Sunday, May 3, 2009

Some thoughts on black masculinity, part 1

Most of you know that over the past few years I've become a big fan of "Wild at Heart" author John Eldredge, quoting him regularly on this blog. A few months ago I began to realize why: Inadvertently, he placed a finger on much of what ails the African-American community -- namely, that lack of "initiated" men. Part of that has to do with the lack of "fathers" who take boys and younger men under their wing and teach them how to become true men.

However, it's not a simple matter of black men doing so now -- because the problem goes deeper than is obvious. Since slavery, the masculinity of (especially) black men has been feared, denigrated, exaggerated to a point where, I think, few Americans know how to relate to us in a healthy manner. Simply put, part of the issue is one of America's original sins -- racism.

You see, we suffer with the reputation of being great athletes and sex machines (and, sadly, sexual predators) that lack hearts or brains; shady, listless characters who would rather hustle than work; jolly characters without a care in the world despite constant degradation; or, conversely, consistently angry at the world. From King Kong (which, when it was released, had racist overtones) to Step'n' Fetchit, we're not seen as men worthy of love and respect from the greater community. A few decades of that and you'd also feel lost, hopeless and useless.

And it would be foolish for me to believe that I haven't been affected. Because I see now that I have.

That brokenness existed in my "family of origin," with my own father. When Dad was five his mother, whom I believe now was mentally ill, threw his father out for marital infidelity and, I think, harbored a lifelong resentment toward men as a result. Of course, that would be hard for a boy whose masculinity was under assault from almost the time he was born, and without anyone to "show him the way" he never, ever found his groove. He could thus not raise his own sons properly, with a sense of vision and purpose, and my brother and I both suffer even to this day.

Going further, however, Dad displayed a deep resentment toward the white race. I understand the historic racism that has affected the black community not long after the first African stepped on these shores; however, he allowed his hopelessness to color his view of the world -- which has caused me no end of problems. And I'm sure there are hundreds of thousands of stories like mine.

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, because of such historic racism black men often couldn't get and education or decent jobs so that they could not only raise families properly but also become respected members of the community; or often fail to approach their potential. They were often told that they had limitations they could not overcome. "Jim Crow" laws in the South affected primarily men, who were conditioned to live in fear for their lives. (That doesn't do any favors.)

All this led directly to the "fatherlessness" that is endemic especially in the black community. Not having a sense of who and what they are, black men often have trouble raising children, especially sons, in the right way because they haven't themselves been taught or nurtured appropriately. (And since this has been a problem for centuries, it's unfair to blame the "Great Society" for breaking up black families -- they were fragile as it was.)

I'll delve into some of the other issues in other posts.

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