When The Washington Post ran a series last month encouraging black men to discuss their fears, it prompted me to consider my own. In a casual conversation with a teacher colleague, I admitted to her that my biggest fear as a black man was fitting a profile; being
falsely accused of something because I cast the wrong image. She looked at me in bewilderment and confusion. After all, how could she understand that?
It is a condition that is apparently unique to black men; one that has been ingrained into the psyche of the American public that insists that I am inherently guilty and it’s simply a matter of determining the level of my guilt — the only thing absent is an accusation.
All black men feel it. It is this truth that is at the core of the issues surrounding the condition of our black males.
The one-year anniversary of the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida is upon us, and it might prove instructive to pause and reflect on the tragic death of a young man who was accosted and ultimately shot and killed because he likely fit the profile of which I speak. It is worth considering how and why our young men are not only targeted by others, but are now targeting one another for annihilation.
As the defense prepares its case intent on invoking the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, it seems ironic and almost cruel that the person forced to stand his ground was Trayvon.
Yet, this scenario, by itself, did not have to end in Trayvon’s death. The over-arching question is: do we sacrifice the safety of our kids when we fail to teach them how to appropriately de-escalate situations and seek amicable solutions? Must every episode involving our boys spiral out of control, eventually resulting in homicide, imprisonment and destruction? Have we left them incapable of navigating through mainstream society and by doing so assigned them to these heart-wrenching outcomes? There are more effective ways to deal with conflict.
Teaching our boys how to resolve a dispute might be the perfect starting point to help our sons survive, not just in America as a whole, but closer to home in their own neighborhoods.
The demons that haunt us no longer appear cloaked in white sheets in the dead of night, but now creep invisibly and powerfully into our subconscious, eating away at our self-confidence and sense of worth.
This spiritual and emotional devastation must end.
The fact that every black man I’ve known is familiar with the sound of the car door being locked as you pass, the purse being drawn in and held a little tighter, or the security guard, or in this case “neighborhood watch,” appearing as if out of thin air, suggests deep seated animosity for black men in our culture.
While shopping in Denver for backyard furniture for my mother on a late August afternoon a few years ago, my brothers and I walked into a patio furniture store and were greeted, not as potential customers, but rather with unwelcoming hostility when the clerk said,
“We assume you’re here for patio furniture.” Three minutes later a police cruiser arrived.
My feelings went from anger, to defeat, embarrassment, shame and worthlessness. The thirst for revenge was intense as I stopped to gather myself and made a conscious decision to address the scene using intellect rather than rage.
That must be the lesson that we now teach.
The purposeful creation of these conditions within American culture has played a significant part in materially and psychologically destroying our dignity, happiness and capacity to fulfill our basic material needs.
Further, our young men have been caught up in a subculture that continues to glorify style over substance for decades. Their behavior, dress, and attitudes reflect a fruitless and dangerous hyper-masculinity that further imperils their potential. Adopting a threatening posture serves as a way to use fear and intimidation as a weapon to hide their own angst.
Let’s face it, our black boys have swagger as if they own the world. Their outward illustrations of coolness serve to convince others to emulate them.
Yet, the feelings of nihilism are gurgling just beneath the surface. There is an acute sense of hopelessness, helplessness, and powerlessness coursing through the African American community that renders hopes and dreams more like fairytales than legitimate opportunities.
What is so important to note is that while other kids want to be like black kids, they don’t actually want to be them.
It is a strange paradox that for many in the larger society, black men are viewed not only as different but as a distinctly predatory group that is largely, if not entirely, responsible for their impoverished, violent, and shortened lives. Few care to invest time or money in our preservation.
America represents a double edged razor for us where any accusation is accepted as fact. In the case of Trayvon, George Zimmerman’s initial account to the police represented the truth. He was attacked by a young black male and he shot him in self-defense; end of story.
How are we to continue raising our sons to accept democracy and fairness in the full knowledge that they are being hunted like big game on the savannah?
Any attempt on their part to discuss these realities, with anyone other than another black male, routinely draws stares of confusion and disbelief. Our concerns discounted and ignored, we have been made to believe that the totality of our conditions are somehow of our own design.
The lack of empathy and understanding has produced high rates of such destructive behavior, intra-group violence, suicide, addiction, and rage.
Given this, American society would be well advised that adopting a confrontational posture with African American males will likely be met in kind — and they only escalate from there.
Trayvon, and the thousands who have perished since, deserved to be better equipped to deal with being confronted with false assertions and accusations. So, on the first anniversary of this tragic loss, let’s resolve to ensure that our African American children, males in particular, are armed with more than the ability to respond in tandem with the same hostility with which they are antagonized, but rather with intelligence and the capacity to actively quell the violence.
In the end, it could prove a fitting tribute to Trayvon.
Alfonzo Porter is a contributor to The RootDC and the author of “More Like Barack, Less Like Tupac: Eradicating the Academic Achievement Gap by Countering Decades of the Hip Hop Hoax.” He is a speaker, consultant, former teacher and school administrator.
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