Reclaiming Black Manhood: Freedom and An Ethic of Love in Leonard Pitts’s Freeman
Keywords:black masculinity,, love ethic,, Leonard Pitts, freedom, neo-slave narrative,, Leonard Pitts,, Freeman
Although attempts to reconstruct black masculinity can be traced to Frederick Douglass’s extraordinary memoir that subverted white antebellum representations of black subjectivity, it was after an entire decade of black feminist scholarship that the first wave of the black masculinities scholarship emerged towards the end of the twentieth century (Wallace 2002). In the aftermath of Barack Obama’s election to presidency (2009-2017), however, the debate on African American manhood gained further momentum. Leonard Pitts, Jr.’s Freeman (2012) published around that time takes up black manhood as a subject of study through a return to the history of slavery via the Neo-Slave Narrative genre. This article critically analyzes Pitts’s Freeman through the lens of bell hooks’s theorization of “an ethic of love” (2001) and Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s concept of signifyin(g) (1988) to argue that in being denied access to hegemonic masculinity, black men deploy signifyin(g) as a rhetorical strategy to redefine their manhood via an ethic of love. While previous scholarship has focused on history and community in reconceiving black male identity, this paper is unique in its focus on the power of love to reconstruct black masculinity. Critically analyzing black men’s struggle with the meaning of freedom in the selected text, the paper argues that black men deploy love’s transformative power as a healing strategy that allows them to renegotiate a painful past as well as redefine black masculinity by challenging black male stereotypical representations. As such, the meaning of “freedom” in the novel is inextricably tied with the emotion of love; together, they redefine black masculinity as grounded in an ethic of love.