OPINION: What does it mean to be Black? What does it mean to be Black in America? What defines Black? How am I supposed to live as a Black man? This is a question that many of us Black men ask ourselves. This is a question I had to ask myself when I moved to Virginia in 1987. After previously living in Europe, I experienced a culture shock when I moved to the United State; and that culture shock continued for the next ten years.
How do people decide what is Black and what is not Black? I always wondered who made the rules. Who is the man or woman that decides which behaviors represent Black people? I was told that my haircut and my attitude was not Black. I had no idea what that meant when I was nine years old. The people who made the rules must have possessed a narrow and slanted view of Blackness. The rules that defined Blackness were an invisible form of slavery. That is my opinion. I hated the Black rules.
The so-called “Black” rules placed an unnecessary bondage on Black men. Black men are often placed in situations that require us to become followers. We are often forced to decide if we will submit to the programming or become an outcast. A prime example is the hip-hop culture. A Black man who does not subscribe to the hip-hop music and lifestyle is viewed as White or weird. There is an assumption that something is wrong with him because he does not like rap music and the hip-hop images. Why does a Black man have to subscribe to hip-hop? Maybe he just doesn’t like it. Maybe he wants to be an individual. The Black code is a new form of bondage.
I still remember when I was viewed as weird because I didn’t care about being Black or dressing like the popular rappers. I was not impressed with hip-hop at all. I thought it was unnecessary. My opinion of the streets and the street images was unique. I thought hip-hop was for the New Yorkers. I still believe it was for them. But there are so many people who are lost and lack their own unique identity. These people with no identity chose to adopt the hip-hop lifestyle. Millions of people are mimicking the behaviors of a few.
The other aspect of the bondage associated with being Black is fear of success. Black men are sometimes afraid of success because it may appear that they are acting White. Black men are subconsciously taught that they are acting White if they follow all the rules and obey authority figures. Black men are brainwashed into believing that success is a sign that he is living in submission to the White man. For some reason; success was viewed as a negative condition. Some men overcome the stigma. But those men are not accepted by everyone. Sad.
The best examples of the embarrassment attached to success is Michael Vick and Allen Iverson. These two men changed the image and style of the NBA and the NFL. These two changed the rules and the atmosphere of professional sports. Their devotion to the streets and to hip-hop gave them commercial appeal. But it also gave them a negative image associated with rebellion. The curse of being Black forced them to remain attached to childhood friends. As successful as these two men were; they could have done so much more. But they refused to let go of the image they believed they were supposed to live up to. In 2017, Vick was accused of being a sellout because he suggested that a Black football player in the NFL should cut his hair to alter his appearance. This statement is not right or wrong. It was just an opinion. But Vick was ridiculed for months because he opposed the narrative impressed on the masses.
I can assume that Black women are oppressed by the Black culture rules, too. I did not have a sister but I have witnessed Black women grow up in two different countries. I remember a few girls I met that had military fathers. They behaved different than the girls who never left their hometowns. I do see Black women mimic the images in the media. I have witnessed groups of Black women all adopt similar fashions and similar attitudes. I remember a group of Black girls who lived in my neighborhood when I was young. These girls changed their speech, dress code, hair style, and behaviors every two years. Their lives mirrored the music videos and magazines. The way these Black girls behaved appeared to be influenced by the hip-hop lifestyle and Hollywood. I wonder if they ever had the opportunity to think for themselves and develop their own self-image. How would these girls behave if they lived in another country? What if they never watched television?
Why does a man have to be rebellious to be Black? Why does a Black man have to subscribe to hip-hop to be Black? I have many other questions for this concept. This is just part one. Stay tuned.
By: Derek Rodgers
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