by Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D.
Last semester one of my students dropped by for an office visit and, to my great surprise and annoyance, sex came up again and again.
Yes, sex. Like when, sensing his restlessness and wistfulness, I asked him how he finds “peace” so that he can achieve a state of mind conducive to studying. (Even though he was failing my class, it was clear to me that he has a great deal of promise.) He responded that he likes to drive around in his car, watch sport competitions, “and I like sex.”
Then, as I listened to the student degrade women — all the while trying to keep the revulsion I felt to a minimum — I couldn’t help but wonder why this student felt so comfortable as he sat there talking to me — his professor whom he barely knew — about his personal sex life. Nothing I did to redirect the conversation toward something having to do with how to improve his dismal classroom performance worked.
In thinking about this conversation, I began to recognize that sitting alongside this student’s woman-hating diatribe was a deep, almost overwhelming, longing for a human connection that is meaningful and sustaining. One of the main problems, however, is that he has mentally degenerated to a “hustler” state where meaningful relationships are especially difficult to establish and maintain. He doesn’t “trust” women, they are “hoodrats” who “betray” him, and they “won’t act right,” yet he readily admits that neither does he. But my student couldn’t think analytically about how his behavior contributes to his inability to attain that which he so deeply desires.
Also troubling, I thought, is the way that sex in this culture — especially among people my student’s age — has become so pornographic in concept. So many young men attempt to experience mere sensation without any thought toward humanistic concerns. Sadly, many of them mistakenly think a so-called “no-strings attached, feel-good” sexual relationship is exactly what they want.
More to the point, I had to question why this society continues to be so fixated on making black men the sexual “animals” of this culture. This society has always conceptualized black males in demeaning physical terms — the stud with unlimited sexual prowess, for example — and so much so that many of these young men seem to have internalized a warped sense of their own humanity. As another one of my male psychology students put it during a classroom discussion on gender issues (after which several of my female students thoroughly castigated him), “It’s just sex.”
Just sex? Sex is one of the most intimate acts two human beings can engage in – an unveiling of the soul and spirit, as well as the mind and body. It is this notion that “it’s just sex” that has so many people confused and unhappy. People are so wrapped up in their wants and desires, that, ironically, they don’t understand the basic needs attached to those desires. The fact is, many people lack a sound analysis of sexuality and feelings, but black males are encouraged by the American culture to forego such analysis, and, we must insist upon asking why this continues to be the case and what is the psychological and social cost to these young men?
I ended the meeting with my student by trying to get him to “analyze” his situation, and as is my way, I gave him some “vocabulary words” to look up and define. The list of words? “Barbaric,” “savage,” “animalistic,” “primitive” and “Neanderthal.” I figured if he wanted to continue operating on the level he seemed to be advocating, why not “keep it real” for him and clue him in to how others may evaluate his “game.”
He balked, demurred, and (thankfully) appeared quite insulted when I handed him the list. “‘Barbaric,’ ‘savage’…,” he faltered. “What?”
“Here, take the words.”
“Are you serious?”
He threw his head back and sent forth a hearty, but clearly embarrassed, laugh. “Okay. I’ll look them up.”
A breakthrough? I hope so.
Note: This article first appeared in The Huntsville Times in 2008.