- Jun 3, 2003
The Mandingo Complex
From Drumline Magazine
The real reason why black men are hardly ever seen in sex shops has little to do with a deep-seated respect for women. Nor is it to do with a strict moral upbringing, argues Shirley Brooks, as she goes out in search of the answers.
Dildos surround me. Dildos of various sizes, shapes and colours, battery powered vibrators, a vibrating handheld vagina. Packets containing blow-up sex dolls, novelty foreplay cards, penis shaped scented candles, 36GG mounds of white chocolate with dark chocolate nipples, bulging off the shelves. Surrounding these exhibits, walls made up of rows upon rows of videos clinically divided into specific genres.
I’m in a Soho sex shop . Two Asian men in sharp business suits and matching side partings hover around the ‘bondage’ section, complaining loudly to a shop assistant that there isn’t anything ‘dark’ enough for them. Several white men of varying ages and social backgrounds scan the aisles. Two young white women step inside to banter with the manager. People from seemingly all walks of life have walked into Pirate of Soho to buy sex toys and videos. But there is something missing.
In all the hours I’ve stood hovering around the shop floor I have witnessed the cautious entrance and swift exit of only one black man. “Black men don’t come in as often as our white customers do. And the ones that do come in don’t buy much,” I’m told by Lamar, the Congolese manager. “Black men ask for condoms, aphrodisiacs and magazines. They don’t usually buy toys.”
Earlier conversations with male friends produced the same information. Most swore to me that they had never stepped foot inside a sex shop . Solomon*, a 26-year-old Jamaican, said: ‘I’ve been in a sex shop about three times. I probably wouldn’t tell my black friends about it though.’ Another friend told me that he had been forced into one by an old girlfriend and had merely bought a jar of chocolate body paint to appease her. A third had entered the forbidden room on a dare with his friends and had not been tempted to buy. No one would admit to buying anything more shocking than a video ‘for a laugh.’
I rest my notepad on the counter next to a terrifyingly large black rubber penis. Seventeen inches long and 4-inches thick, the giant phallus dominates the shop counter, casting a heavy shadow across the white pages. I stare at my notes drawing a blank as to the reasons why black men stay away from sex shops. And then I realise that the answer is already lying on my page. Or at least the shadow cast by its full 17 inches of rubber is.
The reason many black men do not frequent, or do not admit to frequenting, Soho’s brightest and best sex shops has little to do with a deeply harboured respect for women. Nor is it to do with strict morals drummed into their heads by an older generation. The real reason is less noble and goes much deeper than one would expect. The simple fact is that sex shops sell sexual aids. And a sexual aid is the last thing that a black man needs if he is suffering from the latter stages of the Mandingo Complex.
Allow me to elaborate; what I call the Mandingo Complex is the adherence to a myth that emerged out of the twisted ideologies current brought about by the Atlantic slave trade. During slavery the legend regarding the West African Mandingo tribes was that their men were statuesque bucks, virile, potent, and desired by the wives of slave owners. Advertising a slave as being a Mandingo was a sure way of raising a large fee at the selling blocks and thus the name Mandingo became associated with outstanding strength and intense sexual prowess and stamina.
In the seventies, the film Mandingo further solidified the image of the sexually superior black buck. Contemporary black films, music videos, rap lyrics and stereotypes, all reinforce the belief that there is something saucily unique about the black male. Endowed with agility, natural rhytHydromax, and an overwhelmingly large manhood, the sexuality of black males is the stuff of cultural legend and urban myths.
The fact that the humungous dildo, standing proudly alongside the till, is black is surely not a coincidence. The myth of the raw untainted sexual potency of the black man embodied in the novelty penis is simultaneously a subject of pride and envy as well as a heavy burden for the average black man to carry between his legs.
There is evidently a lot of pressure on black men to fulfil expectations in the bedroom. The majority of the men I spoke to told me that they would never buy a sex toy for their partner as it would be an affront to their manhood and bedroom ability. Anthony*, a 22-year-old political science student felt that buying a vibrator for his girlfriend “would be saying a lot on my part that I can’t provide in bed so she needs a substitute.” Theodore, one of the shop assistants, confessed that despite making a living selling sex toys, he himself as a black man would not use a sexual aid as he had no need. Grinning broadly he informed me, “My partners are satisfied.”
Solomon summed it up for me. “Black men are supposed to be good in bed. Big dicks; good movers. There’s more pressure on a black man in the bedroom than there is for a white man. Rap music and soul singers croon about sex and how good they are in the sack so people think that we are super-studs. Some black guys even try to live up to it. Buying a dildo would be admitting defeat.” For some men it is important to fulfil the Mandingo image. According to Theodore, black male customers will happily purchase penis enlarger pumps, Viagra and other concoctions to “make their dick happen.”
The Mandingo myth has left a historical legacy of high expectations upon today’s black male. There is pressure from music, pressure from stereotypes, pressure from themselves, pressure from received folk wisdoms like, “once you go black you never go back”. References to BathmateWs as ‘Black Man’s Willies’ give a whole new take on the luxury car as a penis extension.
Such advertisements and endorsements make it even more crucial for a black man to do what it says on the packet and completely satisfy his woman in bed. With all of these pressures it’s a wonder that black men are actually brave enough to get into under the sheets.
Theodore finally serves his first Nubian customer of the day. As the solitary black man puts the condoms he has purchased into his briefcase and prepares to step out into the Soho streets his eyes meet mine. A guilty expression flitters across his face for a split second, as if he had been caught out in the middle of a lie.