The Ontological Memes, Social Curriculum, and Performance of Black Masculinity

Nicholas Mitchell


This article utilizes Foucault’s (1965/1988, 1970/1994, 1972) archaeology method to explore how Black masculinity emerged as an episteme constructed at the intersection of race and gender curricula. It examines how North American slavery altered discourses on humanity and culture to such a degree that it created a new condition of possibility through creolization, and how the creolization of West African and European memes and meme complexes created the current episteme of Black masculinity. The archaeology method posits that the subject of history is a product of discourse (Hendry, 2011, p. 37, p. 361), and this emphasis on excavating the various discourses that produced a subject is integral to fostering a deeper understanding of African American social curricula as a whole but especially in regard to masculinity. Black masculinity has been the subject of interracial and intraracial discourses that have shaped its conceptualizations from the very first purchases of slaves by Europeans in West Africa to the present day. These discourses have produced multiple social curricula on what it is to be a Black man and how one performs Black masculinity. I have chosen to examine masculinity as its own social construct because while certain forces of creolization created all of what we think of today as African American culture, African American masculinity and African American femininity can also be seen as distinct epistemes with their own distinct archaeologies. 

This article also utilizes memetics: Drawing on the work of Dawkins (1976/2016, 1982), Krippendorff (2012/2013) defines memes as, “A unitary idea, message, behavior, or style that spreads throughout a community of minds. Analogous to genes, which transmit biological information, memes transmit cultural information and are thought to affect the content and organization of human minds” (pp. 269- 270, 399-400). Memes are not solely unitary according to Dawkins (1976/2016); he writes “Perhaps we could regard an organized church, with its architecture, ritual, laws, music, art, and written traditions, as a co-adapted stable set of mutually assisting memes” (p. 217-218). Dawkins (1976/2016) asserts that individual memes combine with other related and complementary memes to form a “co-adaptable stable set of mutually assisting memes” or, more directly, “meme complexes” (p.217-218). Memes are analogous to social curricula in the sense that they are concepts that are transferred from person to person and affect how people act and think. This understanding of the meme and the meme complex is central to conceptualizing the historical creolization process that created what I am arguing to be a Black male episteme and for the continuing theorizing of how social curriculum manifests, in this case, at the intersection of race and gender.

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Copyright (c) 2018 Nicholas Mitchell