In every representation of the Negro, he was pictured as a gorilla dressed up like a man. His picture was never carried in the newspapers of the South (the same rule holds today in most parts of the South) unless he committed a crime….All of this fitted into the stereotype which represented the Negro as subhuman or a beast, without any human qualities. –E. Franklin Frazier, The Black Bourgeoisie, 1957
How do we dispell such stereotypes, or is it even possible? The basis of this manhood development program is to examine such misrepresentations and empower our youth to challenge those in every facet of their lives–to be positive, productive, and purposeful members of society who exhibit thoughts and actions beyond the expected. I remember the Nortorius B.I.G. saying, “Stereotypes of the Black male misunderstood, and it’s still all good.” I agree, Big, we’re misunderstood.
This may surprise you quite a bit, but I’ve heard from quizzical Blacks that my efforts to transform the young Black male psyche are covertly racist. My effort to teach these young brothas how to maneuver around the potholes and roadside boulders of negative gender and racial stereotypes is discriminatory. They ask why other kids aren’t allowed to be a part of the program. They wonder why the curriculum is infused with so much Black history and culture. “Kids from other backgrounds have problems, too”, they say. From whites I receive a lot of support, surprisingly. I’m not saying I don’t get much support from Blacks, either. I’m just saying it sometimes takes be aback because I expect them (whites) to be more critical of my goals and objectives of my educational program for young Black males rather than the unexpected praise I get from them. I’m sure they’re some whites who are critical of it, too; but I’ve had random whites, and some who I work with, who’ve offered to financially donate regardless of the fact I haven’t acquired my 501(c)3 yet. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a guilty conscious lingering in there somewhere. Maybe they’re more willing to give and support because of some hidden culpability they feel. Maybe they view me as the “credit” to my race whose efforts to “save” my poor downtrodden brethren is worthy of applause, which is actually a credit to their concealed prejudices, right? Maybe they’re less openly critical about it since whites, I feel, are ultra-conscious about being perceived as racist and take amazing strides to keep us from honing in on any perceived racial prejudices that they may remotely harbor (I was hit with the “My best friend is Black…” the other day while on the second job, and all I did was tell the supervisor I thought she was cool.”) Or maybe, just maybe, they’re purely genuine supporters because they wholeheartedly care about the socio-political and educational advancement of African-Americans considering our incredible plight, especially our males. I don’t know. It’s hard to judge.
Yes, it’s hard to gauge why others choose to support me, or not to support me. In 2012, efforts solely designed for one particular group of people is regressive. It paralyzes the tremendous strides and all that we’ve overcome as a country. It condones segregation. Whatever—blah, blah blah. Most, if not all my blog posts and outreach efforts, written about on this site and the other (Southern Education Desk), are suggestions, concerns, and reflective epiphanies that are fundamentally rooted in my passion for the social and educational upliftment of the African-American community beginning with our youth. One of my primary objectives as an educator, a Black man, is to be a positive representation of pure Black manhood for the young brothas who look like me, who remind me of the brothas that I grew up with back in Aliceville, AL. That does not mean students and parents of other cultural fabrics cannot benefit from being adherents to my words, actions, or participants in my program, PYB culturally-relevant educational outreach and mentoring. So, America, this is what my program is all about. Yes, other kids from other groups can benefit, but I wholeheartedly believe that the dynamic blend between the historical, economic, cultural, and social factors have created a unique experience for the American Black man, an experience that no other human being can even come close to understanding or relating to. Yes, white boys are fatherless, too. Many don’t know how to tie ties, many don’t know how to speak well, and many come from dire economic backgrounds; but, they are not judged by the same standards as Black men are. For the most part, racial stereotypes work in their favor, not ours. They still benefit from the “white privilege”. They’re not immediately judged off of appearance, be it skin color or style of dress. They’re not judged by the way they walk or talk. We are. Our kids are. If a white kid is considered a problem kid, that’s just it—he’s a problem kid. If a Black kid is considered a problem kid, we start hearing a totally different set of pronouns: those kids are problem kids, those people, them, they. So I feel it’s going to take us to change that. Me.
As Black men, our obstacles are unique for us. Therefore, my program is culturally designed to meet the social, educational and emotional needs of the Black man. I can relate to their struggles and their concerns because I’ve been there, and actually, just may very well still be there. The other Black men that I bring in as guest speakers can too. There is invisible glue, I feel, that bonds us together. Yes, this glue is rooted in skin color, but with that brings a common heritage and culture, a way of speaking to one another that may be perceived as foreign language to some outsiders. I’m a Black man and as a Black man, I can connect to these young brothas in ways that they’re white teachers cannot. And I’m not saying white teachers are useless in making a connection with Black kids. I’m just saying there are some things that they won’t ever be able to relate to or understand because of the cultural barriers much like it’s quite difficult for me to make those connections with the Hispanic young men in my program; but, I do not discriminate who I welcome into this program or who I mentor. Whites, Hispanics, Middle Easterners can all be Positive Young B.r.o.t.h.a.s., too. I’ve had mentees of just about every cultural fabric I can think of and I believe what they took from my program is an understanding of our issues, of our culture, our strides, our obstacles. I believe they saw something different in young Black America than the misrepresentations they may have seen on BET, MTV and their local news stations. If anything, I need students of all representations because those are the students that may hold the power of influence to transform the hearts and minds of their ethnic peers. They’re part of our future, too. They’re also apart of the transformation of the public perception of the Black man. If racism, prejudice and bigotry start at home, then I believe I have the power to change that if they’re apart of this program. These kids will be employees one day, college students, maybe even employers. They’ll be the one who’ll view Black men impartially, without the racial biasness and prejudice that continues to hinder our progress.
My intention is in no way to be divisive or as some people surprisingly assess it, an exercise in reverse racism. I don’t know about you, but to me, racism is not defined as a strong and undying commitment to the preservation and restoration of one’s history, culture, and social progression. Racism exposes itself in how we treat one another—the subtle and not so subtle prejudices solely grounded in racial and ethnic variations. If I am a reverse racist, then so be it, if that’s what you want to call it. I’ll be that. I do not hide my love for Black America, Black aesthetic, Black culture, Black history. It’s who I am. It’s what I’m unwaveringly committed to. I’ve told several students that the person I am today, essentially, is the manifestation of the efforts of those that came before me, my heroes. Our heroes. I’m only doing what they bestowed upon me. I’m talking about Malcolm , Martin, Assata, Douglass, DuBois, Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Woodson, Carver. Hell, even Washington. This may not be fitting, but as finished that last sentence, I couldn’t help but to think of a quote by Snoop Dogg: “He is I and I am him”.
“If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success…” Malcolm X