Being a black man in America brings about many ordeals, including the cliche hardships, the obligatory stereotyping, and the residue of bitterness that plague many of my Baby Boomer forefathers. But I stand here, to profess what being black means from my vantage point:
As a 22 -year-old Atlantan born and raised in the city, but has experienced a few other cultures and geographic presentations that this world has to offer.
As a brown-skinned, wide-eyed, inquisitive kid who had, like everybody, his sense of innocence about the world burst like a pin in a balloon. As a college-educated individual, who has spent the better part of the last five years sitting, studying, and sweating side by side with people of the Caucasoid division. As a sports and music aficionado who –along with the rest of the world – have followed the collapse and decadence of black America’s biggest stars: Michael Vick, Barry Bonds, O.J. Simpson, and Clifford “T.I.” Harris.
Which brings me to my first point: Being black does not absolve you from acting right. Seems like common sense, right? But these days, that sentence has to be said. There are certain standards that transcend race, gender, and occupation. Decorum is one of them.
Being a black man is when you are working in a newsroom where you are the only man of dark hue, thinking that you are a token and realizing that somewhat, your skills and effectiveness are a representation of the whole black race.
Being a black man is watching your fellow brethren become statistics on a weekly basis. It is riding around on Campbellton Rd, Cascade Rd., and College Park and seeing many youth fall by the wayside, whether by neglect, apathy, or incompetence.
Being a black man is watching my father and mother and uncles and older cousins shake off the vestiges of having to integrate schools and experience firsthand the degradation that the fairer-skinned people dished out.
Being a black man involves witnessing your peers wallow in their self-pity and ignorance. By maintaining a provincial mindset, self hate and lethargy remains rampant.
Being a black man is combating the easy and embracing the challenge, so that new statistics such as more black accountants, black doctors, black journalists, black owners in professional sports can be forged.
Being a black man is realizing that that will never happen.
Being a black man is rejecting that last sentence and pushing for it anyway.
Being a black man is realizing that misogyny and philandering has no place in the progression of our race.
Being a black man is dealing with the back-handed compliments. It is sitting in your Marketing Problems course in your last semester of college, and having a fellow Asian classmate loudly saying to you, “I love your vocabulary man. Black people really have a way with words.” It is wondering whether he was being funny or paying homage. It is having to thwart the discomfort and embarrassment of having been called out on account of your race in front of many.
It is me asking “What you mean by that?” and realizing that that question was more from ignorance and awe than from disparagement and contempt. For that student was, as I found out later, a student of hip-hop, an avid admirer of the wordplay of Jay-Z, Nas, and Lil Wayne, among others.
Being black is the dichotomy of loving Tupac, Biggie, and Jay-Z’s rhymes, but realizing the damage that their lyrics can cause on impressionable minds, which constitutes a great many.
It is knowing that, as Ebony founder John H. Johnson said, to change institutions and acts you must change images. Which is why it is a problem when BET and other networks contribute many of the images that contributes to the lowered self-esteem of our race.
I am 22 years old, and I have read and glimpsed the currents of those rivers that Langston Hughes wrote of. The legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medger Evans, Paul Robeson, Malcolm X, and James Costen set the tone.
The unsung heroes of the civil rights movement in America, Nelson Mandela in his fight for freedom in South Africa, Booker T. Washington in his zeal for black economic empowerment, and W.E.B. DuBois in his fervor for civil rights and education, wrote the composition.
Being a black man is internalizing that and running with it.
Utilizing your talents.
Knowing your personal responsibilities, and handling them.
Calling an ace an ace, a spade a spade and taking on a higher internal locus of control.
It is discerning that fast wealth is fleeting and real wealth is slowly built.
It is making the decision to do what you can everyday, by yourself, to handle yours.
It is being the father to your children that mine was to me.
That… is what being black is to me.
Zettler Clay IV is a freelance journalist from Atlanta, Ga. He has a B.B.A. from Georgia State University. Zettler can be reached at [email protected]