Friday, May 1, 2015

He Ain’t Heavy; He’s My Brotha’ (or why I love young African American men & boyz)

Hand up not a handout
Dear Brothers. Or rather, brothas’. I’m referring to young black guys who bear the inequitable experiences of race prejudice and the accompanying fear and discrimination it brings. This is for young’uns like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Trayvon Martin and others. Like them that is, except still alive. This is my message: I see you.

              To the resourceful, nonconforming African American boys and young men who must endure, rather than thrive:

              I see you. Now more than ever.

              Y’all got heart. I bear witness to the strong, steadfast, often unimaginable ways you move through the world. I recognize the disproportionate number of challenges you face because your skin is dark. I appreciate and celebrate all that you are and what you represent, my brothers. Even as mainstream America rejects you and media vilifies you, I lift you up.

          I see you on the streets, in the library at the store and in the park. You're doing you. That means with flair. Flavor. Strutting proud, with a confident swagger that belies the oppressive tyranny you and other men in our families have experienced for generations.
           I see you gettin' your cool on, despite the searing overt and covert racism you steadily get burned with. Fighting that self-doubt with a energetic panache designed to counteract the frequent overdoses of prejudice brought on by the random store clerk, bus driver, school teacher, college professor and elevator rider.
Y'all turn the world on its head with your creativity
          And I bear witness to the tidal wave of negative images on TV and movies that try to tamp down your spirit like a steel-toe boot on your neck. Unlike most, I appreciate that stone face that's oh so quick to burst into loud uproarious laughter, but only when you feel safe. Which sadly is not so often. Some game faces are more serious than others.
          You take nothing and turn it into marketable fashion statements. Like lemons to lemonade. Words to music. You claim what little you have as yours, then make it all the rage, even as you enrage those who secretly embrace it (and steal it) - all the while denying their jealousy of your genius for doing so much with so little.
              We are the same; yet we are also different.

              I am privileged in a lot of ways. And it’s helped me overcome a lot of barriers. Many of them race-based.

              For instance, my light brown skin color. It gives me an advantage. It helps my blackness blend into places frequented by white people. There’s more. Through luck of the draw I was born into and raised in a stable household. That’s a biggie in terms of life outcomes for a male person of color. Mom and dad held steady employment. A government worker and school teacher. How stable is that?

              Not rich by any stretch. But stable. That’s important. It’s the same with single parent families. Stability of the family system, however it’s configured, is key.

This is not every family's reality
              As a kid I always started mornings with Corn Flakes, Cap’n Crunch, oatmeal or whatever. Left the house everyday with lunch money, so never worried about being hungry at school. Funny how getting enough to eat facilitates greater focus.

              Speaking of stable, the only time I changed schools was when Dad got a job transfer. Yes, going to a new school was stressful. But not in any kind of way that triggered anything but the normal stresses associated with change. Not like being evicted or jumping from place to place because of money. My stable home life instilled in me resilience; it’s served me well in the wake of the institutional racism I’ve faced as an adult.

              In my youth, I never felt threatened. I mean when it comes to life and death and such. Not like some brothers who were born into heavy circumstances. Yeah, I was bullied at times and had my share of bumps and bruises. But I never had to literally fight for my life. Never had a gun pointed at me. By police or otherwise.

              For that matter, I’ve never been physically beat down in my own home by my father, mother, relative or other person staying at our place. That sort of violence leads to a kind of trauma that can make a person look at and act in the world in a certain kind of way.

Oops, wrong example of sagging. Or is it?
              This isn’t to say none of this kind of stuff doesn’t happen to white boys and other kids of color. To the contrary, it happens across all racial groups. It’s just that the legal and social penalties leveled on young black boys in American society are different. That’s a fact.

              Finally, like a lot of folks my age, I abhor this whole sagging pants thing. Sometimes it’s enraging. At the same time I marvel at how this ridiculous but ultimately harmless fashion has been elevated to the level of more serious matters – like how government is systematically decimating access to quality education within communities of color.

              Despite their fashion choices, I’m ready and willing to bear the weight of young black men. Why? He ain’t heavy; he’s my brotha’. 

Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at

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