One of the most important conversations in my life was held before I was born. In 71’ Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin sat and conversed on black life, black love, and evolution of the black family. At one point in the conversation, Nikki spoke about how vital the black man’s physical and emotional presence is to a black woman. James created a scenario; a man and a woman are dating, eventually, the woman gets pregnant. Now, throughout the man’s life, he is taught that a real man provides for his family, he also understands that many women want a man. The man has also been conditioned to believe that men are there for financial stability. Realizing that he does not have the means to take care of his newly formed family, feeling ashamed and less than a man, he leaves his woman to fend for herself and their child. Nikki counters saying that a man is more than money, a man can provide in other ways. He can be the emotional security that is necessary during pregnancy, raising a child, and life in general.
I was never taught this! I was raised as a typical male; be tough, don’t cry (unless I’ve won or lost a really close game), handle your business, etc. The value of a man’s presence wasn’t taught or emphasized, especially after my parents split. They did their best, but some lessons we simply have to learn through first-hand experience. When I reflect on some of my downfalls as a husband, I find that I didn’t understand the value of my emotional presence. The man that Baldwin was referring to was me, not literally, but certainly emotionally. I felt that I couldn’t possibly be a man because I was barely carrying my own weight financially. Believing that I wasn’t the man I thought I should be, I ignored being the man that my wife needed me to be. I was failing myself and my wife. It took time, self-reflection, some counseling, and several conversations with Leah to understand that the way I was thinking wasn’t best for my life or my marriage. But the work isn’t done, the subliminal and overt messages that conditioned me are still reinforced in media and conversations with other men, especially older men, so I have to check myself sometimes. Many (older) men have told me what a man is supposed to be or what a man is supposed to do. Some of these things are great and I keep those with me, some are not so great and I rebuke those traits. Of all the things men told me, few mentioned and even less stressed that a man is supposed to take interest in his wife’s actual needs. I think that is one of the points Nikki was trying to convey, it is not just about the man and his idea of manliness, it’s also about the woman and the man she actually needs.
Ava DuVernay created a masterpiece with “When They See Us”, a mini-series based on the lives of the young men known as the Central Park 5. “When They See Us” showed how the lives of the five young men were ripped from them as they were ruthlessly interrogated, beaten, and coerced into confessing to a rape they did not commit. However, this is not a review. This is the necessary therapy that follows the near 5-hour emotional rollercoaster. This could have been my story, I pray that it is never my son’s story. I couldn’t imagine at 14 years old and being held captive with no contact with my parents, no food, no water or the space to use a restroom for hours on end. All while being threatened by police to confess to anything I didn’t do, much less the rape. On the other hand, I couldn’t imagine not knowing where to find Dom, only to learn that the police have detained him, intentionally did not tell me, and proceeded to question him illegally.
Years ago, I was arrested with some friends in a neighboring suburb, a white woman called the police and claimed that she saw some black boys shooting in a Walmart parking lot. I was with a group of friends leaving that very parking lot. Unaware of the impending event, we split into 2 cars and proceeded to leave. The first car pulled off and made the light, three of us were in the second car, we were stopped by four police cars. The cops jumped out with their guns locked, loaded and ready to shoot. After yelling and threatening us with possible death, they cuffed us, threw us into the squad cars and took us to the station. Quickly, they interrogated us, the first friend admitted that he fired his paintball gun into the ground, I confirmed his story, but my other friend didn’t share the same story because he caught up to us before getting in the car. The police threatened him in every manner except physical assault, they thought it was funny since they already had the truth. The three of us were set free, the first friend and I were frustrated with the encounter, but the third friend was scared. We never processed the event. I never told my parents, I wouldn’t be surprised if they never told theirs. My story is not the same as any of the Central Park 5, but I can see how it easily it could be.
I pray for my son and all the young black boys that are clearly targeted by the ones that hate them because their skin is brown. I pray for the black men that are working to be the best version of themselves, I pray they are never trapped in the system that was built to oppress us. Dom is only 2, he is full of joy and wonder. I live to protect him and teach him about the world. There will come a time when I have to teach him how to carry himself when he is out in public, I will have to teach him how to handle encounters with the police. When they see Dom, I want them to see joy, see brilliance, and see strength. I want them to see a proud black boy who is just a worthy of safety and opportunity as his white counterpart. When They See Dom