers around sexual behavior."
The pervasive mythology surrounding black men is that we're all hugely endowed; the construct pervades almost every facet of social interactions, from standing in line at the urinal to competition within the workplace. The result is that black men are often handicapped by the stereotype and it's had an enormous influence on how we perceive ourselves and each other.