Black Masculinity: Who Can Young Black Men Look Up To?
While riding the train this morning, lost in my own literature, something caught my attention. A young boy – he appeared to be around 5 or 6 – was screaming as his father stepped off of the train. He ripped away from his mother and started fighting and screaming in a language I didn’t understand. But, body language is universal. The father made eye contact with him and delicately explained whatever the situation was and ordered him to be still and be quiet. The young man reluctantly agreed and as the doors slammed shut, he began to fuss under his breath. As his mother attempted to console him, he pushed her kisses away, and rejected any physical gestures of kindness. He then ran up to the doors and began to silently protest as the train pulled off, his father winking and smiling in assurance.
I was enamored by this for two reasons: rarely do we see such displays of father to son connection or such displays of positive male influence. In those 30 seconds, I saw the love between parents, their son, and the reverence the son had for his father. Most importantly, everything was done in love. Even the son’s flagrant protest was subdued with time as the mother explained the situation. For those who know me, this links to another major subject that a lot of my research and academic articles have been devoted to: Black masculinity and its role in society and the modern family.
Yes, that sounded like the heading of a cleverly titled essay. But, no essays here. However, it is painfully obvious that the majority of the images protrayed of Black men show him as brute, a pimp, sex toy, thug, emotionless, etc. This isn’t new to anyone I’m sure and, especially within the Black community, there isn’t much many Black men feel we can do to correct this misrepresentation. Some simply become exhausted and given up on a lifetime of trying to prove what they AREN’T. Instead, they have chosen to BE what everyone expects them to be.
In bell hooks’s book, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, she hits the nail right on the head in her analysis of these troubling representations of Black men. She relies compelling logic, historical context, and academic excerpts and quotes from well known Black male figures to point out the need for a positive Black Male Politic. Here’s one quote I’d like to focus on as it relates to the myth surrounding Black men and their lack of interest in education. She writes:
“In the essay “Fear and Doubt,” Huey Newton writes about the ways poor black males long for education yet fear failing if they seek it: ‘They tell their children that things will be different for them if they are educated and skilled but there is absolutely nothing other than this occasional warning to stimulate education. Black people are great worshippers of education, even the lower socio-economic Black person, but at the same time they are afraid of having their fears verified.’ These feelings about early schooling are expressed by black males across class. In the memoir of my girlhood I write about attending all-black schools where black boys excelled and were deemed smarter than even the smartest girl and the way that changed when schools were integrated. . . . Suddenly, smart black boys were invisible. When a ‘special’ black boy was allowed to be in the gifted class it was only after he had proven himself to be appropriately subordinate. Always, he was the lone smart boy who managed to excel, learned to be obedient, to keep his mouth shut.”
For any person of color, particularly Black men and women, this is something that we have all painfully and regrettably watched in our own childhoods. But, instead of brainstorming the issues of society, how we can work to rebuild the Black man, and begin healing the wounds of our past, I just wanted to end this post with a very real question – although this is mainly directed to Black men and women, all races and creeds are welcome to express their thoughts.
What do you define as a real man and what should it look like? OR Describe a strong Black male role model that touched your life and what you admired about him…..
There are many young Black men, I included, that feel we are working to embody what it means to be a successful Black leader. But we sometimes feel like we’re working from scratch. And, the reality is that everyone isn’t willing to comb through the history books to find that role model that we would like to emulate. Obama is close, but looking at the way he’s being attacked, blatantly disrespected, and “abused” in the White House, although he is an example of the Black American Dream of limitless possibilities and equality, we’re all beginning to see the pros and cons of being in his position – that’s already another blog post in the making.
Cheers to Peace, Whiskey, and Heavy Thinking,