I was 17 when my 23-year-old neighbor held a gun to my head. An hour or so before, we fought on the tiny porch of his rowhouse and I assume homie wasn’t happy that the young boy, whom he might have called a “fag” once or twice in the past, was landing punches to his body in front of his peeps. From my vantage point, it was easy to determine which of us was the “good one,” the better Black boy or man in our hood, but shit is much more complex than that failed dichotomy allows.
I took pride in whooping his ass. Even if I didn’t win, I was not going to let him get away without a fight.
If I’m honest, I have to admit that I bragged a bit after. But that was then. Looking back, I realize we waged war on each other that night because that is what Black boys in Camden, New Jersey, where I lived, were taught to do. Because we were charged with the task of acting like “real men” before we could piss straight, before we were emotionally mature enough to not devour girls’ bodies in our imaginations, before we developed enough courage to admit when we were scared or in need of help. So we did what we were told— Black boys, whose childhood days are perceived by society as the beginnings of manhood are wont to do (while white boys are long looked upon as frolicsome kids): we leveled up so as not to lose.
Because men win. Because Black men, which is to say Black boys, learn early on that the barrel of the gun that is skin-close to the head is no more dangerous than the tears that threaten to fall from our eyes. I shed those tears, but my stepfather—nearly 20 years my senior, yet himself a product of the same lessons in Black manhood I was subjected to—told me to stop crying. Forget the gun. Forget the fear. The rules of the game mandate that Black boys and men must shun our feelings and act as if we are anything but emoting, breathing, bleeding humans. Because that’s what the logic of white racism demands. It demands that Black men travel far away from our truest selves in a quest to become the hardened men we are expected to be. No one ever really pushed me to renege, to purposefully fail, to shun all the damn rules of the game, on my quest to become a harmful version of myself.
The rules of the game mandate that Black boys and men must shun our feelings and act as if we are anything but emoting, breathing, bleeding humans.
No one told me or my neighbor or my stepfather that the game was never arranged in such a way to gain us a win—not when white men have relied on the categories of “manhood” and “masculinity” to secure their place as the proverbial kings of the board room and the bedroom. No one told me that cages can never double as doorways. Or that the best response Black men can give when we are told to “man up” is the middle finger.
What if our softness was loved? What if our tears were cherished and not shamed? What type of adult humans might Black boys become if they were given more opportunities to show each other affection? If we weren’t taught to touch girls as if they were ours to possess, to fight until the literal death, when what we should have been encouraged to do was simply be children? Be human.
Over the last several months, the media has been inundated with headlines centered on high-profile men accused of sexually harassing or raping women and men, as if these incidents are part of a new trend. But what seems to be an exceptional moment of increased sexual violation is actually quite common. #MeToo—the movement started by Tarana Burke, a Black woman, ten years ago, which has served as a vehicle for victims of sexual violence to share their testimonies—shows as much. We’ve reported on many of these stories at CASSIUS, but we also realize that there’s a need for a deeper dialogue within the public sphere.
Our January 2018 digital conversation is an invitation to join us in this probing for answers as we delve deeper. We are asking men the questions that might allow us to get to the root of the thirst for control and power that is at the heart of sexual harassment and rape.
We are eager for honesty. We want to know what it means to be “a man” in a moment when manhood is rightly under fire. We want to know WTF manhood even means, if anything, and if it needs to be reimagined or abolished altogether.
Because enough is enough. Because it’s time for acts of calling in and accountability that end in transformation. Because it’s time to reflect on the ways our collective love for “masculinity” is like a tight ass grip choking brothers’ freedom, whether they have learned to breathe with hands around their necks or not.
Because we don’t want to publish another story about a Black man hurting a Black woman or man simply because he has yet to unpack the ways our culture of male-domination has hurt him. Because it’s not enough to feign virtue as one of the “good ones,” a good man/partner/son/friend/brother, when the “good” is, at best, a way of describing the ways we ought to be relating to our folks any-damn-way. Because so many Black boys and men are led to believe the lie that our existences ain’t worth shit, and sometimes, in an effort to war against the liars we turn on one another, and ourselves….sometimes turning our guns in the direction of our own reflections.
So join us.