A Glimpse Into My Life

See it through my eyes & understand me a little more

Tag Archives: Masculinity

What If “The Fresh Prince” Had Been An Honor Roll Student?

Today, I was reminded of a time I came of age (geez, I say this and sound “old”) while speaking with a younger cousin of mine. The conversation started out innocently enough where I simply asked if he found that he was enjoying his school year thus far. All of 11 years old, he emphatically responded with “No.”

No.

That’s it. A simple word, yet it seemed to hold the weight of something much heavier. Inquisitively, I asked him for details. I’ll note here that like most boys, my younger Cousin doesn’t bring his problems to me. Why would he want to present himself as “weak” to (his words here) a family member with the Lady Parts? As other Black men in my family, he wants to be seen as strong, so I knew that the words following his audible sigh were sure to be unexpected.

“I’m not cool because I’m smart. They pick on me because I’m smart. Why can’t I be cool and smart?”

I’m going to make a provocative statement and people can take it or leave it — but kids, especially Black boys, can’t be cool AND smart because parents don’t encourage that behavior.

Now, to me, this kid is possibly one of the coolest people I know. He’s a borderline genius and he’s humble about it. He’s not one of those “I know the answer to everything so let me answer the question that you didn’t ask” type of children. He’s also the kind of person that helps out those when they need help. He’s athletic but he’s a bit on the short side; and he’d rather just be himself rather than conforming to some trend.

Take it or leave it — that’s been his attitude until now. Now, he’s wondering, “Why don’t they like me?” and as someone who dealt with that, I know how dangerous it can be to navigate “life as you know it.”

In a day and age where parents already have to worry about their Black boys being tracked into slower classes, being reprimanded more than non-Black peers, or being tracked into the juvenile justice system via zero-tolerance polices, no one is seriously discussing what we value in our culture and it’s impact on what is already a challenging time.

As a culture (I cringe a bit when I type this), we focus too much on toughening our boys physically; yet we hesitate when it comes to encouraging our boys to strengthen their intellectual prowess. As a culture, we’re ready to cheer on our boys for their physical displays of excellence through sports such as basketball and football; yet we cringe when they inquire about chess, checkers, writing competitions, or unorthodox sports. As a culture, we focus on our bigger boys and reward them for their luck in the genetic draw while we disregard or neglect our boys who are shorter in stature or slighter in build.

But it leads me to the question of, “What if the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had been an honor roll student?”

I bring him up because like most people my age (I’m 25), I’m aware of his character and what he meant. He was the cool kid on the show (and in life) and I can only wonder how my male friends who faithfully watched the show would have approached school if they made it look like Will Smith’s character loved school? I even wonder about Eddie Winslow, the free-spirited but not-so-bright foil of Steve Urkel’s character on Family Matters. I even think about how wonderful it would have been had they shown Theo, the academically-challenged only son of the successful Huxtables, overcoming the limitations of his dyslexia and exceeding the academic standards that were set for him.

What would be different today had a generation of young men grown up watching the Cool Kids also exhibit characteristics of the Smart Kids?

Possibly nothing. But the idealist person that I am thinks that maybe something today would be a bit different. Maybe more of our young men would have become Scholar-Athletes. Maybe more would have found a way to balance the commercialized rap/hip-hop culture that became so prevalent to us as pre-teens and teens with the academic geniuses that many of them were capable of being. Maybe this group would have reached back to help out the younger boys behind them, thus starting an academic culture that was accepting of the Smart Kid Only or the Smart Kid Hybrid.

Maybe and then maybe not because as I think about this, I go back to my original point — it’s up to the parents to encourage accepting the Smart Kids at school and it starts with accepting the Smart Kids at home.

I just hope that my Cousin, and young boys like him, can find a way to navigate through school without succumbing to the pressure of “dumbing it down.”

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Artificial Masculinity

Artificial (adj) – Made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, typically as a copy of something natural; contrived or false; conventional as opposed to natural; insincere or affected

In essence, a facade.

The Issue

With the recent release of Rihanna’s “Man Down” video (here), people have decided to raise their voices concerning a very important issue to the Black community. For those who haven’t seen the video causing all of the controversy, Rihanna essentially shoots an assailant after he stalks her when she leaves a party and rapes her in an alley.

Given that scenario, it was no surprise that people had something to say.

I was surprised by what people decided to take issue with  — the murder of a Black man. Not the rape. Not the stalking. Not the depression of the victim. But the murder of a Black man (who in my eyes was no longer a man when he decided to assert his masculinity and take what wasn’t willingly given to him).

Why Does This Happen?

But the question is why does this type of behavior towards Black women take place, especially at the hand of Black men?

During a discussion on Twitter concerning Black men, Black women, and various forms of harassment, @purplepeace79 posed the question, “Do we think over generations of being unable to do anything to protect Black women, that Black men simply gave up?” It was a very interesting thought and I found myself saying yes. I then responded with, “I’d also say that it stems from not being able to be a man in larger society, so they mimic negative behavior towards us.”

And this is what I mean by artificial masculinity.

For far too long, the Black community has had to cope with the negative implications of our men being feminized (made something more characteristic of women) by larger society. What could possibly come from a legacy of slavery where Black men were used to breed and family units were almost nonexistent (roughly 1619 until 1863)? What could possibly come from the disenfranchisement we faced (as a community) after the Reconstruction era (roughly 1870 until 1964)? How could we cope as a community when men were pushed from the home with the Vietnam War and subsequent Welfare Laws? How could we possibly rebuild ourselves after the Crack Epidemic (1984 to 1990) and then the War on Drugs? And let us not forget the war on poverty. After all of this, we really feel that as a community, we are unscathed and that men are…Men?

No. They are not. Not fully anyhow.

What we are witnessing with the majority of men is simply what happens when role models are only present through the television and gang culture has seem to become the law of the land. Stereotypes are projected through media and impressionable young people come of age idolizing those who experienced a quick rise to riches and a fast fall to nothing (think American Gangster, Scarface, and the main character from GTA). For most, fathers are not around and our community has moved from the stance that “It Takes A Village To Raise A Child” (which has been capitalized upon by white women, most notably HIllary Clinton) to one of, “If that’s your kid, then you deal with it.”

We’ve moved to silence.

Because of this, we’ve put our entire community in danger because we are allowing young men to run around with free rein doing what they think a man should do. men say what they want to women without regard to how disrespectful it is. men don’t heed the word no and when a woman speaks up, she becomes a bitch. Or a ho. men congregate in hopeless flocks with nowhere to go except the streets. Men are doing what they think defines masculinity and it’s simply contributing to the demise of a community. Our entire community has become like an antique plate which is perched on a perilous ledge waiting to fall over and shatter.

What Can Be Done

Just as the problem affects the whole community, it will take all of us to fix it.

Men raise your Sons. You all constantly walk around bashing single mothers and harping on their inability to raise young boys up properly. So you take up the task and do so. For those of you who don’t have any Sons (or children for that matter), MENTOR. Move back to a time of community and work with the young men in your neighborhood. Take something as simple as coaching a team, and instituting principles of manhood into practices. Tutor someone and mention that young men should respect young women within the classroom. When you teach a young man to tie a tie, mention that he’s to hold open doors for young women as well AND to not react if she doesn’t say thank you. As a woman, she could just be silenced by the shock of the situation (because it doesn’t happen often). But most of all, highlight that they can not respect women if they don’t respect themselves or their Mothers.

Make sure respect for self translates into respect for women and the larger community.

Women, we aren’t off the hook either. While men are busy raising their sons, teach your daughters that it is okay to speak up (unless her intuition is telling her to shush it). After reviewing some of the responses to purplepeace79’s tweet, I’ve come to the conclusion that while some men are fully aware that the disrespectful behavior is just that, they remain silent because we remain silent. Tell your Daughters that it is okay to have a voice. Give them a whistle and tell them to blow the hell out of it when males say some crazy mess to them. Teach your Sons that their masculinity is not predicated upon how disrespectful they are towards women. When walking out with them, encourage them to compliment women (as youngsters and to address them respectfully). Promote positive behavior towards young women by you yourself being positive towards yourself (which is an entirely different blog all on it’s on). ALWAYS. Children mimic what they see. But most of all, highlight that they can not respect women if they don’t respect themselves or their Mothers.

Make sure respect for self translates into respect for women and the larger community.

It’s time that we work on reclaiming what is ours, and men, this means that you have to raise your Sons. For some of you guys out there, this may mean that you’ll finally have to raise yourselves.

Femininity Lost: The Story of the Black Woman (Pt. 1)

It had been my intent to write a post on this topic long before now. Life happened. The more that I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to write about it. That is, until I had a talk with a very close friend of mine. The conversation, centered around dating, was perhaps an eye-opening event for me. The question being asked was, “Is chivalry dead?” Being two women, it was a very one-sided conversation. Much was speculated on this topic but I left the conversation with my question,

“If Black men don’t have the freedom to be chivalrous individuals, what does that mean for Black women and our Womanhood?”

To some, these topics have nothing to do with each other. To me, they are the two sides of the same coin. Masculinity and Femininity. The duality from which all life springs forth. For every man who questions or laments on the fact that Black women don’t allow them to be chivalrous, there are many more Black women in the shadows who wonder why can’t they be free to express themselves as [other] Women.

The Historical Context

I recently read the book “Fierce Angels: The Strong Black Woman in American Life and Culture” by Sherri Parks (I suggest that you pick this up if you would like another viewpoint within the Black Woman/Femininity discussion).  It offered to me a counter-narrative to what’s presented in the popular media and even by close friends of mine. Once I finished reading the book, I took to Twitter to ask, “Are Black women capable of being feminine?” The answer, or the one offered the most, was that we weren’t. According to many of my followers, “Femininity is an European/male construct” and as such, we don’t fit into the mold because we are neither European nor male. The one thing that Parks’ book did for me was offer the evidence that I needed to stand firmly on my ground:

Femininity has always existed, and will continue to exist, for Women of Color, especially Black women.

So why are many of my Sisters still wandering around in a state of confusion?

The question, Ain’t (Aren’t) I a Woman? isn’t a new question. In fact, records show that Sojourner Truth asked this very question at a women’s convention in 1851. The point highlighted in her speech was that certain “privileges” are given to White women who don’t have to work (these privileges weren’t extended to Black women). Interesting point. Those who can wholly identify as feminine enjoy privileges that those who can’t do not (Did that make sense? I hope so. I’m not trying to confuse anyone here.).

And really, that’s what this whole discussion is about.

When I ask, “Are Black women capable of being feminine?” I’m really asking, “Are we allowed those certain freedoms that come along with being a woman?”

Thoughts?

To be continued….