The Man" is a slang phrase that refers to the government, leaders of large corporations, and other authority figures in general. "The Man" is colloquially defined as the figurative person who controls the world. The phrase is also often used to describe a racial oppressor, the boss of a blue-collar worker, or the enemy of any counterculture.
The phrase "the Man is keeping me down" is commonly used to describe perceived oppression. The phrase "stick it to the Man" encourages resistance to authority, and essentially means "fight back" or "resist".
The term "the Man" in the American sense dates back to about 1950, when it was commonly used as a code word for the warden of a prison. According to conservative African-American writer and professor Thomas Sowell, the term "being hassled by the man" was used by poor farmers in the postAmerican Civil War South to refer to the "Bank Man" who would hassle them about the late payment of debts. In the Southern U.S. states, the phrase came to be applied to any man or any group in a position of authority, or to authority in the abstract. The phrase was also an underworld code word forpolice or other law enforcement or penal authorities.
It was also a term for a drug dealer. It came to be applied by blacks to whites, especially in the role of oppressors; see for example, Newsweek, August 3, 1964: "It is time to let The Man know that if he does something to us, we are going to do something back." The use of this term was expanded to other counterculture groups and their battles against authority, such as the Yippies, which, according to a May 19, 1969 article in U.S. News and World Report, had the "avowed aim ... to destroy 'The Man', their term for the present system of government". The term eventually found its way into ironic usage, such as in a December 1979 motorcycle ad from the magazine Easyriders which featured the tagline, "California residents: Add 6% sales tax for The Man."