If you ever listen to Donald Glover talk, you’ll notice something very different about him compared to most other rappers. He sounds kind of like a nerd. If you listen to his lyrics, you’ll again notice something very different - he doesn’t talk about life in the hood, slinging drugs, or the other near universal topics that rappers like to talk about. It’s almost as if he has an entirely different library of subjects than the majority of artists in that genre.
I point this out because he offers a model of masculinity that is extremely unique and out of place within the rap world. His perspective is that of an introverted, intellectual male. Within American black culture (aka “The Culture”) there is very very little space for that interpretation of masculinity.
If you look at his education, he went to NYU - a predominantly white school. If you look at his early work with Derrick Comedy, its mostly with other white actors. If you look at his early career, its as a writer on TV shows with predominantly white cast/crew (30 Rock, for example). His big acting break came on Community, which is targeted to primarily a white audience. His character on that show, Troy, is a nerdy black kid from the suburbs. Watch his early standup
Notice his diction, and his topics. If you listen without watching, you might not even think he was black. I’m sure - especially if you are black - you may have even thought “this guy sounds white.” Which is a sad commentary on how much black artists and performers are typecast into presenting black culture from only the low income, inner city black perspective.
I strongly suspect that Donald experienced a lot of sexual rejection from the black girls he was around as a teen and in his early 20’s, before getting famous. Sexual rejection that happened because he didn’t fit the expected model of black male masculinity, which unfortunately has become extremely one-dimensional in the era of mainstream hip-hop and huge wages for pro athletes. In general, when attractive and highly sought after young women of any ethnicity have sexual agency, they tend to prefer young men who are more stereotypically masculine within the context of their culture. Risk taking, exciting, “alphas”. For a black girl who, like him, grew up in the black lower middle class, that isn’t going to be a nerdy, introverted, intellectual type. It’s going to be a guy with muscles, a rapper, an athlete, etc. During his formative years, Donald was none of those things. And I’m sure there is some resentment on his part that comes from that, especially now that he is rich and famous and those same girls that rejected him in his early 20’s are coming after him now.
Donald Glover isn’t unique in this respect. There is an old trope about how girls date the bad boys in their 20’s, then settle down with the stable ones later. I don’t have any actual data around this, but based on the social dialogue between black women and black men around the ethnic sexual preferences of black men, I suspect that there may be at least some this. By the time many of these black women get out of their bad boy phase, many of the stable black men have been taken by women of other ethnicities. My suspicion: the stable men don’t have to pretend to be a tough guy from the hood to get sexual attention. Now cultural beauty standards that are biased towards women of lighter skin play into this too, but I’m just highlighting an additional variable that (the attractive) young black women actually have control over.
I remember in college at Carnegie Mellon (a school of mostly nerds), many of the young black men, who mostly came from middle-upper middle class suburbia, would put on a thug act in order to project an image of masculinity. I’m not saying that all black girls bought into this. Merely that the ones who had their pick of the boys would usually date the most “masculine” according to the culture they were raised in. Fortunately, more artists like Glover are getting exposure. “The Culture” is making more room for black perspectives that aren’t based on growing up in the hood. So this image of black masculinity is getting an upgrade and is far less limited than it was in the early 00’s.