A while back a friend and I were discussing what it feels like to be young black men in 21st-century America. To us, despite coming from sound families and being college educated, the pressure of simply existing without the added pressures of institutionalized racism remains ever present. So we decided to air our grievances as young black men, if not for things to be resolved, at the very least for them to be heard and made known. We do not claim to speak for the entire black and brown American male demographic. However here are a few things that, due to our common experiences and those collective experiences of our close black and brown relatives and friends, we do deem unacceptable.
“We black men do not like…”
Being judged for jamming out to Linkin Park, Sugarland, Kelly Clarkson and/or Brad Paisley and Toby Keith, etc., etc.
Music is music. It transcends color. There is no decree stating that “white music” is off limits to us. Not all of us black men, or black people for that matter, subscribe to the top ten 106 & Park hot tracks, so don’t be surprised if when you go through our iPods you find The Fray listed before Fred Hammond.
Also, as far as music goes, do not expect us all to be disciples of the various hip hop artists and rappers. I’ll never forget the time during the process of joining a fraternity my sophomore year my crossing class was asked to come up with presentations and when someone asked “Who knows how to rap?!” EVERYONE looked at me and the only other black guy in the room. Hated to disappoint them–I didn’t even start listening to hip hop for real until just last year, two to three years after the fact. So BOOP.
ALSO, music tastes aren’t necessarily gender specific, either. I once had a male cousin tell me when we were younger that the music I liked was “girl music”…like what? *sigh* That’s a whole ‘nother post…
Being mistaken for a drug dealer
This is…y-…we-…just don’t. This stereotype is so played out. Yes, black people deal in drugs, but this, my dear reader, is in no shape, form or fashion an activity relegated specifically to the black community. How many black men have you seen on the news with 3rd degree burns from a methlab explosion? I’m not even going to talk about how the white soccer mom turned drug dealer story was glamorized by the hit show Weeds in this post (it was a good show, though)…
Look, don’t assume just because I’m wearing a hoodie, basketball shorts and J’s that I have a dime bag to offer you on discount. (This happened to my brother where he lives in Ohio. He has two master’s degrees and a PhD and is a professor at a reputable university.)
Being judged by black women/men for dating outside our race, particularly white women/men
Aside from it being a little racist, this whole notion that “white women are taking all the good black men” is completely unfounded. Maybe it’s an aged concept, but I specifically remember growing up as a child and going through high school running into young black women who were righteously upset when a young black man chose to date outside “his race”. And God forbid he be a credible young man. There’s no relational embargo preventing love to cross ethnic barriers so why sweat a brotha? Though the concept goes both ways (black men sweatin’ black women), I’m just reminding you what we black men do not like.
The term “race card”
Chances are, if this term is being used it’s being used to diminish the experiences of a minority by someone who is NOT a minority. Understanding doesn’t come from dismissing the experiences of others, but from listening and giving acceptance an honest chance. If this is used against a black/brown man, it’s even more damaging because more than likely that man is trying to communicate a grievance, a luxury not afforded by most men to begin with. Denying him that outlet is denying him the right to free, human expression which is only a different form of (mental) oppression.
- Being profiled and/or followed in stores
This happens A LOT and there aren’t too many explanations that can be offered for it other than the primary, obvious one–the stereotype that all black people steal or aren’t capable of making sound, lucrative transactions. These assumptions aren’t any more true than the assumption that “all white people like country music” (this just in, they really don’t all like country music o_o). Once you realize that there are measures and instructions handed down from corporate and managing staff in stores literally telling employees to profile people of color when they enter a store you may also realize how sick the world still is with racism. The most recent and more prominent cases would definitely be the incidents at a Barney’s store in New York City or the time Oprah Winfrey, of all people, was denied satisfactory customer service because she was presumed to be too poor to afford the store’s fare (I laugh at this every. single. time.) Folks, it happens…not that these tactics really cut down on thefts or anything. Ask “affluenza-afflicted” Ethan Couch how he got away with stealing alcohol from a WalMart (an item usually in THE BACK of the store) before drunkenly killing four innocent people. Hm.
Being shot at
Deriving from yet another sad stereotype that we’re inherently dangerous, so many precious black men have been ended because someone didn’t take the time to see them in the same light the shooter seems themselves and the people they’re “trying to protect”: as a human being. As black and brown men we’re all too often found guilty until proven innocent. The triflin’ “Stand Your Ground” laws have started an open season on us…not that you necessarily even needed a law to justify gunning a black man down in America any way (i.e. Amadou Diallo). Need I even mention Trayvon Martin and Jonathan Ferrell? What about Kwadir Felton or Glenn Broadnax? Yeah, I’d kind of not like to not be walking down the street and get shot because I was “walking too suspiciously” (this is a genuine concern that I have) so let’s put the guns down, shall we?
Yo, this goes for black on black crime, too. One instance is not more acceptable than the other. The gun violence in black neighborhoods where young black men are shooting each other over drugs, “territory”, women, piddly little money disputes etc., etc. was played out with the jheri curl. Cease and desist. If trigger-happy cops and vigilante doughboys aren’t going to value your lives at least value your own. THINK. BE MORE.
- Being held accountable
This part is specifically for the young black men who may read this. Changing the tone here a bit and following in the vein of the previous note, I’d be remiss if I did not point out how some black men will fall behind in life and stay there all the while blaming all of their problems and issues on “the man” or some other oppressive entity (i.e. baby mama?). The American system is not by any means fair regarding minorities, especially young black men (followed very closely by black women). If it isn’t a lopsided justice system it’s an inconsistent, incompetent school system that feels “it’s done all it can” to save young black men. It is set up in various discreet ways to exclude, oppress or disregard young black men, but this does NOT count us out. The system couldn’t keep our ancestors enslaved. The system couldn’t keep African Americans from the voting polls and diner counters in the 60s. So why, my brotha, would you allow for it to keep you from succeeding in life. One thing that I admire so much about black Americans is how we have always prevailed in spite of the road blocks that have been purposely put in our way. I know that even today the African American journey isn’t easy, but we cannot rest on that excuse. Rise up and defy the odds because it’s already in. your. blood.
[This ends the “respectability” portion of this post.]
- Being fetishized (and/or commoditized)
Contrary to how society encourages me to feel, I do not enjoy being the object of someone’s carnal desires solely because of the exotic chocolate hue of my skin or the rumors surrounding the size of my genitals. Trust me, black is beautiful and brown is definitely fun to be around, but do not get it twisted. I don’t believe that black men (or black women for that matter) are any more sexually charged than any other race of people. I’m not sure where it came from, but I would guess that this misconception is derived from a popular culture that has misconstrued and hypersexualized brown people to a degree where our sexuality is practically dehumanized, cheapened. YES. Brown people are sexy and talented, but it does not mean we are to be objectified. Our talents should not be exploited for anyone’s capitalistic growth (another post coming soon).We are people with beautiful souls and minds as well as beautiful skin. Don’t get lost in the chocolate high. Respect my person.
Being underestimated and/or counted out before the race is over
If I had a dollar for every time a white person was surprised that I, as a young black male, was a college graduate with a sustainable job…well I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d have enough dirty money to be ashamed of. News media and prison statistics would sometimes have you believe that few young black men will ever rise to the same level of achievement as their white counterparts. Be it known, we were there designing and building the city of Washington D.C. as free men in a society that upheld slavery; we invented a large number of the things that offer you safety, comfort and luxury today; we provided for our families with the best of the whites during the Great Depression; we were there in the streets of Birmingham and Albany changing social history for the betterment of mankind, and we’re here now obtaining PhDs and presidencies, dreaming of a brighter future where we plan to make things happen for ourselves and our for fellow man. Don’t worry about DVR…this revolution won’t even be televised.
Stay tuned. This show ain’t over.
But in the meantime what are your thoughts?