For Colored Boys: Black Masculinity & the Social Welfare State (An Annotated Syllabus)

by Jameka Hartley

The class “For Colored Boys: Black Masculinity & the Social Welfare State” is structured to look at race, masculinity, sex, and sexuality and the implications of social work and the social welfare state—specifically child welfare—by looking at Black masculinity in the context of contemporary American society. Through the course, students will engage Black masculinity by seeking to deconstruct its myths, stereotypes, and representations. Students will explore the impact of the social welfare state on race and gender.

Within this course, several weeks would highlight #BlackLivesMatter. Black males are a targeted group (literally and figuratively), one that has been in the media a great deal in recent years due to incidents like the murders of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and many others. Through the course objectives I would like to create a place to discuss and interrogate Black masculinity so that after completing it students will be able to think critically about how Black males and females are viewed and treated in society and to have skills to intervene and advocate in small and large ways.

Social workers are often the hands and feet of the social welfare state, yet public understanding of what social workers can and cannot do varies. As a trained social worker, I hope that this course will serve as an introduction to social work for students who are unfamiliar with this discipline. Social workers are people who may enact aspects of imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy unknowingly, though, of course, they are not the only ones. When society sets up a segment of the population (e.g., Black males) to be feared and not loved there are detrimental consequences. Are things all bad? I do not believe so and have constructed this course to show the multidimensionality of Black people’s lives and experiences.

As a comprehensive multimedia experience that covers a number of topics related to Black masculinity over the course of fifteen weeks, I have purposively curated a range of readings and media. Prior to the first class meeting students read chapter two of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed which serves as a foundation for the course. The chapter addresses the following topics:

The "banking" concept of education as an instrument of oppression—its presuppositions—a critique; the problem-posing concept of education as an instrument for liberation—its presuppositions; the "banking" concept and the teacher-student contradiction; the problem-posing concept and the supersedence of the teacher-student contradiction; education: a mutual process, world-mediated; people as uncompleted beings, conscious of their incompletion, and their attempt to be more fully human (Freire 2005, 7).

Once students have read about the banking concept versus the problem-posing concept we can have a fruitful discussion about how the class can structure teacher-student interactions.

The remaining readings range from a broad understanding of masculinity, Black masculinity, and different forms of oppression (week 2) to delving deeper into more specific representations and manifestations of Black masculinity (week 3) to how Black masculinity could be redefined (week 4). For example, what does it mean and/or look like to be a Black male feminist? Plus, students will have the opportunity to consider how Black masculinity intersects with the LGBT population, taking a look at trans* men and the cultural norms that make Black female lesbians performing masculinity or a masculine femininity more acceptable than feminine-presenting gay men.

Week 5 serves as a transition week to start considering the specific societal consequences for Black males that will be further discussed beginning in week 7. Week 5 will introduce the notion of “Black cool” and “cool pose” as a coping mechanism that Black males use to counteract oppression. Week 6 will serve as a transition week to #BlackLivesMatter by exploring gender in relation to race and public policies. While this course targets Black masculinity you cannot have the construct of masculinity without femininity. During week 6 the class will read "Black Girls Matter," a report put forth by the African American Policy Forum (AAFP) and Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies. This is important because #BlackLivesMatter is often male focused and because sexism can exacerbate the social, political, and economic consequences of racism. The discussion this week will give students an opportunity to analyze programs such as President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” and the use of #BlackGirlsMatter on social media.

Weeks 7 and 8 take an in-depth look at two environments that are often detrimental for Black males: schools and prisons. While week 8 is not meant to focus solely on #BlackLivesMatter, the assigned readings explore the prevalence of the U.S. police state, and I anticipate that #BlackLivesMatter will be brought into the class discussion. Having the knowledge gained in weeks 1 through 8, by weeks 9 and 10 students will be able to thoughtfully respond to the role the welfare state plays in Black male lives. And weeks 12 and 13 wrap up the course with a look at what it is like to be a Black male in society through the eyes of Black males through the web series For Colored Boys, which is directed by Black female filmmaker, Stacey Muhammad. Prior to viewing the web series students are asked to read the Introduction to A Philosopher goes to the Cinema to see how film can be used as philosophy. Students will also read excerpts of Kiese Laymon’s collection of essays How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America.

The final two weeks of the semester consists of students’ class presentations, which gives them the opportunity to showcase the knowledge they have gained over the course of the semester. The course outline is as follows:

For Colored Boys: Black Masculinity & the Social Welfare State

Semester & Year

Classroom Location
Meeting Day & Time
Jameka Hartley
Office Location
Office Hours: Date & Time (and by appointment)
Phone Number


Course Description1:

This class looks at race, masculinity, sex, and sexuality and the implications for social work and the social welfare state—specifically child welfare—by looking at Black masculinity in the context of American society. Students will engage Black masculinity by seeking to deconstruct its myths, stereotypes, and representations. Students will be introduced to social welfare policy and how it is juxtaposed with Black masculinity.

Course Objectives:

By the end of the semester, successful students will:

Required Readings and Videos:

Abu-Jamal, Mumia, and Marc Lamont Hill. (1967) 2012. The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on Black Life in America. Chicago: Third World Press.

African American Policy Forum. 2015. Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected. New York:NAAPF.

Alexander, Michelle. 2013. “Michelle Alexander, author of 'The New Jim Crow' – 2013 George E. Kent Lecture.” YouTube video, 70:31. Posted March 15. .

Alexander, Michelle. 2010. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: New Press.

Blay, Zeba. 2015. “How Jaden Smith and the #Carefreeblackboy Movement Are Redefining Black Masculinity.” Huffington Post, June 5.

Coates, Ta-Nahisi. 2015. Between the World and Me. New York: Spiegel & Grau.

DuVernay, Ava. 13th. Los Gatos, CA: Netflix. 100 minutes.

Ferguson, Ann Arnett. 2000. Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

hooks, bell. 2004. We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. New York: Routledge.

Jansson, Bruce S. 2015. The Reluctant Welfare State: Engaging History to Advance Social Work Practice in Contemporary Society. Stamford: Cengage Learning.2

Laymon, Kiese. 2013. How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. Chicago: Bolden.

Majors, Richard, and Janet Mancini Billson. 1993. Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America. New York: Lexington Books.

Muhammad, Stacey. 2011. For Colored Boys, web series.

Muhammad, Stacey. [2013] “Filmmaker Stacey Muhammad Speaks on Her ‘For Colored Boys’ Web Series.”

Neal, Mark Anthony. 2006. New Black Man. New York: Routledge.

Noguera, Pedro A. 2008. The Trouble with Black Boys: …And Other Reflections on Race Equity and the Future of Public Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Questlove. 2014. “Questlove’s How Hip-Hop Failed Black America, Part III: What Happens When Black Loses Its Cool?Vulture, May 6.


Discussion Lead or Group Facilitation (20 points)3: Depending on class size and either individually or as a group, you will be assigned a reading for which you will be a discussion leader. As leader, you will facilitate discussion questions for the class to process. A written summary of the reading and at least five thorough and thought-provoking discussion questions will be submitted to the professor on the day of your presentation. Visual aids or activities can be used when leading discussion. Led discussions should last 20-30 minutes. Due date varies.

Gender Journal (20 points)4: Please keep a journal throughout the duration of the semester. To receive full credit for this activity, your journal should consist of at least five in-depth reflections on the course content and their personal relevance to your life. You may choose which readings and class discussions to write about, but each entry must explore gender in some way. Each reflection should be approximately 2 double-spaced pages each. Due Week 10.

Class Attendance/Participation (20 points): Students are expected to consistently attend class and to contribute to class discussions and activities. Additional contributing factors toward the participation grade are homework assignments and in-class assignments, discussions, and activities.

Final Paper & Presentation (40 points)5: You will choose a topic related to Black masculinity; you will research the topic, write a paper, and present your work to your peers. Final paper due week 14; presentations due weeks 14 and 15 depending on sign up.

You have two general options to choose from for the structure of the paper.

Option #1: Research Focus
For this option, you will identify at least two empirical journal articles that have looked at your topic from different perspectives (i.e., used different theories to frame the research related to the topic, used different samples, etc.). You will introduce your topic by providing any necessary background information, definitions, history, etc. and identifying why this is an important topic for Black masculinity and why it is important to you. You will also need to provide basic information about the theoretical framework(s) used in your empirical journal articles. You will compare and contrast OR integrate the two articles (and theories) by identifying the strengths and limitations of both as well as questions that each article leaves unanswered. Finally, you will include a section that addresses future directions related to this topic. Where are the gaps in the research? Are there segments of the population that have been overlooked? Is there an intervention that could productively address this issue?

Option #2: Personal Narrative
For this option, you will compose a paper about Black masculinity that results from your experience with and your reflections about class, class readings and class teachings. You will pick a topic covered in class and explain how and why that topic is important and/or significant to the social welfare state. Feel free to use creative writing with this option. While this is a personal narrative, you should engage with the course material and provide an analysis. In addition to course material you will need to incorporate at least three scholarly sources outside course materials such as newspaper articles or journal articles.

Papers (regardless of option) will be 10-15 pages total (excluding citations, cover page, and references).

Presentations are your opportunity to share your knowledge with your classmates. The presentation will be graded on the following: demonstration of understanding of material, demonstrated ability to think about the content critically and creatively, organization and clarity of presentation, and delivery style. Presentations will be 15-20 minutes. Please plan for questions and have at least two questions to present to your classmates.

Course Outline

WEEK 1 – Introduction to Course


Introductions, overview of syllabus, discussion of banking model of education, sign up for discussion leads and final presentation dates

Readings and Due Dates

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, chapter 2

Suggested Course Methods6

Lecture; brainstorm; discussion; consensus-making

WEEK 2 – Community Building


Building a common vocabulary; definitions of masculinity; Black masculinity; race; identity; forms of oppression

Readings and Due Dates

We Real Cool, preface

Suggested Course Methods

Lecture; brainstorm; discussion

WEEK 3 – Black Masculinity


Black masculinity

Readings and Due Dates

The Classroom and the Cell, chapter 8
Cool Pose, chapters 1-4

Suggested Course Methods

Lecture; paired discussion; in-class writing

WEEK 4 – Redefining Black Masculinity


Alternate forms of masculinity

Readings and Due Dates

“How Jaden Smith and the #Carefreeblackboy Movement Are Redefining Black Masculinity”
The Classroom and the Cell, chapter 2
New Black Man, chapter 2 and 5

Suggested Course Methods

Lecture; analysis/discussion of assigned reading

WEEK 5 – Black Cool


What does Black cool look like? What does it mean?

Readings and Due Dates

“Questlove’s How Hip-Hop Failed Black America, Part III”
We Real Cool, chapter 10
Cool Pose, chapters 5, 6, 8, and 9

Suggested Course Methods

Counter-storytelling; media analysis

WEEK 6 – #Blackgirlsmatter


Why it is important to include Black girls

Readings and Due Dates

Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected
Review African American Policy Forum website,

Suggested Course Methods

Policy analysis; discussion; critique; social media

WEEK 7 – School


School to prison pipeline; policing Black boys

Readings and Due Dates

The Classroom and the Cell, chapter 6
The Trouble with Black Boys, chapters 2, 7, and 8
We Real Cool, chapter 3
Bad Boys, chapters 1 and 6

Suggested Course Methods


WEEK 8 – Mass Incarceration


New forms of slavery; unpaid labor

Readings and Due Dates

“Redemption” (pilot episode of For Colored Boys)
The Classroom and& the Cell, chapter 5
The New Jim Crow, chapters 3 and 5
supplemental viewing: 13th

Suggested Course Methods

Discussion and analysis of assigned lecture

WEEK 9 – The State


Social welfare; social policy; examples of policies; historical context

Readings and Due Dates

The Reluctant Welfare State, chapter 1

Suggested Course Methods

Lecture; policy analysis

WEEK 10 – The State, continued


Social welfare; social policy; examples of policies; historical context

Readings and Due Dates

The Reluctant Welfare State, chapter 13
Gender Journal due

Suggested Course Methods

Policy analysis

WEEK 11 – Relationships


Relationships between Black boys and families, between Black women and men, and Black men and other Black men

Readings and Due Dates

We Real Cool, chapters 8 and 9
Between The World and Me

Suggested Course Methods

Paired interviews; lecture

WEEK 12 – For Colored Boys


A representation of Black men through the eyes of a Black female filmmaker

Readings and Due Dates

Philosopher Goes to the Cinema, introduction
For Colored Boys, episodes 1-4
“Filmmaker Stacey Muhammad Speaks on Her ‘For Colored Boys’ Web Series”

Suggested Course Methods

Media analysis; final paper review

WEEK 13 – For Colored Boys, continued


A representation of Black men through the eyes of a Black female filmmaker

Readings and Due Dates

For Colored Boys, episodes 5-8
How to Kill Yourself, prologue, epilogue and 3 additional self-selections

Suggested Course Methods

Media analysis; discussion

WEEK 14 – Presentations

Readings and Due Dates

Final Paper Due and Final Presentations

WEEK 15 – Presentations and Course Wrap-Up

Readings and Due Dates

Final Presentation

1 Why combine social work and gender and race? Social work aspires to support individuals, groups, and communities, each of which is affected by the social constructions of race and gender. Moreover, the conceptualization of Black masculinity has real world effects, effects that are often seen by social workers.

2 Only chapters 1 and 13 will be assigned of this reading.

3 Being able to present material requires a certain level of integration and synthesis. I want students to be able to demonstrate this and, in turn, practice public speaking because it is a skill that people need to have. Engaging in discussion also pushes students from passive to active involvement and reflects a pedagogical approach that values learners’ active involvement in knowledge production: “The students—no longer docile listeners—are now critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher [and their classmates]” (Freire 2005, 81).

4 Keeping a gender journal enables students to integrate their personal experiences with class material. Oftentimes students are unaware of how they reinscribe social constructions of race and gender, which I hope this writing exercise will bring to light. I participated in this exercise as a student and found it extremely valuable.

5 The final paper and presentation is a way for students to enact the problem-solving model. The topic that students choose will be the “problem” and depending on the option that they choose to pursue they will develop material around their problem. For “students, as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves in the world and with the world, will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge” (Freire 2005, 81). This culminating project encourages students to thoughtfully rise to the challenge.

6 I included the topics and suggested course methods in an effort to be clear about the topics that would be covered and the various teaching methods that could be utilized throughout the course. I would not include these items in the syllabus, but I believe that they are valuable course preparation tools.

Jameka Hartley, LICSW, MPH ( has worked in several capacities as a social worker. Ms. Hartley is currently pursuing her PhD in interdisciplinary studies at the University of Alabama. Her research interests include social work, interdisciplinary scholarship, intersectionality, gender and race, child welfare, academic advising, qualitative research, and public health.