Male friendship is often mocked, in the many “bro culture” memes and the jokey way we invoke the word “bromance.” For both men and women, it’s easier to laugh and ridicule than to accept that genuine love between male friends is real, and can be wholesome and completely devoid of toxic masculinity.
My male friends are some of the most supportive and loving people I know. They have given me jobs, told me when my fly was down, checked in on me when I ghosted them, let me know when I put too much Vaseline on my face, given me space when I’m wyling out, texted me when I’m anxious, talked me out of dumb decisions and held me when I cried. But more than anything else, they have loved me and appreciated me. Which is why my male friends and I have been following the newish trend among black men to call one another “king.”
Male friendships are appreciated in some areas of pop culture. Judd Apatow has made an entire career out of movies about them. If you were a white man in the mid-2000s and wanted to be an actor, you could go audition for one of his movies that featured Seth Rogen and hope you were cast opposite him as his white best friend.
Jay-Z and Kanye West are on-and-off best friends who made a monumental joint album in 2011 about their brotherhood and being successful, famous black men at the top of their game. The biggest rap group in the world right now is Migos, made up of Quavo, Takeoff and Offset, a trio of best friends who also are related to one another, rap together, make money together and love each other.
These are some areas of pop culture that I look to as models for what friendship can be. But ultimately I do things my way. Last week, my best friend Isaiah was dealing with a tough personal issue, and it hurt me that he was hurting. I woke up the next day, typed a beautiful text to him in which I called him a king, offered to buy him Chick-fil-A, and told him that I loved him and would be there for him if he needed to talk that day and every day that followed.
Sometimes “friend,” “buddy,” “pal” or “bro” doesn’t suffice. “King” is a word that goes a step further than others in proclaiming your love and appreciation. It’s like: I see you out there. You’re doing your thing, and we may not agree on the best song off Frank Ocean’s “Blonde,” but you are a king.
When I’m calling you a king, I’m admiring your sauce and trying to remind you that you do have that sauce. I’ll see a homie on Twitter feeling down, and I’ll text them four words: You are a king. I’ll be on Instagram and see that my friend Stephen just got a new haircut, and I’ll respond to his story with one four-letter word: king. I’ll greet my friend Alston at his birthday party with “Happy birthday, king.” I’ll be going through something stressful, and one of my homies will tell me: “You got this, king.”
Men calling each other king isn’t a new phenomenon. In the black community, people have been calling one another kings and queens for decades as a term of endearment and to support the idea that black people collectively descended from African royalty. Writer Damon Young pointed out the issues with this in a 2016 essay arguing against the practice, saying: “If you’re from a place where kings and queens existed, there’s a small chance you actually directly descended from them. And a much, much, much, much, much, much, much larger chance you descended from people who were ruled by them. And, if history is any guide, if you happen to be from a place with an unfathomably wealthy ruling class, that unfathomable wealth most likely ended with the ruling class.”
But many songs still perpetuate this idea. A 2013 Jay-Z song opens with an intro from Pimp C’s last interview, in which he talks about black people originating from kings. Despite the historical inaccuracy, calling each other kings and queens is simply a reminder of black Americans’ history in Africa before slavery, something that many in this country don’t know much about.
In the past year, “king” as a term of endearment among black people has become more popular and taken center stage on Twitter. There’s no specific meme or tweet from an account with several thousand followers that started it, and no BuzzFeed article full of tweets from people calling each other king to explain it. Rather it’s happened organically, the way many things do on Twitter.
However, with the resurgence of king-calling, it is understandable that some black people are not pleased that non-black men have co-opted the term.
“They always latch onto black endearment,” my friend Guled told me. “You don’t qualify.”
I’m a black man with tortoiseshell glasses and a nose ring, and I live in Brooklyn, so I do have white friends. However, we live in a patriarchal society where white men are the most privileged. They have been looked at as kings for centuries, and at this point I’m just not in the mood anymore to say what has already been said systemically. I would rather devote my time and breath to telling those among my male friends who will always live in a world that really doesn’t want them that they have that sauce and are the masters of that sauce.
Self-confidence fuels everything we do as human beings. Do you have the confidence in yourself to quit that weird marketing job and pursue your passion for cooking? Do you have the confidence in yourself to get that new haircut and proudly rock it? Do you have the confidence to just be you all the time and never sacrifice that for anyone? In 2018, there are so many things going on that affect our self-confidence and perception of ourselves as men, but when your kings got you and let you know that they love you and will always have your back? There’s nothing you can’t do.