A young man I was mentoring called me to vent about what he perceived as a negative experience. He was FURIOUS!!! He was leaving a job interview in a building downtown when he was joined on the elevator by an older white woman. Though he was professionally dressed, his “swagger” still seemed to show.
According to his account, when the elevator door closed the lady moved as close as she could on the other side of the elevator and clutched her purse, being sure to not make eye contact with him. He said it was obvious she was afraid. She honestly thought he would do something to her or try to take her purse.
He was livid that she would think that of him. “Don’t nobody want that ol’ woman, her p***y, OR her dayum purse!” he said. He rode the bus and walked home from his stop insulted that someone who didn’t even know him would thing that about him, and would make it known with their actions.
When he finished venting, I asked him to listen to what he told me. I repeated, “The white woman got on the elevator. When the door closed, she retreated to the opposite side and clutched her purse. Why? Because she was afraid of you.”
“Yeah”, he said.
I asked him, “when are you gonna realize the power you have?” When will you glory in the fact that as a young black man, your very presence is so intense that it intimidates people who aren’t as strong as you are, and it challenges their ignorance?”
“Dayum! I didn’t think about it like that,” he responded.
Even though I was in a position to minister to him, this entire scenario was a lesson to me as well. I should no longer view my blackness as a hindrance or curse. I should embrace and glory in it. Hell, my blackness is more than beautiful…it’s downright powerful! The fact that I’m a black man is a gift. It’s a blessing. It’s an honor that God saw fit to bestow. It’s a reason to celebrate. I also realized that my blackness is a call to responsibility. The power that black men possess is one that should be used to bless the earth. When I think of the intelligence and talent we possess, it makes me so proud to be who I am. I just wish there were more black men who were vocal about their Black Pride.
The funny thing is how white people get afraid, offended and worried about black men having, vocalizing and displaying their pride. It truly incites fear within their very souls. I think that fear is a response to their internalized guilt for how we’ve been treated in the United States of Amerikkka. I think Black Pride is such a bright light that it shows them their inferiority. Maybe they are afraid because they know if we ever start to walk in all the greatness that lives within us, the white privilege bullshit will end, and the chickens will TRULY come home to roost.
It’s sad to think an entire generation of black men know nothing of their history. They have no clue of the greatness that is manifested on the earth because of their presence. I think knowing how Benjamin Banniker, a black man, contributed inventions that changed history would make them proud. Knowing of Langston Hughes and James Baldwin, black men, giving us literature that transcends time would get them excited. To know how the athletic accomplishments of Jackie Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Arthur Ashe, Mohammed Ali and Michael Jordan revolutionized sports forever is simply amazing. To have knowledge of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Bayard Rustin, Dr. MLK, and countless other civil rights icons would make them proud of their blackness. To know of men like Thelonius Monk, James Cleveland, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Prince and countless others who personify musical excellence and genius, would be an inspiration.
Having the opportunity to mentor younger black men has helped me realize that we, as a black men, cannot allow the fear or ignorance of others to make us think negative things about ourselves. We cannot allow anyone but us to define who we are. We cannot accept what the media says about black men as our personal truth, but rather present such a positive and powerful image they can’t help but tell the truth we want told.
It’s time we get back to teaching our sons, nephews and cousins about the greatness from whence they come. We have to embrace the beauty in our diversity. We can no longer use the evil perpetrated by white men as an excuse to dwell in mediocrity. We have to accept our blackness as a “something extra” that God gave us to succeed, whether white men are afraid of it or not.
Today I discovered I am officially “older”. After sitting in on a workshop and being inspired by college students who are passionate about changing our society, I realized that in alot of ways I was just like them when I was their age. I think I more ways than one, I am still just like them. Watching them interact with one another ignited a fire in me that I thought was long gone.
I walked away from the experience with one glaring realization…the difference between me then, and them now is my respect for my elders. My realizing that people who were older than me; people who had more experience than me were (and still are) assets to me. They are an invaluable resource. Whereas these young men and women feel like everything they need to know, they already know. They feel they need no input from people who have “been there, done that”. In their operating with this attitude, they make their lives harder than they really have to be.
Back in my day, we were taught to respect our elders. Most of that was because the elders weren’t afraid of us. They didn’t fear reminding us what “a child’s place” was. They told us when we were wrong. They demanded their respect. And if need be, they most certainly didn’t mind opening up some SERIOUS cans of whoop-ass.
They taught us the importance of humility. They showed us what it meant to walk in integrity. We learned that community was a necessity. More than anything, we learned that when we were in public, we represented more than just ourselves, we represented THEM.
This all leads me to question whether or not we have failed our young people. Has our trying to empower them actually crippled them? Does our unwillingness to be strong disciplinarians send a message that we are weak? Have we created an environment where the next generation is raising themselves?
I think we need to revive the spirit of Big Mama and Pops. We should remember the lessons they taught us about having noble character. We need to start passing along what the elders put in us…the knowledge that above all things, it’s our responsibility to be honorable people.