This essay describes how the presidential campaign of Barack Obama reflected two tendencies of social conduct for African American men, colloquially summed up in African American public discourse as “keeping it real” and “keeping it proper.” The first refers to African Americans' efforts to behave in public settings in ways that presumably indicate a strong social connection to other African Americans, or that validate black Americans over and against some notion of a non-African American standard of social conduct. The latter refers to African Americans' efforts to adhere to presumably “mainstream” behavioral standards, whereby the humanity of black Americans is demonstrated and advanced. The essay explores how Obama exemplified both perspectives during his presidential campaign and discusses what implications his effort to balance these two, often diametrically opposed, tendencies has for forwarding new conceptions of African American masculinity.

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