Black Men

Define Yourself, Redefine the World: A Guided Journal for Black Boys and Men: A Review

The Black Man Can Journal

Define Yourself, Redefine the World: A Guided Journal for Black Boys and Men (2012), penned by Brandon Frame of The Black Man Can, is a powerful journal specifically designed for Black boys and men to engage in critical thought and reflection.  In the 284 pages of the journal, Black boys and men have an opportunity to create a vision and plan for ameliorating their own lives in their own language.  Never has there been a personal journal produced solely for Black boys and men.  Through this journal, they are provided with space to express their thoughts on a range of issues and respond to essential questions.  Powerful quotations from accomplished Black men have been carefully selected and masterfully deployed by Brandon Frame to inspire critical thought.

An extensive body of empirical research has evinced that Black male students throughout the educational pipeline academically underperform all students.  In the face of this reality, tools must be available to militate against the factors that contribute to Black male academic underachievement.  Define Yourself, Redefine the World: A Guided Journal for Black Boys and Men is one of those innovative and valuable resources we need to help Black boys and men to progress academically, professionally, socially and personally.  The issues and questions they will confront in the journal offer them opportunities to face what they must do to make a significant change in their lives.

Too many Black boys and men are allowed to read and internalize negative narratives about themselves—primarily verbal and written narratives from Whites who do not wish them well.  Harper (2009) contends that Black males must have the opportunity to tell their own narratives in their own voices to offer meaningful and necessary counternarratives to the dominant extant narratives about them—the dominant narratives about them are mostly untrue, demeaning, and racist.  Through this journal, Frame empowers Black males with opportunities to write their counternarratives.

A growing body of professional literature demonstrates that mentoring Black male students leads to higher academic achievement and motivation.  Frame’s journal equips those who mentor with a resource that can be used to aid them in the process of transforming the lives of Black male students.  For those who mentor Black men, it gives them a tool to facilitate proper guidance and support.

Black fathers and sons now have a serious means through which to share and learn from one another.  I envision this journal helping to form Black male virtual and non-virtual communities and spaces where important ideas, challenges, problems, and solutions are discussed, shared, envisaged and implemented.  Additionally, I can see multifarious conferences and think tanks developing from those who read and use this journal.

I highly recommend this journal.  It can be purchased here: Purchase the Journal Here.  For only $15.00, you could save your own life and/or the life of a Black boy or man by buying this journal.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

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De-romanticizing the Black Barbershop in the 21st Century

Ever since the Black barbershop’s provenance, there has been this pervasive thought that it is a utopian space where all types of liberating discourses take place. The Black barbershop has been widely thought of as a space where Black men “keep it real.” Black-owned barbershops date back as early as 1854 in America (see http://www.chopitupbarbershop.com/html/first-black-owned-barbershops-d5.html), and they have been spaces where men have discussed serious topics and have organized and strategized for substantive change in this country, especially during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.  For this piece, I limit the focus on the Black barbershop to its 21st century epoch, the epoch we currently reside in, of course.  From the outset, I want to admit that my direct experience with Black barbershops is primarily limited to those in the American South and Midwest.  The Black barbershop has certainly lost much of the utopian, liberating, and subversive energies that it once had during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.

While I’m not arguing that the Black barbershop has completely lost all of these aforementioned energies, I am contending that the Black barbershop is not as powerful of a space as it was during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. Our nostalgia for Black barbershops during those aforementioned movements is conspicuous in how we perceive and discuss Black barbershops. The purpose of this article is to complicate and extend the discourse about the 21st century Black barbershop.

Performativity in the Black Barbershop

While Black men in the barbershop showed serious signs during the 1960s – 1970s of “keeping it real,” this past site of “keeping it real” has largely morphed into a space of performance. In many Black barbershops I’ve visited, many of the Black men in them have traded in the revolutionary spirit of Black men in the 1960s and 1970s for a “cool pose.” Majors and Billson (1992) assert that the idea of “cool pose” is a stress coping strategy that is employed by Black males that features hypermasculine behavior to help them to be able to bear the multifarious barriers and pressures an oppressive, racist, and discriminatory America present them. While the Black barbershop was once a place where Black men were highly focused on talking about subversive ways to resist oppression and discrimination, many of them are now competing with one another in this space to prove who has had sex with the most women.

In many Black barbershops, women are being heavily reified by many Black men to gain the approval of the “audience” in the barbershop.  The Black barbershop is a space where you can witness how important performing hypermasculinity is. Before many Black men leave the barbershop, they want it to be clear that they are the biggest “pimps” in the whole barbershop. When observing many of them, you can tell how much they are laboring to manufacture false narratives about the number of women they have had sexual intercourse with and how many they currently have on their shoulders. The feeling of the need to perform in this way is vital to comprehend because it makes the barbershop a space that is sexist and demeaning to women, especially Black women.

Another way in which many Black men put on performances in the Black barbershop is through the way they present themselves as being so “messed up” from last night. Now, some of the barbers who have cut my hair I could just smell the marijuana and alcohol on them so much that I often felt like I got high from just being in close contact with them. For many of the Black male customers who come into the barbershop, it becomes really hard to believe them that they are still so “messed up” from last night. It seems to me that if you are really “messed up” you will not be able to drive to the barbershop. Now, this is if you are really “messed up.” These types of performances in the barbershop make it a space where drug use, abuse, selling, and possession is celebrated. You will increase your social status by the approval that many people in the barbershop will grant you for persuading them about how “messed up” you got last night and how “messed up” you still are.

Moreover, television programming, namely sports programming, affords many Black men in the barbershop to be able to receive the attention they are seeking. You have many Black men who will try to present themselves as experts and coaches while watching sports programming in the barbershop. Many Black men will speak vociferously and holler just to get attention. Now, they know that they are not at home. I don’t have any problem with you acting like that when you’re at home, but you are only putting on a performance for your “audience” when you do this in a barbershop, a public space where we should have some level of decorum.

Conclusion

Let’s not fool ourselves anymore. The Black barbershop is not simply a space where liberating, subversive, and useful discourse takes place. It is very much a place where unhealthy, demeaning, and unproductive discourse does take place. Yes, useful discourse and activities do take place in the Black barbershop, but let’s not pretend like the Black barbershop is a space where we always “keep it real.”

Reference

Majors, R., & Billson, J.M. (1992). Cool pose: The dilemmas of Black manhood in America. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Thugs

Across America, many Black boys are increasingly embracing the “thug life.” Once they reach adulthood, this embracement of the thug life persists. Although I understand that in the postmodern epoch there are various notions of what a thug is, all of these notions are ultimately harmful to Black boys. From the earliest age possible, Black boys need to have greater expectations from their parents than for them to live a thug life. It’s not enough to say that you keep your boys away from hip-hop music and violent video games and movies. Those things are not really what you should primarily concern yourself with. You should concentrate more on helping them to establish a pathway for a successful life. This could mean that even before the child enters into kindergarten, you begin to stress the importance of education to him or her and you become actively involved in his or her education. As soon as possible, begin to talk to your child about going to college or getting some post-secondary training. You can teach your child to be a hustler but being a hustler does not have to have criminality attached to it. Many of the best living Black men in America are hustlers in their own right—Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Dr. Cornel West, Jerry Rice, Bishop T.D. Jakes, President Barack Obama, John Edgar Wideman, John Legend, Richard Dean Parsons, J.C. Watts, Colin Powell, Wayne Brady, and Montel Williams. Now, I’m not saying that these men are perfect—none of us are. I’m also not saying that they did not have struggles, setbacks, and challenges because they all did.  The one thing they all had was a determination to be successful and not thugs. They all had people in their lives, including their parents, who were willing to love them enough to help them develop a mindset focused on success.

I’m not trying to tell you exactly how to rear your children—I’m not qualified to do this. What I’m doing, however, is telling you that your children deserve to have parents who are committed to their success. They need you from birth to help them to understand how to be successful and to assist them with creating a pathway to success—this I’m qualified to tell you about. Every child deserves a chance to succeed!

A number of the Black boys who I grew up with and went to school with embraced deviant behavior even in kindergarten and many of their parents would get angry with the teachers and principals for exposing their poor behavior. Instead of the parents working to improve these boys’ behavior, they simply blamed the teachers and principals for their behavior. These parents needed to face the fact that their boys were simply exhibiting poor behavior. This poor behavior persisted for many of these Black boys into their teenage years where many became involved in using and selling drugs, having babies out of wedlock, getting sent to jail or youth detention centers, dropping out of school, and etc. I have to admit that some of their parents really tried to prevent them from getting involved in these things, but the boys elected to continue on with the poor behavior that they had engaged in since they were in kindergarten. Their parents never broke the cycle of poor behavior. Their parents did not stop them then and now that they were teenagers they embraced their deviant behavior as acceptable conduct.

These same boys now venerate bling bling over education. They treasure dope over hope. Why? Because they needed parents to give them positive examples of success when they were old enough to begin to understand notions of success. They needed to benefit from parents who made a serious commitment to establish a structure in the home that was geared toward success. They needed parents who did not mind saying to them that they were not rearing thugs!

As a community, we have to take the success of all Black boys into our hands when parents are not doing even to prevent their boys from becoming thugs. We have to be willing to tell them and show them what success is. We have to be willing to model success for them. It’s not enough for you to simply walk around and criticize these Black boys. When you see a Black boy who is not demonstrating the values, principles, and actions of a burgeoning successful man, then do what you can to help the boy. This may mean that you need to go talk to his parents and express an interest in investing in his future by doing things with him that are going to facilitate a successful life for him.

It’s time for us to reclaim our Black boys from futures dominated by incarceration, disease, gang activity, dope dealing, and robbery. I have committed my life to progressing Black boys and men to be the successes they deserve to be. What are you doing, could be doing, and/or willing to do to help Black boys and men to experience more successful lives?

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Black Men Masquerading: Part 2

Have a baby and prove your masculinity, right? Mention that you are screwing this woman and this woman and prove your masculinity, right? Use inarticulate language and prove your masculinity, right? Get on Facebook and use hood vernacular and prove you’re a thug, right? Indicate that you’re “in a relationship or in a relationship with” and prove your masculinity, right? Lol! I’m not going there right now. In this piece, I will address Black men who cheat on their girlfriends and wives. It really does not make sense for anyone to cheat on the person who he or she is involved with. If you no longer want to be with the person, then be man or woman enough to let the person know. Don’t be a coward and not tell the person who you are involved with that you are being faithful to him or her and you know you’re not. Although I am well aware that women cheat on men, the focus of this piece is on Black men who cheat.

Black men have a little more respect for women than to use them as toys. Have more value for our Black women than to use them to boost your social status. Many Black men who cheat try to pretend like they are such loyal men in front of their women, but just as soon as they get a chance they are trying to pull off other women’s panties. If you want to be a “player (playa),” then just let your woman know this and move on to someone else. You want to be called a player not to satisfy your physical body, but to gain approval in the eyes of other men and some dumb women who think that this is “hot.” Have more respect for your mother than to want to be called a player. I am sure that your mother did not want to give birth to a whore. When you strive to be a player, you are not even giving yourself the opportunity to really enjoy the fullness of the company of a woman and the full enjoyment of sexual intercourse. Why? Because you’re more concerned with reifying women than experiencing what a real relationship with one woman can offer you.

When you go around and sleep with every woman that you can, this does not do anything to improve your resume or credentials—it simply moves you a step closer to dying from HIV/AIDS. Be more responsible sexually. You should at least think about the potential harm  you could be causing the women you are having sex with. When you ruin their lives with diseases that threaten their lives, you are not only victimizing those women, you are victimizing their families and friends. All of this can be avoided if you would get over your fear of simply being yourself. Stop living for society’s expectations for you and live for your own meaningful expectations. Be yourself!

I know some bisexual men who think that it is cute to sleep with as many men and women as possible. I have to let some of you bisexual men know that your whorish ways is what exacerbates the HIV/AIDS crisis we have here in America. The problem I have with many of you bisexual men who cheat on your girlfriends or wives is your secretiveness is what exposes these men and women to such great dangers. Black women need to recognize that they are going to have to demand more quality things from their Black men before they can truly be the men they need to be.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Black Men Masquerading: Part 1

One thing that gets my blood boiling almost more than anything else is Black men who are afraid to be themselves. In general, I really dislike when any individual is afraid to be himself or herself. I am, however, concentrating on the Black male in this piece. People who are afraid and/or unwilling to be themselves suffer from low self-esteem or problems with their self-esteem. In Black Skins, White Masks, Frantz Fanon communicates the provenance of the serious problems with Black masculinity, originating from the humiliating and barbaric treatment of Black men during slavery. Although I still see some of the impact that the legacy of slavery has on Black masculinity, I have a news flash for you Black men: slavery is over! No longer should you be allowing the problems that racist White slave owners created for Black masculinity to affect your insecurities about your sexuality in the postmodern epoch.

Many Black men have a difficult time admitting that they are gay or bisexual because of the high expectations of the socially conservative Black community. On matters of sexuality, I would have to say that the Black community is ultra-conservative. Many Black men have been reared in families that are fervently Christian and have been taught that being gay is a nasty and sinful thing. The Black community places such unrealistic expectations on Black men’s masculinity because it expects them to be the hypermasculine mandingo that racist slave-owning White women and men created. It’s unrealistic for a man to be hypermasculine but great pressure within and outside of the Black community demands that the Black man be hypermasculine.

Unfortunately, too many Black men have adopted and embraced the hypermasculine expectations that have been placed on them. This has led to many Black men being thugs (or trying to pose as thugs), the academic underachievement of many Black men, many being imprisoned, many getting HIV/AIDs, significant Black male poverty, high drug use, great domestic violence, increased gang membership, and I could go on and on. Too many Black males have not resisted the negative expectations placed on them by a society that has not wanted them to succeed. Many Black men have not taken the time to seriously consider their sexuality or sexualities. For example, many Black men who strive to be perceived as “pimps” have not given themselves an opportunity to have a long-lasting and meaningful relationship with a woman.

Regrettably, the Black Church has not been there to help Black men to develop a healthy sexuality. The Black Church has proffered too simplistic responses to the needs of men and their sexuality. Basically, the Black Church has simply told Black men not to be gay, get married, don’t fornicate, don’t masturbate, don’t look at pornography, be the head of their households, and don’t beat their wives. Black male sexuality, however, requires much more than that. The Black Church has simply been unwilling to deal with sexuality in a sophisticated, in-depth, and educated way. Many Black preachers are still simply spitting rhymes instead of nurturing, teaching, and cultivating a healthy Black male sexuality, a sexuality that resists the hypermasculinity that has been engendered to destroy Black men.

Many Black women are also responsible for Black men having to take on identities that are truly not authentic. Many Black women have placed unrealistic expectations on Black men: they want them to be both successful thugs and successful scholars—it’s simply not possible! One of the identities is going to cause the other to fail. Many Black women will say that they want a man who can take care of them, but by selecting a thug they often just get a baby and a baby’s daddy who is in prison. Many Black women think that the Black man who is serious about his education is gay; thus, not allowing him to be the “thug” they desire him to be. When a Black man dresses professionally and does not “bust slack,” then many Black women think he is gay—they will say, “His gay self—with them tight pants on.” Wake up you dummies, this is the type of man who can provide you with the home, economic stability, and quality family you long for.

The man busting slack is a man headed to prison, and this is the type of man you should be more concerned with being gay because his busting slack represents prison culture. He is advertising that his booty is available, and without a doubt his booty will be available when he gets to prison and has a ton of men waiting to get inside of that booty. Now, tell me, how much of a thug is he now? If you would open your eyes you will see that many of the Black men who are busting slack are the main ones giving you sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Be more sophisticated about how you perceive Black men—we are more complex than you make us out to be.

To you Black men who know you are gay but elect to have sex with women just to cover up your homosexuality, be real with yourself and stop doing this. I am not saying that you have to go ahead and admit to the world that you are gay, but stop commodifying and reifying women as your trophies to cover up the reality that you are afraid to be who you are. Many Black men are married to women, dating women, and having sex with women just because they are afraid of what their families and friends are going to think about them if they don’t have a woman or women in their lives who they are sexually involved with. I often see Black men, whether they are pretending not to be gay or not, denying themselves of the lives they want to live because they feel obligated to be with women who they are really not interested in being with sexually. Many Black men have devoted their lives to proving how masculine they are by having sex with so many women, but they are denying themselves of who they really want to be: simply themselves.

In no way is this article written to try to suggest that all men are gay or bisexual, but what it does suggest is many Black men are denying themselves the opportunity to simply be themselves because of their low self-esteem or problems with their self-esteem. I have resolved to pen a series of on this topic, “Black Men Masquerading,” to address the aforementioned issues and others in a little more depth. I believe that addressing the various ways in which many Black men masquerade—not just with their sexuality—is important to ameliorating the progression of Black men in the postmodern moment. As always, I hope that there is something I have said in this article and in the future articles that will be written during this series that will unsettle, unnerve, and unhouse you. More importantly, I hope this article and this series will help at least one person. If I am able to help at least one person, then I feel like I have done my job.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison