Order of Magnitude

Scott Poulson-Bryant plays with myths of black sexuality, but dead-ends

“You’ve never measured it?” is the standard question.

When I answer no, the prospective man for right now usually moves on to find someone willing to tell a lie that is a bit more believable. If he were willing to hear the whole truth, he would get this—A woman took my straight cherry about 14 years ago. One night after doing the deed in my apartment, she found a ruler and we did measure it. I, however, forgot the tally. As for my former lady friend, she is living the married life in the hinterland of Iowa and I’m sure does not want to relive her past of measuring a black guy’s dick after a night of debauchery in Houston.

I’m putting my business in the street like this because that is what Scott Poulson-Bryant does in “Hung: A Mediation on the Measure of Black Men in America.” Any writer who picks race and sex as his topic, especially the charged topic of dick size, really has no choice but to put his stuff out there. There is Poulson-Bryant in his college days when he and the lovely Kelly connect. She loves the sex, but does tells him she is a bit disappointed in his member because all black guys are supposed to be hung like Sheffield ponies. He admits to being a bit let down by his johnson too—we learn later that he is a ”grow-er not a show-er.” There he is, post Internet bubble burst, trying to reconfigure his life in Miami. Poulson-Bryant is befriended by Nico, a Latino hustler, who markets himself to a mostly gay white clientele as the massive black phallus. The way Nico tells his tale, business is pretty good.

“You might meet some hick from Idaho who’s never seen a Latin dude and wants something exotic for a night or a coupla hours, but for the most part, the people that I meet and the people that a lot of my boys meet want that the fantasy of the big black dick,” Poulson-Bryant is told.”

That vision is as American as apple pie and baseball. The myth has been attached to the menace of race mixing—the black large penis, as the story goes, is just waiting to despoil white womanhood “This ‘sense of dread’ regarding the black man and his savage pursuit of white women, his tendencies toward miscegenation that would only spoil Southern gentility and life, permeated the South in the years following the Civil War and Jim Crow,” Poulson-Bryant writes. People, specifically black men, have died because of the myth and it doesn’t take a Freudian to know something was going on when entire white families would watch black bodies, as Billie Holiday sang, swinging on poplar trees.

While we have turned the chapter on lynching, the black dick of destruction and desire still plays in our emotional background. And “Hung” works well when it mines the personal and popular. For example when Details magazine did an article in 2003 of which actor is known for having a big one, no black actors made the list, a rather odd omission considering the persuasiveness of the legend. Or in the movie “The Pelican Brief,” Denzel Washington is somehow unable to bed America’s girl Julia Roberts. Of course Roberts made up for this when Washington won his Oscar for best actor as she practically did the nasty with him on stage.

“What America saw that night,” the author writes, “on the biggest stage Hollywood knows, what was confirmed for America from the lips of it’s very own sweetheart, was what they do know in the executive suites where they don’t know much else, and also what Denzel and Will [Smith] and Morgan [Freeman] and Wesley [Snipes] and Samuel L. [Jackson] already know, and that was this—whatever else ever happens with the roles of black men in the Hollywood-sanctioned space of the public imagination, hung list or no, Southern audiences or no, there is one tenet that everybody knows, once you go black, you never go back.”

While these cultural moments are fun, I ended “Hung” wondering what does all of it mean. Sure it annoys when so few people, black and white, seem unable not to buy into the legend of the large black one, but what does the myth have to do with where we are right now” This is where “Hung” disappoints. Poulson-Bryant starts and ends his book with words to Emmett Till, the young man lynched because a white woman’s husband was convinced till had whistled at her. That young man’s decomposed body lies on top of all the stereotypes and stories we have of black sexuality.

However, we are no longer in the age of Till. Sure it’s a bit comical for there to be a site called mydaughtersfuckingablackdude and being seen as pure phallus continues to grate. But here in New York City, the graduation and unemployment rates for blacks are abysmal. That frustrates more than a white boy or girl lying on his/her tummy waiting to be ravished by Mandingo.

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