One thing I have noticed in the writings on Black masculine identity is that there is a tendency to over-deconstruct the behavior, values, and ideals of Black men. Many of the analyses are far reaching attempts that reduce the Black masculine identity to tattered rags in need of discarding. While some of the initial deconstructive analysis uncovers some truths to be considered, it usually finds its way into the standard imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal framework which shapes much of our thinking in America. That is when the analysis loses its academic merit and the fire of its intellectualism (if there was any) and sinks into an oppressive propaganda that implies that at the core of the Black man, something is very wrong. I don’t believe that is true.
What is very wrong is the fact that those developing these analyses don’t recognize the flaws in their own critiques. After they have deconstructed the Black male identity down to the core, they rarely offer anything in its place. Instead the Black man is left with shreds of his identity and no clue what should be there instead. I submit to you that, at our core, Black men are not troubled. We are a flawed and evolving group of individuals like any other in this country. Most of our work begins beyond our core in that space where we deal with the world around us: other people and their perspectives and realities and their perceptions of ours. We are willing to put in the work and grow, but we have no intention of sacrificing the core of our being. We are not just Black and not just men; we are Black men, that makes a difference.
Pride, Dignity, and Respect
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
In a world that is constantly telling you to be something other than what you are; that what you are is inferior; that what you are is dangerous; that what you are is useless; that what you are is powerless, the attainment and protection of pride, dignity, and respect becomes a grave endeavor. Have we forgotten that the drive toward pride, dignity, and respect is what fueled the civil rights movement in which all Black people demanded to be treated as people and complete citizens of this country? Have we forgotten that the drive toward pride, dignity, and respect is what ignited the Black Power Movement in which all Black people were determined to define themselves and find the beauty and power in being who and what they were in spite of society’s opinions? So why, then, does it seem so astoundingly deviant for Black men to desire the space to be who we are in spite of the fact that who we are (naturally) does not always fit within the constraints of expected socially acceptable behavior (remembering that these standards are created from the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal framework).
They [Black males] engage in an unyielding drive toward the pursuit of pride. Pride, dignity, and respect hold such high premium for black men that many are willing to risk anything for it, even their lives.
– Majors and Billson, Cool Pose
When we use the word pride in society today, it often comes with a negative connotation that leads us to believe that this is not something someone should possess or desire to possess. That is because of the confusion brought by the church. The religious definition of pride, as one of the seven deadly sins, is something completely different from the one in our dictionary. The deadly sin of pride — created ages ago — must be translated into our language today. In that respect the term would not be pride, but supremacy. The deadly sin of pride speaks to the idea of thinking of ones self and anything one does as superior to
anyone else. Today’s definition of pride refers to dignity and having a high opinion and satisfaction with ones self-respect and self-esteem. So while I might agree that Black men are prideful creatures, this is not to say that they should not be. Conversely, a Black men had better have some sense of pride to steady him for the blows that his dignity is sure to face.
Even today pride, dignity, and respect are high priorities for Black men. There is a very good reason for that. It is because historically and even unto this very moment there are no specific guarantees in a Black man’s life. He is not guaranteed to live to see 25, he is not guaranteed to obtain a college degree, he is not guaranteed to make the money that he desires or deserves, and he is not guaranteed to escape arrest and/or incarceration (despite whether he abides by all laws or not). His entire life is a gamble. His entire existence is a game of roulette in which he takes some risk that may or may not make him a winner and in the same ratio of chances may bring his very demise. Therefore, he places higher value on the breath he takes in the moments of his life and what he can create in those moments for sure. Pride, dignity, and respect can be attained from any social station in life. Pride, dignity, and respect can be attained no matter how much education one has or does not have. Pride, dignity, and respect can be attained regardless how much money he has. It is internal and attainable. It is better that a man is directed and guided by that which is internal that to entrust his identity to anything outside himself — that cannot possibly know him better than he knows himself. In order for Black men to salvage their self esteem and no whither and die emotionally and spiritually in the face of aversion, we must cultivate and protect our pride, dignity, and respect.
Be A Man Where You Are
Be a man where you are…you must be a man here and force your way into intelligence, wealth, and respectability. If you can’t do it here, you can’t do it there. By changing your place, you don’t change your character.
– Frederick Douglass, Horace Greeley and Colonization
So much emphasis is placed on where Black men should be and what they should be doing; however, much like Frederick Douglass asserts, a man must learn to be a man from right where he is. This vantage point will allow Black men to separate their notions of manhood from white-supremacist patriarchal thinking that suggests that a man is measured by what he has and what he has accomplished. Pride, dignity, and respect can be achieved in spite of those factors and will yield greater gains in terms of standards, values, and integrity that will guide that man even when he manages to change his station in life. What we see most often now are Black men who obtain the materialistic aspects — by any means necessary — and when they come into that space they care nothing about how they got there or what it means to have gained access to that new space. So in effect they only succeed in changing their place within the framework rather than opening the door for greater access to that space by other like them.
How a Black man chooses to pursue pride, dignity, and respect depends upon where he thinks he will find it and how he thinks he can get it. The direction of his pursuit is influenced by how he grows up, where he grows up, and who he is raised by. All of these factors play a part in the Black man’s journey for pride, dignity, and respect. For example if he grows up in the hood and the code of the street is the value system that he is taught and believes in, then it is only natural that he would see pride, dignity, and respect as something to be obtained from street credibility, hustling on the corner, and aggressively defending his manhood. If, however, he grows up in the suburbs where allegiance to the mainstream opinion is predominant, then he will believe that pride, dignity, and respect are found in education, social status, and obtaining a powerful and profitable position in corporate America.
There is no one thing that can define what all Black men see as an expression of pride, dignity, and respect. There is no one way that Black men go about obtaining pride, dignity, and respect. What I am certain of is that, no matter where they come from or in what way they choose to pursue it, pride, dignity, and respect are important to Black men — and rightly so.
Black men are often chastised for the drive toward pride, dignity, and respect. Granted depending upon the context in which it is being sought, there can be some major issues in our pursuit of pride, dignity, and respect. But that does not make the pursuit of pride, dignity, and repsect a problem. It means we are going abou
t it the wrong way. We have to realize the truth: that pride, dignity, and respect are things that a man acquires through his character and that actions that guide them, not through an accomplishment. Then we have to take the time to teach our young Black men and little Black boys the that we have learned. We, as Black men, have to begin to separate ourselves from the values and perspectives of the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy that shape our thinking and define ourselves for ourselves. I submit to you that we do have the answers inside us; we just have to trust our own instincts.
Osiris come together.
An Angry Black Man
Douglass, Frederick. Horace Greeley and Colonization. Frederick Douglass’ Paper. 1852.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Self-Reliance. 1841.
Majors, Richard and Billson, Janet Mancini. Cool Pose. New York: Lexington, 1992.