Elusive Masculinity: Being Black Middle-Class Men in a “Free” Society
Peace Kiguwa and Sam Nkosi
This article draws on case studies from a cohort of Black middle-class South African men living in Johannesburg, South Africa. It seeks to explore and understand some of the nuances of living as a member of a particular class category that is both idealized and valorized by many in a post-apartheid context. These nuances, we argue, include the hidden experiences and feelings of failure that some of these men recount as part of their performative configurations of success. These subjective experiences and feelings of failure are further enmeshed in intersecting idealizations of successful Black masculinity, that are both imposed by others and by themselves. We argue that these intersections highlight the importance of the configurations of race, class, and gender in an account of what it means to be Black middle-class men in this context.
South Africa; Black middle class; men; affect
The social psychologist, Kopano Ratele (2005) has rightly argued that the subject matter of the discipline of psychology fails in its promise to fully and courageously engage (Black) interiority in ways that attest to the complex range of what it means to be human for oneself and in relation to others. Ratele is at pains to broaden our common sense and disciplinary understandings of the interior self—grappling with intimacy and self in ways that go beyond the sexual to incorporate a more complex and insidious form of self-understanding and knowledge that is intertwined with the social, psychical, ideological, structural, and affective aspects of everyday living. Intimacy in this understanding is more than sexual; it is about one’s knowledge of the body—both of oneself and the other. It is also about relations of subjectification that make it impossible for us to be intimate with others and with ourselves. Black middle-class men in this context arguably have lived and continue to live through a complex web of changes that influence ambiguous, contradictory, and sometimes impossibly unattainable configurations of masculinity. Ratele (2013) argues that dominant masculinity studies have pointed to this notion of unattainable masculinities and urges a more concerted focus on direct engagements with this issue.
In considering these arrangements of self and the other, this article explores the complex intersections of a cohort of Black middle-class men living in Johannesburg, South Africa. This cohort of men presents us with a critical analysis of some of the nuances and tensions that accompany popular understandings of material success in post-apartheid South Africa. The case analyses further show that the intersections of race, class, and gender enmesh in ways that render the subjective sense of satisfaction with this socioeconomic marker of success at times impossible, fraught instead with tension and a sense of failure.
Participants were Black males between the ages of 30 and 45 residing in Johannesburg and self-identifying as middle-class. They also embodied multiple intersections of sexual orientation, occupation, marital status, and social position in their families and among others. Focus group discussions were conducted and focused on exploring the subjective meanings and struggles that Black middle-class men ascribe to their self and positioning as “other.” Both thematic and discursive analyses of the data were conducted to engage the psychosocial complexities of Black middle-class masculinity as it is experienced and constructed. Affect theory is used relative to the discursive analysis as a way of charting experiences of Black middle-class masculinity that emphasize the subjective and emotional experience of class, race, and gender.
OVERVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
The Black Middle Class in Post-Apartheid South Africa
Although López and Weinstein (2012) caution against a rigid and blanket understanding of what constitutes Black middle-class status in post-apartheid South Africa, there have been several attempts to engage and make sense of this social category. Authors such as Visagie and Posel (2013) and Seekings and Nattrass (2005), for example, locate the Black middle class in terms of its occupation of a middle strata relative to income generation and distribution. Simpson (2016) emphasizes not only the distribution of income and occupation but also highlights the role of higher education skill acquisition in the accruement of cultural and economic capital among the middle-class population. Bourdieu’s (1984) influence on how we think about the place of class in the capacity to attain other forms of social capital has been useful to broadening our understanding of the Black middle class.
Ongoing debates and contentions of what the Black middle class means in a post-apartheid context have included how attributes of social class intersect with other attributes such as language, geographical location, lifestyle, and taste (see Iqani 2012, 2017; Ware and Back 2002; Ratele 2015 among others) that have in turn highlighted the struggles—social and personal—of navigating multiple worlds and constructs of identity (see Khunou 2016; Canham and Williams 2017; Ratele 2015; Stevens and Lockhart 2003). Accusations of being labeled “coconuts” have influenced these struggles of navigation and self-construct. This label also suggests the tensions within the Black community regarding dynamics of social class and group solidarity and bond. Another term, “black diamonds” (UCT Unilever Institute 2007), highlights the common perception of the rising Black middle class as primarily interested in material consumption and movement into White suburban spaces.
These constructs and ideas about what it means to be part of the Black middle class have come under some contestation and challenge by scholars who highlight not only the struggles of class mobility (see Khunou 2016) but also demonstrate that the nuances of intersectionality and social class’s intertwining with other social markers of identity and experience in society, such as race and gender, complicate these simplistic notions of “coconuts” and “black diamonds.” Considering the added complexity of reimagining masculinity in a sociohistorical period when gender and gender equality are once again at the forefront of the country’s social imaginary, it is necessary to revisit meanings and experiences of Black middle-class masculinity as it is articulated by self-identified individuals.
MASCULINITY STUDIES AND AFFECT
In his seminal 1952 work, Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon (1986) draws our attention to the importance of thinking through the meanings of relations of oppression and domination via affective technologies. These relations of oppression and domination “lay bare the anomalies of affect that are responsible for [their] structure” (10). In highlighting this dimension of analysis, Fanon shows that relations of oppression and domination do not just take on structural, material, and discursive forms but also—and perhaps more importantly—affective forms. This has much implication for how we address sociohistorical and continued configurations of inequality and their different and new formations in society.
In making the argument for an affective investigation of Black middle-class men’s configurations of subjectivity in a post-apartheid context, we draw attention to several intersecting and at times conflictual affective investments that inform how Black men negotiate, aspire to, and defend particular formations of their identities as men. These investments include Black men’s location in and attachment to their positioning within families as protectors and providers. The narrative accounts further reveal how these Black men talk about their transition into a perceived middle-class status in terms of enjoyment and ambivalence. We show that their underlying concern with embodying successful Black masculinities is part of an affective technology that makes it impossible to embody other forms of masculinity that are configured via intimacy and vulnerability.
In highlighting the affective dimensions of these relations of class mobility, we adopt Reeser and Gottzén’s (2018) distinction between affective and emotional intensities. Work on masculinity and emotion has a long history in the literature that predominantly engages emotions as feelings that men either have or do not have. These present or absent emotions and feelings in turn cause or instigate certain behaviors in men that may be either desirable or problematic (see Reeser and Gottzén 2018; Hearn 1993; Kimmel 1994, for overview). Many of these studies focus on the emotional intensities of individual men to understand the role and function of emotions in influencing and dictating men’s behavior in different contexts. In highlighting the affective intensity of processes and practices of subjectification, Reeser and Gottzén (2018) point to an added dimension that such a distinct conceptualization misses—the undefined bodily energies that are part of the transmission of emotion, that make possible other affective intensities, that are able to affect other bodies among other things. Affective intensity then is concerned not only with the sensational aspects of feeling an emotion but also the function and capacity of bodily sensation to make other realities and sensations possible or not. It is also the capacity to have bodies become affected by each other (Ahmed 2004). Ratele (2005) explores what intimacy could mean or not mean in a context of racial domination and denial of bodily integrity in apartheid South Africa. In his analysis of Black subjects’ lives in a hostel from Matshoba’s (1981) To Kill a Man’s Pride, Ratele argues that intimacy takes on different shades in the touching and inspection of the Black workers by the White men in the Pass Office:
…it is possible for there to be (a form of) ‘intimacy’ without attachment, connectedness, warmth or reciprocity. It is possible for people to relate to one another and live together without one or both being present in the encounter—in a certain sense, apart-heid (Ratele 2005:567)
This is in a scene where the Black workers “have to show their private parts to another man in order to be permitted the right to work. In other words their private parts are not private” (567). This particular moment is made even more poignant in the tacit awareness among all the Black bodies—male and female—gathered in the room on different business. The tacit agreement to not see the humiliation of the other as they leave the room, scurry past other lined bodies, to pretend not to know what has transpired in the room before. Ratele argues that such a not knowing, not seeing is necessary “if a semblance of self-respect and respect for one another is to be possible” (2005:567). Simply put, configuration and enactment of masculinity rests on the capacity to not see, to not know, to tolerate denigration against one’s self and body. It is this capacity for particular enactments and spaces to become affected by and to in turn affect other bodies that speaks to the insidiousness of affective intensity. Affective intensity has the capacity to create unexpected relationalities and formations of self in ways that may be difficult to define or describe. Traditional emotion studies tend to engage emotions as residing within the individual (e.g., angry Black men who enact their anger through violence) and fail to fully engage how emotions are relational, how they move between bodies, how one or more bodies may affect other bodies so that something else is created, made possible or not, or how emotions may be transformed into something else. Circulating intensities of shame, disgust, and anxiety that are experienced and transmitted in visceral depth in the Pass Office scene that Ratele describes, for example, help us understand how Blackness as a sociopolitical and psychical aspect of subjectivity manifests in bodily reaction. These undercurrents of affect are fundamental to understanding continued racial formations of self that disavow taken-for-granted practices of being, such as intimacy—if we read the capacity to be intimate as a capacity to see another body. Understanding how men respond to different affective moments thus takes on more complex meanings that transcend simple analysis of their emotions but rather understanding how bodies become implicated in myriad bodily sensational, emotional, discursive, material, and collective responses.
Returning to Fanon’s (1952) attention to affect, why should we be interested in configurations of race and class in masculinities via affect? Is there some value in reading formations of masculinity in post-apartheid South Africa through affective intensities? We would argue that understanding the inscription of class transitions as part of any self is enhanced with an analysis of how attachments, investments, and defenses are made possible via affective processes and technologies. How the self comes to be inscribed and marked by class is a concern that the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1984) engages with consistently in his oeuvre. Bourdieu’s analysis of habitus implicitly highlights the utility of considering the place of affect in the formation of habitus (1984). Layton (2006) notes this omission on the function and role of emotion in Bourdieu’s analysis of habitus: “it is clear that emotions are central to his [Bourdieu’s] investigation of what reproduces the social status quo, perhaps even more central than taste” (39). In his explorations of the anxieties that are inscribed in the formations of class identities and the conflicts that these are imbued with, Bourdieu does demonstrate the place and function of emotion to the practice of social reproduction and inequality.
What are the entanglements of affect and class mobility for Black men in post-apartheid South Africa? Such entanglements are made even more complex with the intersecting formations of gender and sexuality. In a society that differentially demarcates inclusion and exclusion of bodies based on these arbitrary and yet material social categories, what modes of citizenship do Black middle-class men enjoy? What affective investments are made by these men, and in what ways do these investments trouble practices of freedom? In addressing these intersecting questions, we pay attention to the affective strategies and emotions that underlie how a cohort of Black middle-class men narrate their class transition, their enactments of successful masculinity, as well as their failures to attain idealized versions of masculinity.
Four separate focus groups were conducted with a total cohort of fourteen men. Nine participants comprised the first focus group with the second author, and five participants were part of a separate focus group with the first author. The discussions centered on thematic self-understandings of what it means to belong to a Black middle-class category more generally. The second phase of discussions centered on self-understandings of Black masculinity in the context of class mobility. The separate discussions were about an hour and a half long .
ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
Affective Configurations of Class in Men’s Accounts of Social Mobility
The affective configuration of social class has been well documented in the literature and perhaps prominently in the work of Bourdieu and colleagues in their ethnography of social suffering in the world (Bourdieu et al. 1999). As early as the 1970s, Sennett and Cobb (1972) and Rubin (1976) highlighted the need to explore in more concerted detail the affective dimensions of social class. Sennett and Cobb (1972), in their notion of “hidden class injury,” show us that there are dimensions of class identities and navigation of these identities that span beyond the material transition into class. The psychic economy of social class includes an analysis of the deep-seated ways that one comes to inhabit one’s social class, so that we embody shame, guilt, anxiety, envy, desire, and fantasy among other affective modes of being and circulation. In The Weight of the World (1999), Bourdieu and his team of researchers explore the emotional and affective dimensions of social positioning in society that are marked by class hierarchies. This psychical manifestation of social class—as embodied via affects and emotions of envy, shame, guilt, resentment, and despair, among other affects—has been further explored by scholars of social inequality (see Sayer 2005; Reay 1998, 2001; Skeggs 2004 among others). This body of work argues for what Reay (2005) has described as the “psychic landscape of social class” (911)—a landscape that considers how social class is also in the emotions and embodied identities of individuals. In her analysis of epistemic access via raced and classed identities of Black students at university in a post-apartheid context, Kiguwa (2014) shows the debilitating and also generative function of affective attachments, investments, and defensiveness in these students’ navigation of the academic field. The study demonstrates that students often enter spaces of the academy with psychical relationships to their demarcated social class that in turn influence how particular relations of dominance are reinforced and challenged within the field.
Post-apartheid South Africa’s sociohistory of inclusion and exclusion of race is further complicated in the contemporary moment with the intersections of other inequalities that include class, gender, sexuality, and geography. These intersecting myriad inequalities influence how social groups live and work together in ways that affect how social citizenship is experienced. For example, Canham (2017) shows the taken-for-granted struggles that many Black (and working-class) lesbians living in the South African townships experience every day in comparison to their White counterparts and other Black (and middle-class) lesbians living in the urban spaces. A difference of geographical location determines the degree and nature of violence against one’s body and the significance of visibility for one’s material safety (Judge 2019). The South African photographer Zanele Muholi has documented this everyday, normalized violence that the bodies of marginalized lesbians face by virtue of their social class, race, sexuality, and geographical location (Muholi 2004).
In building on these important explorations of the intersections of social class with other categories of social positioning, we turn a particular eye on a social class not traditionally the subject of analysis of social reproduction in this context: the Black middle-class male. Elsewhere, Lucey and Reay (2000) also make a similar observation when they argue that middle-class subjectivity may be so enshrined in “cloaks of normality” that it is difficult to see how this formation of identity is cloaked in a kind of “defensiveness” (139–40). Khunou (2016) proposes that the Black middle class in South Africa is an unstable group because it is involved in the continuous negotiation with external factors that put their identities at stake. She mentions that the external factors they deal with include the unstable working relations due to race relations. They are the group that may have experienced career progression as a result of policies like Black Economic Empowerment and Employment Equity, which suggest that they face animosity from those who are opposed to these policies. They also have to negotiate identities that come with urban and rural existence because some still have parents who reside in the rural areas while they work in the city. They have to contend with supporting the extended families as well as the demands that come with having their own urban families.
The majority of the participants in the present study self-identify as middle class based on their income and occupation but narrate stories of transitioning into this class status from a working-class background. Only three of the participants describe themselves as having been born into a middle-class family. In listening to the accounts of this cohort of participants, we were attentive to the ways in which they recounted their social class transition from working class to middle class in the advent of democracy in the country. These recountings are interesting in the ways in which they implied participants’ familiarity with popular social discursive constructs of what it means to be working class. These constructs were often denigrated when discussed in relation to racial identity and social mobility. For example, Dumisani and Dennis, in an exchange with each other in the focus group below, defend their current positions as Black middle class against a pathologized conceptualization of working-class positionality that is seen to be inadequate and incompetent:
Dumisani: [laughing] …the way I’ve become …[eh] you know…[laughing]…
Rest of group: [start laughing]
Dumisani: You know…[still laughing]
Dennis: I know what you mean… you become so comfortable with who you are now that people sometimes forget where you came from…eish…[laughing]
Dumisani: Exactly… people think you have always been this person. This person who has made it, you have all the trappings of someone who has made it, you know… and it feels good. It looks good. And people forget [short laugh]… but you don’t, hey. You don’t forget. You know very well where you have come from and what it took to get you there. And that is part of the frustration and work that you are struggling to overcome. Because you don’t want to appear as a … [1.5 minute pause] person who was given things, right [group nods]… you don’t want to be that person.
Facilitator: What person is that?
Dennis: It’s like I’ve been in the business now for the past seven years, but when I first came into the company, I was the only Black male. My team were all Black women and a few White men and some coloreds. And you come in and think, there is something to prove here, you know. I am not an Affirmative employment; I am not here to fill some quota. And in my situation I did not necessarily have the education to back me up. It is only now that I am working and completing my education. I came in on my other skills but then to try and explain and justify that to the rest of the team. You just know they are thinking: how lucky you are to get in here just like that!
Dumisani: That’s it, exactly. You may appreciate where you come from and the hustle you had to do to get there. But don’t make a mistake of thinking it’s all good. It is a struggle to now separate yourself from that, it’s like you are in, now what? You have to step up, you can’t be that person in that space. I mean you can tell your kids, you know, because I want them to know that this is where their dad comes from, this is the hustle he made for you, kind of thing. But in the other space, no [shaking head]… that is not something you just tell people.
Tumi: The irony for me though is that I am proud of the thing that they think I should be ashamed of. I am proud that I come from where I come from. I may not have the MBA qualification or whatever, but I was raised in the hustle [laughing], I know how to hustle. That is why I am where I am today. So the kinds of skills that I bring… [shaking head]… vastly different from what many graduates are bringing into the world of work these days. And no one teaches you that in books. You learn the hard way, you learn this is how the hustle needs to happen. I have made business decisions that have resulted in huge loss but also huge gains. It’s all a hustle. It’s a question of what outweighs the other.
Alex: That’s it exactly [nodding head].
In the above exchange, Dumisani and Dennis attempt to explain the “bad feelings” (Tate 2014:2479) that arise and circulate within themselves and their surroundings. These feelings are discussed as part of a material and discursive entry and occupation of a space that they identify as alien to their working-class bodies. Tate (2014) has argued that part of the (re)production of negative affects for Black bodies includes the “location in the space of abjection because of their skin” (2479). This abjection of one’s body includes the circulation of emotions such as shame, fear, anxiety, and disgust that form part of what she describes as an “affective burden” that Black bodies are invited to carry. This affective burden, we would argue, constitutes part of an awareness and internalization of one’s social group as alien to that space that is part of a broader sociodiscursive technique of surveillance. This surveillance is part of a relational network of straddling two gazes of identification (see Canham and Williams 2017). The exchange highlights participants’ feeling that a working-class identity and background must not only be defended against accusations of incompetency but must also remain hidden. The affective burden that is created and circulates forms part of this intricate self-surveillance that demands the individual monitor himself in his performance of competency. Scholars writing about the class relationships of working-class students in elite universities also identify this overlooked aspect of class identification to understand the functions of emotions such as guilt, sense of being a token, uncertainty, and so on within the field (see Skeggs 1997; Plummer 2000; Reay 2001). In their reflections on their class transitions, the participants in the current study attempt to grapple with both positive and negative affects that are part of a participation in a cultural understanding of “success.” In such a context where “you have all the trappings of someone who has made it [,…] it feels good. It looks good”; such feeling is constantly paired against a fear and anxiety that the performance of success with its implied trappings of competency will be dismissed, rendered a sham. And yet, both Alex and Tumi refuse this distinction of a racial and class affective economy that subdues and stifles. They discuss their entry and identification as middle-class in terms of a cultural capital (Bourdieu 1984) that is not explicit but nevertheless present—the capacity to hustle. The very working-class identification that the other men in the group discuss through defensiveness and sense of shame is here claimed as an asset that mediates how to successfully navigate this transition into different social class.
WITH CLASS COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITIES: A GOOD MAN PROVIDES
The above constructs of class identity mired in a sense of inadequacy and not being good enough take on a performative affective dimension in how individuals talk about their social mobility to the middle class. This identity is further entangled in anxiety and shame that is functional in the self-surveillance of the individual in their everyday organizational context. These negative affects are not intrinsic to Black male middle-class subjectivity but rather tied to broader sociodiscursive distinctions that exist about the working and middle class. The added intersection of race further complicates how these distinctions are reinforced and become part of a racial affective economy that negates Blackness and not just class status. And yet even this inscription is further entangled in other constructs of what a successful Black man looks like in a new economic-political dispensation. Underlying the accounts of being Black and middle class were dominant constructs of an ideal masculinity that is defined by capacity to provide materially for one’s family:
Thabo: For me it has to be a family man... a home that has a wife and children and he looks after… As a man you look beyond himself.
Peter: It’s about accountability… it starts from the family values… Doing duties as espoused by society at large… those are parameters that cannot be compromised.
Sandile: A leader who serves other people.
Elsewhere, in a focus group, in response to the facilitator pointing out that practice as a family member with responsibilities is not specific to one’s social class, Tshepo responds that “it is now more about the personal morality of it.” Upon probing, he explains thus:
Xolani: A man who is not in a position to take care of his family, for whatever reason, but mostly because he cannot afford to, then you can understand that this is not feasible, you understand. So while it is sad of course, because we should definitely handle our business, we are not always able to and should not be held to account. But now, here I am, a man who runs his own business…. eh… and this has its own challenges but it also affords me the opportunity to do things, you understand? I can take care of my family; I can step up in my community. So for me the moral obligation is different for these kinds of men. As I was growing my business… tjo, its now almost eleven years… I was unemployed for about three years before that. I was fired from my previous job and I decided that I would work for myself from there on. But during that time of unemployment, life was hard, I’m not gonna lie. And the family, they understood that. So my partner at the time… we are married now… we had our first child already by then. Yes, so my partner she stepped up. She took two jobs working for us, for her family. And now, it’s her time to step back because I got this. This is what for me it really is all about… handling your business as a man.
Zola: He believed it was his responsibility to provide a house, the roof over his family (referring to his stepfather)…. I cannot afford to drive a car if I don’t have decent accommodation for my family.
Tshepo: But look I think in most of my growing up years was sisters and my mom. So my mom schooled me very properly, that look a man, in the house takes care of things.
Chinedu: A man is supposed to look after his family, get yourself a job, meaning providing for them, they must have food, and they have shelter.
Mathew: A man is a provider.
Vusi: You must be able to take care of your family such that if you die, they can have a home and their lives can go on... Adding value at home by buying stuff.
While the conversation on the surface centers on the material freedoms that being in a middle-class position affords, at the heart of these identifications lays an implicit attachment to idealized masculinity that reproduces hegemonic and heterosexist meanings of what it means to be a man. For example, in the following exchange, when a well-known local gay male celebrity is mentioned, Thabo and Peter refuse his categorization as a man. This in spite of the facilitator pointing out that he is a successful man who has taken on the social and familial responsibilities that they had been advocating for earlier on:
Thabo: It’s difficult to classify him as a man when he does not classify himself as a man.
Peter: He is a bad example.
Thabo: His orientation and the way he views himself based on what I can see; he does not think of himself as a man.
In this exchange, a heterosexist notion of masculinity is inscribed that is used to dismiss other formations of masculinity that, on the surface, ascribe to the ideals of familial responsibility but fail in the ideal of heterosexual identification and embodiment. This latter embodiment is again evoked in how Tshepo equates a sense of feeling good to the capacity to provide as a man:
Tshepo: Look it actually makes me feel good [own emphasis]. Because it’s what I was taught. And I practiced it for a while and that whatever money I have I need to look out for my family.
Tshepo: So the same still applies today, when I get paid, when month-end grocery times come, I’m the one buying groceries.
Tshepo: It was instilled in me. So, and look, it gives me that identity [own emphasis]. And I guess because it was affirmed that that’s what a man does.
This feeling of success and responsibility is further discussed in terms of a responsibility to not be cavalier about spending. In this instance, the participants inscribe and center themselves as individuals who have witnessed different political and economic dispensations in the country that in turn demands a different kind of attachment to material things:
Peter: But I think for us to your point, I think ours is actually it’s a journey that began from a very disadvantaged and tentative beginning. So you look at the political and social structure of where we come from. So the 1994 dispensation, so a lot of things were not actually exposed to you, so malls mushrooming and everything, I mean they are still mushrooming now.
Tokollo: So I think it speaks to a lot of people within our circle of friends, families, who started off from the ground and are still working their way to the top, to become middle class, I’m one of them, trying to become one of… I think even, not even when you go into business, but when you start working, you speak about when you start buying a townhouse, golf because your peers are moving towards that level. That could classify as rewarding yourself too quickly. I mean you are in a position where you can actually build, not only yourself but also your assets as well.
Sandile: But you know what, sometimes you know, I look at the TV, look at the ads that are there. They are just there to drive us in terms of spending because everyone knows that you know Black people they are there to spend. Once you expose them to this they’ll spend it impulsively, without even thinking, so that’s the challenge.
Thabo: I think that’s a perception that we have in terms of we think that you know having these flashy cars it makes you think that I have arrived.
Peter: It’s a perception. I think, I promise you every man; we are a product of our environment and the circumstances. And the markets detail these things.
The extracts above identify the attachments that often come with access to material capital as markers of success. These attachments to material consumerism are identified by the participants as undesirable and detrimental to an authentic formation of Black middle-class masculinity. Access here is considered an impediment to other more desirable practices of access that entail providing for one’s family and not just a blanket consumption of material things.
BEING A FATHER WHILE LONGING FOR A FATHER: MEANINGS OF LOSS
While the participants discuss the material benefits of being middle class primarily in terms of a capacity to provide—a capacity that attaches to how they self-identify and position themselves as successful Black men—they also poignantly discuss the struggles and challenges that they experience as men incapable of demonstrating intimacy. This struggle and challenge was discussed primarily in terms of an inability to be emotionally available in their intimate relationships as well as in their ambiguity and anxieties as fathers. The latter was further discussed in relation to a longing for an absent father in their lives and a continued absence that they speak of with regret and longing:
Chinedu: We were taught what to do without the how to; it was expected of us to do certain things without heart.
Vusi: You only discover when you get there that I did not get training for this.
Tshepo: Look it’s, in my case it was very recent, I’ve got cousins, but they had their life to live. So there’s a cousin of mine, and I made it very clear why we need to have a relationship. You know it’s not because I really need anything material from him, I don’t need money from him, I don’t need anything else and I explain exactly that. Look, you know you know me I’m your uncle’s son and I grew up in this kinda space. What I need now, cause see things are happening in my life, I need that person I can talk to when it comes to specifically marriage things.
Tokollo: My wife says I am heartless… I don’t show my emotions that much. We never get to the part where we are taught how to approach sensitive topics or emotional stuff.
Peter: We were told that a man does not cry…. You do not express your emotions.
Thabo: It’s a very deep sense of vulnerability. I don’t want people to see me vulnerable.
The affective entanglements and negotiations that the extracts above describe point to some of the tensions and contradictions that underlie dominant hegemonic masculinity practice. Indeed, the Black feminist scholar bell hooks (2004:6) reminds us that:
The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.
And yet, the ritualization of killing off emotion and the expression of emotion in men is affectively imbalanced such that many men struggle with the contradictions thereof in silence. In the exchange below, participant talk highlights how the internalization of idealized Black masculinity takes on affective dimensions in the context of loss and absence:
Sandile: …am still crying to watch a soccer match with my father. Chances are I won’t be a responsible father because I have never seen anyone playing that role… I am freestyling it. I still feel like I was deprived of an opportunity of being told what a man is…[…] I’m an old man but hey, you know but I’ll never get that opportunity just to go and watch a soccer match with my father. I’m still crying for that.
Peter: My current marriage reference point is how my grandfather dealt with it.
Thabo: I don’t have a reference point… what I do with children? What does a father do? It almost paralyzes you… I don’t even know what not to do.
Tokollo: My father was always working.
Sandile: It was, you know what, it was a bit of a challenge and you know, even when my wife told me that you know, I’m pregnant it was a mission. I said what because I was afraid of that responsibility cause I was deprived of that opportunity of having that father-son relationship. So even when I met my father, this year in Jan, this word accountability... I couldn’t understand the word accountability because that was the first word my father said when we met in Jan. He said hey boy, I had to be accountable to my wife because I was married. I said accountable, what do you mean?
In the exchanges we see how the inhabitation of an affective economy that is defined by loss and longing hinders other affective attachments that affect capacity to be intimate with another. In these accounts, an underlying apathy and anxiety is also evident in how the men identify and inscribe what it means to be a father. Thus, on the one hand, while the participants are able to recount examples of their successful attainment of masculinity—because they are able to provide for their families and the material well-being of their children—there is also an ambiguous sense of failure that underlies this narrative performance. This failure is tied to the psychic sense of loss and disavowal from an absent father in their lives as well as in the inscribing of an emotionless masculinity. And yet, in the following extract, Thabo shares his process of coming to terms with personal loss, which in turn opens up other expressions within the group on men’s loss of emotional expressions:
Thabo: …crying it’s actually a very important outlet in my life right now… we lost an unborn child. I cried but it was difficult to get there…. But I’m saying, for me to get to where I’m comfortable being emotional in front of my wife took me time, whether right or wrong, I’m not saying it’s the ideal way, but I’m saying it took me time to get there, to get to a point where it does not matter anymore what anybody else says. But growing up, you mentioned the fact that when I grew up I hated crying. It was the worst thing that I could do and I tried to suppress it with everything that I was and as I grew and matured and started to understand things a little bit better, it’s actually a very important outlet for me right now in my life. My wife and I went through an experience where we lost a child, she miscarried a child, it was a very traumatic thing for me. Here I am, I want this child, and the child is not coming anymore. You know the excitement of, I’m going to be a father and then this child is not there and I wept. I wept for a very long time and my wife was actually the opposite. She was there comforting, “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. It’s okay”… (Laughs). But it took me time to get there and it’s not an easy thing for a guy because of how we’ve been wired and what we’ve been told, to say you don’t do these things and it’s difficult for you to then get there and be vulnerable. Uhm, but but it is such a liberating thing.
Peter: You know what the most fascinating thing is about these things that we tend to subscribe to; none of us have stopped, what’s the worst that could happen if you were to do it. I mean supposedly, the only thing that they can look at you, no one’s gonna hit you, they can either talk and say that you weak or whatever but no one has actually said let’s slam the brakes on this thing and let’s ask the question why but you are not, again you were told not to question their advice.
Sandile: No one has ever thought what the worst that can happen is. As you grow and mature you kind of create your own idea—and question what you were told growing up.
Affect researcher Brian Massumi (1995) discusses how the body is affective in the sense of having the “capacity to affect and be affected” (96). Here we want a reading of function and role of affect to include the absent body as embodied in the absent father figure. Indeed, the reading of social space as well may include an understanding of how a body’s entry into social material space may also entail affective arrangements that pit different racialized and gendered bodies against each other in particular ways. The conversations with the participants show these configurations of intensity and influence when a body is both present and absent and the emotions of fear, loss, and anxiety that come with it. While Massumi (1995) is clear about the distinction between affect and emotion, other scholars such as Sara Ahmed (2004) engage both affect and emotion as inseparable and prefer an analysis that addresses the ways that emotions attach to particular bodies and how these in turn influence the ways that bodies may be circulated or become legible to us. In this then, Ahmed is also highlighting the relationality that is intrinsic to affective arrangement. Emotions circulate relative to an object—whether present or absent. The meanings that we draw from the absent father figure or the White male boss, for example, and what these figures mean for our understandings as particular versions of (Black) men is important. Reading constructs of Black middle-class masculinity, therefore, must be read in tandem with other objects, discourses, and meanings that imbue specific emotions in Black men and how they self-understand class mobility and being a man.
CONCLUSION: CHARTING ELUSIVE MASCULINITIES
The findings and analyses highlight some of the psychosocial complexities of being a Black middle-class man in a post-apartheid context. These complexities include con(de)structive roles in the deployment of certain affective economies that are selectively attached to Black male middle-class bodies. This has implications for how the participants perform and experience intimacy in their relationships as well as embody their social class positionalities. Second, embodied gendered pain intersects with race and class configurations to become functional in sustaining passionate attachments to versions of hegemonic masculinity while lamenting the “impossibility” of fully attaining this masculine ideal. Third, the negation of alternate masculine attachments in turn deploys similar affective technologies of governance that do the work of erasure of nonheteronormative masculinity. These modes of affective technologies must be grappled with if we are to fully engage the broader governmental logics of Black masculine middle-“classness” in a society fraught with sociohistorical and psychosocial tensions related to the idea of freedom and what it means to be a Black man.
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 South African derogatory term used to refer to an individual or group considered “Black on the outside and White on the inside.”
 An apartheid relic that was site of brutality for Black South Africans. This is the office that legitimated the right to move, work, and live in designated areas of the country.
 Pseudonyms are used throughout in reference to participants.
Peace Kiguwa, University of the Witwatersrand
Sam Nkosi, University of the Witwatersrand