The New York Times
Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in Americaby Scott Poulson-Bryant
Following in the footsteps of such bestselling, taboo-breaking books as Randall Kennedy’s Nigger and J. L. King’s On the Down Low, Hung brings a topic previously discussed only in intimate settings out into the open. In a brilliant, multilayered look at the pervasive belief that African American men are prodigiously endowed, Scott Poulson-Bryant interweaves his own experiences as a black man in America with witty analyses of how black male sexuality is expressed in books, film, television, sports, and pornography. “Hung” is a double entendre, referring not only to penis size but to the fact that black men were once literally hung from trees, often for their perceived sexual prowess and the supposed risk it posed to white women. As a poignant reminder, he begins his book with a letter to Emmett Till, the teenager who was lynched in Mississippi in the mid-1950s for whistling at a white woman. For Poulson-Bryant and other men of his generation, society’s deep-seated obsession with the sexual powers of black men has had an enormous, if often deceptive, influence on how they perceive themselves and on the assumptions made by others. His tales of his sexual encounters with both sexes, along with anecdotes about the lives of various friends and colleagues, are wryly and at times shockingly revealing. Enduring racial perceptions have shaped popular culture as well, and Poulson-Bryant offers a thorough, thought-provoking look at media-created images of the “Well-Hung Black Male.” He deftly deconstructs movies like Mandingo and Shaft, articles in the popular press, and edgy works like Robert Mapplethorpe’s Black Book, while also providing distinctive profiles of icons like porn star Lexington Steele and rapper L.L. Cool J.A scintillating mixture of memoir and cultural commentary, Hung is the first and only book to take on phallic fixation and uncover what lies below. Readers may be scandalized, but they’ll also have plenty to ponder about America’s views on how black men measure up.
The New York Times
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Read an Excerpt
Allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Scott and I am a black man in America. I've never done hard time. I've never been arrested. I don't have any kids. I know I'm invisible to many, but I also know that I'm highly visible to more.
I've been told that I am a success story.
I like to think that I measure up.
I'm a suburban kid. I was educated at an Ivy League university that at the time was dubbed the "hot college" because everyone wanted to go there. I've had some success in the Manhattan media world, and don't they say that if you can make it in New York, New York, you can make it anywhere? I've even been a "first black"-I was, I've been told, the first black music journalist to have a national column in a major music magazine. I named Vibe magazine Vibe, and I've interviewed everyone from Michael Jackson (when I was a suburban twelve-year-old kid) to Prince (when he wasn't doing interviews) to Mike Tyson to Dennis Rodman. I've been a regular on a TV chat show. I've done Charlie Rose three times. I've been mentored by some of the best my field has to offer and I've mentored some successful folks in my field. It's been said that I foresaw the success of Puff Daddy before anyone else in the forward-looking world of New York journalism. I live in NYC in the summer and Miami's South Beach in the winter, because I want to and because I can. I've had successful relationships, and I love my parents and my parents love me.
Sure, I like to think that, in the grand American rat race that is life, I measure up.
But even with a laundry list of accomplishments that makes my résumé attractive, there are still days when I go to the gym and I get out of the shower and wrap my towel close around me, because I am a black man, and for a black man I just may not-in the swinging-dick sense of the words-"measure up."
That's because, you see, I'm what people call a grow-er and not a show-er. In other words, my soft hanging dick is not the monster of Mapplethorpean proportions that draws looks of wonder and awe. Of course many men are grow-ers rather than show-ers, but that doesn't mean I'm not still conscious of it. Partly because I'm a man-and men are concerned about those things-but also partly because I am a black man.
In other words, I should be hung like a horse. I should be the cock of the locker-room walk, singing and swinging and getting merry like every day is, for hung brothers, Christmas.
But I'm not. I guess I could spend the last few seconds of my shower doing my own fluff job, spanking little Scott into some semierect state that speaks more to the size of my actual sex-ready self. But would it be worth it? To let that towel fly free just in case I get some stares from the dudes lining the room, stepping into their own boxers and briefs and bikinis? Of course it would be worth it, because I am a black man and black men are hung like horses. I'm not. So what kind of black man am I?
But here's the thing. I don't want to measure up in the locker room. I don't want to be the stereotype. I don't want to be Mister Myth, because if I am, then I'm just a dick; the big dick in the locker room; the recipient of the real, live, guy-on-guy penis envy no one talks about; the guy white boys hate yet want to be; the brother other black dudes recognize as representative of their gender; the stone-cold stud with a dick of doom. I think of black-man dick and I think that once upon a time we were hung from trees for being, well, hung. The sexual beast, the loin-engorged predator, the big-dicked destroyer not just of pure pristine white women but also of white men's sense of themselves. That's where black men have found themselves, culturally speaking: hung. Strung up from trees; lynched to protect the demure pureness of white women; dissed to soothe the memory sin of slave-raping white masters; castrated to save the community from the sexual brutality black men trail behind them like a scent-the scent of the stereotypical boogeyman created by the fears of a nation. And I don't want anything to do with that ugly American history, the stereotypes that have been created to control me-do I?
Hell yeah, my inner ear tells me, I do. Fuck history. Let's be real here: Who doesn't want to have the biggest dick in the room?
Speaking of history, here's a flashback, my own first history lesson, if you will.
The place: Providence, Rhode Island. The time: spring 1986, my sophomore year in college.
I'm dancing at the RISD Tap Room, a smoky second-floor dive just down the hill from Brown University, a sorta rathskeller hangout for the artsy students who attend the Rhode Island School of Design and the local beer drinkers who love them. I'm dancing, like I said, a plastic cup of beer in my hand, a baseball cap on my head, wearing a cotton Oxford shirt and a pair of Levi's jeans. I'm sorta buzzed and I want a cigarette. I look around for a smoker because I hadn't yet reached that point where I was buying my own cigs; I was still arrogant enough to think that if I bummed all the butts I smoked, I wasn't really a smoker.
There's one, a white girl in a plain T-shirt with a bushy crown of brown curls, nodding her head to the synthesizer beat of Depeche Mode while she sits at a bruised-up little wooden table behind me and my crew. She smiles at me and holds open the soggy red-and-white box of Marlboros sitting on the table among the cups of beer. I take a cig. She flicks her Bic. I lean in to light the smoke. Before I can pull away, she says, "You are so cute." And I say, "Thanks" and start dancing again. By the time the next record starts, she's standing next to me, dancing next to me, sustaining eye contact with a vengeance.
We dance. We talk. We laugh. Her name is Kelly and she's from Michigan and she was a student in Providence but she's dropped out to work and "experience life." She asks me at one point, apropos of, it seems to me at the time, nothing, "What size shoe do you wear?" I look down at my Nikes, wondering where that question came from, and that's what I say to her: "Where does that question come from?" She shrugs and smiles and says, "I just noticed, that's all. Then again, you are a big guy." We dance some more. And drink some more beer. And laugh some more. By the time she's grinding against me, to a song that doesn't exactly require any sort of grinding, I'm beginning to see the light. This girl wants me. She wants me bad. Here I was, dancing and drinking in the RISD Tap Room, feeling cooler than cool, a Brown sophomore in Levi's and a button-down shirt, dancing with a white girl to the guitar strains of the Cure, and she wants to bed me. Not that I went out looking for it-which, when you're a well-raised young black man like me, is what you tell yourself when a white girl comes on to you.
When you're a well-raised young black man like me the voice in your inner ear sometimes sounds like your dad, your dad who grew up in the South in the forties and fifties, who knew what it was like to live life on the front lines of the constant battle for black male respect. When you're a well-raised young black man like me, you check yourself when a white girl's dangling the come-on, and you wonder what it is about you that made her seek you out. Are you just black enough to nab a white chick? Or are you, like she says, just a cute guy who likes to dance and smoke in the Tap Room because the Tap Room is the cool place to be?
Cut to Kelly's off-campus apartment, where we can hear her roommate watching late-night TV in the living room, laughing at a stand-up comic. We can hear her roommate because there is no door to Kelly's room, just some Indian-type fabric hanging across the doorway, blowing in the slight breeze from the open window near her bed.
We're done, me and Kelly. I'm a little new to this, this meeting a strange girl and going to her spot and getting some ass. I'm also new to sex with white girls. I didn't do it in high school and the only girl I'd fooled around with at Brown was a black chick who, I'd later find out, didn't really want to be with dudes anyway. But we're done, me and Kelly, and we're lying there, twisted in the sheets, sweating, postorgasmic, passing a cigarette between us like we're in some French New Wave movie.
She turns to me, reaches down, and touches my dick. And she smiles. "That was really good," she says. And then she says, "I thought you'd be bigger than you are."
I look down at myself, turn to her, and shake my head. "So did I."
Which was true.
"Why?" I ask her.
"Because you're black," she replied. "Black guys have big penises."
I didn't know what to say to that. Inside, I felt this sudden explosion of self-doubt. Partly because I'd had a cousin who'd explained to me when I was a kid that if you have a little dick, you're not a man. I knew I didn't have a little dick, but apparently I didn't measure up to expectations, for myself and this chick at least. So this is what happens when you fool around with white girls? Later a buddy of mine, upon hearing this story, says yes, it is, telling me, "You got White-Girl-ed."
Which in his mind meant I'd been dragged home with Kelly because I was black, because she was white, and because she was experiencing a little of what Spike Lee would soon popularize as Jungle Fever.
See, White-Girl-ed meant that I hadn't been out there trolling to bed a white chick. White-Girl-ed meant that I hadn't had to go out there trolling for a white chick. I didn't have to, my buddy explained, because there were enough of them out there trolling for us, for black men, for the big black dick of their fantasies, for the big black dick they had probably been warned their whole lives against seeking out. And why was that exactly? The flip side of fantasy, the other side of desire, was the distorted fun-house-mirror image of black men as objects of fear; the myth of the black man as the big-dicked beast, always on the lookout for vulnerable white girls and eager to purloin them of their purity, had been so culturally enforced that trolling for white girls was pointless: endowed with the enduring myth of sexual aggressor, demonized by it though we may be, black men only end up being more attractive to them.
"White people believe in myths," he said. "They have to, or else they couldn't exist. Nor could we," he added, "in their eyes, at least."
This was the beginning of an education for me, an education in the twisted ways in which race and sex rage through American culture, fanning the flames that are constantly charring the walls of America, the place James Baldwin called "this burning house of ours." Sure, I'd seen Roots. Sure, I knew my black history, all the names and dates and events that built the totems of black pride that defined my community and myself. I'd been educated in the ways of white folks, about the hurtling inevitability of racism rearing its ugly head, even in a world where some of my best friends were white. I'd even heard my father's words about dating white women, about the very real possibility of some white people (and some black people) taking issue with such behavior. I'd heard all that.
What I didn't have was any insight into the potential for self-discovery that occurs when all the discordant strands of lessons I'd learned were braided into one big cohesive lesson. Because it wasn't only Kelly's bold forthrightness that bothered me, her "white" way of making me feel "black" when all I was trying to be was a guy. I was also bothered by my response to what she'd said to me. For me, through all the lessons learned up to then, there had never been an intersection of race and sex before I'd lain down with the white chick in Providence. I'd risen from her bed a changed man.
"So did I." That had been my response to her statement. "So did I," as in: I agree, I thought I'd have a bigger dick, too. There was shame in that response but also a nagging question, as in: Why the shame? What had seeped into my consciousness about my emotional self that could be so affected by a quantitative judgment about my physical self? I partly knew the answer to that. The same cousin who'd told me about the lack of masculinity that came with a little dick had also once told me-when I was about thirteen-that eight and a half inches was average. And I knew I wasn't packing an eight-and-a-half-inch dick, and since I was probably about to stop growing, I never would be packing an eight-and-a-half-inch dick. I thought of myself as damaged and I was ashamed of it. Of course some of this also had to do with my thorough lack of sexual experience. I had no idea what women wanted and I had no idea whether I'd be able to satisfy them with whatever size dick I had. I'd had sex before but I was, essentially, an emotional virgin. And an idiot, truth be told, still carrying around my cousin's Guide to Sex in my teenaged brain.
I ultimately had to figure out that my cousin's lectures to me were all about us being guys. Black guys, yes, but guys nonetheless. Now I had my experience with Kelly and my college buddy's White-Girl-ed education to add a race element to that. What was it about my "guyness" that was truly supposed to be defined by my "blackness"?
More sex with Kelly didn't exactly answer all the questions I suddenly had-except one: that I wasn't the first black guy she'd slept with. More sex with Kelly did, however, change both my sexual and racial relationship to her. I knew now that I was a "black" guy having sex with a "white" woman. And there was something actually liberating about that. All the cards were on the table and there was nothing political or cultural to bluff through anymore. The well-raised young black guy in me didn't behave in such a well-raised way when we got together two more times. Somehow I'd figured out that even if I didn't have the huge black penis of her fantasy I could still fuck her like I did. We were louder, rougher, tougher, blacker. We never met each other's friends. We only screwed like animals in the room with the Indian-print cloth across the door. She thought I'd be bigger and so had I. But it was enough for both of us. Because, I suppose, at the end of the day, in the sweaty, postcoital silence poked through with cigarette puffs, we both sort of suspected about my dick what James Baldwin had written in Just Above My Head: "It was more a matter of its color than its size . . . its color was its size."
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
SCOTT POULSON-BRYANT was a founding editor of the premiere urban magazine Vibe. Before the launch of Vibe, he worked at Spin, where his groundbreaking column “Dream America” made him the first African American columnist of a major music monthly. He is the coauthor of What’s Your Hi-Fi IQ? and has written articles and reviews for Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, The New York Times, The Source, Essence, New York magazine, and London’s The Guardian and The Face. He is currently senior editor of the quarterly fashion/lifestyle magazine America, and resides in New York City and Miami, Florida.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Scott Poulson-Bryant is a bright young artist with heady credentials and a true gift for creative thinking and well-crafted writing skills. He joins the growing ranks of young African American strong writers such as E.L. Ayala, E. Lynn Harris, Keith Boykin, J.L. King, Christopher David, and Stanley Bennett Clay who not only address issues heretofore considered taboo in the Black community, but succeed not only as brave new voices but also as gifted, important writers. HUNG: A MEDITATION ON THE MEASURE OF BLACK MEN IN AMERICA starts out with a terrific cover, promises revelation of secrets everyone wants to know, addresses his reader with pertinent facts, and then progresses to relax and offer a rather personalized memoir of his experiences as a black man in America, a man who knows the myths and the realities about phallic secrets, and shares his own insights as well as those of gentlemanly unnamed confidents from whom he gathers his facts. Along the way Poulson-Bryant not only discusses phallus size, but he also explores the mystique of black men who model for books (Mapplethorpe is a frequent reference point), the porn industry, the world of athletes (yes, naming names), the rap world, and the executive world. But he doesn't limit his meditation to experiences interviewing men: Poulson-Bryant wisely includes women in his foray of questioning the importance of size as a feature of desirability vs. myth vs. disadvantage. It is a well-rounded book and one that never lets the interest lag. But what one comes away with from this book is an appreciation of the exceptional style of writing of Scott Poulson-Bryant. He is a writer of charm, of humor, of wit, and of intelligence. This reader would like to see how he performs in the field of fiction: in reportage he is up there with the best! Grady Harp
I think that this book reveals some relavant and important topics behind the 'myth'. Honestly, I feel that black men, especially in my generation (I am age 26) need to read this. I thought the dichotomy in thoughts of sexuality that was presented was interesting. Black men, like men in general, want to feel sexually potent and powerful, but at the same time, a black man who desires to see himself that way also has to deal with the image of the 'sexual black man'. Although men have a very collectivist thought process on sexuality based on gender, black men have a unique experience by wanting to feel and be seen the same way as other men because of gender but have the barrier of stereotypes based on race that they face. I feel that this is important for young black men so that they can begin to see themselves as more than a sexual object and perhaps learn how to treat black women such as myself as more than sexual objects. These views that exist in our race are projections placed on eachother based on stereotypes absorbed from the majority. Interesting read!
What is the measure of a black man? Is it the amount of money he makes? Is it the house that he lives in or is it the car that he drives? According to Scott Poulson-Bryant, the author of the new book ¿Hung,¿ it is neither of these things. The measure of a black man is his penis. Bryant begins the book with a letter to Emmett Till. For those of you who may have forgotten, Emmett is the African American boy who was violently murdered for supposedly whistling at a white girl. Bryant begins the letter by writing, ¿The first time I heard of you, I don¿t think I was black yet.¿ This statement is profound because it brings up another often asked question: What does it mean to be black? However, Bryant views this question in relation to also being a man. Bryant writes about the ¿myth¿ of the black male penis in various aspects of life. He gives us his own personal experiences as well as the experiences of friends. While reading this book, it seems as if you are going on a sight-seeing expedition of how the size of a guy¿s ¿manhood¿ affects his life. He shows us how the myth is perpetuated in the world of porn, in Hollywood, sports, and how it even plays into the new awareness of the DL (Down Low) Brother (black men who sleep with men). ¿The color is its size.¿ This phrase is found repeatedly throughout the book. He gives us the idea that the color is representative of its size. The color is what the attraction mechanism is. He holds nothing back (except actual names, of course) in this though provoking work. Bryant is quite honest about his size (or lack thereof) and even discusses his experimentation with other men. Bryant ends the book with a second letter to Emmett in which the tone is changed now to how black men have found themselves participating in this ¿myth¿/ debate. The purpose of his book was to bring awareness to the fact that the size of African American men¿s ¿manhood¿ is ¿all too often the site of so many issues that creep through the ever-evolving dynamics of this place we call America¿¿ Bryant accomplishes this by giving us real, up-in-your-face examples through historical study and our present day mindset. This book opened my eyes to the issue of the measure of black men in America. All of the things I listed at the beginning of this review could be present in an African American male but if he is not ¿hung like a horse.¿ He is viewed as less than a man. As a people we have placed so much emphasis in this area that we have excluded other things that should be of more importance such as education, honesty, integrity, and kindness. Instead of looking for positive virtues we ask the question: Is he hung?
I enJOYed this book. HUGELY!! Scott Poulson-Bryant brings us something new, fun, intelligent, & some might even say shockingly forthright. I was hooked from the prologue. I love the way it weaves together history, folklore, fiction, the 'taboo', with modern commentary on -- everything. :0)