Being a Black Man: Revisited
It’s been quite some time since I wrote the entry on the Washington Post’s series Being a Black Man, though it may very well prove to be the most read entry on this journal. I just received a comment from someone wishing to seek some answers, which I will gladly attempt to provide now. Please find his statement and question below:
It is sad that you were pulled for being black in your mostly white neighborhood. The police are at times more criminal than the criminals.
Half the time, at least where we live they don’t even do their job.
To quote you below, leads me also to comment as follows:
“There is, however, a very long way to go before myths and stereotypes are dispelled and the American populous is no longer afraid to look black males in the eyes as equals and as people.”
We live in the South as well and moved here from “SW Florida”, which is really more Midwest transplant than true South.
We moved here to a mostly black neighborhood in a city with a large black population as we did not want our girls growing up in some holier than thou white bread Disney-esque existence that we grew up in.
However, and to your point quoted above, what we are seeing in our neighborhood is absolutely disgusting. We are constantly trying to explain the behaviour of the young black men to our daughters and we can’t.
They litter constantly as they walk through the streets, sing rap and all it’s vulgarity in full voice thinking all the while that they are making some profound statement about blacks in general and all the while not realizing that they are not only an embarrassment to themselves but to all people regardless of race.
One guy tried to get my then 7 year old to smoke pot as he walked past our house. She refused.
They show zero respect for people or their property, they drive on the wrong side of the road at extreme speeds and if any of these actions are brought to their attention you are immediately hit with a barrage of vulgar insults or they “play dumb” as if they didn’t see the posted speed limits or didn’t know that littering their own neighborhood is not only utterly stupid but as well illegal.
It is as if they are hell bent on pulling down the entire black culture. In some ways, if they can’t make it, neither should any other brother.
They are their own worst enemy and this seems to escape them.
Can you shed some light on this attitude and behaviour?
I’m just one white guy without answers that make any sense.
Firstly, let me thank you for writing your comment and question.
You bring up a very good point. While there are certainly African American males who are trying their best to make a good life for themselves and a better name for African-Americans in general, there are those who, it seems, are hellbent on undoing all of that hard work.
Attending the HBCU that I do, I see both ends of the spectrum everyday; and while I know that those who seek to better themselves and those around them out number those who seek to perpetuate the negative stereotype, it goes without saying that those who act in such a negative manner garner most of my attention (that old saying “the squeeky wheel gets the oil”). In this case, the oil is nothing but a negative overall reputation as a lazy, loud, uneducated, and uncaring group of people (not to mention the other stereotypes that are constantly associated with black men like violent, degrading towards women, et cetera).
As for the answer to your question of “why act like this when it’s so harmful to the larger group”. Well, there’s a couple of different answers. Before I go through them, let me say that I am not trying to make excuses by blaming others. I merely state the facts as seen from the perspective of a black man, something that is rarely regarded as useful or even wanted in discussing this issue.
Firstly, and far more important than the other issues to follow, is the prominent lack of a strong and positive male presence in most African American homes. The number of single parent homes in the African-American populous far outnumber those of other races in this country.
Coupled with that the fact that the remaining mothers/grandparents/aunts or uncles/other obscure family members must work to support themselves (and usually multiple jobs per person, at that), and you have a recipe for children left unattended or supervised by people who are barely past being children themselves. Many of these kids grow up under-appreciated by society just for being black, and many of them will do whatever is necessary to gain attention (which is what the action you refer to in your comment really is, but more on that later). Whether that attention is positive, negative, or indifferent makes no difference to them.
Secondly, there is a rather bad habit of self-typing one’s self to be a certain way. In other words, many black males have taken the image of the stereotypical black male (violent, uneducated, et cetera) and internalized it. Why? More often than not, it’s the the dominant, if not only, image they get from society of black males. People like Bill Cosby, Colon Powell, and others hold no water with the generations that came after them. Even in my generation (I’m 25), Bill Cosby is nothing more than a comedian and Sidney Poitier is just “that black guy who played in some movies awhile back”. Somewhere along the line, the excellence these men exuded in their fields has been lost on my generation. In their place, there’s the “Get Rich or Dye Tryin'” attitudes that popularize getting rich by any means necessary. And most often than not, “any means” usually means illegal and illicit means.
As a black male that has personally lived through most, if not all, of these issues that face all black males today, I consider myself (with some pride) as a success story, but all the praise is not due to me. I have an unrelenting mother (who I thank God for everyday) who refused to let me go by the wayside. She worked day in and day out, both to make money and to make sure I grew up as best I could with no outside distractions. I remember being a kid here in the deep South wondering why I had very few friends. I didn’t understand it then, but I see now that my mother was keeping all bad influences out of my life (not that friends are bad influences, but the kids around my little neighborhood were). There is a serious lack of that today. I have heard of too many good black males, people I know personally, who get mixed up with the wrong crowd and wind up in jail or worse.
Children were never meant to raise themselves; neither were they meant to be raised by other children. It takes a strong female and male presence in the home to give the best chances of raising a well-balanced member of our society. What you are witnessing there in your hometown is the result of people not growing up in a balanced, whole home. Most often times (though not in my case) the father is either in jail, dead, or just not there, and the lady of the family doesn’t have the energy or resources to do it by herself. It’s a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself every generation.
Something has to change. Something fundamental. I’ll end with this: There is such a strong negative stereotype about blacks, and particularly black males, in this country that there is bound to be some internalization on the part of some people. It’s just happens. What needs to change is the self image of the black community as a whole. Once that happens, then the outside world will be forced to view us differently, but to do so means to challenge things that we, as a black community, have held as a part of our culture for too long. Until that day comes, there will always be, I’m afraid, those who perpetuate the myth and stereotypes.
I hope this answered your question and shed some light on just a few of the many roots of this problem. Thanks again.