Mark Anthony Neal’s Looking for Leroy is an engaging and provocative analysis of the complex ways in which black masculinity has been read and misread through contemporary American popular culture. Neal argues that black men and boys are bound, in profound ways, to and by their legibility. The most “legible” black male bodies are often rendered as criminal, bodies in need of policing and containment. Ironically, Neal argues, this sort of legibility brings welcome relief to white America, providing easily identifiable images of black men in an era defined by shifts in racial, sexual, and gendered identities.
Neal highlights the radical potential of rendering legible black male bodies—those bodies that are all too real for us—as illegible, while simultaneously rendering illegible black male bodies—those versions of black masculinity that we can’t believe are real—as legible. In examining figures such as hip-hop entrepreneur and artist Jay-Z, R&B Svengali R. Kelly, the late vocalist Luther Vandross, and characters from the hit HBO series The Wire , among others, Neal demonstrates how distinct representations of black masculinity can break the links in the public imagination that create antagonism toward black men. Looking for Leroy features close readings of contemporary black masculinity and popular culture, highlighting both the complexity and accessibility of black men and boys through visual and sonic cues within American culture, media, and public policy. By rendering legible the illegible, Neal maps the range of identifications and anxieties that have marked the performance and reception of post-Civil Rights era African American masculinity.
About the Author
Mark Anthony Neal is Professor of African & African American Studies at Duke University. He is the author of several books, including New Black Man and Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic , and the host of the weekly webcast Left of Black.
Table of Contents
Preface: Waiting for Leroy ix
1 A Foot Deep in the Culture: The Thug Knowledge(s) of
A Man Called Hawk 13
2 “My Passport Says Shawn”: Toward a Hip-Hop
3 The Block Is Hot: Legibility and Loci in The Wire 87
4 R. Kelly’s Closet: Shame, Desire, and the Confessions of a
(Postmodern) Soul Man 117
5 Fear of a Queer Soul Man: The Legacy of Luther
Postscript: Looking for Denzel, Finding Barack 169
About the Author 207
What People are Saying About This
Mark Anthony Neal is one of our most consistently interesting and inspiring critics of contemporary black popular culture and music, to which Looking for Leroy is brilliant testament. It showcases Neal’s masterful ability to take iconic figures of black masculinity, from Avery Brooks’s neo-cool Hawk to Shawn Carter’s neo-queer Jay-Z, and show them to us in an entirely new light. This is an incredibly powerful little book, and readers will never look at R. Kelly or Luther Vandross the same way again."-John L. Jackson, Jr.,author of Racial Paranoia: The Unintended Consequences of Political Correctness
"Mark Anthony Neal takes us on a fantastic journey searching for the meaning of black masculinity in the USA. As we join him in Looking for Leroy, we find queer and feminist answers to questions about legibility and illegibility, visibility and invisibility, violation and vulnerability. No one writes with more passion, power and speculative brilliance about black masculinity than Neal and no one but Neal would manage to produce a theory of black masculinity capable of explaining the smoothness of Luther Vandross, the cosmopolitan genius of Jay-Z, the enigma of Leroy from Fame, and the sheer brute force of Snoop from The Wire. Genius."-Jack Halberstam,author of Female Masculinity (1998) and Gaga Feminism (2012)