Gail Bederman’s piece entitled “Remaking manhood through race and civilization” is an important contribution to the study of race relations and power. Bederman said that authority comes from power and power emanates from gender and race.
The author explained this idea by first choosing a context to focus on and in that regard she chose to look at how turn-of-the-century Americans understood the source of power. Gender and race was simplified even further into identity and body. In that era it means that white male with the physique of a world heavyweight boxing champion is the standard for manhood.
This is why in the beginning of the discussion Bederman chose to illustrate her ideas by revisiting boxing history’s most infamous fight of 1910 when Jack Johnson the first African American heavyweight champion defeated Jim Jeffries, the former undisputed ruler of the heavyweight division. The defeat of Jeffries shattered the myth about manhood and therefore conventions about power and authority.
Bederman worked backwards tracing the historical development of how Americans came to perceive authority and she said that first of all it is all about race, then gender. He clarified even further that once a society has accepted race as the basis of power then it was time to identify the specific individuals who can wield that power and in turn-of-the-century America no one has the right to hold power except white men.
However, no ordinary white man can wield power, he must first satisfy the criteria of manliness and these criteria is not only based on physical attributes it is also the byproduct of civilization. Bederman made critical assessments of several theories to strengthen her argument.
With regards to race as the prerequisite for wielding power she pointed out a long-held belief stating that only white men had the capability had the racial genius for self-government and this justified the way they subjugated the darker races (Bederman 22). This is why every opportunity is given to the white males of American society while African Americans receive none.
Bederman said that aside from the fact that race and gender is the most important requirement to open doors of opportunities it is not enough to be male to ascend to the top of the pile. In this regard the author made a critique of the assumption about manhood that it is unchanging, passed on from one generation to the next (Bederman 7).
She argued that it is a product of an ideological process and concluded that civilization is the reason why there is a cultural and racial contstruct when it comes to manhood (Bederman 29). This is why there were different ideals of manliness through American history. In 1910 power was reserved not only to white males but white men who possess the necessary characteristics that would allow them to rule effectively.
Bederman’s insight with regards to how turn-of-the-century American society were able to understand and utilize concepts of authority and power is an important contribution to the study not only of politics but also of race relations in the early part of the 20th century. However, the ideas from this article can also be applicable to the general study of human history especially when it comes to how a society transfer power to an individual and why the public will support that person.
This work is also very insightful when it comes to how the attitudes of people were influenced by an invisible ideological process that can shape the way people think about a thing or a person. A clear understanding of this ideological process can therefore help in correcting errors of thinking that made life undesirable for many people.
Bederman, Gail. “Remaking Manhood through race and civilization”. Manliness and
Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States 1880- 1917. Ed. Gail Bederman. University of Chicago Press, 1995. 1-44. Print.