“They don’t know
we need each other
They expect us to call in sick,
watch television all night
die by our own hands.
They don’t know
we are becoming powerful.
Everytime we kiss,
we confirm the new world coming.”
Essex Hemhill, American Wedding
Men, especially black men, are taught to hate and fear each other. We are taught that our existence is dependent on our ability to discredit, disavow and destroy those who are similarly situated; in efforts to stand apart from the whole, to stand out as that nigga. Our blackness is defined not by its own perfect imperfections, but instead by what their blackness is not, and vice versa. I am strong, because he is a punk. He is a punk, because I am strong. He is not black–or black enough–because I am, therefore his blackness is inadequate, inauthentic and unreal. Alternatively, he is too black, too queer, too other and if I’m situated too close, associated too intimately with him, than I too lose access to the throne of normalcy. This is the dance of racial-sexual power, heteropatriarchal musical chairs, the black masculinist game of thrones. Those who win, die to themselves. Those who lose, win their freedom to subsist alone.
To be exalted and celebrated on the throne of black maleness is the dream of many young black and other poc male-situated people. The sociocultural benefits are endless, if not necessary for survival. Such a champion is seen as virile studs–reminiscent our plantation days–sexually desirable and able to perform mandingo-esque, orgasmic experiences: individual and communal consent to fuck (men, women, mores) is a birthright. They are strong, immune to emotional violence, and therefore perfectly situated to benefit (read: sideline) women as the heads of household, church and community. The existence of womyn and the autonomy of women is an existential threat to the man whose prestige is predicated on the women’s need for his brash, violent, irreverent, dic(k)tatorial orientation. Their power is proven time and time again on the bodies of lesser champions, pussies and women who dare exhibit notions of independence). Domestic violence, sexual assault, rape, fights and assaultive speech are simply annoying and natural byproducts of the masculine elixir integral to circumcision of a real black man.
There words as few.
They are not expected or allowed to think critically, but to act swiftly. You think long, you think wrong. All judgements are final. This is the decree of society. The fulfillment of this decree results in pop-culture capital and sociopolitical, legal and physical capital punishment. Violation of such decrees necessitates sociocultural lashing, blaqueer-bashing, hip hop-culture cache and permissive sociopolitical, legal and physical torment.
To exist outside the controlling images, stigmas and stereotypes of black malehood is the fear black boys confront from a young age, and black women fight from birth. Many have no “choice” but to conform and submit to cultural circumcision. The price of rebellion is real and steep. A child or young adult may face bullying, rape, loss of community, family abandonment and/or a lack of love/affection. No one can make it alone for long, and for a child this is not a choice, it is an issue of survival. However some, by nature or circumstance, exist subtly or loudly outside the bounds of mandated “black” maleness. The ways to do so are myriad, one can be: queer, trans*, humanistic, pacifist, loving, bisexual, feminist, educated, overtly empathic and/or “articulate.” However, this list is not exhaustive and none of these traits are a panacea for the colds resulting from the wily seasons of white supremacy and heteropatriarchy.
The outsider is often held up as a threat to the normative, imputed, raced, stereotypical and stigmatized image of the black male. As such, the transgressor is often interpreted as a threat to the health, strength and identity of the whole, as opposed to an integral part of the body. Many see those pushed outside the imputed bounds of blackness as living insults, who see themselves as “better than”, “uppity” or “acting white.” This robs the “othered” of home, history, culture, love(s) and community. It also reinforces the false image of black men as a potpourri of animalistic, lethal characteristics…needing, wanting and birthed to be controlled, subdued, owned, operated and eliminated by the state (prisons/police). Violence against others is used to exhault and illustrate anti-black, extrajudicial and judicial genocides as just, necessary acts of protection for the good of the humanity, especially “good black folks.” This in turn fuels the animosity between othered black men and stigmatized “real” black men. This is happening with folks knowing but noting that all black men are both othered AND stigmatized at the same time, within the same body, by the same systems, ideologies, peoples and institutions.
The divisions among black men are not only mandated and expected but held up as normal and just. Though we are often seen as a monolith, our differences selectively held up as a reason to use violence and to denigrate one (or many) at the (marginal) benefit of others. Therefore, it is no surprise, that between us–black men of varying experiences–there often exists a deep reservoir of distrust, that few of us dare cross. For years, I was not part of the few, but the many who lived in fear and stewed in manufacture contempt to survive.
I harbored a deep distrust of all black men. I feared the outwardly masculine and alpha brothers: I would just as soon die as submit to their will(s). I also feared being found out as not truly, wholly one of their ilk. I feared losing my family, access to love and a sense of identity. I built a closet of blackness and a shield of masculinities and queer anxieties. I also distrusted the othered, that shit looked contagious. I knew I was one of them, but feared their outward marking was contagious. I viewed them as snakes who would betray the race at the drop of a red-cent. What love I had, I gave to black women, ignoring, deriding and avoiding black men at all cost–because I knew we had more in common that I can ever handle. My identity is intimately linked with all of them–my brothers–othered and normative. They are me and I am them. It wasn’t until I learned to love myself that I began to understand their importance in my ability to survive, thrive and receive love–and perhaps more importantly–myself. This did not come naturally. It is a battle that is both intentional and eternal, internal and external. In re-membering the truths of myself, the truths of us, the lies of gender, race, sexuality and class..I’m learning to birthing an ethic that demonstrates that Black Lives Matter to me and without me. To recall that truth, is to embrace our diversity and know that our differences are largely immaterial.