Emasculation is a pseudoscientific myth. Pseudoscience refers to claims presented as fact that do not meet the standards of scientific method. The concept of emasculation applied to humans goes back to scientific racism: the pseudoscientific application of principles of nature to human social life for the purpose of justifying a racist social structure. We shouldn’t take for granted how many people rely on this pseudoscience even today.
Emasculation of Black Men: Origins of the Concept
The word ‘emasculate’ came into use during the 1600s and means ‘castrate.’ It means to remove sex organs in a literal sense and to weaken in a figurative sense. The myth of the emasculation of Black men tends to suggest anyone who does not meet the accepted standard of heterosexuality represents a threat to the Black men who do. A number of culprits get named as perpetrators of this emasculation including LGBTQ people, Black feminists, and Whites.
Why do we use emasculation in this way today? Originally, emasculation referred to the process of removing sex organs from plants. Later on the practice was used on animals including humans. This tactic relied on a mistaken belief that power, masculinity and femininity reside in a person’s sex organs. While it is possible to emasculate someone, it is not possible to alter a person’s sexuality or gender by doing so.
Documented history suggests during colonial times this practice happened to Black men as well as women. Scientific racism, after all, helped justify enslavement. They claimed Black people did not have humanity, treating them like little more than cattle.
Emasculation Doesn’t Happen in a Figurative Sense Either
Nowadays people use the term figuratively, in a manner that suggests there are real consequences for this emasculation. When we imply social outcomes like absence of fathers create natural aspects of human life like sexuality, we perpetuate myths created by white supremacy. Indeed this and other myths can be found in the Moynihan Report as well as in writings by some Black authors too.
When we attempt to define a type of person as an ideal and describe those who don’t meet this ideal as a threat, we then create an atmosphere that justifies inequality among people. As Gcobani Qambela writes:
In her book We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity bell hooks shows that the concept of “emasculation” is often used, in particular by black men, to (re)inscribe patriarchal order because “black men who are most worried about castration and emasculation are those who have completely absorbed white-supremacist patriarchal definitions of masculinity”.
The problem of embracing emasculation as an idea means we clear the pathway for the eugenic beliefs that led to colonial violence worldwide.
The Fallacies of the Emasculation Argument
Fallacies are flaws in the logic of an argument. Emasculation of the Black man as a concept has a number of them:
- Red herring. A red herring in an argument distracts from the main issue. Pointing to the issues Black men face and claiming its emasculation distracts from the true culprits – the school-to-prison pipeline for instance.
- Non sequitur. A non sequitur means no logical connection exists between two events. For cause and effect to be the relationship between two events there has to be what’s called a mechanism – the way or how they get connected. Saying someone is gay because they didn’t have a father means there needs to be a mechanism. Since there isn’t, this claim tries to explain itself with itself, leading to circular reasoning, another type of fallacy.
- Post hoc fallacy. This type of fallacy assumes that one event caused another just because it happened first. This one comes up with the claim the feminist movement led to the breakup of the Black family. Like the example above, there’s no mechanism for the feminist movement breaking down Black families. The more likely culprit would be the shift in labor opportunities for Black men.
The key takeaway is claims of emasculation perpetuate scientific racism by shifting blame for the social problems Black men face to unrelated factors like sexuality and feminism. To learn more check out the reading suggestions below.
- Beloved by Toni Morrison.
- Physics of Blackness: Beyond the Middle Passage Epistemology by Michelle Wright.
- Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington.
- “Skulls in print: scientific racism in the transatlantic world” – University of Cambridge.
- “The Historical Origins and Development of Racism” by George M. Frederickson.
- “Charles Darwin: Did He Help Create Scientific Racism?” by Joe Feagin.