Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Are black men being silenced?
I’ve conceded it’s a futile task. You simply can’t educate people on how it feels to be a black man.
It’s hard to be heard. It’s ever harder to share all that passion without being labeled. You’re left feeling isolated from the rest, and minimized for doing what comes natural – screaming because few are willing to listen.
Over the years, I have committed my work to standing in the middle. My credentials qualify me to speak as one nurtured in that space between varied worlds. I’m a black man who has never attended a Historical Black University. I graduated from schools with an overwhelmingly white attendance, and found it difficult at times to fit due to the assumptions made about me. I was forced to overcome my own hostility forged after being discriminated against.
I know the difference between taking things personal and being overlooked because of my race. I’m not an angry black man. I’m a black man who has lived with that burden.
That stuff hurts.
I’m also the product of my own mistakes. I’m a recovering addict who once used drugs to cover my insecurity. I, like so many black men, was forced to take personal responsibility for the error of my ways. In time, lots of it, I found the strength to keep pressing after being denied and minimized for things I did long ago.
That stuff is real.
Frantz Fanon said it best in Black Skin, White Mask. Fanon argued that black people are forced to survive within two worlds – the world of white power and privilege and the world of black dysfunction. For this reason, black people, for the most part, know more about white people than they know about themselves. Black people are forced to contend with white culture and norms while standing distant from it all due to the limits caused by race.
Ellis Cose writes about this burden in his book The Rage of the Privileged Class. Cose discovered extreme frustration among black people who have gained access to the world of class privilege. No matter how much they achieve, something is missing. The thing missing is respect and acceptance as one who offers a credible voice beyond the assumptions of white people.
Standing in the gap between the world of white privilege and black dysfunction comes with the risk of pitting those who speak against those unwilling to admit the influence of their privilege. Using the terms power and privilege in the same sentence stirs hostility among those so glued to their own notions that they can’t see the imperfection of their own claims.
This is the place real racism shows up. It rises to the top whenever the voices of those in the middle are confronted for speaking from the middle. The expectation is for them to share from the place of white privilege. That position discredits the context that hinders those on the other side of the middle. The outcome is an attack of those who use their intellect and expertise to raise issues fueled from that unique perspective.
The common trend is to force black men to speak from the perspective of the white side of their bearings. They’re expected to think white, speak white and to draw conclusion that fail to ponder their position as black men.
This is a painful truth.
Black men are asked not to feel. They’re asked not to share those stories that helped them transcend the grip that keeps so many black men down. They’re asked to talk about education as the key to their overcoming, but to remain silent regarding the emotions they carried along the way.
You simply can’t separate the educational process from the unique social condition and enculturation that all black men face. We’re asked not to talk about the pain that comes with being judged before taking the test.
That pain is too profound for most to listen.
So, what happens when black men are asked to speak only to be told their opinion doesn’t matter? What lesson is there for black boys who witness black men invalidated for sharing from their unique position? Even more maddening is the assumption among those who refuse to accept the views of black men who, more than anyone else, have the answer regarding what black boys need to achieve.
All of us should take note of how white women bout with men for functioning from a place of power and privilege. Feminist attack patriarchy. They challenge us to consider the assumptions men make while being unable to view life from the lens of women. If white women challenge us to consider the voices of women, why can’t we ben sensitive to the voices of black men?
Why aren’t black men afforded the same respect? Why can’t black men lead the charge to develop a strategy for black boys? What does it say when people unable to comprehend the condition of black boys tell black men what’s best for black boys?
That is, by definition, a position of power and privilege. It’s a truth many refuse to concede. It’s disrespectful to discredit the voices of those living within that social condition. Why does this happen so often when it comes to the state of black men?
Why is it that no one is willing to listen to black men?
Since no one is asking, I will answer the question. It leaves us feeling no one cares to listen. It leaves us feeling no one wants black men to achieve. It feels like a plan to further destroy black men.
Do I believe that’s the case? NO! But perceptions speak deep. Real deep.
If you want to know what it takes to reach black boys, ask a black man. We know because we experience a common link.
Black men have a right to speak. Are you willing to listen?