When I was young, being pegged in any monolithic group would not only scare me but it would offend me. People would say, “What are you afraid of?” I remember being in a huddle and hearing answers like “spiders”, “fire”, or “drowning.” My answer was always, “I’m afraid of dying ordinary.” That’s changed over the years. I do seek some normalcy now but only in certain areas. I received an email recently. I immediately recognized the sender. Someone who once commented something like this: “I’ve seen your blog/website. I follow it and I think its fun and insightful. However, I do think it caters to women. I would love to maybe one day contribute from the perspective of a male.” The sender sent an attachment and its definitely worth a post/publish. How many of us have had our “Blackness” questioned by our, “own” people? In example, Cornel West (who taught at Princeton University and not an HBCU*) has many times questioned the “Blackness” of President Obama. Have we allowed stereotypes to define us or have we finally learned to break through the box? I’d like to introduce the following post from a new contributer to the Shutyamouthandcallmeugly family.
“Stereotypes of a Black Male Misunderstood”
When the words escape us sometimes music has a way of capturing almost any human emotion or thought. A personal favorite is Notorious B.I.G. He has said a lot of things that stimulated thoughts and different emotions out of me. One line that always resonated with me over the years is from his song “Juicy” from his 1994 critically acclaimed album Ready to Die, “Stereotypes of a black male misunderstood and it’s still all good.”
This line embodies my own personal story as a black man growing up in the 1990’s and becoming a man in the 2000’s. Everywhere you turn there are the stereotypes for what an urban born African American male is supposed to look, dress, act, and speak like. Either “you’re slingin crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot” another Biggie line from his song “Things Done Changed” also from the album Ready to Die. These two stereotypes have followed me and my fellow brothers around our entire lives. I never sold drugs and I had an average jump shot so I really didn’t fit that mold as Biggie eloquently stated. Still you were always placed in a box that society felt you belonged in. For a while, I confined myself in that box. I dressed the way the collective was dressing, spoke the way I was “supposed” to speak, and acted the way I was “supposed” to act. All the while inside of me I knew a lot of it wasn’t me. I was a product of the hip-hop generation and the music did speak to me but inside of I knew that there was more to me than rap music and baggy pants.
After a rough 4 years of high school it took going to college for me to become comfortable with breaking out of the mold that was created for me. I realized that the box society created wont carry me through life. As a man I had to create my own path and choose where I wanted to go. I began to explore many different new interests. I explored different foods. I became interested in politics and history. I discovered my individual voice. I learned that it was ok to have Nas and Nickleback in my iPod and tell my boys about it. I could tell you about World War II and then discuss the finer points on the way to properly wear your Timberland boots. Those 4 years changed my outlook on life and where I was and where I wanted to be. Despite my change in perspective, the society around me reared its ugly head and tried to enclose me within that box. Some of my black friend’s would ask me “Why do you act white?” and my non-black friends would tell me “You aren’t black. You don’t act like other black people.” For a while it would upset me but after a while I took it as a compliment. I am a black man but the common stereotype doesn’t define me. I define myself with my actions and words. I made sure to never let society dictate my existence.
I know my experience isn’t unique. Many young black men go through the same thing growing up in a society obsessed with classifying its population. For many young men the realization of self doesn’t come until later in life. The unfortunate reality is many young black men don’t understand the importance of self until they are alone in a dark jail cell. For those of us who have transcended and dare I say “found ourselves”, we must share our knowledge with the next generation. Certainly, we cannot change the circumstances of the group as a whole but we can use the philosophy of “Each one, Reach one, Teach one” and lift the man behind us. If we all do our part we will have no problem fulfilling the immortal lyrics of Biggie, “…Cause I went from negative to positive and it’s all… (It’s all good!)”
Edited By: Shaun Nickens