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Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America
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Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America [Paperback]

Scott Poulson-Bryant
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"For a lot of men, how you hang has a lot to do with who you hang with, where you hang, and sometimes, how long you hang once you get there," writes Poulson-Bryant, founding editor of Vibe and co-author of What's your Hi-Fi IQ?, in his new book, a libidinous hybrid of cultural commentary and personal anecdotes. The pervasive belief that African American men are prodigiously endowed presents a conundrum for the contemporary black male, who is simultaneously drawn to- and repelled by- this notion. In the book's opening pages, Poulson-Bryant admits that, as an African American man, he should be "hung like a horse," but he's not, nor does he want to be. "I think of black-man dick and I think that once upon a time we were hung from trees for being, well, hung." Today, Poulson-Bryant says, black men risk being viewed as little more than an engorged sex organ. Take "Simon" for example, a successful athlete who refuses to take showers at the gym and changes clothes with a towel wrapped around him, because he would rather be a star on the basketball court than in the locker room. For those seeking an academic approach, Poulson-Bryant's "meditation" on the "measure of black men in America" may not measure-up, as much of the research is internet-based or culled from anecdotal narratives provided by largely unnamed acquaintances. Still, Poulson-Bryant's assertion that black men "need to start thinking like the Big Swinging Dicks on Wall Street instead of acting like the Big Swinging Dicks of the public's fascination" has the kind of thrust and vigor necessarily to stimulate dialogue on this topic.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Hung is deeply compelling, disturbing, complex . . . Brave Scott Poulson-Bryant, for putting his size on the line and truly measuring up.” —Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues

Praise for Hung

“Like a new lover, Hung is seductive, startling, smart, and seditious.” —Jill Nelson, author of Sexual Healing

“In Hung, Scott really goes there, talking honestly and telling secrets about the black phallus and its, uh, massive impact on America.” —Touré, author of Never Drank the Kool-Aid

About 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.

From The Washington Post

Mr. Peter, meet Mr. Johnson.

In the world of pop culture writer Scott Poulson-Bryant, these two have a lot to discuss. For starters, "peter," a white nickname for the penis, might confess that he feels inferior to his black counterpart, with its legendary prowess. And "johnson," the classic moniker of choice for the African American member, may admit to coveting a bit more of the historic institutional, economic and political power that usually accompanies Mr. Peter. Fortunately, Poulson-Bryant stops short of imagining a conversation between the two.

In "Hung," his examination of the mythology of black male sexuality, Poulson-Bryant skirts the edge of voyeurism but also fails to answer "the unspoken question that gets asked all the time." Namely, why has the one-dimensional perception of the American black man persisted? Why is the black man so often thought of as a well-endowed, sexual beast who is also an intellectual midget?

The hoary stereotype of the black man as a simple-minded, virile sexual predator has stalked the pages of everything from The Clansman, the basis for the movie "The Birth of a Nation," to Richard Wright's Native Son to Toni Morrison's Sula. But such historic literary examples are in short supply (as it were) in Hung. Poulson-Bryant doesn't mention John Cleland's Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, but that 18th-century novel caused a sensation when it was published in America in 1966, in no small part because of the passages describing Fanny's encounter in pre-Revolutionary New England with a young black man called "Good-natured Dick." In Cleland's fevered treatment, the randy heroine muses, upon first getting a look at the black man's equipment: "Nature . . . had done so much for him in those parts, that she perhaps held herself acquitted in doing so little for his head."

In fairness, perhaps there is no clear-cut answer to the myth's staying power -- beyond the obvious, which Poulson-Bryant succinctly identifies early on: "Essentially, [the penis] is a signifier -- of power, of prominence, of strength. So many men like to think that our primary attention to . . . size is about impressing women . . . about succeeding as a man in the reflective mirror of a woman's or a partner's eyes. But it isn't. It's a measuring stick of self-worth, of capabilities and fallibilities, of winning and losing." As Poulson-Bryant sees it, some whites have had a pathological need to view black men as animalistic sexual aggressors, while black men themselves have come to accept and even to some degree welcome this image as their one true source of power. But despite a keen eye for the hypocrisies, contradictions and flat-out exaggerations that frame most discussions of this touchy subject, Poulson-Bryant manages to fall short in the evidence department. He makes only glancing reference to Alfred Kinsey's famous studies of sexual behavior and no mention of the academic studies at major universities since the mid-20th century.

On the other hand, this does not purport to be a scholarly work, though the author does too often resort to annoying lit-crit jargon. Rather, it is a breezy swirl through one young black man's personal experience at the intersection of race, sexuality and public perceptions of both. Poulson-Bryant is an amiable, self-effacing host who unflinchingly admits to being modestly endowed and to the self-consciousness this has caused him as a black man. "I should be hung like a horse," he writes. "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."

Once he's dispensed with the nitty-gritty of his own business, he leads us through the social landscape of those whose identities and even livelihoods (in the case of the porn star Lexington Steele) are bound up in the image of the Big, Black Stud. We begin and end with a letter from Poulson-Bryant to Emmett Till, the black teenager killed during the 1950s in Jim Crow Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman. And we meet several of the author's male and female friends, who expound in colorful language on the "Big Phallacy." Poulson-Bryant, a former Vibe editor, shows a genuine appreciation for the complexity of his subject in all its facets, including its absurdities. One might quibble with some of his oversights -- such as recent technological advancements, including silicon implants, that now make it possible for just about anyone to be well-endowed -- but "Hung" at least gets the subject out in the open.

Reviewed by Amy Alexander
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Measuring Up

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 th...
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