Disclaimer: This may upset you, but you can’t do what they do.
When I was a young boy, my mother was adamant about some things, like always requesting a bag from the store clerk for anything I may have purchased. Although she seldom, if ever, explained her directives, I understand now how these rules of hers were meant to keep me safe, safe from a system which would presume my guilt should the question arise. The implicit message in my house, was, “You can’t do what they do.” It wasn’t until I was nearly forty years old, before I began to rethink some of these lessons from my youth. And truth be told, I’ve seldom passed along such suggestions to those coming up behind me, because we’re past all of that, right?
I mean, we’re all so smart now, so post-racial, right? We can say and do as we please now with no consideration of the advancement of a people, right? It’s all about living our individual lives as we see fit, right? Every Sister and Brother for themselves, right?
Here is the reality. Although it can be argued that the majority of our society may see past color, a smaller, but very vocal segment cannot. They remain afraid of us, and look for any opportunity to justify their concerns (that is human nature). They are predisposed against us, they do not respect us and the truth of the matter is that some of us are not helping the situation. “But hold up, why is another man’s dysfunction my problem?” you may ask. Because when we hold each other in such low esteem, how can we ask more of anyone else? We sing and promote songs which glorify the defamation one another and yet want the utmost respect from others. Don’t get it twisted, fear is not respect. If you doubt this, just turn on the evening news. And don’t believe that how we devalue our women doesn’t play a role in all of this as well (how can we diminish our women, and not expect it to diminish our sons and daughters).
Dr. King and the Civil Rights leaders of the day understood that changing the narrative in this country would require more than peaceful civil disobedience. Certainly, that was the centerpiece of the movement, but it was also about the dignity of self. Yes, allow me to vote, allow me to shop in the very store where I work, but also respect my person-hood. “A man cannot ride your back, unless it’s bent.” Civil rights protesters as a part of their non-violence instruction were taught how to conduct themselves when engaging the white public. But in conveying all of this, a message of self-worth was also being communicated. That self-worth, was the engine behind the movement. Sure there were many others, but when I think of this dignity of self, I first think of Rosa Parks.
Now, as a man, honestly, this makes me feel some kind of way. To adjust my way of being, because of someone else’s ignorance, is unsettling to my manhood. Members of other races, don’t have to account for one another, so why should I? And yet, even today, the programming of my youth still resonates within me. I still feel the burden to be better than them, whoever “they” might be and that I represent my race well. This message was embedded in me as a child and I recognize that the stress of it has sent many a black man to early grave. This is simply one of the realities of being an easy target. But the essence of a man is defined by how he responds to his environment. Thus, regarding the realities of the day, we can cry about how far we’ve yet to go, or we can honor our ancestors and march on for the sake of unborn generations.
No, as a nation we cannot do what “they” do. And though we be an imperfect nation, might one day we be known less for the lands we conquered and more for the good news of the equality of all men and women. Let us not forget that this struggle is not with individuals, but rather the systems of control, controls which subvert the dignity of self, be they capitalism, socialism, nationalism, racism and even organized religion, when they tell us…