I am eager to burn
This threadbare masculinity,
This perpetual black suit
I have outgrown
From Essex Hemphill’s “Heavy Breathing”
By Guest Contributor Brandon J. Manning
I can tell when Black History Month BHM is in the air because right around mid-January my inbox explodes with student organizations and other folks across campus and the greater Las Vegas community wanting my unique perspective as a panelist, presenter, or as Grand Poobah of all things black. It’s kind of like a Post-Soul abolitionist circuit or Booker T. Washington at the Atlanta Cotton Expo saying “Cast Down Your Buckets” and they pull me out of this stagnant water baptized and remade into an everyday race man chanting “I’ve known rivers” with “Wade in the Water,” while managing to do everything except jump out of a box and say, “Ta-da—I’m Free!”
This BHM has been a little different though because I finally accepted the brutal criteria bequeathed to me at my birth—no not my subhuman status as Baldwin writes of Wright’s Native Son but my male pattern baldness. This shiny halo of basketball, gold boots, and bow tie lore has had a full coming out party this February, and I’ve tried my best to think about how to accentuate and accessorize its glow. So I took a moment to ask the meaningful questions like will I be a LL Cool J/ Neyo hat fanatic or will I embrace the shine like Taye Diggs and Morris Chesnutt?
This is a big deal. I’ve rocked waves, locs, twists, cornrows, and fades. I was that dude in middle school with a hard boar brush in my back pocket with the pink sheen oil moisturizer and sporting wave waiting faithfully at home next to my durag. I remember my father cutting my hair—a scene straight out of Don’t Be A Menace—when I watched Rock’s Bigger and Blacker for the first time. So for my forehead to look like an infinity pool—let’s just say it’s taking some getting use to as I negotiate my new frontier of blackness.
As far as clothes go, I’m thankful my nouveau scholar swag has black gay, trans, and straight dandies out there for giving your boy a blueprint. You all give me life with each vest, checkered sock pattern, and wing-tipped shoe and have taken my cool posing to new and unparalleled heights. And just in time. With last month being the blackest black history month on record—I think Ben Carson recently patented a Black-o-meter—I’ve really needed to step up my game.
In Slaves to Fashion: Black Dandyism and the Styling of Black Diasporic Identity, Monica Miller writes, “the black dandy figure embodies the construction and deconstruction of masculine identity relative to negotiations of race, sexuality, and class” (5). Which makes perfect sense for me because I never knew how to check my fingernails
back in middle school (is it back of the hand or semi-clinched fist?) and because from a young age my grandmother imparted the cornerstone of my fashion sense, “If you’ve got it then flaunt it.” In fact, I can see her right now saying this aphorism as she makes a model-esque pose that would give Diahann Caroll life. Please believe, baby, as an Atlanta native and proud Jackson State Alum, I flaunts it.
So what does one wear to a BHM event when you want your fit to say that you are a fly-masculine-presenting down-to-earth-scholar that doesn’t speak Hotep-ese? I’ve found that elbow patches and hats do much of the work. Also pink anything will help—I wore a pink Express shirt with some red socks to a panel on To Kill a Mockingbird and managed to get out of there without a question about how do we get Tom back to the rightful place as the head of his household.
Layers help too, but like I mentioned earlier—I live in the desert and this past February was one of the hottest on record because Obama. But flyness has no thermometer. Luckily I’ve got Express, Banana Republic, and Old Navy outlets and multiple H&Ms at my disposal year-round because as a young father of three balling on a budget can get tough. Throughout the month, I wore soft colors like pink and light purple shirts from Express that perfectly contour to my body—Egyptian cotton is magical—like Will Smith in Bagger Vance or Morgan Freeman in any movie magical. I paired these shirts with slacks and a blazer or vest.
Thanks to the fly women of Sartorial Scholars for giving me a reason to step my selfie game up. Now I need to go read Tanisha Ford’s book Liberated Threads before next February.
Brandon J. Manning is a father to three awesome children as well as an annoying but loving partner to Johnnjalyn Manning. In his free time he is an Assistant Professor at The University of Nevada, Las Vegas that studies the intersection of black masculine performance and black satire. He enjoys walks to Starbucks and working long nights in his office.